Taking Great Fall Photos

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Fall Photography

Fall can be an incredible time of the year for photography. With vibrant fall colors of orange, red, yellow, brown, and green, these are the ingredients for some stunning photos. There are a few steps you can take to maximize your photo’s potential and get even better shots.

Lenses

First, choose which lens you plan to use. Each has their own merits. Here are my observations on each type:

  • Telephoto zooms. 18-300+ mm focal lengths. These will get you in close when shooting from a distance and allow you to make some quick compositions very easily. They tend to flatten the depth, and all but the most expensive ones have limited apertures (f/6+ at maximum magnification). You can capture wildlife that is far afield with this lens but hold it steady or have a tripod to avoid shake. Try isolating colors with a telephoto lens. Capturing the color pockets in tree leaves and on the ground are suitable goals for this lens.
  • Primes. These give great bokeh when isolating subjects. I think of leaves and branches or wildlife to isolate with these. A close attention to the focal plane is needed though because these will take your shots out of focus quickly due to their wide apertures (think f/1.4 – f/2.8 range).
  • Macros. This kind of lens lets you take close-up shots of tiny things. I think of insects and frogs when I think of these.
  • Wide angle zooms. 10-20 mm focal lengths on APS-C cameras. These are the most forgiving of lenses when it comes to sharpness and focus. They are sharp all the way through. These lenses capture the most of a scene and so close attention to composition is necessary. You will get more in the frame that you bargained for most times. They have the quality of immersing you in the scene and are one of my favorite lenses to use.

Shooting with a point-and-shoot type camera or camera phone without interchangeable lenses? No problem. You can get some great shots. Most point-and-shoot cameras have wide angle zooms on them, so follow the advice for wide angle zooms given here and it will work for you.

Camera Settings

Next set up your camera to take a good photo.

I exclusively use Program or Aperture Priority modes, while keeping the ISO as low as possible. I let the camera decide how to adjust the ISO upward if needed. I would rather have a high ISO image than one that is blurry due to camera shake.

For hand holding, I do the reciprocal of the focal length to get the fraction of seconds needed for my shutter speed. This is hard to do when out there though, so I default to a low value of 1/60 s for handheld shots with wider apertures. I like to have at least 1/125 s if I am in the 150+ mm telephoto range. I take a few shots and see if they’re sharp then adjust.

I keep my aperture around f/8 – f/11 if possible and allow the ISO to adjust upward if there is not enough light. At lower apertures, there is a risk for not getting the image in focus front to back, so I avoid going lower than f/8 if possible.

I set my white balance for sunny or outdoor. I do not like the camera choosing the white balance when there are so many colors and tones as there are in fall images.

For wide angle shots, I try to get the image sharp all the way through but without restricting the aperture too much. This means shooting at my lens’s sweet spot. That is almost always f/8-f/11 on every lens. I set Aperture Priority for f/11. I focus 1/3 of the way into the shot (something like 20-40 feet in front of me). This beats looking up the hyperfocal distance on some card. Back button focusing works wonders for this. I then recompose and take the shot. I’ll meter off of various areas in the scene prior to recomposing, depending on what I am looking for as far as light and dark areas, but I almost always use a center-weighed average metering program.

For telephoto shots, I let Program mode decide for me what works. I override it if I cannot handhold the camera without shake, but use the lenses vibration reduction feature to help with that. I also let the ISO be decided by the camera with an upper limit of 1600. I will generally use center-weighted average metering, but sometimes spot is necessary depending on the subject and the light (backlit for example).

Primes and macros I treat about the same as telephoto. I watch my background with these lenses though because I will get a nice bokeh and never want prominent objects to be in there. It is hard to remove objects that are with bokeh in post processing. Composition matters with these lenses even though the subject is usually the only thing in focus.

Filters

Filters can accentuate your fall photos even more than can be achieved in post-processing or in-camera. My number one recommended filters are circular polarizing filters. I use ones that offer a warming tone as they help fall images immensely. You can also experiment with color-accentuating filters as well, but I’ve found they sometimes over do it and over saturate images, especially in the fall when there are so many red-toned colors.

Post-Processing

These post-processing tips can help improve fall photos. Here are some that I regularly use on my fall images.

  1. Make a good composition. Crop and adjust the picture if you did not get the right composition when you took the photo. I rarely do get it right in the camera, but close. Aim for the basics of good composition and let the subject make the shot. I make my adjustments in DxO Optics Pro.
  2. Clarify the atmosphere. This is another form of contrast application. In DxO Optics Pro, I apply some DxO ClearView until everything sharpens up. I start with 7 and move upward.
  3. Adjust individual colors. Using the HSL controls for different colors, in DxO Optics Pro I select the color that needs enhancing and bring up the saturation. I also adjust the lightness, but not the hue. For example, if there are reds on a few leaves, I will boost them without increasing the color of the overall image by only moving the red slider in the HSL controls.
  4. Remove distractions. Sometimes these are inevitable, and you will get them in your photo. I’ve had falling leaves and rocks not in the right spots all the way to having cell towers spoiling otherwise great shots. I brush them out with the magic eraser in On1 Photo.
  5. Brighten up the mid-tones. I increase the mid-tone contrast by applying slight HDR effects and contrast. I use these sparingly because they can be easily overdone. In On1 Photo, I use the filter variants for HDR Look and Dynamic Contrast applied to the highlights and shadows.
  6. Accentuate the sun. If there is visible sun coming into the image from some direction, I will sometimes use the glow brush in On1 Photo to brush in a bit of light. This can bring a photo to life if applied properly.
  7. Use selective sharpening to draw the eye. I like to get the viewer to focus on a particular portion of the image. That part gets sharpened selectively with On1 Photo by using either the masking bug or brush.
  8. Creatively process and treat the image. This is optional, but can be worth it as an image variant. Fall images bring some nostalgia to people as they think of falls past, so I provide this by applying some “old photo” type of treatments with textured backgrounds and frames. These makes the image look like an old photograph. I make this my last step and process it as a separate image, keeping the original intact. On1 Photo has some useful tools for this as do presets available from Photomorphis.

Summary

Fall is a great time of year for getting some extra color into your photos. If you take the time to set up and post-process correctly, you can make them spectacular!

Thank you for reading what I wrote — I hope you enjoyed it!


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