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Morning light on Spearfish Falls.
Morning light on Spearfish Falls.
Green and gold leaves just east of Mitchell.
Green and gold leaves just east of Mitchell.
Early morning dew on a sumac leaf in Sica Hollow State Park near Sisseton.
Early morning dew on a sumac leaf in Sica Hollow State Park near Sisseton.
“His” and “Hers” found in rural Aurora County.
“His” and “Hers” found in rural Aurora County.
Early morning frost on the floor of Spearfish Canyon.
Early morning frost on the floor of Spearfish Canyon.
The light frost could almost pass as sugar coating.
The light frost could almost pass as sugar coating.
Upper Roughlock Falls.
Upper Roughlock Falls.
Morning light in Spearfish Canyon.
Morning light in Spearfish Canyon.
Cliffs and color in Vanocker Canyon.
Cliffs and color in Vanocker Canyon.
A lonely barn near New Underwood.
A lonely barn near New Underwood.
Sage Creek Wilderness, Badlands National Park.
Sage Creek Wilderness, Badlands National Park.
A lone bull bison grazing just above a colorful draw of Sage Creek Wilderness.
A lone bull bison grazing just above a colorful draw of Sage Creek Wilderness.
Sage Creek Wilderness, Badlands National Park.
Sage Creek Wilderness, Badlands National Park.
The first touches of fall frame this barn near Choteau Creek in southwestern Bon Homme County.
The first touches of fall frame this barn near Choteau Creek in southwestern Bon Homme County.
Cattle graze with the colors of Sica Hollow State Park in the background.
Cattle graze with the colors of Sica Hollow State Park in the background.
A horse trail of Sica Hollow State Park.
A horse trail of Sica Hollow State Park.
Fallen leaves after a heavy dew found along the Big Sioux River east of Harrisburg.
Fallen leaves after a heavy dew found along the Big Sioux River east of Harrisburg.
Fishing on the mighty Missouri near Running Water.
Fishing on the mighty Missouri near Running Water.

The Golden Season

Oct 20, 2014

With beauty that can be as brief as the next north wind, fall signals the end of the growing season and the coming cold of winter. I often hear people say autumn is their favorite time of year. I like it too, although I think its stay is too brief. 

Finding the perfect fall foliage is not always easy. I have some favorite spots to check each year, and every once in awhile I find something unexpected. One constant is the cool overnights. This change in weather can leave heavy dew or even frost in the early morning. This has the potential to make photographic macro magic, so this year I tried more close-up detail than I ever have. 

Early one September morning in Spearfish Canyon, I discovered the magic of frost on fallen leaves. Because my mind doesn’t always function to its fullest during the early hours of the day, I forgot one of my favorite lenses in my vehicle and didn’t realize it until I had walked all the way down to Spearfish Falls from the parking lot of the Latchstring Inn at Savoy. All I had was my macro lens. While getting ready to head back up the trail I noticed what looked like sugarcoated red leaves and grass in the chilly shadows by the creek. I spent the next half hour on my knees among those fallen leaves. It’s funny how things work out —as I tarried with the frosted leaves, I happened to be there when the first sunlight appeared over the canyon walls and bathed the falls in a unique display of color and light.

Have you ever noticed that fall foliage can look absolutely breathtaking from a distance, but among the trees that beauty can seem less than you expected? Maybe it’s just me, but I often run in to situations like that. So this year, I decided to shoot many of the autumn scenes I encountered with a long lens. A telephoto lens allows a photographer to better isolate the subject with its background. Since you “zoom in” from a distance, you can concentrate more color in your photo, whereas the full measure of that combined color may be lost when you’re close and shooting with a wide-angle lens. The high draws of the Sage Creek Wilderness in Badlands National Park are a great place to use this technique. I like to walk out on the hills above the little valleys and feature the color in the foreground while pulling in the distant and rugged badlands as the background. If I walked up to the start of the draw and shot with a normal lens, I would lose all that concentrated color and the drama of the distant badlands.

Whatever your style or favorite technique may be, autumn is a great time to get out and shoot. Even after the gold, red and orange disappears, there are still opportunities for colorful leaves on the forest floor or in your yard. But you better hurry. Soon the wind will leave the land bare with only a white cover for a blanket. That is, until the rhythm of the seasons starts all over again next spring.

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 South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.

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