Fall Photography - Capturing Nature's Bounty
Photographing the colors of Autumn is an exciting time for most photographers. Spring flowers and waterfalls are right up there, too! Planning for the where and when can be a bit elusive as Mother Nature always has her own idea on how to proceed through the changing season and having the liberty to get up and go at the last minute could net you the best results. Autumn is in full swing here in North America and I've listed some resources below to help you find some great places to go when color is at it's peak.
Once you're at your preferred destination, here are some tips which will help you make the best of your Fall photography no matter what the scene is before you.
• Colors are best under overcast skies, in the shade of early morning, or late afternoon and evening. A bright, sunny day can make golden aspen leaves pop against a deep blue sky, but can also reduce contrast losing separation, texture, and depth of the leaves. ISO 200, f8, 1/30 sec.
• Use a polarizing filter to reduce glare from those bright yellow aspen leaves or any leaves soaked by water or the morning dew. A polarizer does not have to be permanently welded to your lens however, as you should also experiment on shots without it for a shiny or glistening look. ISO 100, f13, 0.3 sec.
• Try an abstract with deliberate movement during an exposure of a grove of trees. With your camera on a tripod, set the shutter speed to at least 1/2 second, but longer is better. Loosen the tripod head so it moves freely up and down. While holding the head grip or lever, move the camera up or down in one fluid movement throughout the exposure. A shutter release chord or remote is necessary for both the longer exposure and to keep one hand free to operate the lever. Expect to take a large number of shots to get just the look you want. ISO 80, f22, 2.5 sec.
• We all love the look of aspen leaves flittering in the wind, but capturing the essence of that lively dance can be difficult. A shutter speed of 1/1000 second or higher can freeze most movement and give a very static look which may be desired depending on the surrounding subject matter. Experiment with slower shutter speeds to see where you can capture a good combination of both sharp focus and blurred. How windy it is at the time can influence the resulting shutter speed. Don't forget, a sun star can help liven up any scene. ISO 400, f14, 1/60 sec.
• Don't just see the forest for the trees. Look for groupings to help frame other interesting subject matter and remember to move around to find the best angle. Old and abandoned buildings are great for this. ISO 200, f18, 1/4 sec.
• Reflections of all those luscious colors on water may be my favorite fall color shot. For little to no wind, early morning is usually best if a lake is your foreground. Or find a slow moving area on a river to get the sharpest reflections. ISO 100, f13, 1/20 sec.
• Going for those grand vistas of color is a given, but be open to that simple, intimate scene and you can achieve a more dramatic impact. ISO 100, f4.5, 0.8 sec.
Be sure to watch those weather reports for rain and snow, but most especially-wind! Rain can help the suppleness of the leaves and deepen the colors, snow can add a lovely contrast to frame them, but a strong wind can strip the trees before you get a chance to pull out your camera. No worries, though as you can still capture the look of Autumn concentrating on the textures and patterns of tree trunks, scattered leaves on mossy rocks, or using a slow shutter speed to get streaks of color flowing through creeks and streams. If travel isn't a possibility, have a look around your own community for pockets of color and take advantage of a macro lens or longer focal length to concentrate on a small area. Wherever you go, enjoy the season and remember always to have fun!
Here are a few links to help you find some last minute Fall color photography opportunities around California and the US.
California Fall Color for reports with an interactive map
Parchers Resort for updates to areas along the Eastern Sierra
Plumas County for updates to areas in the Northern California Gold Country
Natural History Wanderings Foliage Reports for updates to areas throughout the United States