Officially running from September 22nd till December 20th, autumn is a truly exciting time for landscape photography. Like spring, during the autumn season our surroundings change dramatically and it’s a great time to venture out to those ancient woodlands and sweeping Yorkshire valleys, to capture the glorious colour.
Each year I have found autumn to be quite different, especially as to when the leaves start to change. We experience the most vibrant colours when it’s been a dry summer, which this year (2013) it has been, and then leads into a dry sunny autumn with cold, but not freezing nights. Cloudy and very wet autumn days lead to more muted colours.
This stunning season has inspired artists and photographers alike for natures last colourful display before the winter hits. It’s a good idea to do many recces during the summer months to deciduous woodlands, and its great to find some with rivers or streams running through them. A location that we visit for one of our workshops is Strid Wood at Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, and is just the perfect setting for photography.
Ideally for capturing autumn colour we don’t really want bright sunny days as the sun can bleach away some of the colour and make exposures difficult, although front lit scenes can be very effective, with the right subject.
What we would be looking for is an overcast, dry day with little wind, so that our subject is evenly lit and little movement in the leaves. When the sun is behind clouds it acts like a giant soft box, giving us a nice diffused light, which is great for woodlands and moving water shots.
When the weather is like this you can shoot all through the day, and it doesn’t matter too much the suns position.
Camera Set Up
A tripod is absolutely essential and a cable release as we wouldn’t want any camera shake. If it’s a cloudy day and we are in woodland, we would need longer exposures to get the histogram looking good.
Subject and composition are extremely important and can be anything from a group of different colourd trees; the dark almost silhouetted trunks and branches to a meandering river, we are often spoilt for choice. Check that the ISO speed is as low as your camera will allow and that the White Balance is set to automatic. It may also be useful (if your camera will allow) for longer exposures to select Mirror Up, so that there is no chance for camera shake.
So once the camera is set up on the tripod and the subject is framed into a nice composition, its time to decide on the exposure. This of course is dependent on the subject, whether there is movement or what depth of field you require. Quite often I find a nice small aperture of around f22 giving a large depth of field and longer exposure is perfect, particular if there is moving water, as the longer exposure will flatten the water giving us bright reflections.
What ever your settings, the histogram is key to getting all the tonal information in the image. Avoid any white clipping at all cost, as this is hard to repair at the post processing stage. Black clipping is not to bad as this could be the tree trunk or shadows under rocks, which gives the image a nice contrast.
You might find that on an overcast day, your histogram can be quite narrow, particularly if you’re shooting moving water, this is not a problem and perfect in fact (so long as the curve is as central as possible).
So you’ve enjoyed your day out surrounded by the autumn colour, its time to process the images. This is when the images truly come to life.
As mentioned before you might have found on the back of the camera, some images to be a little dull in colour with a narrow histogram. This is perfect and with a simple adjustment in Photoshop, the image will come to life. We do this using the Levels tool, select this and the Histogram will pop up. Simply drag the black pointer in to where the data starts and do the same with the white pointer and watch how the image changes.
Take a look at the below image of moving water at The Strid, the first is quite dull, but with the simple Levels adjustment, all the colour pops through. The same goes for the woodland images, what’s so important is getting the exposure right in the field, as repairing any clipping is difficult and noticeable.
More Things to Look Out For
Reflections are perfect this time of year, and with longer exposures it really brings out the colour.
You are not restricted to just woodlands in autumn, head out to the big open spaces as the valleys change colour, and if the sky is quite dull or just white, then don’t be afraid to crop it out. Below is an image by Mark Sunderland taken in The Lake District
Moving leaves on water is great fun to play with on a still day, the below image was a 12 second exposure and picks up the swirling leaves on the top of the water. This was also taken at the very beginning of autumn so the leaves on the tree are still quite green, but the fallen leaves are in the water, giving lots of colour.
Have fun with light, perhaps take the camera off the tripod and pan the camera whist taking the image for some abstract and very colourful images.