Massapoag Pond Photography

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The Basics of Photographing Fall Foliage

1. Timing is everything...
Photographing fall foliage has a very small window of opportunity each year! One website I use to plan/predict the best time and location for a photo trip is the Foliage Network. What I like about this website along with giving the 'Foliage Color - Report' map, they also give a 'Leaf Drop - Report' map. With a low leaf drop the longer the season tends to be. This year (2012) folks are reporting how quickly the colors have changed in the past few days in the New England area , this along with a low leaf drop hopefully translate into a longer season.

Remember strong winds and heavy rains are not great for keeping the leaves on the trees, so watch the weather closely for the area you are going to visit and plan accordingly for your trip.

Silver Cascade Waterfall Crawford Notch, NH

2. Use the weather...

With onset of fall means the weather becomes unstable and unpredictable. Rain, mist, frost and even snow can appear on short notice, but that doesn’t mean you can’t photograph during these conditions. Actually, most landscape photographers look forward to these pleasant surprises as it adds a bit of flair to your autumn photographs!

3. Photograph on cloudy days...
The soft, diffused light produced by an overcast sky will give you a greater chance of capturing a pleasing photograph. A bright sunny day can easily wash out the vibrant colors you are trying so hard to capture. An overcast day will allow for a larger range of subtle colors to come through. And one more tip, include only a small or none at all of the sky in your photographs on overcast day.

4. Misty, fogy, and rainy days are awesome…

Not only is fall a show of color, but those cold nights allow for many misty mornings. Fog on water and thick mist in the air can provide for stunning compositions, combine early morning light, and you can create a great fall landscapes photographs.

Wet is good, why you ask?

Ever pick up a colorful rock that’s been in the water? And notice it doesn’t look so colorful when it’s dry? This also applies to leaves. Photograph leaves when they’re wet, add a polarizer, and you’ll find yourself lowering the saturation slider in photoshop!

5. Sunny days…

If you find yourself having to photograph on a sunny day, the best times will early morning and late afternoon to provide the most interesting light. My favorite time to shoot is during the 30 minutes before and after sunrise and sunset. But don't put your camera away in the middle of the day! And forget all that advice about keeping the sun behind you when you photograph. Backlit subjects look great, I'm sure you've seen a tree with the sun punching through the leaves!

6. Use a polarizing filter...

A polarizing filter will improve the color because it eliminates reflections coming off the leaves. Even though you normally don’t notice it, vegetation and leaves in particular tend to reflect a lot of light. When you photograph this reflection, it hides much of the true color. By removing the reflection, allows for the true color to show through.

Use a polarizing filter even in overcast conditions. The softness of an overcast day will offer saturated colors, especially if the foliage is moist. If a blue sky is part of your scene, a polarizing filter will darken it; be aware that the polarizer must be at a 90-degree angle to the sun to impact the sky color. To check this, look at your subject through the filter, and rotate the filter to achieve the best effect.

With polarizing filter

Without polarizing filter

7. Composition...

Keep it simple. Look for a dominant subject, such as one tree in a field or a single branch of leaves against the sky. Isolate elements by using a shallow depth of field. This allows one tree or part of a tree to be in focus while everything else is out of focus. The sharp part of the photo is then your dominant subject. A big mistake people make when shooting fall color is getting all caught up in the color and forgoing everything else. Treat color more as an added element of the photo and not the subject.

Change your point of view, get down on your belly and shoot through things, letting objects in the foreground go out of focus. This will give you a nice wash of color in the foreground and lead you into the background that you've kept in focus. Or you can keep the foreground sharp and let the background go soft.

Reflections are great as well. Windless conditions are key to getting mirror like recollection of the autumn colors in the water.

8. Look for color contrasts...
Another great piece of advice is to keep an eye out for color contrasts. A patch of yellow trees in a sea of evergreens, a single red leaf on a mossy log, or even a green tree in a batch of red ones.

9. And don't forget the critters..:-)