Fall for Autumn Photography

by Bret Edge | August 24, 2010

© Bret EdgeWith memories of alpine wildflowers in the not-too-distant past it’s almost impossible to believe that autumn is right around the corner. And yet, all the signs point to exactly that. Temperatures are trending lower, bears are focused on getting fatter and sunset is arriving earlier every day. If you ask me, I say, “Bring it on!”

Something about fall brings out the best in me. Seeing an entire stand of aspen trees bursting with color just puts me in a good mood. I mean, what’s better than snowcapped peaks piercing a rich blue sky with vast swaths of vibrant yellow foliage carpeting the mountainsides?

In honor of my favorite season I decided to jot down a few tips that I hope will help you make some dynamic images this fall.

Be Grand

Fall is an amazing season in which to photograph grand landscapes and panoramic views. Scenes that may, in other seasons, be less than interesting suddenly spring to life when colorful autumn foliage is introduced. Use the natural patterns created by hillsides of multi-colored trees to lead your viewer’s eye through the frame to dramatic background mountains. Or, find a nice stand of aspen trees and use the beautiful trunks and yellow leaves to frame something in the distance – perhaps a weathered barn or a majestic peak. The opportunities are endless!

Autumn © Bret Edge

Get Intimate With Nature

No, not like that! I’m talking about those wonderful little scenes that lie somewhere between macro and grand landscapes. They are often the kind of scene that the average person would pass and not even recognize the opportunity. As photographers, we are fortunate because we’ve trained our eyes to see these wonderful little landscapes that the masses simply ignore.

It is more difficult to photograph intimate landscapes than grand vistas. Often, there is no central subject. Add to that the chaos inherent in nature and you’ve got quite a challenge on your hand. When working an intimate composition I find it helpful to look for patterns within the scene. This may be easier to do while looking through your viewfinder because it eliminates extraneous elements. Try to balance colors within the scene and look for contrasting/complimentary elements. Most importantly, spend extra time fine-tuning your compositions. Don’t try to rush an intimate composition or you risk not finding the right, cohesive blend of elements.

Intimate © Bret Edge

Polarizing Filters Are Your Friend

This is an obvious one but I want to mention it as maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who hadn’t considered what I’m about to say. We all know that polarizing filters remove reflections. If you’re photographing a mountain reflecting in an alpine lake this might not be optimal. But when you’re photographing foliage, especially when it is lining a creek or glistening with raindrops, use a polarizing filter to eliminate reflections that sap the foliage of it’s vivid color. Give it a shot some time. Set up a composition and make two images. One without a polarizer and another with the polarizing filter cranked to maximum effect. Which one looks better? I’ll bet you a penny the polarized foliage appears more saturated and colorful.

Make the Weather Work for You

Fall is such a great time for photography because it allows us to make images in any type of weather. Got a plain blue sky? Grand landscapes await! How about dramatic clouds hovering over the landscape at sunset? Wide-angle panoramic vistas are your friend. Yeah, but what do you do when the sky is filled with boring grey clouds? You jump for joy, that’s what. Those clouds are the greatest diffuser ever invented. Use that lovely soft light to photograph intimate scenes rich with detail and lacking in harsh shadows. Any weather is good weather for fall foliage photography!

Weather © Bret Edge

Free Your Creative Mind

Autumn is a great time to break out of a creative rut. If you usually photograph grand scenics, spend more time seeking out intimate compositions. If it’s windy, experiment with slower shutter speeds to let blowing leaves blur into a wash of color. Try standing inside an aspen stand, panning the camera up and down while the shutter is open to create a surreal vision of fall. Slap on a fisheye or wide-angle lens and lay down on the forest floor to photograph tall trees with multi-hued leaves reaching into a blue sky. Use a large aperture to limit depth of field or try a small aperture for extreme depth. There’s no end to the fun you can have photographing autumn foliage if you allow yourself the luxury of experimentation.

Free creative mind © Bret Edge

It’s Not About the Gear

No, it isn’t about the gear. But there are some tools that I find useful when the leaves turn yellow, red and orange. I’ve already mentioned one of them – the venerable polarizing filter. Other filters I use regularly during my favorite season are a 3 stop graduated neutral density filter and a Singh-Ray Vari ND filter, which is wonderful for exercising your creative mind.

Lens choice is very much left to personal preference. My most used lens when photographing fall color is the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. For me, the focal length range works 80% of the time. Having said that, my favorite autumn image was made with the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5 – 5.6L IS USM lens at almost 400mm. I’ve also used a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L MKII lens and this year, I’ll be experimenting with a Canon 15mm f/2.8 fisheye.

Favorite image © Bret Edge

Other gear I can’t live without during fall includes my Gitzo tripod and Acratech Ultimate Ballhead, a remote shutter release and, I’m not kidding about this, a hot shoe bubble level. I simply cannot maintain a level horizon to save my life. I always keep a rain cover handy to prevent a light drizzle or even snowflakes from wreaking havoc with my camera’s electronics. A microfiber cloth is useful to dry off your lenses when the weather turns wet, too.

Now, if the foliage will cooperate this year and put on a good show for us you’ll be prepared to take advantage of whatever conditions Ma Nature throws at you. Have a great season of fall color photography and be sure to share some of your images in the forums here at NatureScapes!

About the Author

Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret's creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret's work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret's images, visit www.bretedge.com.

Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

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