In 1935, Kodak introduced modern color film and along the way sparked a foliage-photography revolution. Nothing brought out the hunger to capture beauty like a real New England autumn–the time when “the red gods call,” as Yankee writer Ben Rice wrote more than 60 years ago, quoting Kipling.
During her 15-year-career as Yankee’s photo editor, Annie Card reviewed more than 500,000 foliage pictures. The best ones, she said, made you want to climb right into them. So, what makes for a great foliage picture? For some advice, we talked to three of our favorite foliage shooters: Steve Muskie, Kindra Clineff, and Alison Shaw. Here are their tips.
If your camera offers a choice between “auto white balance” and an optional setting, Steve urges you to choose “daylight.” It’ll give you daylight “film,” so that when you shoot a brilliant red or yellow tree at sunset, the camera will read those colors or even exaggerate them a bit. If you shoot the same sunset photo at the “auto white” setting, the colors will be neutralized and you’ll be disappointed.
Keep it simple. Look for a dominant element, such as one tree in a field or a single branch of leaves against the sky. Alison suggests that photographers “isolate elements by using a shallow depth of field. This allows one tree or part of a tree to be in focus while everything else is out of focus.” The sharp part of the photo is then your dominant subject.
“Change your point of view,” Kindra advises. “Get down on your belly and shoot through things, letting objects in the foreground go out of focus. This will give you a nice wash of color in the foreground and lead you into the background, which you’ve kept in focus. Or you can keep the foreground sharp and let the background go soft.”
WHEN TO PHOTOGRAPH
Early morning and late afternoon provide the most interesting light, but don’t grumble on an overcast or rainy day. “Overcast days will show color better than sunny ones,” Alison notes. Early morning is also the best time to capture reflections in a lake or pond; the water is more likely to be still, and you may get mist rising off the water.
“Avoid wide-angle lenses,” Alison advises. If you want the big, long view, “buy the postcard,” she says. It’s better to “come in closer, focusing on a single tree, or just part of it.”
IF YOU DO WANT THE VIEW . . .
. . . Then do what Kindra does. “Be sure to have something interesting in the foreground to frame the view,” she says. Could be a porch railing, a tree, or whatever strikes your fancy. Remember backlighting, when applicable.
KEEPING IT FRESH
When asked how she keeps photographing foliage in new ways, Kindra says, “It’s such a short season every year–fleeting, really. I don’t have time to get bored with it. So at the end of each autumn, I look forward to the next one, when I can go to new places or return to some of the old favorites and try something different.”