As the last hot days of summer turn toward the welcoming cool of autumn, the landscape becomes quite colorful, as well as being far more inviting to being outdoors. For those of you who enjoy making photographs of autumn’s beauty, here are a few tips on how to get the most out of shooting the colorful fall foliage and landscape, regardless of the type of camera you are using.
Try taking your shots during the first or last few hours of daylight. Light during those hours has a warmer “sweeter” color, along with being less contrasty or harsh. Being outside at those times makes practically everything you see appear more attractive, people included, along with simply being a wonderful time to be outside enjoying some beautiful fall weather. Remember, it’s not just about making pictures!
It’s great to shoot on cloudy or overcast days. Although fall color seems to appear more vivid on sunny days, the increased contrast of bright sunlight can produce a harsh look on some subjects. Pictures made in overcast conditions will have far more saturated colors. If you’re shooting foliage details, and it’s sunny, try looking for subject matter in the shade.
If you want to use sunny conditions to your benefit, especially during the “sweeter” hours of light described above, try positioning yourself so that the sun is about 3/4 of the way behind, and a bit above your subject. This will produce nice highlights around the back of your subject. Shots that show a bigger landscape view will then often contain interesting graphic elements caused by shadows and highlights, as in the shot below. In order to have your subject not be very silhouetted, just manually increase your camera’s exposure a bit, about one stop.
Another method that works well when the sun is lower in the sky is shooting so that the light is somewhat at your side, helping to provide highlights and long shadows that make your subject feel more three-dimensional.
If you are quite close to your subject matter, as in liking to shoot details, always wait for any wind to die down a bit to aid in getting a less blurry shot. Better yet, use a tripod, or at least try to steady your camera on some hard surface (like a rock, fence post or tree trunk, etc.) for best results. Your camera’s flash could also help correct the blurry shot problem, but since it is mounted right on the front of your camera, and pointed straight ahead, it will often give a washed-out, flat appearance to a beautiful 3-D subject. Best bet? Avoid using your camera’s flash if you can turn it off. If you can’t, see if you can set it to it’s dimmest setting and then back off a bit. Also, if you can, set your camera to its “manual” setting, and your camera’s “film” speed (its sensitivity to light) to a higher number. Again, avoid harsh light, especially on details.
Shooting in relatively wide open landscapes immediately after the sun has set can lend a very warm and soft look to even the most un-featured landscape – if you only turn your camera (and vision) 180 degrees away from where the sun has set. Sunsets can be beautiful, but notice what it’s like in the other direction, like it is in the photo below. Many times, there will remain an “after-glow” opposite the sunset, lighting the entire scene softly and beautifully. It doesn’t really take all that much light to create a wonderful mood. This is the first place in the sky that any remaining clouds will light up in shades of pink to lavender to salmon, reflecting the setting sun, while still providing some light to the land below. Since there isn’t all that much light at this time, steadying the camera on anything solid is recommended to avoid a blurred shot.
If you’re a bit more serious about producing really nice images on a consistent basis, use a tripod, or again, at least try to steady your camera on some hard surface (like a rock, fence post, etc.) whenever possible. While this can seem to be a burden, it will help you in several ways. Technically, it will give you more camera control options, such as choices in shutter speed and aperture, due to your camera being secured. It will also help you get sharp pictures. Artistically, it will slow you down, which can be a good thing! You’ll tend to “look more” at the light and compose your shots better before shooting, opposed to taking the easier, yet often more generic-looking type of pictures.
Finally, remember that the type of camera you have is of far less importance to making good pictures than we’re led to believe. The word photography simply means “light writing”, or using light, along with the lack of it, to create an image. The camera is only going to be as good as what you choose to point it at, and how you choose to “see” what you’re aiming it at. Most of all, have fun, take a chance, watch the light, be creative, and just enjoy being outdoors at such a beautiful time of year!