My day trip to Ricketts Glen was carefully planned. A pair of calls to the park office gave me redundant information. Both individuals indicated that the leaves in the falls ravines were going to be peak and one said that the water flow was good (that was necessary for waterfalls of course). This information aligned perfectly with the weather forecast calling for very light wind (enabling flora to remain still for long exposures), heavy cloud cover (keeps lighting low and free of harsh shadows) and light rain likely throughout the day (keeps the crowds at home, out of the frame and provides saturated colors).
After driving 1.5 hours in the fog, I arrived to find ... no wind. The leaves were indeed peak, but they were peak at the top of the mountain – not down in the deep falls ravines. The fog cleared to a mostly sunny sky and my opinion of a good water flow differs greatly from the person I talked to.
Fortunately, there are always great photo opportunities in this park. And, after photographing in the early morning shade for over an hour, the clouds eventually came and were present for a number of hours, creating good light.
Especially high up in the falls trails, there were some good leaves, but ... many of them were on the ground. However, the ground can be a great place to photograph leaves, especially when they are wet from a stream they have fallen into or nearby. During the fall, especially late in the local fall foliage season, look for colorful leaves on the ground that can be worked into an image.
Don't forget to use a circular polarizer filter to reduce glare and increase saturation of these leaves. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens was the only lens I used this day. I didn't need a focal length that it didn't contain and the image quality coming from this lens is very impressive.
Fall, my favorite photography season, has just arrived in the northern hemisphere. Just as photographers consider the bookmarks of daylight to be the golden hours, I have a set of golden weeks of the year, bookmarking the leaf season. The beautiful bright light green new foliage (and abundant water flow) of late spring marks one of them. The other is marked by the changing leaf color of late summer/early fall and this one is easily my favorite.
Read our Fall Photography Tips for ideas and inspiration, select a great location, pack some great gear and go capture some portfolio-grade imagery! Whether that foliage is the primary subject or a backdrop to another subject, we are in the golden weeks.
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Pronghorn were on my to-photograph list for my time in Grand Teton National Park and I had some success in this pursuit.
Upon arriving at the park, I made a scouting drive around the main loop and then drove through Antelope Flats where a large heard of bison roams and pronghorn are frequently found. In this last section of the drive, a line of short trees in brilliant red and orange fall colors caught my attention. I made a mental note about working these trees into an image, perhaps as a background to a bison or pronghorn portrait.
The next morning, the buck pictured here and I spent some quality time together. It didn't care that I was there and I was mostly moving away from it to maintain my distance. The pronghorn was walking and feeding in what appeared to be a random route. After about 30 minutes and over a mile covered, this buck crossed the road and unbelievably walked right up into the beautiful red and orange trees I had been admiring. I was of course seeing what could unfold in front of me and made sure that I was in place to capture the visualized image.
Pronghorn are most typically seen with grass and sage surroundings, so capturing one in front of fall foliage was unique for me.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV performed splendidly behind the EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens and another favorite image joined my collection.
The 5D IV's increased resolution over the 5D III was appreciated in this situation. While the entire frame looked nice, I decided that modest cropping would greater-emphasize the beautifully colored animal.
I very much appreciated the 5D IV's fast 7 fps high speed continuous frame rate as I was able to select an image with both good body position and good alignment with the background. The animal was in constant motion, so AI Servo AF mode was selected with a single point selected and held on the eye or base of the horns. I rapidly changed the selected AF point to match the animal's current position (this is often a challenge).
With heavy cloud cover yielding a varying amount of light, a relatively neutral-brightness subject/scene and my focus being on getting a well-framed shot, I gave the camera the job of determining the brightness. Although I utilized the camera's AE capabilities, I still used manual mode so that I could choose the aperture (wide open f/4 for maximum light and background blur) and shutter speed (I adjusted this as needed to keep the subject sharp). The Auto ISO setting took care of the brightness (I adjusted this image +.13 EV in post).
