Tips to Improve Your Foliage Photography this Fall
New England’s autumn progression is in a bit of a holding pattern this week as we wait for the tropical air associated with Isaac’s remnants to pass. It’s not at all unusual to have a warm week or two in September, and tropical remnants work through New England with regularity as well, so I don’t see any real reason to yet alter my original projections of a slightly early autumn season. This almost autumn limbo will resolve itself soon enough … all we need is cooler air kick start the colors.
A few specialized and isolated environments throughout New England have already begun to change color despite the warm weather. The high alpine zones, typically above 4000ft of elevation, have a mix of golden brown and rich red with the fading summer greens. Lowland bogs and swamps have also begun to turn due to their perpetually poor growing conditions. Interestingly, when you combine these two specialized environments in a high elevation bog, you can find patches of peak color, even on Labor Day!
While waiting out the warm weather, I spent time this past week getting my camera gear cleaned and ready for the upcoming weeks of intensive outings. Photography is such an integral part of the autumn experience, and sharing our photos has become so much easier since the dawn of social media. Yankee Foliage sites have not only become a central place to learn about the autumn foliage in New England, but now also offer an opportunity to join with a community of foliage fans. Our Facebook page is a great place to post pictures, and our Foliage Smartphone App lets you post foliage photos and reports from the road.
Yankee Magazine has further sweetened the incentives to capture the season by sponsoring two great photography contests this year. The ‘X Marks the Spot Sweepstakes,’ is simple to enter, and everyone has an equal chance of winning. Simply submit a photo of yourself at your favorite foliage spot online, and hope all your lucky charms come through for you! The prize package is fantastic!
The second photo contest, the annual Fall Photo Contest, will require a bit of artistry to win, but the winning photo of this contest will be published in the Autumn 2013 issue of Yankee Magazine and featured prominently on the website.
Capturing a compelling image requires a little bit of extra effort from the photographer, but almost everyone who explores the art of photography occasionally comes away with a shot that could easy be considered highly in our contest. To increase your odds though, you might want to keep these tips in mind while exploring this autumn:
- Slow Down
So often I see foliage enthusiasts racing from sight to sight, spending just seconds out of their cars to snap away aimlessly at the scene. Scaling back on the itinerary, and taking time to find the best vantage at a location can pay dividends when looking back upon your trip this winter. Better yet, challenge yourself to put your camera on a tripod, and when framing the shot, look not only at the subject, but all areas in the viewfinder to make sure that a crazy trash can isn’t creeping in on the side!
- Know Your Camera
Modern cameras make taking a perfect exposure incredibly easy, but taking the camera out of ‘full automatic’ mode allows you to explore your own creativity. Try placing your camera on a rock and slowing down the shutter speed by a stream to try for that silky look. Maybe try opening up the aperture all the way to isolate your subjects in a narrow focus. Take time to read the manual, and start practicing now so you know how to use your camera when it counts!
- Pay Attention to the Light
As an exercise, find a large old maple tree in a field, and while walking all the way around it, watch how the light changes in the leaves. When the sun is at your back, and the front of the tree lit, the color can look flat, or muted even at peak conditions. Side lighting or back lighting the same tree can give it a magical glowing look, and your photos a completely different mood. Shooting towards the sun will allow you to capture striking silhouettes, while pointing the camera away from the sun will lead to the stronger foliage on film. And on cloudy or rainy days that seem so gray to you, the camera often captures colors the best!
- Include a Compelling Foreground
It happens almost every year, but it’s always spectacular. The high mountains get dusted with snow while the valleys below are still exhibiting the height of peak color. If you want a picture of a snow covered Katahdin, there are almost an infinite number of compositions you could create with the peak in the background. The best shots will focus on including a strong foreground element, like a tree, a rock wall, a bridge or a water feature. If you can tie the foreground to the background with a strong middle ground as well…you’ll have a great shot in this contest!
- Purchase a Polarizer.
Digital photo editing has become nearly as ubiquitous as digital photography, but there’s still no replacement for starting with a quality image out of the camera. To this day, there is no magical button in photoshop that can duplicate the effects of a circular polarizing filter. Attaching this extra glass to the front of you lens will allow you to reduce the glare off of autumn leaves, allowing their true colors to shine through. It can darken the look of the bluebird skies autumn, and intensify the reflections on bodies of water. Not to overstate its importance, but my polarizer rarely leaves my lens during the entirety of autumn.
- Get Up Early!
The few hours before sunset, and the few hours after sunrise are often referred to as the golden hours by professional photographers. This special light offers soft contrasts and warm tones, which enhance most landscape scenes. While evenings are often nice, I try to never miss an autumn morning. In addition to the great light, you’ll find that animals are more active, and the atmosphere more dynamic. While contemplating whether or not to ignore the alarm, picture a pond with a heavy cloak of mist concealing peak color. A loon interrupts the silence with its solemn call, and just as you are about to open the shutter, a moose walks into the frame.
Sounds perfect right about now doesn’t it!
Yeah. I’ll see you there.