Tuesday, 27 August 2013

My top 10 tips for awesome autumn images!

Last year I outlined my favourite techniques for capturing autumnal landscapes. Since that time of year is nearly upon us again I thought I'd pass on a few reminders...

Like most landscape photographers I would imagine, I love being out and about enjoying fantastic autumnal colours and the endless picture opportunities they offer. Last year was a particularly colourful one and I hoping for an equally impressive display of seasonal hues in the next few months.
       Whilst I’m no pro I thought it might be quite nice to put together a list of what I think to be the best ways of getting great autumn shots, making sure we get the most out of what nature is offering us. Below are my ‘Top Ten’ techniques for creating images to be proud of- get out and use them before all the leaves are gone and/or keep this page in your favourites until next year!
10) Try showing movement: I feel a little mean sticking this right down at number 10 as it can really be a great trick for producing abstract images with an extra ‘something’, but it may not be to everyone’s taste so here it is! Try using a slower shutter speed to introduce some movement into your shots. Since you’ll more than likely find yourself shooting trees, using a slower shutter value will show up any movement in the branches caused by wind. An exposure of around 1/30th sec will give you a slight blur to the leaves (depending on wind strength) while 1 sec or more and you can get some really abstract streaks of colour. This works if you haven’t got anything interesting in the scene before you to make you’re subject- focus solely on those autumn hues! 

 9) Shoot on dull days: A way of making use of whatever light you happen to be faced with. Whilst it’s lovely to have nice beams of strong autumn sunlight streaming into your shot, shooting on an overcast day, with the low contrast, can be a fantastic route to saturated colours. If the sky seems uninspiring, focus on the little details and shoot some leaves in close-up. Try adding a burst of flash to create a little contrast and a bit of sparkle to your subject.  

8) Shoot at dawn or dusk: the key to any great landscape photo, if not a little limiting on the number if images you are able to produce through the season (not everyone has time to do this often). If you have the opportunity, shooting at these times will give you those rich golds, reds and browns along with a dreamy glow, all caused by the directional light of the low sun. I love to photograph back-lit leaves at these times, which will give intense colour and great detail of the leaf structure. If you can make dawn or dusk, try early(ish) morning (on your way to work/school/university etc.) or late afternoon. That’s the brilliant thing about this time of year- the light is good for most of the day, with dawn fairly late and sunset early. Try combining this with no. 7…
7) Shoot into the light: aiming your camera into the sun gives amazing back and rim-lighting effects and doing this helps you get the most out of the directional light in no. 8 above. Obviously don’t look at the sun in your viewfinder (spare a thought for your eyes) or leave the lens pointing at it for too long (this can burn your shutter.) These sort of go without saying. Oh and watch out for flare- invest in a skylight or UV filter, pronto.

6) Use a warm-up filter: either on your lens or when in the digital dark room. These do what they say on the box- give your image a warmer tone, which works great with the already warm colours of the season. In Photoshop go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter and select one of the warming filters. I usually use the 81 or 85 filters.
5) Even better than that- use your White Balance to get it right in-camera: this is one area where you don’t want to rely on your camera’s auto WB as all those reds and yellows will get it totally confused and you won’t get the look you’re after. Use the ‘Shade’ or ‘Cloudy’ presets depending on how warm you want your image to be. This is works well as it complements the naturally low kelvin values of autumn scenes. If you’re shooting film you’ll have to resort to no. 6.

4) Underexpose: I’m not getting into the on-going debate about whether in digital photography it’s better to under- or overexpose, because in this case it is absolutely a nice idea to under expose slightly, as this will give you nice saturated colours (as well as prevent blown-out highlights.) Don’t go crazy; try starting with -1/3 EV using your exposure compensation control (in P, Av and Tv modes) and working from there.
3) Without doubt, use a polarizer: Ok so we’re onto the top 3. Firstly you definitely want to be using a circular polarizing filter to reduce glare on leaves and give your precious colours a lift. This filter is a no-brainer for landscape photographers and should be in everyone’s kit bag; this case is no exception. Oh and it will cut the light entering your camera by about 2 stops, allowing you to blur water and branches with longer exposures, which is no bad thing as long as you have a good tripod.

2) Know your location: in at number 2 we have something I truly believe in- know the good spots from which to shoot. If you have a good idea of what might make some good autumnal photos before the colour shows itself you’re in for a better chance of getting the pics you want. Preparation is everything. Those stunning colours aren’t around for long so plan your images and get them while you can!

1) DON’T JUST MAKE THE COLOUR THE SUBJECT! : I think this merits 1st place- avoid the shots all the ‘happy snappers’ out there are getting and don’t make the sole focus of your image the autumnal colours themselves. A brightly coloured tree doesn't necessarily make a good photo in its own right. It might of course but there are likely to be other possibilities. Look for something, anything to photograph in the colourful surroundings. Even if it’s a little stream, or a person walking into the shot to show scale, or an animal interacting with the environment. Anything. It’s easy to get carried away with all that colour and start snapping at everything, but get a clear idea of what you want in your mind and I can guarantee you images with impact! [Unless you’re a dog or an octopus or a fungus, in which case you probably won’t be able to hold the camera properly or indeed understand anything I’ve written here. Hey life’s difficult, get over it… : )]

I’d like to hear if you have any comments on the above list: do you agree with my ‘Top Ten’? Contact me by commenting here, or by leaving a message on my website, Flickr page, or 500px site (see right for the links.)

Happy shooting this autumn!
Peter  x

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