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    September 2011
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It’s Here!

Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

Every year at this time, I experience a photographic “high.” Why? Fall Color! With a heightened sensitivity for “seeing,” I notice color every place I go, in all shapes and forms. Here in Michigan, there are many cash crop farms and the soybeans turn a bright yellow at first and then drop their leaves to yield a toasty brown colored plant, ready for harvest. Formerly green cornstalks turn shades of yellow and gold. And the farm fields are spotted with the red, green and occasional yellow, orange and blue of farm implements. Elsewhere, in the Southwest, there are the bright colors of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, which is held the first week in October.

Every year at this time, I experience a photographic “high”

Wait a minute,” you say. “That’s not ‘Fall color!'” It is to me, and is part of why I love this time of the year so much. O.k., I also see the changing foliage of Sumac, Maple, Ash, Beech and Oak trees. And there is a special quality of the light this time of year. As the days grow shorter, the angle of the sun is lower and the quality of light warmer. The atmospheric conditions often create high, puffy clouds, foggy conditions, and sometimes even more dramatic skies. And this quality of light phenomena generally extends the hours of shooting somewhat. So what’s not to love about Fall shooting?

Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

Fall, in my view, creates the best conditions for images all around the U.S. (maybe even in the world). My own experience is not a broad as I would like, but I have made nice Fall color images in the Southwest, the Midwest, the Northeast and parts of the Middle Atlantic. I still need to go to the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast.

What’s not to love about Fall shooting?

New England is the place my prejudice is most strongly demonstrated. My favorite place in the world to photograph Fall color is Vermont, and I probably have more images of Vermont than any other place, all taken in a total of less than 4 weeks! I have made many images there and hope to make many more in the years to come. While I haven’t photographed New Hampshire, I know it holds similar image potential to Vermont. Upstate New York (the Adirondacks) holds its own special charm. I have not yet photographed there, but would heartily recommend it and will certainly be there one day myself.

Fall in Vermont copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Maine has to be a close second. My sole trip there yielded some nice images of a “different” New England than I knew, and merely whetted my appetite for future trips for photographs (not to mention, Lobster).

Fall Color in Maine copyright 2009 Andy Richards

The Michigan (Upper Peninsula) deserves at least “honorable” mention (if not equal). It is perhaps the most geographically diverse of the colorful Fall foliage opportunities (rivaled perhaps by Maine), and its combination of soils and climate yields some pretty awesome fall foliage images. I blogged about Michigan last week and included some of my own images of the U.P.

My biggest regret about Fall is that is it so fleeting

Fall Color in the American West copyright 2008 Andy Richards

Our West has its own kind of “color” which, while very different from the brilliant reds, oranges and bronzes of the Northeastern United States, are spectacular in their own right. The bright yellows, accented by more limited and muted oranges and reds, contrast very nicely against the substantial evergreen population, often in mountain settings. And the “colors” of the Southwest, especially, which are less traditional “Fall foliage,” are also fun to photograph and add wonderful accent and contrast. And we cannot forget Alaska. My own trip to Alaska was in the Spring, but others I know, including my friends, and talented photographers, Al Utzig and Mark Graf, have captured the spectacular, special kind of Fall foliage Alaska blesses us with.

Chili Ristra, New Mexico copyright 2008 Andy Richards

My biggest regret about Fall is that is it so fleeting. I feel a sense of urgency and find myself stopping the car and yanking out the tripod more often during this time of the year.

For the next several weeks, I will be MIA. I travel to California the first week in October and West Virginia the second, meaning that I will be away, hopefully photographing, for the next 3 weekends. When I get back, I am even more hopeful to have new images and maybe even some new insights to share with you, as well as some of the images I have already made during the past couple weekends. Please enjoy the Fall photography season and for heaven’s sake get out there and shoot!


4 Responses

  1. I love fall colors too, Andy. But, fall is “next best” as a personal preference. Rather, my favorite season is spring in Appalachia. Just like the fall, the sun is lower in the sky providing extended shooting hours, especially earlier in the afternoon than usual. But, it’s the renewal of life and new growth that makes spring so special for me: a delicate and sometimes pastel splash of bright color in otherwise drab forest settings.

    I’ve found that many photographers put away their cameras in March and November. Two months, in the northeast, that are indeed difficult to find inspiring images. March brings a different mood to the forests and meadows: it’s the tired, exhausted look of a long winter. So, look down for ice patterns, as well as the worn out, musty, degrading detritus on the forest floor with various species of mosses, liverworts, and horsetails just beginning to make their emergence. Fiddle heads and other botanical species just poking up from the litter can make alluring macro compositions. Its a wonderfully inspiring forecast of the April flowering tree and shrub show that is rapidly followed by the “look at me, just born yesterday” light lime green look of delicate, lacy, new foliage.

    Returning to the present season, though, in November, one should also be looking down at their feet to find lots of inspiration: still very colorful and sometimes vibrant fallen leaves, mast of all types, ice patterns in the skim ice of creeks, streams, ponds, and river eddies, and those always-present solitary immature trees with a few colorful leaves resisting the final drop.

    I don’t suppose you have access to high elevations in Michigan where autumn colors make their appearance well before the traditional late September and October schedule in the northeast. I was on top of Allegheny Mountain for a day last week in PA: the scarlet oaks and flaming orange maples were just awesome, but 300 feet lower and they were just as green as the valleys with only a few just beginning to lose their cloak of green.

    I am wishing you a great fall season this year as well as discovering new ways of extending it well into December too…and getting out earlier in the spring!

    • Jim: As always, thanks so much for reading. I am flattered that you find the time to read and to comment.

      I surely wasn’t trying to say other seasons aren’t worth photographing. I live in Michigan which is — like Vermont and NH — our Spring is abbreviated and starts with an extended “Mud Season” which is pretty brown and ugly. For the last 20 years, I have gone on a golf trip to North Carolina in the Spring and that has foreclosed me from making a trip somewhere where I can take advantage of the new Spring growth. I have “retired” from that trip and hope in the coming years to attend one of your GSMNP spring workshops. I have no doubt that the azalias and rhododenruns, together with dogwood and redbuds would stir the blood! We also do have a unique opportunity here to photograph snow scenes. I just need to find time (maybe on retirement) to get out and do more of that.

      But even before the photography “bug” “bit me” Fall was my favorite time of the year. I am certain that for many reasons it will remain so.

      You surely make another good point: October is a big month for the middle of the country. But in places in the West, September is the time. In Alaska, late August can yield beautiful Fall colors. In the South, late October and even November will yield the Fall colors.

      Thanks again, Jim. My most anticipated Fall Foliage photo excursion this year will involve meeting you in person! See you in mid-October. Keep that foliage nice for me.

  2. Andy, I’ve photographed autumn in many places around the country. One of them, the Pacific Northwest, should be near the bottom of your list of places for photographing fall foliage. Most of the trees are firs and pines. The vine maples turn nice colors and can make a nice foreground for mountain shots if you have the good fortune to have clear skies…an iffy proposition at that time of year.

    The aspens in Colorado and the Rockies in general are nice but you get yellow only.

    Of all the places I’ve photographed in autumn, I think Alaska ranks at the top of my list, even before New England. I also like the Appalachians and I know you will enjoy photographing West Virginia if you hit it right. I’ve photographed the mill at Babcock State Park three times and only once hit it right. I hope you aren’t too late.


    • Babcock SP is indeed situated in a very fickle locale for timing the peak of autumn colors. There are myriad micro climates in the New River Gorge area. A day or two too early or late and you miss it completely. My average is about the same as yours, Al.

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