FIELD TECHNIQUES: When Autumn Falls

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by F.M. Kearney

FF-434I often look at autumn as nature’s version of information overload. With fall colors exploding all over the place, it’s sometimes hard to know exactly where to point the camera. Trying to capture everything in one frame often results in not capturing anything at its best advantage.

I’ve learned to use a variety of simple techniques to help make sense out of this visual potpourri. One way is to extract a subject out of its environment in order to help it stand out. A zoom lens is usually the best lens of choice to perform a “visual extraction.”

During the peak fall period last year, I was in the Twin Lakes area of the New York Botanical Garden, surrounded by brilliant shades of reds and yellows. It was still early in the season, so a few flecks of green could still be seen here and there. I had walked almost entirely around one of the lakes when I came across a large maple tree with some of its branches hanging low over the lake. I immediately saw the shot I wanted, but it would require some work to get it. Holding onto the branches for support, I made my way down the bank toward the water. It had rained the night before—turning the normally stable soil into a slippery mess. When I finally got into position, my shoes and pants were caked in mud. It’s funny how you’re often forced into the dirtiest conditions to get the prettiest pictures.

I zoomed in on a cluster of slightly shadowed, red/yellow maple leaves with the lake in the background. I used fill-flash for better lighting and a short depth of field to render the sunlit water as a sea of glistening highlights. Later, in post, I selected just the leaves and enhanced their color and clarity. I then inversed the selection and reduced the noise and softened everything else just a bit more. That gave me the option to perform contrasting functions on different elements within the image.

Fall is Mother Nature’s most spectacular color show. However, when it comes to photographing it, showing less can sometimes be much more.

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