Chasing Fall Color
Oct 5, 2011
Fall in South Dakota is one of my favorite times of year. The grass turns golden, the trees begin to blush and air is crisp and clean. As much as I like the season, I find it one of the most challenging things to photograph well. First of all, fall is fleeting. There are some years that the mighty South Dakota winds remove the bulk of the leaves before their peak color, and even when the stiff breezes do not threaten, you can only really count on fall color peak for around a week at the most. It is also a very busy time of year with school and other fall activities in full swing so getting out to shoot can be difficult. Lastly, I’ve found that my camera rarely captures the essence of what I am seeing and experiencing around me without some real thought and effort. As much as I’d like it to be, chasing and capturing fall color simply is not as easy as pointing and clicking.
Let me try to explain what I mean. Have you ever looked out on a golden evening in fall in awe and were inspired to start taking photos to capture the beauty? It often feels like no matter where you point your camera, the image you create will be an award winner, only to find out later that the pictures you took are not very spectacular at all and some of them are downright bad. This happens to me a lot. I’m still learning that I have to be careful not to let the euphoria of a seeing an amazing scene take away from the fundamentals of taking a good photo. Here are some tips that help me go about it.
- Shoot at the golden hour. The hour or so before sunset and after sunrise will give you nice “golden” light that accentuates the fall color of the trees.
- Watch for and eliminate visual distractions. A lovely tree belt can be ruined if there is a cell phone tower two miles off jutting out behind it. I know because it has happened to me.
- Capture the detail. Wide, sweeping landscapes are wonderful if you can find them, but some of my favorite shots are of simple things like leaf veins or thistle seedlings.
- Try sidelight. I’ve found that direct sunlight on fall foliage can sometimes look harsh and unpleasing to the eye. Try the same scene at a different angle and the sunlight will do some amazing things with the color.
- Use a polarizer. I’ve had good luck with circular polarizers warming the fall colors and bringing the blue out in the sky which causes the yellows and oranges to pop.
- Green is good. A fall scene doesn’t have to be all yellow, orange or red. Some green mixed in can really set off the other colors and add zing to your photo.
There is still a lot of fall left in the air this year so hopefully you get out and capture some amazing fall photos before it is gone. Feel free to comment with your own tips as I’d love to hear what has worked for you.
Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog.
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