It’s that time of year again. Summer is starting to wind down, the temperature is cooling off, and my shutter finger is starting to twitch. That’s right, Fall is just around the corner. I decided to takes some time and share with you seven tips to help you get the most out of your fall photo trips this year. Who knows, I may even throw in a bonus tip. So let’s get going.
Tip 1: Your Polarizer Is Your Best Friend
A lot of beginning photographers think of polarizer’s as being used to enhance a blue sky, but their primary purpose is for cutting down reflections and glare on your subject. Glare robs your image of color, leaving you with hotspots instead of the color that should be there. Using a polarizer with your fall shots cuts down the glare on the leaves, and enhances the overall color of the image. Circular polarizer’s work best, as you have control over how strong the effect is on your image. If you’re including a blue sky in the composition, be wary of the effect the polarizer is having on the sky. At certain angles to the sun, polarizer’s can cause an unnatural shift in the blue color of the sky, from one side of your image to the other. This is particularly true with wide angle lenses, due to the amount of real estate they are taking in. This color shift can be difficult, if not impossible to correct in post processing.
Tip 2: Shoot On Overcast And Rainy Days
Cloudy overcast days are mother nature’s very own, all natural soft light reflector. The light produced on these days is ideal for photographing fall colors. Everything is evenly lit, and the colors become very saturated. Setting your exposure is a breeze, and most often, doesn’t change much from scene to scene. Unless you have a very dynamic, textured sky, concentrate more on the intimate close up scenes deep in the forest or valleys, and leave the sky out. If it’s raining, or just rained, take advantage of it. Wet foliage increases the color saturation even more. Be sure to follow tip number one and use your polarizer to cut the glare on the wet foliage.
Tip 3: Include Water In Your Shots
Water is always a powerful element to include in your images. It triggers an emotion inside of people, and creates a sense of peace and tranquility. It also adds a strong visual interest and flow to your composition. Coupled with a brilliant display of fall colors, you’ve got a dynamic, visually appealing, stop you in your tracks shot. Water also gives you an added bonus, which leads us to our next tip.
Tip 4: Look For Reflections
Reflections on the water are a great compositional element to include in your images, especially when they are very vibrant colors such as fall foliage. Early in the morning is probably your best chance of getting a still water mirror image, as the winds are normally very light at that time of day. Reflections on a rippled surface work well too, in a more abstract way. Pay attention to where the reflection is on the waters surface in relation to the objects around it. Nothing is worse than getting home and finding out you cut the top of the mountain or trees off, when you could have got the entire reflection, had you just moved up the hill five feet. Don’t limit yourself to large surface reflections. Look for smaller, more abstract compositions that only include the water’s surface reflecting the colors, such as in this image.
Tip 5: Look Up
Vanishing point images looking straight up in the trees have become almost cliché. Everyone has one in their portfolio. And why is that? Because they’re cool! Go ahead and give it a whirl, and try and put your own spin on the composition. It’s fun, it’s free, and oh yeah, did I mention they’re cool!
Backlit subjects is something I always keep an eye out for when I’m in the field. The glowing affect that you get from backlighting gives a very unique feel to your image. Fall foliage works quite well with this type of light. Setting your exposure can be tricky though. I will normally take a spot metered reading off a brightly lit area, then bracket my exposures around that, to ensure I get a proper exposure. Sometimes I will take multiple exposures and then blend them later on in post processing. It just all depends on the scene. The key is to bracket your exposures. You don’t want to blow out your highlights. Another issue you will run into with backlighting is lens flare. If at all possible, try and find a spot to shoot from that is in the shade. This will keep the sun from hitting the front lens element and causing the flare. If not, just move around a little until you get the flare under control. Sometimes moving just a little bit will bring lens flare under control.
Tip 7: Shoot In Raw Format
This almost goes without saying, and applies to all types of landscape photography. Not just fall. If you’re not shooting in the Raw format, you should be. The number one “thief of color” in a digital image, is an improper white balance. The color cast induced by an incorrect white balance setting can be difficult at best to correct in Photoshop, and robs your image of the natural colors you saw. If you’re shooting in JPEG, and your camera doesn’t get the white balance correct, you’re stuck trying to fix it in Photoshop. With a Raw processor like Adobe Lightroom™ or Adobe Camera Raw™, it’s just a few clicks and your done. If you switch over to shooting in Raw for no other reason than to have control over your white balance, it’s worth it. The image below shows the before and after of a Raw conversion, with nothing more than the white balance changed to the shade preset. The difference is astounding.
Don’t forget the small stuff. Fall is a great time of the year to dust off that macro lens you hardly ever use, and take some close-ups. Shoot close-ups of the leaves, and look for patterns on the ground. I would have completely missed this shot of an acorn laying on the fall leaves had I not taken the time to look down.