Note that I was using a monopod instead of a tripod in this situation due to the faster setup and height adjustment it afforded as I worked fast while maintaining good position with the pronghorn. The downside of this strategy was the challenge of keeping the animal in the frame due to very strong winds I was shooting in. This large lens catches a lot of wind.
A tripod would have better kept the lens in place and made the job easier (if I could have set it up in time). However, this better support would not have resolved the issue as the tripod head would not have been tightened due to the animal being in constant motion and the wind would have remained an issue. Removing the large lens hood could have helped greatly, but I was shooting in rain some of the time and even the huge hood was not deep enough to keep all of the rain off of the front lens element.
Grand Teton National Park is a very popular photo destination – for more than one good reason. The wildlife is one of those reasons and I was able to check off the pronghorn line item on my to-photograph list during this trip.
Wildlife is unpredictable – and too often lives up to the "wild" in its name. Getting warm light from a very late day sun to hit an animal directly from behind your back (shadow pointed to the subject) with a good background is challenging. Having the animal be an incredibly-large bull elk and the background be maple trees in peak red fall color definitely increases the image value to me. Having the broadside bull scratch itself with its antlers, aligning the shoulders within a green portion of the background, the antlers within the glowing red section of tree and the head in front of the brightest background (high contrast draws the viewer's eye) was more than I thought to pray for.
This huge 9x8 bull elk had been bedded in the sage and grass. The sun was setting rapidly and while I captured many images of the head and antlers rising above the obstructions, I really wanted a full (or nearly full) body image in this setting. Fortunately, that happened. I was in a great position when the elk stood up. However, the bull's head, looking forward, was in the shade of trees on the horizon behind me. The back scratch was precisely what I needed to leave only the legs in the shadows, completing the image.
While I prefer to use completely manual settings, the light falling on the subjects was changing frequently and the shots were often being captured in haste. So, I opted to use manual mode with Auto ISO for much of my elk photography on this trip. The color of the elk bodies and their environment was neutral enough in brightness that, at most, only a small amount of exposure compensation was needed. In this case, I exposed this image 1/2 stop brighter than needed. The 5Ds R did not have any trouble recovering the red channel pixels that exceeded a 255 RGB value. This brightness adjustment left just a tiny patch of red pixels retaining 255 values, though even more headroom is available.
Based on the movement of the elk at the time of capture, ranging from standing (often looking at me) to running away, this exposure method meant that I could simply roll the top dial to select the shutter speed I needed for the scenario (to keep the image sharp) while keeping the ISO as low as possible. If only one elk was in the frame, the aperture was nearly always intended to be set at f/4, so don't read anything into my f/4.5 actually used aperture for this image. I must have inadvertently (sounds much better than "user error") adjusted the rear control dial at some point during the action. Bull elk are huge and at the distance required to keep the entire elk in the frame, f/4 was still not shallow enough to completely erase the background in most scenarios encountered.
The 600 f/4 is a large and heavy lens. Using it without support is asking for a shoulder injury. While a tripod with a gimbal head is the ideal support for this lens, I find a strong monopod (with twist-locks for quietness) to be much faster to setup and adjust. This speed is very important for positioning in wildlife photography as the subject seldom stays in place for very long. Setting up fast and quietly can mean the difference between getting a great shot and getting no shot.
As you may have guessed, I have recently returned from a photography trip. This one was a 10-day wildlife and landscape adventure to Idaho and Wyoming. As usual, the trip was exhausting but amazing. The in-the-field experience is not only great fun, but also extremely important in fully understanding how gear works in the situations it is designed to be used in.
This trip featured the new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR camera that arrived just prior to my leaving. I rotated the 5D IV and a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies between the primary lenses I was using at the time, namely the EF 100-400mm L IS II and EF 600mm L IS II for elk and other wildlife. The 5Ds R happened to be behind the 600 on this day and the resulting image is incredibly detailed, but I would not have been disappointed to have had the 5D IV behind this lens at this time. It too is a great camera. My 5D IV is quickly approaching 10k frames and completion of its review remains a very high priority.
