|Ashuelot River Contrasting Color
|Hancock New Hampshire
The early color of autumn is beginning to show and I’m getting excited about my Third Annual Fall Foliage weekend workshop. As always, it will be over the weekend after the Columbus Day weekend, October 12th-14th. It is impossible to predict the extent and location of the best color, but I already know that the workshop will include a great group of photographers. We have just a couple of slots still open, but the list is already full of friends from my previous classes and workshops. Suckers for punishment. With the season fast arriving, I thought it would be a good time to review a few of the photographic essentials which are especially important when capturing fall foliage. Here are five things to consider as you get out to enjoy this special time of year.
With the possible exception of a camera, a polarizing filter is the essential piece of equipment for fall foliage photography. A polarizer is designed to cut through reflections. Direct sunlight reflecting off most surfaces becomes polarized to a specific angle which can be filtered by rotating the polarizer to block that angle. The degree to which a polarizer can filter out the glare is related to the direction of the light, being most effective when it is at 90 degrees to the subject. On the other hand, when the light is coming from behind or directly in front of the camera, the effect is essentially nonexistent. The filter is great for
|Sometimes you need reflection
darkening skies, seeing beyond reflection into the depths of lakes and streams, but for fall foliage, its most significant effect is to improve the color saturation of the leaves. It is often noted that the ability of a polarizer to block reflection is one of the few filter effects that cannot be duplicated by digital editing and it is for that reason that it is considered THE essential filter and it is why my polarizer stays on the camera for most of the autumn.
The best approach is to get a polarizing filter and start experimenting and don’t skimp on quality. A high end, multi-coated glass filter is best. You will be using it a lot.
There are just a few additional points about the use of this most essential accessory.
- First, there are two kinds of polarizers, linear and circular. Without descending into a swamp of unnecessary detail, you should know that linear filters can adversely affect your camera's auto-focus or metering. Only use circular filters.
- Given the optimal orientation to the
sun, polarizers can dramatically darken a blue sky, and this is often the most
Polarizer sky gradient
- By its nature Polarizers require frequent rotation and it is possible to inadvertently unscrew the filter, occasionally leading to a disastrous drop to the ground. Trust me, I know from painful experience. To avoid accidents, I try to rotate the filter only in the clockwise direction, keeping the filter tightly attached.
- Finally, it is important to remember that polarizers reduce exposure by 1 - 2 stops. In low light situation the filter's effect may not be worth the loss of light.
2) Avoid Color Mush/ Zoom in
|Nice color, but mush
I must confess that I generally hate pictures of broad hillsides dominated by a chaotic blend of fall colors. No matter how richly saturated, I get a bit dizzy as my eyes have no idea where to go. With fall foliage, the smaller you go, the easier it is to create an image that draws the eye to a strong center of interest. The guidelines of good composition apply equally for small subjects as they do for grand landscapes.
|Drawing the eye
As I drive the autumn backroads, I am always scanning for these small tableaus, or features that draw the eye, usually with a strong single color and contrasting elements. Often a couple of brightly colored leaves can be more dramatic than a whole hillside of reds and golds. On my way to Harrisville a couple of years ago I saw this simple combination of bright red and gold leaves splashing behind a white birch trunk. All I needed was a simple two image focus stack to get both elements in sharp focus.
|A splash of color, Reading Vermont
3) Manage Bright Sunlight
|Shade and Back-lighting
Despite what visiting city-folk think, we photographers know that bright mid-day sunlight is the worse time to shoot fall foliage. The reflections off the leaves dulls the colors and the high contrast hides much of the foliage in impenetrable shadow. As I discussed, a polarizer can help, but you can also look for areas of shade to soften the light. For me, the best approach to bright days is to take advantage of back-lighting or trans-illumination. Capturing light coming through the foliage is like flipping an electric switch. Even modest early color can appear brilliant. Looking into the sun, you may also catch a star-burst of light.
Cloudy skies, mist and even rain are great times to get out and capture the foliage. The diffuse, soft light eliminates reflections and allows the color to shine through. Sadly, wind and rain also tend to knock the leaves to the ground, but while it lasts, foul weather is great weather to capture the full beauty of the season.
A couple of years ago, I was cruising central Vermont for foliage. The weather began bright, but, as is often true, the clouds gathered as the day progressed. As I explore the road through Pomfret I found this old barn engulfed in foliage that was enriched by the soft light. Even in the overcast my polarizer helped to bring out more of the deep colors.
5) Autumn is about more than color
|Keene's Farmer's Market
New England Autumn is about much more than the crazy brilliance of our trees. Visitors and natives alike miss most of the best features of the New England autumn by focusing only on the foliage. The season is also defined by the activities that are unique to our harvest time, the sounds and smells as well as the sites of this dramatic, fleeting time of climatic transition. Most of all, the fall is a time to enjoy the people of New England. We are often a quiet, guarded lot, but something about the nip in the air, and the impending winter, can bring out personal interactions that are, almost, cordial. Take a hike, visit a farm stand, or immerse yourself in the excitement of a harvest festival or craft show. All these provide great photographic opportunities without a leaf in view.
|Hiking the Monadnock-Wantastiquet Trail
I predict that it is going to be a spectacularly beautiful fall foliage season. It often seems that the brighter the color, the shorter the season lasts, so don’t miss a day. I hope these tips will help and get in touch soon if you are interested in joining us for the foliage workshop.
|Abby and Samantha - A "Few" years ago
Jeff Newcomer, NEPG