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 Sinclairification by Grant Sinclair

How to take great Fall photos

15 Oct 2009
I love Fall. I love that dry, earthy smell of the leaves on the ground. I love the feel of afternoon sunshine and the crispness of the air. But I hate Fall foliage photos. I hate trying to capture the immensity of a beautiful fall scene in a photograph.

It has taken me years of trial and error, reading photography guides, and constantly shooting pictures to develop this set of tips for taking fall pictures:

1) The first tip is to pick your shots carefully. As dramatic as valley filled with fall foliage is, when you take it from a scenic overlook, it just kinda blends together into a lackluster photo. It may look dramatic, but the photo will be dull. You have to give your audience perspective and something to focus on. Look for one object to give your shot a bit of perspective. Split rail fences add a touch of rusticness that is very appealing. Old houses and barns also work very well.  One of my favorite things to use to add perspective is a tree with leaves that are off color to its surroundings.

2) Don’t forget the rule of thirds! This is essential in making your shots interesting. Place your object of focus in the left or right third of your photo and you will be amazed at how much better composed your shots are.

3) Pay attention to the weather! Here in Georgia, we only get one really gorgeous weekend of foliage in the Fall. That is one of the drawbacks to living in the South.  Once that first heavy rain hits, a lot of the leaves get knocked off.  A light, low fog, on the other hand, combined with a nice clear sky and a sunrise can make for some amazing photos.

4) Keep an eye on the trees in your neighborhood and realize that the trees farther north and in higher elevations will peak weeks ahead of your location. Check the Web for good weekends for the location you are planning on going to. There is nothing worse than taking a trip up to the mountains only to find the leaves peaked the weekend before and a couple days of strong wind already cleared the trees.

5) Don’t be afraid to get close… really close. I love close-ups of Fall foliage. But make sure you switch to a macro setting on your camera (and lens) so you can get really close. The camera or lens will tell you the distance it can work in macro mode.

6) Look for contrasts. Like the off color tree suggestion above, look for places where the color really stands out from background. I love small streams for this. Look for an area of moss covered stones and yellow or red leaves.

7) If you are shooting with a SLR, a polarizer could add some serious saturation to the colors of your pictures and can be very beneficial. On the other hand, they can produce uneven looking skies if used at the wrong angle. Also, if you are shooting on a cloudy day, a graduated neutral density filter can help prevent underexposing foliage with a cloudy or white background. This is also useful for shooting waterfalls in a dark or lush area, since the whitewater tends to push the camera to underexpose the surrounding vegetation.

8) Get away from the roads unless you are specifically going for a fall roads shot. I cannot emphasize this enough. Grab your camera and get into the woods. This will allow you a lot more flexibility in terms of camera angle and position.

9)  Don’t be afraid of black and white when shooting foliage. With the right contrasts, you will be surprised how well your shots could convert to black and white.

Good luck and I will see you out in the woods!

Grant Sinclair is an amateur photographer and was a newspaper reporter/photographer for eight years.

© 2009

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