Question: Would you like this image better in a square/1:1 aspect ratio?
The other day, I looked over a large, steep, grassy clearing on our property. I quickly noticed a round orange object approximately 400' below. The bright color caught my attention, the round shape caused me the think it was a pumpkin and I later hiked down to confirm my guess.
What I found was a medium-large pumpkin with deep bear teeth marks in it. Upon my return to the house, the girls informed me that the pumpkin was from our deck. The bear had carried the pumpkin away and likely, at some point, put it down, only to have it roll hundreds of feet down the hill. While the bear story is one for our memories, the fact that orange stands out so much is the lesson for today.
Orange is a fall color and a primary source of that orange comes in the form of pumpkins. It is quite likely that one will show up at your house in the fall and if not, a neighbor likely has one that you could borrow. Or, take the family to the farm or market, photograph your people there and then bring home some color to work with. At home, spend some more time getting creative with your color source, increasing the color orange in your portfolio.
Then, print your own fall decoration for next year, perhaps in the form of a metal print (love these).
This simple image was captured in the shade of our front porch. I explored various angles on the subject, trying to consume the entire frame with it. This angle seemed to work nicely.
After you have your orange, explore the yellows and other colors available in the other fall favorite, gourds!
While most of the world bases the fall season on the calendar, a photographer's fall season starts when the foliage changes color and ends soon after the leaves "fall" from the trees. "Photographer's fall" is generally a subset of everyone else's fall, but ... not always. For example, in Alaska, photographer's fall starts and, in some locations, ends in what everyone else considers summer.
As you may have noticed in my September 11th-captured Denali National Park image, the landscape has some good color in it, but a significant percentage of the leaves are beyond peak and many have fallen already. And, as illustrated in this picture, very few leaves were left on the brush and snow was on the ground this September 12th morning. From a photographer's perspective, this was winter, but per the calendar, "fall" was still over a week away.
Planning the timing of "fall" foliage photography has never been easier. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
First, consult fall foliage maps. These maps will show you when to expect peak leaf color in the location you want to photograph in.
Note that I was intentional with the plural of "maps". If you have one watch, you think you know what time it is. If you have more than one watch, you might not be so sure. But, if you average the times of all of the watches, you are more likely to have the correct time. Not all maps are identical in their forecast timing and granularity. Averaging the forecasts together helps provide a better understanding of what normally happens.
There is good reason that these maps are not identical and that is because the fall foliage colors do not come at exactly the same time each year. Leaf color change can be influenced by a variety of factors including temperatures and ground moisture levels. If you know what the various forecasts say, you can plan your photography for the heart of what is typically fall foliage season for that region.
Want a chance for snow and colorful leaves in the same frame? Go late in the typical peak foliage timeframe.
Another good way to determine the right timing for your fall photography is to look for fall photo tours occurring in your target location. Quality tours will be held during the window of highest likelihood for peak color. Even if not joining such a tour, note the date range for planning purposes.
As I write this tip, photographer's fall is coming to an end across the northern hemisphere. But, there have been a lot of fall landscape photos posted to the web in the last two months and those pictures are a gold mine for trip planning. Find out when the best pictures were taken in your target location and take notes. Also, take notes from your own photos.
At minimum, I photograph the fall foliage around home and usually at Ricketts Glen State Park, an amazing location less than 2 hours from my home. Each year, I record the leaf condition for the dates I photograph in those locations along with others I visit. As the next fall comes around, I have a very good idea of when I should be photographing in those locations.
Start now. Wherever it is that you keep notes, record your fall experience along with the information gleaned from research. Make plans for next fall's photos to be your best ever!
