How to Photograph New England Fall Foliage
By James & Terry Hyde
Editor and Photographer
Besides family, there's little more as photogenic as a beautiful fall scene. It's as if autumn and the camera were made for each other. In fact—this is conjecture on my part—but when New England is discussed, images of autumn are usually the first to pop into the minds of people hearing mention of the the region.
If I could give you just one piece of advice about photographing fall foliage it would be to always take your photographs when it's sunny. If you're running out of colors, then take your pictures on the least cloudy day. The sun and light bring the colors out in incredible ways. But I'm not limited to one piece of advice. I've got a bunch for you.
While photographs obviously can't tell the whole story, they can certainly help those who took a trip remember how they felt when they shot the pictures. And with today's digital cameras, it's pretty easy to get good shots. In fact, it's hard to mess up.
We've had a good many compliments about the photos appearing on ExploringNewEngland.com and NewEnglandTimes.Com. Many of those who do comment tack a question or two on the end of their emails to us, and I don't mind answering them if I know what the answers are. My email address is email@example.com) and you can email me a question or two. Keep in mind that I love photography, but writing, my first professional love, keeps me busy and I don't hold a candle to my wife, Terry, as a photographer. She is a natural for settings and composition. If I don't have an answer for you, I'll ask her.
The photos in the Flash file on this page, are some of the fall scenes we've taken during autumn this year. Unfortunately, when we save them out individually as JPEG files then import them to Flash, they get squeezed twice to make file size smaller. So if some photos look a little fuzzy, it's because the image has been shaved down twice. None were taken with a high-end camera. They were all taken with a Nikon Coolpix 4600 digital camera that has surprised us with some very high-quality photographs that are as just about as crisp and clear as any taken expensive cameras.
How to Take Great Fall Foliage Pictures
When's the best time of day to shoot fall foliage?
Sunny but frosty mornings during September and October can be absolutely breathtaking. That's especially so if you can get to higher ground and shoot down into a fog-covered valley as the downy wisps dissipate.
Many pros get up in the wee hours of the morning to catch the sun coming up over a mountain, or, if there's been a heavy frost the night before, there are a great many opportunities for superb photographs.
It's very common for fog to nestle over a small-town valley as if it were a white down comforter slowly being peeled off the bed to reveal the town and its foliage. Ditto for the mountains. The fog can and does hide whole mountains.
Rivers and streams often have amorphous puffs or streamers of fog rising from them. So if you're at river's edge, you get that "steam-rising effect" with a backdrop of gorgeous foliage.
If it's a cloudy day, getting good shots is difficult at best. The colors are muted and the scene can be really dull. On days like that, you can drive around and plan your photographic mission when the sun returns.
We look for spots where we think there are going to be really good shots and mark them on a map. When peak arrives in Vermont, Terry and I will drive down Route 100 in Vermont from Stowe to Routes 11 and 30 near Bromley, Stratton and Magic mountains, and then take a right at the intersection with Routes 11 and 30, and drive down to Manchester and Manchester Center in Vermont.
We take that route on sunny days in the morning to get the best photos. Route 100 passes through some truly stunning landscape with steep hills, serene rivers and pristine woods. When we find a particularly good place to shoot, we'll stop and take at least four or five photos of the same subject using different settings in case one shot is either blurry or the lighting isn't quite right.
Next, you want to find a place well off the beaten path instead
of being elbow to elbow with busloads of people all vying for the same shot.
You'll find that the less disturbed a parcel of forest land is, the better
and more virgin photographic opportunities you have.
You really do have to be a morning person, a jump-out-of-bed type who can hit the road sans coffee (you can stop at Starbucks on the way) to get to that perfect bend in the river you saw on a scouting trip.
For fall photos, we recommend the Landscape Mode for your camera. Shooting mountain scenes can be tricky, especially when the position of the sun isn't at your back or if you're focusing on a person or people with a mountain backdrop.
While shooting at sunset can be tempting, make sure that what you're shooting is well lit. What looks gorgeous to the human eye can look like mud when you download the photos of a sunset shoot.
If it's a cloudy day, make sure you're within ten feet of the subject of your picture. This applies if you want to take a photo of your kids with a mountain backdrop. Get within ten feet of your subjects before you shoot. If you don't, the flash will go off and could wreck a great shot.
If your subjects are wild creature, however, it's best to keep your distance. No, it's not a great idea to walk up to that moose and wait for your husband or wife to snap off a few pictures. Moose are approachable during much of the year, the exception being the rutting season, which happen to coincide with fall, so if you encounter a bull moose, stay back.
You can shoot straight landscape, Scenic View, Architecture, Group right (where a person may be to the right in front of a building) and Group Left.
If people, trees and leaves are moving around in a stiff breeze, you can use a Sports setting, and shoot in Spectator mode or Sport Composite. You can shoot at sunset with the Night Portrait, Portrait Left (when the subject is to the left, the camera balances the shot to compensate and prevent blurring). Portrait Right, Portrait Close-up, Portrait Couple, and Portrait Figure settings give you more options.
