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Fall Color
by Jim McGee

The techniques for composing fall color shots are the same as those for capturing any landscape. Gary Stanley lays out some great techniques in his articles Getting that 4x5 look and Back to Basics that make a great read before heading out. Rather than recap ground that he has so eloquently covered, I'll let the images speak for themselves and just include some notes on how I found them and created them.

There are two filters that you want in your fall arsenal. The first you probably already have. It's the circular polarizer. The polarizer removes surface reflections from the leaves, saturating and deepening the colors of both the leaves and the sky. Just be careful not to overdo it with the polarizer or you can wind up with dark, over polarized skies that won't look natural.

Leaves with and without filters

The second filter to add to your bag is the enhancing filter. This filter is available from both Tiffen and Hoya. An enhancing filter saturates reds, rust browns, and oranges while leaving the other colors in the spectrum unaffected. In some landscapes it can really make the colors pop, and can even be combined with a polarizer.  But be careful not to overdo this filter. I'll often shoot scenes both with and without an enhancing filter as I sometimes prefer the version without. It's a seat of the pants kind of thing and very much a matter of personal taste. It can come in handy for those times when you arrive at a great place in great light but the leaves haven't quite peaked yet. In those conditions it can add that little extra color and pop that you need.  In the photos above take note of a couple of things though.  First the enhancing filter has given the sky a slight magenta cast.  As sometimes happens the effect is more pronounced on the Web than it would be in a print because the image has been reduced in size considerably.  The other effect is that the soft morning light reflected by the tree trunk (bottom) has picked up a distinctly red cast (again enhanced by resizing).

While we all like those great mountain vistas we can't all get away to the mountains to shoot them. The good news is you can find fall images in the city or the suburbs. All you have to do is look.

glacier lakePrinceton park

When shooting fall color don't be tempted to just fire away at all that color. Be aware of good composition. Look for leading lines and strong foreground subjects.  And as always be aware of the light.  Look for backlighting on trees and leaves which can be especially impressive this time of year - making the leaves look as if they are glowing with an inner light.

light through treesbarns and stream

Most of all have some fun. Don't get all caught up in trying to create a masterpiece. It's OK to have fun and just take a photo because it catches your eye!


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