More often than not, wind is the enemy of photographers. Blowing wind puts not-fixed objects into motion, including light stands, reflectors, subjects' hair and ... leaves. Landscape photographers are perhaps most negatively affected by wind, with moving flora being their problem (along with mirror-like reflections on bodies of water being disturbed). You can't stop the wind. At least not on a large scale such as a landscape.
Fortunately, there are options for dealing with the wind.
The first option involves selecting a time when the wind is not blowing. Shoot early or late in the day when the winds tend to be most calm. Of course, shooting early or late in the day may mean less light and with a wind-unfriendly longer exposures necessary. If possible, come back on another day when the wind is not blowing.
The next option is to stop the wind, not physically, but in-camera. Use a faster shutter speed, enabled by using a narrower aperture and/or a higher ISO setting. Right, you may not be able to use ISO 100 for ALL of your landscape photos and I give you permission to bump up the ISO as high as you need to go (in case you are mentally struggling with this option). Our modern cameras can still create great imagery at high ISO settings and more often than not, noise is better than motion blur.
One way to mitigate the high ISO noise to a varying degree is to capture two images of the same scene from a stationary camera using different ISO and shutter speed settings. Later during post processing, stack the two images in Photoshop or a similar app and allow the lower noise level image to show for the sky, rocks, buildings and other non-wind-affected subjects. A touch of noise reduction on the higher ISO-captured layer should help. The result is an image with the lowest noise levels possible throughout the scene. If using this suggestion, I recommended shooting multiple pairs of frames to have more options to deal with potential subject movement overlap.
Another option available on a small scale is to stabilize the subject. Various clamping devices including the Wimberley Plamp are available to hold a subject in place while a photo is captured. I've used Y-shaped sticks stuck into the ground to keep smaller flora in place.
And the last option I have to share with you: Embrace the wind. Use a longer exposure and capture blurred leaves. I know, having a not-sharp part of the landscape frame is hard for those of us used to striving for everything sharp in the frame, but give it a try. When the wind is blowing, every frame can be unique including the position of tree branches in relation to the rest of the composition. If you think one position will be better than the others, time the shot with the branch in that location. Shoot a lot of frames with a variety of camera settings and prepare for a long review session to determine which images rise above the rest.
When composing for wind motion blur, I usually like to incorporate some non-blurred elements in the photo (such as a tree trunk) to anchor the frame. This is not a requirement, but I usually want the frame to include subjects that are either sharp or noticeably blurred as images with slight blurs may leave the viewer uncomfortable with or confused by your technique. To increase the amount of blur, zoom in or move closer to the subject so that its movement covers a larger area of the frame. Better preserving a desired composition is the use a longer exposure to give the in-motion subject time to show more movement. Use a neutral density filter if more time is needed than your desired in-camera settings can produce.
Because the path of wind-blown flora is not always predictable, composing slightly wider than what appears to be ideal is often a good decision. Crop to taste during post processing.
Part of the fun of shooting wind-blown flora is the anticipation of seeing the results. We can envision what the images are going look like, but seeing them appear on the LCD brings the effort to fruition. Hopefully with a positive outcome.
Don't let the wind be your excuse for not getting great shots. Either work around it, work with it or, my favorite option, do both!
Mikayla (she's 13) decided to make a lion costume. After a week of diligent designing, a run to the craft store, lots of cutting and plenty of sewing, she had a very impressive made-from-scratch full lion costume complete with a stuffed tail that had a curve at the end of it. She created the best lion costume she possibly could and my goal was to capture the fruition of her effort the best I could, creating a memory to cherish for a lifetime.
She finished the costume just in time to wear it Trick-or-Treating. For those unfamiliar with this tradition, the kids spend an evening walking around town wearing costumes and people hand out candy from their front doors. Well in advance, I requested time for a photo session with Mikayla wearing the costume, but ... kids in their most photogenic moments seem to be completed (hair, makeup, etc.) just in time to ... leave for their big event.
