It feels like many of us have been on the edge of our seats anticipating autumn's arrival for several weeks. It now looks like it's here so it's time to get out there and enjoy the colours and atmosphere of this fantastic time of year.
In previous years I have done a pretty poor job of capturing autumn. It's sometimes felt like I've been waiting for it to come and yet it's gone by the time I get out. I'm determined to do better this year! Below I share a few things I'll be keeping in mind to get the most out of the season.
Of course the joy of autumn is the wonderful colours. It's easy to be seduced by the vibrant red and gold colours. There will be no shortage of red tree photos on Flickr and Facebook streams as the colours are such an allure for everyone.
Whilst the colours may be the "hero" of the image, we need to make sure it has a supporting cast to make it stand out - strong composition, good lighting and good timing allied with good technique. Ultimately we want our picture to say more than "look, I found a red tree" and so we need to rely on our photographic powers to tell a better story.
This isn't unique unique to autumn, they're just the ingredients of a good photo. But we shouldn't abandon them thinking "you can't make a bad picture of this". Better to remember their importance in translating a beautiful scene into a successful photo.
Time of Day
As with other seasons the best light is usually found at the start and end of the day. The autumn colours are made ever more spectacular with the low, raking golden light found around sunrise and sunset. The soft light can also really lift the detail in the landscape.
By comparison sun in the middle of the day reduces the saturation of the colours and delivers harsh contrast, with the landscape being over bright in some parts and pure black in others. Again this isn't unique to autumn but when the colours are likely to be a main part of the image we really don't want them to be washed out!
Fortunately with the later sunrise and earlier sunset it's much easier to during golden hour than it is during the height of summer. Reason enough to love autumn.
We can get some pretty crazy weather in autumn. To be fair that's true anytime of the year in the UK. But there can be some really interesting clouds and storms going about and whilst it would be more comfortable taking shelter inside it's a perfect opportunity to get some really atmospheric shots with some stunning skies.
If we are in woodland, the general advice of avoiding bright sunshine in favour of overcast days still holds. Bright sunshine gives us strong contrast that is difficult to capture successfully in the image, adding to what can already seem like a complex image.
Not only are the trees wonderful subjects in their own right but they also lend themselves to colourful reflections. These could be in puddles due to the previously noted weather, or in streams and lakes.
They can provide a real accent to an image, a sympathetic splash of colour to play off against the rest of the image. The image could be about the reflection itself, perhaps looking for a mirror effect or an abstract incorporating just the reflection.
In apparent conflict with the previous point, a polariser is great for removing reflections.
Not all reflections are good reflections. Sometimes the leaves are wet, and even if they're not they are often shiny. This creates little reflections that make the leaves appear lighter and duller than they really are. Using a polariser helps to remove these reflections and give saturation and contrast back to the leaves.
Often the reflections you get on the water aren't pleasing colourful ones but bright white, glarey reflections of the sky. This can really detract from the warmer hues in the image. This is a good time to consider a polariser, and the darker water it creates will provide a more striking contrast against the foliage colours.
With the ever changing weather there's also a good chance of rainbows. A polariser can help saturate the colours of the rainbow so keep an eye out!
I love mist. It's so beautifully haunting. And autumn is a great time for mist with the longer, cooler nights. The mist gathers in the valley bottoms through the night providing us with a fantastic veiled landscape come the morning.
Getting above the mist can give you some lovely images, with the billowing mist falling into the troughs of the landscape. This gives the effect of different layers stretching into the distance, adding real depth to the image.
Mist in woodland provides a lot of opportunities. I often find trees quite difficult to shoot as they entangle each other to create quite messy, complex images. Mist helps to soften and declutter the woodland, again providing layers and rendering distant trees as ghost like figures. With an early morning sun, you can get some beautiful crepuscular rays shining through the trees.
Going further autumn provides increased chances of cloud inversions. These are basically like thick clouds that sit on the valley floor. If you get above them then it can feel like you've climbed through the clouds to the top of the world with nothing but cloud below you. This post by Terry Abraham (@terrybnd) explains the effect and the conditions that create it better than I could.
The allure of autumn isn't just from the colour, but from the contrast between that colour and the rest of the landscape. Consider ways to accentuate this contrast. For example find a colourful tree against less colourful neighbours. Look for strong colour contrasting with a lack of colour. Remember that blue and yellow are complementary colours so look to contrast a blue sky with yellow leaves for example.
It's Not Just Trees
Trees are the hero of autumn. With a multitude of species turning at different times and going different colours, woodland takes on a whole palette of gorgeous colour.
But other plants take on their own interesting colours, perhaps less striking but still beautiful. Grasses, heathers and bracken near where I live in the Peak District turn the hillsides a wonderful array of browns, oranges, yellows and reds. It's worth keeping your eyes open for the changing colour of the landscape itself and making beautiful but perhaps less obvious autumn pictures.
I'm increasingly thinking about capturing different aspects of the landscape. As well as 'standard' shots with my 21mm and 35mm, I'm looking for more intimate shots with longer focal lengths, getting in really close to the subject, or using a macro lens. Individual, perhaps back-lit, leaves provide an interesting subject, as do barks, details of other plants and mushrooms.
Look up, see how the yellow leaves and branches create interesting, abstract patterns. Rather than the whole tree, look for interesting branches and features to use in a tighter image.
Look for the landscape within the landscape to provide a more intimate perspective.
Get Out There
Autumn doesn't last long. We wait for what seems like forever for the trees to turn but before you know it the leaves are on the ground and the branches bare.
With so much to shoot and get excited about why stay at home? My shooting schedule has much increased this year which will certainly help.
It's a good time to bargain with the family for extra time out with the camera. If you've got any spare holiday then using it to go out midweek when the conditions are looking favourable is a good plan - you can't rely on luck for a weekend trip out. Judging by the number of photographers at Padley Gorge last weekend, going out midweek may be the best chance of enjoying autumn with a degree of solitude.
Don't wait for it to get better, just get out there and start shooting. One night of strong wind can blow the colours from the trees and it's a long wait for the next one...