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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Photographing Autumn Colors: Make Hay (or Autumn Pictures) While the Sun Shines

Autumn is probably my favorite time of year. I just love the smell of woodsmoke in the air, seeing pumpkins on everyone's front steps, the sweet taste of fresh-made cider--and getting another chance to photograph those amazing autumn leaves. Of all the surprises that Mother Nature has to offer photographers, few are more fascinating to watch than seeing thousands of trees and millions of leaves burst into intense shades of yellow, orange and red. If you've never seen the height autumn's glory in New England, it's a sight to behold.

In New England everyone talks about the "peak" of color as if it were some type of mystical moment--and in some ways it is. While some autumns are better than others, in each season there seems to be a short window of a few days (some Vermonters will tell you it's a few hours) when the leaves are so intensely colored you'd think they're going to just burst and start squirting colorful pigments all over the landscape--the colors are that brilliant. The colors are so outlandish, in fact, that they seem to shine even on the darkest nights.

When the colors get to this state, however, you have to have your camera ready and be prepared to drop what you're doing and start shooting. I saw the tree here while on my way to a dentist appointment and the afternoon light was just starting to illuminate the leaves. I actually thought of blowing-off the appointment to photograph the tree, but decided I had some time before the light was perfect. Thankfully it was a short appointment and so I was able to run home after, grab my camera and get back to the tree just as the last rays of late afternoon light were igniting the treetop. I shot for about 15 minutes, taking a variety of views of this tree and some others nearby and then the sun faded and the magic was gone. The tree was still beautiful to look at, but the illumination was over for the day.

Whether it's the true peak or not, when you see a spectacular tree like this, you have to make an effort to photograph it because, as so often happens in life, the beauty fades quickly. Today there is a driving rain outside and I'm sure that a lot of the leaves in that tree are laying on the ground. That doesn't mean they still wouldn't make a nice photo--leaves in a pile make a great shot--but that moment of the tree just ignited with autumn color, with every leaf in place, is almost certainly over until next year. How glad I am that I made the effort to shoot it.

In the next tip I'll give you some ideas of what kinds of subjects to shoot and some technical tips for getting the best colors.

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