How to Photograph Autumn Colour
Autumn (or fall) is arguably one of the most exciting times of the year for the landscape photographer. The colours of autumn foliage – red, yellow and orange – are photographically appealing, particularly in comparison to the relatively monochromatic green of summer. So, for those of you in the northern hemisphere at least, here’s a few tips to make the most of autumn in the next few weeks.
Great Britain is renowned for being damp and misty. Looking out the window as I type that’s not wholly inaccurate. It’s all to tempting therefore to curl up with a good book and ignore the world outside. However, photographically woodland is often at its best when its overcast or misty (even when it’s raining). It’s all to with contrast. In bright sunshine woodland can be a mess of bright highlights and dark shadows.
This is not ideal as this high level of contrast often exceeds a camera’s dynamic range. The softer light of a more inclement day is far easier to work in and often more aesthetically pleasing. There will still be contrast (the sky will still be relatively bright compared to the landscape) but with judicious framing this can be overcome.
The one problem with wet leaves is that they pick up reflections from the sky above. This leads to an apparent reduction in the intensity of their colour. The solution is to fit a polariser. By carefully turning the polariser you will be able to cut out a lot of the reflections to reveal the colour of the leaves beneath. It won’t cut out all the reflections (the effect only works at roughly 35°) but – more often than not – a polariser will make a big difference.
Woodland can be dark even during the day (particularly if the weather isn’t ideal). Fitting light-sapping filters such as polarisers don’t help. Therefore a tripod is almost a necessity. This is no bad thing. A tripod will slow you down, and make you think more clearly about your compositions.
The key to a successful autumnal image is – unsurprisingly – colour. Using the correct white balance is important, especially if you’re shooting Jpeg rather than Raw. If you do shoot on a grey day don’t rely on auto white balance to get white balance right. Try using either your camera’s Daylight or Cloudy presets. The Daylight pre-set will be slightly cooler than Cloudy; Cloudy can often produce slightly syrupy looking images unless it’s really dank and grey. If in doubt, try both and see which you prefer when you copy the images to your PC.
Another way to control colour is to switch your camera’s picture control to an appropriate setting. A setting like ‘Vivid’ will make make colours in your images more saturated. On misty days increasing contrast through the picture controls will give your images more bite than they may have had otherwise.
Bright, blue-sky days are perfect for more open locations. Parks and urban environments generally work well when the sun is shining. Something to look out for is backlit leaves. Leaves are translucent and allow some light through. This shows the colours to good effect.
Actually, even if it is raining today, I feel all inspired now to head to my nearest wood with my camera. I may even see you there. Say hello if you see me.