By Gene Rodman
I always enjoy fall. Even though we may have gotten a snowstorm in September, we are usually guaranteed nice weather until the trees have dropped their leaves and the Halloween candy has been eaten. Fall is the most colorful time of year for photographing. Last year we got cheated on fall colors when there was a hard freeze just as the trees were starting to change. We are now at the height of the time when the trees are changing. The seasons change so fast so we need to get out and take advantage of our beautiful scenery. If we get a slight dusting of snow right now it is almost mandatory to take the day off and photograph the colors set off by mountain snow. It's like working on a powder day. Why live here if we don't take advantage of these days.
So there are a few guidelines for photographing the fall colors. If it is sunny it is good to add a polarizing filter over your lens to help cut glare from the sun shining on the leaves. It also has the benefit of darkening the blue sky and saturating colors. Although I have recommended that every serious photographer have a polarizing filter this is the time to bring it out and see how it can really improve those photos. The degree of polarization with this filter will be different depending on the direction (relative to the sun) that you are photographing. Since the sun moves from East to West the best direction for a polarizing effect is photographing in a southerly or northerly direction. Usually you want the sun to be at your shoulder for the best effect. Polarizing filters also rotate so the degree of polarization can be controlled by the amount the filter is rotated on the lens.
Although a sunny day is good for those sweeping landscapes, if you happen to be out on a cloudy or rainy day, spend your time photographing the more detailed parts of leaves. Whereas the sun creates a light that is harsh because it is such a small pinpoint of light, clouds soften the light creating a large diffuse light source. This light doesn't cast any shadows and colors still remain quite saturated. To show detail we want this kind of light. You will find that your polarizing filter will have little affect when it's cloudy but it will help to cut the glare of the water on leaves if they are wet from rain. Rain on anything will make it look better. Some photographers bring spray bottles of water to add the rain affect on their flowers and leaves.
Don't forget to look up and down in your grove of changing leaves. By looking up you can contrast the color of the yellow leaves with the color of the blue sky. Yellow and blue are complementary colors that look wonderful together. Look for interesting patterns of branches spreading up into the sky from the trees. Screw on your polarizer for an even nicer effect of deep blue sky. Don't be afraid to photograph right into the sun. I try to place the sun behind a branch and move until just a small ray shines out from behind. This small point of light will turn into a star burst on your photograph, especially if you use a small aperture. Experiment to see how this works and keep trying until you get that award-winning image.
After looking up spend some time looking on the forest floor for colorful leaves grouped together. Some of the undergrowth around here is more colorful than the trees. Although I prefer to find what's already there, I've been know to gather leaves to group together in my own man made composition on the forest floor. It is good to bring your tripod along when photographing under trees where the light can be limited and your exposure can be too long to hand-hold your camera. Don't forget to get really close to the leaves too. If you happen to be near water or a small creek look for leaves floating in the water or stuck in an eddy.
Before all the leaves fall, get out there and show your out of state friends why you live here. You wouldn't pass up a powder day, would you?
Thanks for the article. My photo 1 students are just beginnning to shoot fall photos. You gave some really great advice.
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