Getting Ready to Shoot Autumn

Choosing a Dress - Varina Patel

When I was a child, autumn was my favorite season. I loved the appearance of the first colored leaves – and the inevitable explosion of red and gold as the maples shifted their hue. And shooting fall foliage is so much fun. :) I love to take my camera out into the woods – Cuyahoga Valley National Park is near our home – and photograph the beautiful leaves.


Under a Perfect Sky - Varina Patel

Blue and gold are complimentary colors, so autumn landscapes can really pop. You can use a circular polarizer to bring out rich colors in the sky and in the leaves themselves. Watch for uneven polarization if you are using a circular polarizer filter on a wide-angle lens.


Colorado, USA

Look for simple compositions in the woods, where the scene can feel cluttered with distractions. Look for repeating patterns and colors, and use them to help simplify your photos for a more appealing finished product.


Bosque del Apache Wildlife Preserve, New Mexico

I like to use long exposures on blustery autumn days. Doing so creates motion blur, and the shifting colors and patterns can be really appealing. Don’t put your camera away when the wind comes up. Instead, see if you can create something unique.


Ohio, USA

I love using rivers and streams as leading lines in my photographs. When you are working with a very busy scene, leading lines can help lead the viewers eye through the image, and provide a place to rest.



Autumn is a great time to pay close attention to details, too. Look for interesting patterns and textures, and pay close attention to your background. Use the negative space to create a sense of place and create a mood.

Aspen Leaf on Marble

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Aspen on Marble

Marble, Colorado (CO), USA

Can you see the fractal patterns on the leaves?

I often overlook little things like this. As landscape photographer, I prefer wide vistas and dramatic light – but tiny landscapes like these are just a fascinating. When I looked at this leaf, I didn’t notice its individual veins, but a 180mm Macro opened up another world entirely.

This is a focus stacked image. Working with a macro lens means my depth of field is very limited. I used my Live View focusing mechanism and took a few shots to ensure that every part of the photo was in focus. Later, I combined those photos in Photoshop. Do the dew drops appear 3-dimensional? I used my jacket and camera bag to produce shadows so those droplets stand out against the flat surface of the leaf.

Saco Lake, New Hampshire

Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire (NH), UA

Map: Saco Lake, Crawford Notch State Park, NH

Crawford Notch is a small, easily accessible state park located within White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. Saco Lake is a very small lake (more like a pond) located near the side of the road.

This shot was all about timing and terrain. I captured the image just moments after sunrise, when the lake was still in shade. The low angle of the sun lit the mist from behind, creating a beautiful, soft glow. Thick evergreens on the mountainside behind the lake provide interesting details – and their dark color provides a background that makes the mist stand out even more.

Twin Lake Storm

Twin Lakes, Colorado (CO), USA

While driving to our destination in Aspen Colorado, we took the scenic route through the Twin Lakes region. As we stood there photographing this little spot, clouds started to move in – within 10 minutes, the blue skies were all but covered up by dark clouds.

This is a manually blended image created from 3 bracketed shots using out iHDR workflow. The dynamic range of this photo was extreme, and the horizon was not level – so a graduated neutral density filter was out of the question. I chose to place complementary colors close together to make those brilliant trees stand out. I used a 4-stop neutral density filter and a circular polarizer to slow down the shutter speed.

The Road Less Traveled

Marble, Colorado (CO), USA

We went wandering on roads less traveled on our last trip to Colorado – and found ourselves in this beautiful place. We saw only a couple of cars during the two or three hours we spent wandering. The fall colors were spectacular in this area.

This is a pretty simple exposure on a day with overcast skies. We had partly overcast skies, so I waited for the sun to go behind the clouds before I took the shot. I chose this composition to avoid the sky and other uninteresting elements. I used the road as a leading line to lead the viewers through the image.

Maroon Bells, Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado (CO), USA

Outdoor Photography – Being Flexible

We plan our landscape photography outings so that we maximize our chances of getting the best weather patterns and the right seasons. But things don’t always go according to the plan. Experience has taught us to be flexible and open to new ideas.

I first visited Maroon Bells in 2007. I used an interesting root structure beneath the surface of the lake as a foreground object in the photo above. Five years later, in 2012, we returned to the lake again. This time, we discovered that the lake had shrunk dramatically because of a long summer drought. It no longer reached the grassy shores we remembered from our previous trip. Instead, the lake was surrounded by mud and rotting wood. The brilliantly colored moss that was growing under water in 2007  had died off. Here’s a shot of the same roots I photographed five years ago. The difference is stark.

