Fall Outdoor Photography Tips
Fall is perhaps the best season for outdoor photography. The leaves are changing colors, the temperatures are ideal, and snow has started to adorn the mountains, creating dramatic backgrounds and colorful palettes for landscape photographs.
But trying to capture the colors of autumn with your camera can be frustrating. All too often you return home, pull up your shots on the computer, and feel disappointed. Somehow, those colors seemed more vibrant when you were shooting them than they look on your monitor. What happened?
If you've had an experience like this, here are some ideas to help make your fall photographs look more like what you see in your mind’s eye.
Look for close-ups. Often when we see a beautiful scene, we want to capture the whole landscape. We point our camera towards a distant vista and shoot away. And that's exactly how the photo feels, distant and boring. During fall, try a different tactic. Fall colors tend to be clumped together in specific tree species. Usually, it’s these small patches of trees that draw our attention, but relative to the entire landscape, they only make up a fraction of the scene. Try focusing on the highlights of color. Pick out the brightest leaves and focus your attention (and lens) where that color dominates. Don’t worry about the big picture, really concentrate on the color and detail. Think small and keep the composition simple.
Fill the frame with color. If you have a macro lens for your SLR, or a macro setting on a point and shoot, use it. Crop out all other distracting elements except the beautiful color. Look for patterns, abstract shapes, and variations in color that you’ll only notice in the details. Try using a shallow depth-of-field by using an f-stop with a low number (2.8, 3.5, of 4) and really focusing on the subject of your image. Let everything that’s not important become blurred.
Find leaves with light shining through them. Look for the rich warm colors created by backlit leaves. When the sunlight shines through leaves the colors seem to glow. Try shooting out from underneath or behind trees. Use the colorful trees to frame the entire landscape.
Use fall color as a background element. Find a different subject, and let the fall colors add to a soft background. Maybe it’s your friends, your dog or a mountain reflecting in a lake, but let the fall colors add a subtle element to you image rather than take center stage. Take the pressure off the colors and let it feel natural.
Use motion and blur to paint with color. By panning your camera on a moving subject with slow shutter speeds, you can stretch a colorful background into something more. Find a place with colorful trees and photograph a moving subject in the foreground. Mountain bikers, trail runners, playing kids, flying birds, there are endless possibilities. Try using a little fill flash (in rear-sync) to make your foreground image sharp. And take lots of shots – that’s the beauty of digital!
Try shooting when it’s cloudy. Cloudy days act as natural light diffusers. The clouds are effectively a huge soft box for the sun. They reduce contrast and eliminate pesky shadows. It’s like having a photography studio outside. Fall colors seem more vibrant on overcast days, so take advantage of the gloom! Remember to change the white-balance setting on your camera to “cloudy”, it’ll give those images a warmer, more appealing feel.
Finally, get out! Just because there’s a little snow in the mountains doesn’t mean you should stay indoors. Get out and shoot, that’s the only way to take great pictures!