Fall is probably considered the "Super Bowl" of seasons for most nature photographers. Aside from the obvious explosion of color, I like it because the unbearable heat of summer is finally over. It's a little hard to see through the viewfinder when sweat is constantly dripping in your eyes. I also like it because I don't have to carefully pick and chose the perfect day for a shoot. Fall foliage is one of the few subjects in nature that can be successfully photographed on either a sunny or a completely overcast day. However, it's important to know which types of scenes look best under each type of lighting condition.
I shot the vertical image in the forest area in the New York Botanical Garden on an overcast day with even lighting. Forest scenes are notoriously "busy" by nature. To complicate them even further with extreme highlights and shadows produced by direct sunlight, will cause everything to deteriorate into one big bowl of contrast. The soft lighting in this image helped to simplify the scene and emphasize its true colors. Although an overcast sky can produce very pleasant effects, the sky itself is not much to look at. I generally don't include too much (if any) of a blank white sky in the shot. This image was also aided by light winds – creating a near mirror-like reflection in the Bronx River.
The horizontal is a photo of Hessian Lake in Bear Mountain State Park. Located just 30 miles outside of the city in Upstate New York, this park is a great getaway for fantastic views of fall foliage. I specifically wanted a sunny day for this image. Composition was very important. With the sky as the most visually graphic element in the scene, I placed the horizon line low so that the cumulus clouds would take center stage. This wouldn't have worked had they been any thicker, but the patches of blue sky nicely complimented the colorful foliage. Also, I didn't want the tree on the right to blend into the background, so I created some separation by positioning it just above the ridge of the distant tree line. I then waited for the little duckies to swim into the perfect spot on the lake to complete the shot.
Even though both of these images were shot under optimum lighting conditions, they still needed one more thing to really make them shine. I used a polarizing filter to saturate the colors in the forest. It served the same purpose in Bear Mountain, in addition to darkening the blue portion of the sky, thus, enhancing the clouds. This wonder filter works well in any season, but its effects are probably most evident with fall foliage.
Autumn is truly a versatile season, because any kind of day is a good day to shoot fall foliage. Even a rainy day shouldn't be ruled out. Close-ups of raindrops clinging to colorful leaves can make for some very compelling images. Of course, you might want to wait for the rain to stop first.
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F.M. Kearney is a fine art nature photographer, specializing in unique floral and landscape images. To see more of his work, please visit his portfolio page here.