Though the banks of the lake were uninspiring, I still felt that there was incredibly beauty to be captured in this place. I focused my attention on the creek and the mountains behind me. I waited until the clouds were lit up by the evening light and captured the photo below less than 50 yards from the roots in the first two shots.

I was able to come away with a photo that I like because I was willing to be flexible and look for alternative shots. So next time you are faced with unexpected conditions, don’t give up.

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Featured Download: ‘Twixt Autumn and Winter

This is a shot I took near the roadside in Utah. A small creek ran beside the road, and it was covered in a thin layer of ice. I loved the pretty patterns – and even better, frosted Aspen leaves were scattered across the ice. I chose this one carefully – looking for one with a curve that echoed the patterns in the ice, and a stem that wasn’t too long or too short or to straight. :) This one fit the requirements, so I placed it where its shape would echo the patterns in the ice and took my shot.

Click on the image above to download the image for your desktop background. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

As always, these images are provided for personal use as computer wallpaper or backgrounds ONLY. Copyright belongs to the photographer, and photographs cannot be used, redistributed, or recreated in print, on the web, or in any other medium without written permission from the photographer.

The Keeper of the Pond

The Keeper of the Pond

This is a great place to use a circular polarizer filter.

This little guy is going to be famous! :) He will be featured in our next Workflow Series eBook! I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a detail shot that would show the effect of a circular polarizer, and this was perfect. I took two shots – one with and one without the polarizer filter. This is the filtered shot. The colors are nice and clean and bright, and you can see lots of details on the surface of the lily pads. Without the filter, the lily pads reflect too much light toward my camera, so all that nice color and detail is lost. I’m sorry to say that you’ll have to wait for the eBook to see the unfiltered shot (mostly because I haven’t processed it yet.) ;) I guess this is just the teaser.

So there you go! Now you can say you knew him before he was famous!

Aspen Leaf on Marble

Aspen Leaf on Marble

Marble, Colorado is a tiny town that boasts a pretty darn impressive marble quarry, a lot of awfully nice people, and some absolutely beautiful scenery. As the leaves start to change color, photographers descend upon the town. The locals call us “The Leafers”. It’s a name I embrace. I am, most definitely, a Leafer at this time of year… seeking out colorful autumn foliage like a junkie. ;)

I used a 70-200mm lens for this shot. A macro lens would have worked just as well, but I didn’t need to focus too close… and Jay had absconded with the Macro lens anyway. :) Getting the exposure right was easy – the range of light is very narrow, as you can see. Actually, the hardest part was just finding the right leaf. I wanted one with a variety of colors. Most of the aspen leaves are a brilliant golden color – and they are lovely – but I wanted one with a little more character because I knew my background would be very subtle. Once I’d found my leaf, I carried it very carefully up the road toward the huge marble blocks that lined the roadside… I didn’t want to disturb the water droplets. Then, I scanned the surface of the stone –  looking for the right vein in the marble. It took just a moment to find the one I wanted… this jagged grey line that defines my marble background. I placed my leaf, set up my camera straight overhead – on a tripod. And took a shot. Not quite right. I bent down, pushed the stem just slightly so that it curved a bit, and took another shot. I zoomed in to check the image on the back of my camera – it was perfectly sharp. Done.

In post processing, I was very careful about color balance. I didn’t want the marble to appear at all yellow – or the leaf to have any tint of blue. Slight color casts in a shot like this would really dull the photograph. I removed a few tiny specks of dirt from the rock and the leaf, and brightened up the water droplets just a tiny bit.

This is, hands down, my favorite shot from the trip. I love the contrast between the colorful foreground and the subtle background. Heck – this one just makes me smile. What do you think?

autumn_2468 copy

Which photo do you prefer?

I took this shot of my youngest son, Damian, a few years ago in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Damian and I spent that morning traipsing through the woods, playing in the leaves, and enjoying the breathtaking beauty of autumn in Ohio. And of course, I took a few photos. :)

I rarely include man-made elements in my images – and my landscape photos almost never include people. But sometimes a photo just works better with someone in it. In this case, my little son made a perfect point of interest, and he loved being a part of the photograph.

So, what do you think? Maybe I just like the shot with my son in it because he’s my child, and the memories are good ones. Which photo do you prefer? And why?