By Kevin Moss, BetterPhoto Instructor
In the last article entry, I spoke of traveling to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (also called the “U.P.”) shooting many waterfalls as I went. Though it was a 4 day trip, traveling between known and unknown U.P. waterfall sights, my intent was to shoot whatever fall color came my way between stops.
Reflections in a pool
From experience, and trial and error spreading hundreds of miles over the years, I have learned that the eastern half of the UP, heavily logged over the years and replanted with pine tree’s, wasn’t a good choice to look for color. Lets face it, pine tree’s look the same in all four seasons, green! The place to go for fall color in the U.P. is the western half, where plenty of hardwoods abound, and that means some blazing color.
Try to contrast your color against the green’s of pines, or other solid color. You don’t have to fill the frame with all red or orange to get that fall color scene.
One of my favorite types of tree’s to photograph any time of year, is the birch tree. The white bark of the birch tree provides great contrast in images where your type of flora is mixed. In other seasons, I’ll look for groups of birch trees, and often develop those images as black and white, but in autumn, I look for birch trees as my main subject, contrasted with color.
The white bark of birch trees provide dramatic contrast for fall color scenes.
I’ll offer some of my tips for fall color shooting:
1. Look for overcast or rainy days to shoot: That’s right! Bright sunlight can wash out the colors of the leaves, leaving you with “flat” looking images. The best time to shoot fall color is right after it rains, when there is still cloud cover, but the trees are wet, giving you nice dark bark contrasting with the color of the leaves.
2. Shoot on a tripod: This is a must for sharp images.
3. Use a small aperture setting: I often shoot my fall color shots at f/16 to f/22, small aperture settings, in order to get sharp foregrounds and sharp backgrounds, especially for wide-angle shots of trees.
4. Get in close: Make it a habit of shooting your scenes wide-angle first, then proceed to zoom in for another series of close-up shots, maybe just of sections of trees and colorful leaves. Lastly, move in even closer for close-ups of maybe a handful of colorful leaves.
Don’t forget to get in close…
5. Use a circular polarizer: Your best friend for many scenes of fall color, is to put a circular polorizer over your lens. The circular polorizer will reduce glare from the leaves, and help saturate colors in your shot. Experiment with rotating the filter element so as not to “overdue” it, darkening the scene too much. Just rotate your element enough to reduce the glare of the leaves, and to make the colors “pop” just a little.
6. Watch for windy days: You may have to make adjustments for faster shutter speeds in dark days and in windy conditions in order to make sure the tree limbs and leaves remain sharp. Alternatively, a little movement in some images add a nice effect. Experiment!
Your window for fall color shooting in your area is probably only a few weeks a year. Additionally, you don’t have to travel far. You can get some great fall color shots within a mile of your home if you look hard enough, maybe even as close as your own backyard.
Happy autumn shooting!
Next Up: Fall Color Road Trip: Part III, Shooting the Stars
Check out my BetterPhoto course Digital Nature Photography with Photoshop and Elements