The leaves are turning; It’s time to get your camera out. Taking photos of fall leaves is easy. But taking good photos of fall color is hard. Here are creative tricks to make your outdoor fall color shots pop.
The best way to make colors vibrant is to find something on the opposite side of the color wheel. If you don’t remember middle-school art class, complimentary colors are the opposites on the color spectrum. When they’re juxtaposed, both colors appear more saturated. Complimentary colors also create an illusion of depth: warm colors (red, yellow and orange) come “forward” while cool color “recede”. Yellow’s compliment is blue. The good news is that blue can readily be found in water or sky, or even clothing.
Red’s compliment is green. When the leaves are red, look for conifers or evergreen shrubs to pair with them. The best place is often in at elevation, where the ground color is usually evergreen. Leaves turn red (instead of yellow) when they get a lot of direct autumn sun paired with cold temperatures, so seek out dry sides of mountain ranges.
To deepen saturation, use a polarizing filter. These round filters have a rotating ring that changes the effect. Polarizing filters are most dramatic at 90 degrees to the sun. They screw onto the end of lenses, but can also be carefully held in front of point-and shoots and even phone cameras.
Swaths of color alone won’t make a great image. Viewers want to be immersed in photographs, and for that we need depth. A trail river, or country road that takes us into the scene will pack more punch than just some trees.
Fall has texture. The crunch of dry leaves, or the slippery piles of wet leaves that clog storm drains. Photograph that texture. Get close. Use your camera’s macro function. Eliminate the horizon from the frame, and focus on the edges and of leaves or the patterns of leaves on the ground. In my part of the country, where the changing leaves is also the start of the rainy season, it’s a chance to combine fallen leaves with water droplets or morning frost.
Not all fall rituals revolve around pretty leaves. In the Pacific Northwest, it’s also the height of salmon spawning season. Fall is also when we hunt for edible mushrooms, transition from summer barbeques and campouts to sending kids heading back to school, puting up our gardens for the year, and training for ski season. All these are great photographic subjects…along with raking leaves and cleaning gutters.
Light at the End of the Day
Like all photography, light rules. In fall sunrise is a bit later, so it’s easier to be up for the sweet light.
Now get our there and shoot.