There is hardly a photographer who hasn’t found inspiration in the natural changes of colors in the fall. The yellows, reds, oranges and fading greens offer endless photographic possibilities and an opportunity to learn how to play with color. Today we focus on the two main elements that make this season so spellbinding: trees and foliage.
1. Opt for natural contrasts
To make the colors of leaves and trees pop, always go for natural contrasts. A landscape featuring multi-colored foliage will be more dramatic than an evergreen forest. Weather permitting, take advantage of the blue sky, which provides a good natural contrast, nicely pairing with oranges and reds. In good weather, you can take a low-angle shot of crimson, golden, or ochre treetops, using the blue of the sky as your background. This will ensure a naturally contrasted image. But steel-grey or even dark stormy skies can also work to your advantage: they offer softer, more diffused light and lend a greater coherence to the image.
2. Taking close-ups
While autumn offers a wide range of colors, you might want to focus on one or two elements and work on closeups. You can focus on individual leaves, for example by shooting them against a lighter or darker background to highlight the texture. If your lens has a short minimum focus distance, you may want to get even closer for macro photography. Macro lenses are specially designed for this purpose and have a magnification ratio of at least 1:1. Their focal length is generally long – 60 mm, 90 mm, to as high as 150 and even 180 mm – but other standard lenses, such as 50 mm, are perfectly sufficient for a first approach to macro photography.
Other natural elements, such as animals, insects, or drops of water may further enhance your photographs, allowing for variations in the depth of field to foreground your main subject. Use the widest aperture (f/1.4, 1.8, 2.8) to generate a nice background blur and focus manually on your subject for better precision.
3. Play with reflections
It rains more often in autumn, and while rainfall may cut your photographic outing short, it makes things interesting in its wake. Don’t be afraid to play with reflections in puddles, brooks, or ponds. You can thus capture more of the fall colors and exploit the symmetry to make your image more dynamic. Rain and humidity offer other visual attractions, such as the raindrops clinging to leaves or suspended on spider webs. These are additional ways to showcase autumn foliage.
4. Make good use of the golden hours
To enhance the orange hues, get out the door early in the morning, just before sunrise, or yet at the approach of twilight, just before sunset. These golden hours not only provide beautiful light but will accentuate the leaves with the dominant golds and reds of sunlight. This is a simple and natural way to show off the colors of the season.
Another way to put golden hours to use is to photograph against the light. Backlighting strengthens the silhouettes of leaves and trees and makes the colors pop even better thanks to this natural contrast.
5. Enhance the colors in processing
Post-production is an important step that can help you optimize your images and make your colors pop. Photo-editing software will allow you to slightly saturate your images with the help of saturation or vibrance tools, for example. You can also vary the white balance to favor warmer or cooler tones, or even tint individual elements using selective color correction. Enhancing the contrast will also make the colors sharper. Be careful, however, not to overdo it to preserve a natural look.
You might for instance slightly desaturate the background or, conversely, heighten the saturation of oranges and yellows in order to bring out the colors of the leaves, which already stand out against the background thanks to the blur generated by a large aperture, as shown in the image below.
Autumn is an ideal season to practice photography: the variety of shapes and colors makes it easy to be creative and produce dynamic, expressive images. Make the most of natural contrasts typical of fall to best exploit the full color palette of the season.
By Céline Nébor