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MY FAVORITE TIME OF THE YEAR FOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Its September! There’s just a look and feel to things. Nights are cooler, days are often sunny, but also cooler. The foliage is getting just that touch of “stress” that tells us nature is getting ready. The bees are busy nesting, and other animals, starting to hoard. There is a “fall smell” to the air. Farmers have begun in earnest to harvest their mostly ripe crops. I don’t necessarily observe these things consciously, but I am certainly aware. Fall is coming.

Like many, for me, this is a bittersweet time of the year. Always my favorite, the anticipation of the right conditions — temperate days and cool nights, fall foliage, no bugs — all get my photographic juices running more than any other time of the year.

Every October, I plan a fall trip somewhere. In 2005 and 2006, it was Vermont. In 2007, the Shenandoah National Park and in 2008, New Mexico. This year, I am anxiously anticipating my first ever visit to Coastal Maine and Acadia National Park.

Dust off the Gear

With the coming “season,” there are some things to think about and remember. I find that I have become “rusty” with some of my skills. If, like me, you are not necessarily a daily user, now is a good time to get the equipment out and renew acquaintance with it. Also as good a time as any (before the trip) to ensure that it is well maintained, batteries are up to speed, tripod fittings are tightened and all the equipment is at arms length.

Plan Your Trip

I am “planner” when it comes to a photography excursion. There are some wonderful tools available for this. I use DeLorme Mapping software to get an idea of my locations, and even try to have a tentative itinerary. But I don’t slavishly follow it, it just becomes a guideline. I always discover things as I go.  You may also want to check internet sites, like Foliage Vermont, for conditions and Forums like Scenes of Vermont’s Foliage and Photography Forums for current, local information.  I keep a checklist and actually physically print it and check it off (perhaps anal, but it works for me) for items to be sure to pack, in addition to the camera and tripod. Some important ones:

  • Rain gear for yourself and your equipment (kitchen garbage bags are a must)
  • Chargers
  • Computer
  • Memory Storage (for transferring files)
  • Filters
  • Hat & Gloves for cool weather
  • Books & Maps

Tips For Shooting Good Fall Photos

Use a Polarizing Filter. This is the one filter I am never without. For my own tastes, it stays on the lense 80% of the time. A polarizer will help isolate and separate colors in foliage, deepen blue skies, and remove unwanted reflections from surfaces like water and glass. It is an indispensable tool.

Use a Tripod! I know, tripods are a nuisance. They are heavy and clumsy to carry. The “inhibit” your creativity. New cameras have IS and VR lenses (and in some cases, bodies). Your photos are “good enough” handheld. . . . . etc. These are all excuses. It bears repeating: Use A Tripod. The steady support of the tripod will improve your photography. Images (with good technique), particularly with medium length and longer lenses, will be sharper. A tripod will allow you to be more creative with exposure. Those silky, white water trails on brooks, streams and waterfalls require the use of a tripod. VR and IS will not automatically make shots sharper, and were intended as an aid in those situations when a tripod is simply not possible (or those rare instances–e.g., from a boat–where a tripod may actually make things worse).

To those who feel that a tripod somehow inhibits creativity and spontaneity: the proper way to use a tripod to compose an image, is to do your composing first (often handheld), and then set the tripod to the proper place.


Modern tripods a
re pretty versatile and will almost always set up to the right camera position. But visualize the image and determine your camera position first. Yes, this is slower. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes taking the time to set the image up and think it through yields superior results.

Find Unique Perspectives. You cannot make great images from your car. Your most important “equipment” may well be your feet. Don’t be afraid to get down on hands and knees (or belly) or climb up on something, to get a perspective you didn’t see from your car. Look for reflections. Water and reflections are one of my favorite photo perspectives. My favorite teacher/author, Brian Peterson, in his book “Learning To Sea Creatively,” talks about trying to think about how a bug might see the image and then getting the camera position to a “bugs eye view.” I think that is wonderful advice, which has many different applications to consider.

Look for the Details. By this, I don’t mean just looking for ugly “merges” or things in the photo you didn’t see until home on the light table. This is important. You really need to do a slow and meticulous sweep of your scene, especially the foreground. In my photograph of Fayette State Park in Michigan’s “UP,” I worked hard to compose this shot. Not until I printed it as a 13″ x 19″ photo, did I notice the small piece of yellow rope on the rock in the lower middle foreground! Details, details. But what I really mean is to get in close. And when you think you have done that, get even closer. Look for texture, pattern and color. There are (almost) no bad days for fall photography. If the skies are grey, exclude them and if necessary, shoot closeups.

Make Lemonade From Lemons. A friend of mine on the SOV Foliage Forum noted recently to the query from a newcomer about when and where to find “peak” foliage, that there really is no such thing. Don’t come to the scene with a pre-conceived notion or you may well be disappointed. Back in the mid-1990’s, I made a trip to an iconic spot in Michigan’s “UP,” known as “Lake of The Clouds.” I anticipated a wash of red, yellow and orange surrounding the water from a view high above. Somewhat disappointed, I brought this shot home, which has endured over the years as one of my best shots.

In a like vein, in 2005, fall colors basically evaded us during our week in Vermont. I shot some lone leaves on the ground and floating in the water. Back home, a few weeks later, I made this composite shot, which has become my “logo” online and for LightCentric Photography.

Most of all, have some fun and appreciate this beautiful planet we are privileged to live on!

Thanks For Reading . . .

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6 Responses

  1. It's amazing how much we are alike in our approach to photography. I always use a tripod and frequently use a polarizing filter. I always spend a lot of time looking through the viewfinder to find stuff I don't want in the photo.Your comment about unique perspectives really hit home because in my Alaska photo workshop led by Robert Glenn Ketchum, he suggested that when we find a subject that we want to photograph, we should take the photo and when we think we're done, we should use every lens in our bag to photograph the same subject. I thought that this was a really good idea. Some of my best Alaska photos are ones that I might not have made if I hadn't done exactly what he suggested. I've read some of Brian Peterson's books too. I didn't know Brian was such a well known photographer when I worked with his wife in Portland. I wish I would have had the opportunity to get to know him then. Anyway, nice article, well written and the photos really add a professional touch. Good work.PS: Two weeks from today and I'll be riding around Vermont with Phil and CT. Too bad you can't join us.

  2. Al: We will get together one of these days soon to photograph together. I have always heard good things about Ketchum. Great opportunity for you.I am sorry I won't be joining you all in Vermont. As close as we will get is that on your itinerary for Friday will be a stop at the Farm I spent much of my youthful summers on in Bakersfield. Enjoy. I'll be sure to let you know how Acadia works out this year.

  3. I have always wanted to go to Acadia in fall. Was there once in summertime, but every magical image I see from there seems to be in fall. I love Carr Clifton's work there. Good shooting Andy!

  4. Thanks, Mark. I'll let you know what I find!

  5. Fall is my favorite, too. In my younger days, I once drove all the way from my home in Western Mass. to Acadia for a few days of photography, only to discover when I got there that I had brought all my accessories but somehow missed packing my actual camera. Was so mad that I turned around and drove home again the same day without a break.. haven't been back since, but hope to some day. Seeing it on Ken Burns' National Parks series reminded me of that time and place. Hope your trip is productive.. still planning if and when I will go somewhere for foliage this year.

  6. […] did a Fall Foliage shooting checklist in September 2009 and that blog is worth revisiting. With Fall coming on quickly it is timely to think about what you might “carry” into […]

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