How To Capture The Mood Of Autumn
Digital Camera World|October 2021
10 evocative ways to convey the atmosphere of the year’s most spectacular season.
Jon Adams and Andrew James

Autumn is the season photography was invented for. It extends from the tail end of summer greenery right through to frosty mornings; within those boundaries, a vast range of seasonal moods and experiences is just waiting to be captured by your lens.

To make the most of autumn’s awesome photogenic display, you have to be on the ball and ready to capture events as they happen, with an eye on the forecast and your camera kit at the ready. Here we suggest 10 great projects anyone can try, regardless of the equipment you have or your experience in using it. Follow us on our journey through the many moods of the season, and capture a portfolio of colour, energy and atmosphere.

We often think of autumn as the short period between leaves starting to change colour and those same leaves hitting the ground, but there’s more to it than that. Autumn is so bountiful for photographers that choosing just 10 projects seems awfully limiting – but these 10 will lead you onto new paths that are equally rewarding,

1 PACK THE FRAME WITH COLOUR

Set a wide aperture and create a frame effect that combines a focal point for the eye with an autumnal wash of colour

For vibrant, high-impact shots of autumn colours, overcast or even damp days are perfect. Although this seems counter-intuitive, a blanket of cloud provides low-contrast lighting and avoids the problems of extreme light and shade that sunny days bring.

Low-contrast conditions allow you to concentrate on two vital elements: how you arrange the shapes in the scene to create your composition, and how much of the scene you hold in sharp focus. By carefully adjusting your camera position, you can shoot through leaves close to the lens and create a natural frame that not only acts as a boundary to hem in the scene, but also subtly leads the viewer’s eye into your shot.

Use a short-to-medium telephoto lens (around 70 to 200mm). In Aperture Priority mode (A or Av on the mode dial), set a wide aperture value, such as f/2.8 or f/4. This will give a shallow depth of field: by focusing on the more distant leaves in the centre, you can diffuse your natural frame into a blurry wash of colour.

2 EARLY-MORNING STARBURSTS

Shoot into the sun for a dramatic landscape image full of contrast, rich colours, and an eye-catching burst of light

Bright, crisp autumn mornings are perfect for contre-jour shooting. Contre-jour is French: a literal translation means shooting ‘against the day’, but it’s easier to think of it as shooting into the light. Rather than having the sun behind the camera, position it so it’s pointing directly at the sun. To do this successfully, it’s best to pick the first (or last) hour of the day, when the sun is low. Metering when the sun is in the shot is always tricky, but not impossible. Select your camera’s multi-pattern metering mode (Evaluative or Matrix) and set up your composition.

Try to mask some of the sun behind a tree trunk or branch, so you are slightly dampening its intensity and reducing the chance of flare. We want the sun to appear as a starburst, rather than as an indistinct ‘mush’ of light; using a medium aperture such as f/11 will keep the effect tight and more attractive.

Your shot will have strong contrast within it. You want to make sure that you don’t burn out all the highlight detail, so the trees may partially silhouette. The histogram on your camera rear screen is always useful to check for overexposure. Exposure bracketing, where you shoot frames either side of the given exposure value, will help you achieve the right result.

PRO TECHNIQUE

EXPOSURE BRACKETING

Most cameras allow you to set auto exposure bracketing, so that when you press the shutter once, the camera takes a series of images either side of the metered exposure. This is a useful ‘failsafe’ method when you shoot into the light. Set up to shoot one stop either side of your exposure and you have three frames to select from for processing – or you could even merge them to create a single HDR file.

3 SEASONAL PORTRAITS

Make the most of the warm and complementary hues of autumn to stage a seasonal portrait shoot

Autumn is a great time of year for shooting portraits, especially when you use seasonal props and colours to make your picture pop. The key is to use a wide aperture such as f/2.8 or f/4 for your shot, limiting sharp focus to the eyes and allowing any background to diffuse.

A focal length of around 80mm is perfect for portraiture: it gives you a flattering perspective on your subject. Also try to keep the tones complementary; that includes hats, and even your model’s makeup.

USE A REFLECTOR

A reflector to bounce light back onto your subject, creating catchlights in the eyes, is one of the most useful accessories you can own. The ability to ‘move’ light this way and alter its quality has a dramatic effect on your results. For filling shadows, a white reflector is all you need, although a silver reflector can add contrast and edge. A piece of white card or even silver foil can do the job, too.

