Autumn Leaves, Autumn Light
As you read this – assuming you live in the northern hemisphere – we are in the early days of autumn. And in case you haven't noticed, the days are getting shorter, the air is getting cooler (at least here in the northeast portion of the States), and the leaves on the trees are starting to get tinges of farewell-to-summer coloration.
Each season has its strong points when it comes to taking pictures, but fall is one of the prettiest, and perhaps the most welcoming for picture taking. Gone is the oppressive heat and humidity, and because the sun doesn't get quite as high in the sky, harsh mid-day glare along with 'raccoon eye' shadows are less of an issue with each passing day. Shadows too are becoming more prevalent, even towards midday. Like I said, it's a fine time for picture taking.
Fall foliage is by far the prime reason most folks grab their camera bags and head out the door this time of year. Starting in late August, and running straight through Thanksgiving, trees and bushes cease producing chlorophyll, which in turn allows colors other than green to show through. In the early part of the season you have to look closer to find these snippets of color, but rest assured they are there. You just have to look a little closer. By the last week of September, the change in scenery starts taking center stage.
Most local newspapers and TV stations track 'peak' foliage times throughout the fall season. Even so, you can head out most any time these days and find if not troves of color, certainly small touches that pop out of the surroundings. Where you live, the types of trees in your area, your relative altitude, ambient temperature and rainfall all go into the mix when plotting peak color days. And even on peak days, the colors and quality of the atmosphere changes hourly.
In general, early morning and late afternoon offer the best opportunities for bold imaging. The lower the sun sits on the horizon, the warmer the light. The cool night air often produces mist towards dawn, which combined with the low angled rays of the rising sun, further adds to the mood and atmosphere of your photographs. The crisp blue skies common to fall days can be incorporated as contrasting backgrounds for the reds, yellows, and orange colors of the leaves. If you shoot with wide-aperture prime lenses, this is also a good time to play with selective focus.
And even if the sun isn't shining, that's no reason to stay home to catch up on paperwork as overcast skies and rainy days tend to saturate colors of the leaves, which in turn play off the monochromatic palette of the surrounding landscape.
From a creative point of view, make sure you play around with any and all lenses in your bag, and take the time to explore every scene from as many vantage points as possible. If you have a macro lens make sure you put it to use, and if you have a close-focusing wide-angle lens, do the same. Filling the frame with a brightly colored leaf and having its branch and nearby leaves fall away into the background can be very powerful.
Although color temperature and saturation levels can be tweaked in Photoshop (especially if you shoot RAW), using a Polarizing filter to reduce glare and saturate the colors is always a good idea for shooting foliage - rain or shine. Another type of filter worth toying around with is an enhancing filter, which can be purchased in a variety of sizes, strengths, and formats. Enhancing filters absorb portions of the blue end of the spectrum, which in turn further saturates the red, yellow, and orange colors of the landscape.
Foliage aside, autumn is also an excellent time to shoot cityscapes. With the sun dipping below the horizon line well before most people head home from work, it's possible to capture lit office windows and streetlights combined with the magical glow of dusk as a backdrop. While you can capture similar imagery other times of the year, by the time the sky turns gorgeous it's more likely many of the office lights have mostly gone dark.
Got a camera? What are you waiting for? Before you know it the show will be over and winter will be here.