TIPS FROM A PRO PHOTOGRAPHER FOR MAKING BETTER FALL FOLIAGE PHOTOS
One of the real pleasures of living in New England is the variety of seasons. For photographers, the fall is one of the richest visual feasts we have the pleasure to experience. As the autumn chills wipe away the summer heat we get a fantastic display of color. My New Hampshire home provides a front row seat to this show and I eagerly explore the region for foliage photo opportunities.
In this article I would like to share some tips based on my professional photography experience that will help you make better fall foliage photos. These are some of the techniques and habits I use when I am out chasing fall foliage color.
TIMING is EVERYTHING – Especially when it comes to fall foliage. Have your camera with you and shoot it when you see it. The color transformations are dynamic and changing rapidly, from moment-to-moment and day-to-day. Keep your camera handy and always be ready to make the shot.
RESEARCH – Plan your fall foliage trips carefully. Scout out locations at other times of year and make notes about sun direction and time of day. Keep in mind that elevation effect foliage. Use on-line foliage tracking sites. All of the New England states tourism offices provide tracking information. Plan a route that offers the best views timed for the best light. You don’t always have to travel far to find foliage. One of my favorite spots is a local cemetery with a grove of mature maples that is just around the corner.
TIME of DAY – The best times of day for capturing fall foliage colors is either early in the morning or late afternoon. The “Golden Hours” after sunrise and before sunset are ideal for nature photography. The light tends to be warmer, providing more intense color. It is also more diffuse, due to extended travel thorough the atmosphere, resulting in softer shadows and a decrease in dynamic range.
DAYLIGHT WHITE BALANCE– Although the default “AUTO” white balance setting is useful for general photography, I find the daylight setting works better for fall foliage. This White Balance preset will match your sensor to the prevailing light conditions. The results are reminiscent of my old favorites Kodachrome and Velvia slide film. Shooting in the RAW file format (instead of JPEG) will give you the most options for refining your white balance with more precision in post production.
POLARIZER FILTER– A circular polarizer filter is exceptionally useful for foliage photography. It will darken your skies and will increase the saturation of color. Polarizer filters are useful for managing reflections and will help to knock down the shine of leaves on a sunny day. Because they have light blocking properties they act much like ND (neutral density) filters which can help to extend exposure times.
WEATHER HELPS – Inclement weather is ideal for fall foliage photography. Get out in the rain and see how it changes the quality of color. Overcast skies are useful for photographing water features like ponds and waterfalls. Mist and fog add an element of mystery and rain and drizzle will increase the saturation of color in your photos.
GO LONG – Wide angle lenses are good for capturing large scenes but I prefer to use longer lenses when shooting foliage. The compression effects of longer focal lengths work well with dense forest scenes. A telephoto lens will also be helpful for isolating dominant visual elements that make shots more interesting.
COMPOSE SIMPLY – When it comes to fall foliage, simple composition works best. A solitary visual element thoughtfully arranged against a simple background has more impact than a cluttered scene. Color is the most powerful composition element we have to work with in foliage photography. Feature it prominently in well designed photos.
This part one of a two-part article – READ PART 2
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Photographer and photo educator Dan Splaine has more than thirty years experience producing photography for public relations, marketing and editorial clients. His company TEST of TIME PHOTOGRAPHY based in Nashua, NH provides commercial photography services in studio and at client locations all over the world. He presents a program of digital photography workshops and photography tours for adults throughout New England. For more information about his photo education program go to the photo workshop and tour schedule page.