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.
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.
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.
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.
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