About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Five Essentials for Fall Foliage Photography

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.

1) Polarizer
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
No polarizer  
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
    obvious effect as seen through the viewfinder. Because the polarization effect varies with the angle of the sun, the darkening of the sky can vary dramatically across the sky, especially when wider angle views are used. It can produce an interesting, but unnatural gradient of brightness. One solution is to avoid the use of a polarizer when wide angle views are captured. Another is to stack two images, one with polarization and the other without, and then blend the images to avoid the brightness gradient in the sky. I will often reduce the polarization in these situations, but there are post-processing techniques which can smooth out the brightness gradient. A polarizer should not be used when shooting multi-image panoramas, since the effect will vary from image to image, making smooth blending very difficult.
  • 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.

Back-lighting on a sunny day

Overcast 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.

Overcast Light

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

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the excellent tutorial. I'm off to find a polarizing filter!