The brilliantly and vibrantly colored fall foliage makes it easy to be a photographer. Walk through a nearby park or take a relaxing drive through the country and there is a blaze of color everywhere. It’s almost impossible not to find beautiful scenes waiting to be captured with your camera. True creativity, however, comes with being challenged; and an interesting challenge for any photographer that is sure to improve your skills and the quality of your images is to shoot the same colorful landscapes after the leaves have fallen.
Suddenly, you’re presented with stark landscapes, where the trees are bare of leaves and the carpet of leaves covering the ground is very muted, as the color has been leeched from them by time and weather. Late autumn, during which the natural world completes it final preparations for winter, offers just as many creative opportunities for the photographer who is willing to open his or her eyes and mind.
This period between the falling of the last leaves and the first snows or winter-type temperatures is short, so you must first study the weather and/or venture into a nearby city or state park or countryside to monitor the conditions. Once all the leaves have fallen, schedule a day, or even a few days at different times, to answer the call of the wild and confront the picture-taking challenges that await you.
- Although this tip has been shared ad nauseam by professional photographers and PhotographyTalk, late fall is one season of the year when dawn and dusk are particularly the best times to shoot. As the air becomes colder, there is less moisture, which gives the air and your photos a sharpness and clarity that doesn’t occur often. Yes, the same dry air will prevail most of the winter, but winter is another season. Late fall is when this atmospheric condition first occurs, with typically no snow on the ground covering the leaves.
Your first challenge may be a willingness to awake early enough to be on location before the sun rises, but it will be worth the effort. The low-angled rays of the sun penetrating the dry atmosphere will provide you with unique lighting effects. Often, there are a few scudding clouds that are saturated with, or reflect, the strong rays of the sun.
- Late fall mornings can also be misty or foggy, depending on your local climate. A mist rising through a stand of denuded trees can offer many creative choices. Be patient and the strengthening sun may slowly cause the mist or fog to evaporate. As it thins, you’ll be confronted with an entirely different array of late autumn images.
- Although very little color may remain in the leaves on the ground, look for landscape compositions that contrasts a bit of color in the foreground with the bare trees in the background. Look also for that last leaf still attached to an otherwise naked branch, which can also become an interesting composition of contrasting themes.
- Because of the sharpness of the air and the light, look for stands of bare trees or a single branch to create a silhouette against the early morning or late afternoon light. You’ll want to have a tripod handy, as you should shoot at a low ISO setting, so your images are razor sharp and without any digital noise, or graininess. You want to reveal the clearly defined edges of the smallest branches.
- With all the foliage gone, you now have a better opportunity to capture wildlife images, but again it must be during early morning or dusk when animals are more likely to be active.
- There may also be a few days when the first light snows begin to fall and accumulate. Either the falling snow or its partial covering of the muted colors of the leaves can present you with additional compositions.
- This late fall atmosphere is also evident in the city. The low light of late afternoon and into twilight may create an interesting contrast of the continuing activities of human even as the natural world hibernates for the winter. Capture people’s responses to the first blustery days that signal winter just around the corner. Look for a thin sheen of frost on common objects or even the first few snowflakes adhering to various surfaces and textures.
The late autumn is an excellent laboratory to help you develop and refine your photographer’s eye. Seeing and capturing beauty, contrasts and photo stories in what most people would describe as stark and lifeless is a sure sign that you are becoming a better photographer and one whose pictures everyone will want to view.