Jump-Start Your Autumn Photography

by Jeff Newcomer | September 28, 2012

© Jeff NewcomerAs a New England photographer, the couple of weeks of autumn’s riotous punctuation to summer is the one annual opportunity that simply can’t be missed. In my region of southern New Hampshire and Vermont, peak color is usually around the Columbus Day holiday. By mid September I find myself gazing northward looking for the first signs of the approaching wave of red and gold. Even a single brilliantly painted leaf can trigger the hunger for more. Last year the New England foliage was disappointingly drab and I found that I had to be creative in my search for inspiring color and atmosphere. I am anticipating a much better season this year and I’m excited to start the autumn celebration. Sadly, responsibilities keep me from journeying to the Canadian border, so I have to endure the maddening wait for the color to come to me. In the meantime, here are a few of the techniques I used last year to coax color from a reluctant season that may be helpful in getting an early autumn jump-start.

Baker Brook autumn newfane © Jeff Newcomer

1. Focus on the Few Colorful Trees

Early in the season there are always isolated precocious trees that turn days before the time of peak color. It may be a single tree or a small group. Sometimes even a single brightly colored branch may contrast with the dark background. Zoom in on these stars and no one will know that you are surrounded by foot daggers. Actually, even during peak foliage, I prefer to focus on one or a few spectacular trees. I generally find broad autumn landscapes to be colorful but, too often, crushingly boring.

Black Book Maple Battleboro © Jeff Newcomer

2. Look for Color in the Right Places

When looking for early color my rule is always to; go north, go up or go wet. Obviously color tends to come earlier the further north you travel, and when you go to higher elevation. Even just a few hundred feet of elevation can make a surprising difference in the display. Color also tends to cluster around wet areas. Marshes, streams and lakes are all good places to look. Stickney Falls in Dummerston Vermont displayed nice color last year even though the surrounding area was still dull. The added advantage of “going wet” is that you get to include the water in your compositions.

Two paths Stickney Falls, Dummerston © Jeff Newcomer

3. Don’t Photograph Trees

There is much more to autumn than garishly colored vegetation. If the color is bad, or just hasn’t happened yet, don’t photograph it. Autumn is the prime time for local harvest festivals and farmer’s markets with lots of great opportunities for colorful shots, not to mention delicious pies. In my picture of the pumpkins at Holton Farm in Westminster Vermont, there is not a tree in site, but the autumn gold still shines through. In my region the Annual Pumpkin Festival in Keene, New Hampshire, is always filled with marvelous atmosphere and brilliant color (mostly orange).

Pumpkins at Holton Farm, Westminster © Jeff Newcomer

Scaffold looking up © Jeff Newcomer

4. Spray the Dull Trees with Golden Light

Golden color doesn’t only come from dying leaves. Regardless of the season, morning and evening light is often magical and can enhance the warmth of even drab foliage. So get up early, or stay late to enliven the foliage with the glow of the “golden hours.”

Connecticut sunset, Chesterfield © Jeff Newcomer

5. Transilluminate

Shooting the light coming through autumn foliage can ignite the dull early season foliage. This is especially helpful when forced to shoot in midday when the light is stark and flat. The resulting leaf color becomes more a manifestation of the color of the light and when combined with the warm evening or morning light the foliage can be transformed to peak season splendor. My image of the Newfane Vermont Village was captured in mid September when the colors were just beginning to show, but by transilluminating the tree with sunset light the scene exploded with autumn fire.

Cemetary fence, Newfane © Jeff Newcomer

6. Cheat

These are just a few techniques to enhance dull or early colors to extend this tragically brief, but spectacular season. The predictions are for good foliage this year, but, as a final last desperate resort, you can always sit at home and pull images from previous years and claim them as new. I, of course, would never resort to such shady measures.

Maple bend, Guilford © Jeff Newcomer

So cross your fingers for this year’s show, but remember, part of the fun and challenge of photography is to make the best of what nature gives us.

Partridge mist, Spotford © Jeff Newcomer

About the Author

Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. His photography has been featured in a number of galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England countryside in all seasons the proceeds from which have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. To learn more about Jeff and photography in New England, visit his website and weekly blog.

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