PORTRAIT LENSES

To avoid distorting facial features, use focal lengths of around 70200mm on a full-frame camera; if your camera has a smaller sensor, take the crop factor into account. For example, on a camera with a crop factor of 1.5x, a standard 50mm lens makes a perfect portrait optic because it’s effectively 75mm. A good portrait lens gives you the ability to shoot at wide apertures.

4 MAGIC ON A RAINY DAY

Don’t let inclement weather get in the way of your creative photography – use it as inspiration!

Think of weather as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and you’ll be going wrong if you’re looking to capture the moods of the season. Damp days are just as viable as those with bright sunshine – and they may be even more rewarding, given that fewer photographers will be outside to explore the potential.

Weather conditions can inspire different creative approaches, too. A wet, leaf-strewn foreground, for example, can be used to set up a multiple-exposure image that combines two or three separate shots into one frame. Set up your camera on a tripod to lock it in position. Provided you don’t change the focus point or exposure settings, you can take several shots – introducing different elements into the frame – and blend the results together in layers in Photoshop.

Place a model in one position to achieve a balanced frame. After taking a shot, move them to another position to introduce a stronger narrative. After shooting this image, get them to move out of frame entirely, and shoot the empty scene. Because the camera hasn’t moved over the three different shots, they will all line up exactly in software as separate layers. Now, all you need to do is blend them together using Opacity or Blending Modes: artistic images can be created, with ghostly figures dominating the scene.

PRO TECHNIQUE

BLEND LAYERS

When shots are stacked as layers in Photoshop, you can adjust how transparent they appear with Opacity and access a vast range of Blending Modes that change the way the pixels interact with the layer beneath. Experimenting with these options can bring about creative effects that can take your photography in a different direction.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

RELATED STORIES

WHO'S a good business model? It's YOU! Yes it is! You're SUCH a good business model! Yes you are!

Locked-down Americans are pampering their pets like never before, and Chewy is reaping the benefits

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 23 - 30, 2020

Facing Those Final Days With the Special Care Your Pet Needs

Because most pet owners tend to outlive their pets, there comes a time in most pet-human relationships when time starts to run out for your beloved cat or dog.

10 mins read
Cat Talk
October 2020

Create a Fall Focal Point

Add a creative highlight to any outdoor area with these container garden ideas.

2 mins read
Birds & Blooms
October/November 2020

Pumpkin Patches, Hayrides And Ghostly Gatherings

Autumn is a glorious season in the Triangle. Visit a local farm to hop on a hayride, sip apple cider and find your way out of corn maze. Scare yourself silly in one of the area’s celebrated haunted houses, or venture down a dark trail to greet the undead. Explore our vast selection of fall offerings, from tame experiences to frightful festivities. Events requiring a fee, ticket or donation are marked with an asterisk. Check the daily calendar section for more seasonal fun.

10+ mins read
Carolina Parent
October 2019

Pumpkins, Frights And Lively Nights

Autumn is the perfect season to fall in love with Boston. With pumpkins galore, a crisp breeze and leaves of bright oranges and reds, the area settles into its own beauty. It’s also the season of spook and the city happily turns its pumpkin spiced latte in for a cup of creep. Here are a few ways to get in the Halloween spirit.

2 mins read
Where Boston
October 2019

Autumn Aplenty - Colourful Leaves And Beautiful Birds

Changing seasons bring cooler temperatures, colorful leaves and beautiful birds.

2 mins read
Birds & Blooms
October/November 2019

Simple Steps For Creating A Robust Indoor Garden

Grow garden-fresh ingredients year-round.

2 mins read
Birds & Blooms
October/November 2019

Revealed! Fall Leaf Secrets

Experts share why leaves change and predict when to hit the road for the colorful show.

3 mins read
Birds & Bloom
October/November 2018

Pro Tips For Stunning Autumn Images

Discover how to shoot images packed with colour and detail that capture the essence of autumn

10+ mins read
Photography week
October 14, 2021

How To Add Colour In Autumn

If you want a hardworking perennial for autumn colour that thrives on neglect and provides food for insects, try planting hylotelephiums, says Louise Curley

4 mins read
Amateur Gardening
October 02, 2021