You can shoot video in Movie Mode or Auto-Focus Mode. Auto-Focus works very well, although I've shot videos without using it and they've come out well, if not a bit dark.
If your camera has a Continuous setting, you can shoot a single shot, continuous shots or 16 Multi-Shots. If you're in Single Shot mode, you have to wait for the camera between shots whereas if you're going to be taking shot after shot, you'll want to use the Continuous setting. If you have a Best Shot Selector setting, I recommend you leave it on. If the photo is blurred, the camera will tell you so and ask if you want to keep it.
It's also good to have a camera with color options, such as Standard Color, Vivid Color, Black-and-White, Sepia and Cyanotype. For fall shots, we always use vivid color, unless we're near a grove of birch trees, where we'll shoot in black-and-white. Ansel Adams made that idea very appealing and I have a poster of the group of birches he shot.
The Scene Setting on our camera offers the most options, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close up (which usually looks like a flower), Museum, Fireworks, Copy, Back Light, Panorama Assist, which is what we used to shoot Mt. Mansfield, Underwater (but not without the necessary casing), and 4M Image Mode.
You'll find that testing the settings can get you some very outstanding photographs. If the weather cooperates and it's a nice sunny day, you should be able to head home with some amazing memories you've captured on your card.
Some More Fall Photography Tips
Most digital cameras offer pretty much the same types of settings. Most also allow you to shoot some video here and there, but it's limited due to the space available on the card.
When you buy your first or next digital camera, it's a good idea to buy a few extras storage cards. Digital cameras evolve so quickly that if you wait six months to buy a new card for your camera, you could find that getting one isn't easy.
We bought our Nikon from Staples, my favorite store. Every time I walk into a Staples, I feel like telling them to back a truck up and give me one of everything. We buy all of our smaller digital goodies from them because we find the service to be great, the salespeople knowledgeable about their products and the price is usually less than what you'd pay if you bought the same item online—especially without the shipping.
Important things to buy if your camera doesn't come with them are: extra data storage cards; a camera bag that will hold your camera, your instruction book and a fresh set of extra batteries (digital cameras chew up batteries like nothing I've ever seen); make sure you have a USB cable. All cameras I've seen come with them, but check the box to make sure no one pilfered the cable from the box you're holding; and finally, if you're getting a digital camera with a true SLR body, keep in mind that you may have to buy lenses separately. Also, if you want to wean yourself off the automatic settings, do so slowly.
|This is the perfect weather for photography. Shooting fall foliage on a cloudy day makes it look dingy. Shooting on a sunny day brings the colors out. Photo Copyright © 2008 Terry Hyde All Rights Reserved.
Due to planned obsolescence and fast changes in this ever evolving market look at available lenses when you buy the camera. You'll cringe at some of the price tags if you return a year later in search of a long-range lens. They can be more expensive than the cost of the camera, but they're worth every penny, especially in the fall when you may be shooting a mountain scene.
When you buy a camera like that, unless you're very familiar with taking pictures, I'd recommend taking some photography classes. The good news is that if you mess up a bunch of photos, there's no processing fee and you do learn from your mistakes.
But I strongly recommend that you read the entire manual and become comfortably familiar with how the camera works. You'll learn what that little flower is all about. Hint: it's for taking close-ups, so if you set it to close-ups, make sure you change the settings back for your next photo, unless it'll be another close-up. Failure to understand it will give you some pretty odd results.
Take time to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the camera and don't hesitate to experiment. No processing costs, remember? So shoot away and try out each setting so you'll know what all of those little icons are.
The Shooting Menu provides a wide range of options, Image Mode being the most important. If you want large prints, say, 8-by-11, you'll want to select the highest setting on the camera, which in our case is 2288 pixels wide.
But there is a draw back. If you shoot at the highest setting all the time, you'd best upload the photos to your computer frequently or you'll run out of storage space. Unless you have a camera with bubble memory--those are mostly for the video cameras--at the highest setting, the camera shoots at 300 dots per inch (dpi) and some cameras will shot at 600 dpi or higher, but their price tags match the difference.
That means that if you want an 8-by-11 print, shoot at 300 or 600 dpi and it will print perfectly. Lower settings are best for the Web. You'll want to shoot at no more than 72 dpi in that case. I've encountered 300 dpi photos put on the Web by people who don't understand the difference, and they their pages take a day-and-a-half to download.
To sum the options up, if you want nice prints, shoot at your camera's highest dpi setting. If you're shooting for the Web shoot at 72 dpi.
Digital cameras offer different types of settings, and each setting has a number of sub-settings that allow you to set up the perfect shot very easily. We've used the panorama sub-setting, Panorama Assist, to take photos in a scanning fashion. We were able to get all of Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Mountain in Stowe, Vermont, in the same shot using this technique, and the results were amazing.
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