I requested 15 minutes notice prior to the photo op (I know, I ask for a lot), got 10 minutes and scrambled to finalize my decision on what the short photo session was going to look like. The amount of remaining daylight was the biggest question I had prior to this moment. It seemed logical that a lion should be outdoors, so I was hoping for some light remaining in the sky and with at least some ambient light, outdoors was the final location selection.
While the leaves were just beyond their peak fall colors, they were still clinging to the trees and had a still-nice color that was indicative of the autumn season. A location that could incorporate this color in the background was the next decision.
I knew that I wanted a blurred background, that I had plenty of working distance available and that I wanted subject framing ranging from environmental to tight headshots. I went with the 200mm focal length as it would work well for those requirements and I went with the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS lens to maximize the background blur (and to get put the most available light possible onto the sensor).
Lions are known for their nasty predator look and for their roar. Mikayla was acting the part, but since she is a very sweet girl, the nasty-mean lion look made her naturally smile big soon afterward. I still find it a little unsettling to look at the pictures of her roaring, but definitely like the smiles that came afterward. And I like some of the little smiles that came between the two extremes, as seen here.
As planned, I captured a wide variety of poses and subject framing (in the 10 minutes of shooting time I was given). I liked many, but ... her crimped hair acting as the lion's mane "stood out" for me. So, I chose to share a moderately tightly-framed portrait with you.
The mechanics of taking pictures turned out to be an easy part of this series of images, with the ambient light working especially well. I've received a lot of positive comments from friends, with "Those are great photos!" being very common. The subject was of course largely responsible for these responses, but the ability of this lens to strongly blur the fall-colored background, making the subject pop, was another strong contributor to them. This lens, though not inexpensive, can do the same for photos of your own family, or for those for your clients.
The next time you have portraits planned for fall capture, look for trees that can provide a colorful background to your image. The color of the fall foliage should be complementary to your subject's clothing and the colorful trees should not steal the show from the primary subject, but especially when blurred, fall foliage can add a beautiful natural color to portrait backgrounds.
As trees are usually much taller than us, it is common is for us to look upward at leaves or minimally view them from a side perspective. Also typical is for the leaves to be facing, at least to some degree, upward and for the light to be reaching the leaves most strongly from above. While photographing glowing backlit leaves from underneath is commonly recommended (and a good tactic), the top of leaves generally have the strongest color with that color facing the light. Thus, capturing the best leaf color in the best light often means photographing the top of leaves.
Because most leaves (on trees at least) are higher than us, moving in close to the tree can diminish the amount of color seen. Moving farther away, unless that distance means a lower elevation, can provide a more colorful view of a tree by simply lowering the angle of view. Better is to get a higher vantage point. This means going up on a hill, up on a deck, up in a building (shooting from an open window for example), up on a ladder, etc.
A photo accessory that I've long considered acquiring, one that would help greatly in this regard, is a Bucket Truck. I know, you think I'm kidding, right? Not so. I think having such a truck would be a competitive advantage and I am always seeing locations where I could make use of one.
I don't know if that idea will ever come to fruition for me, but more popular is the use of drones. While the rules and regulations book for use of these devices is still being written, drones can get to many locations that would previously have required a bucket truck, crane or helicopter. Getting above the leaves is no problem for a drone.
If moving up means moving back, a longer focal length lens may be desired to keep the same framing and that the perspective will change should not be overlooked.
I was evaluating the Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens and while looking down the steep hill from our house, a beech tree with various shades of yellow and salmon-colored leaves caught my eye. At 35mm, the tree was tiny in the frame, so I went down to it. The closer I got, the less I was noticing the color patterns that initially caught my attention and the more I was looking across the side of the leaves, leaving the bare woods showing through the color. While still beautiful, this was not the image I had envisioned from the top of the hill.
I took some photos that I liked at 35mm, but then went back to the house to mount the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. With the narrower angle of view, I could easily fill the frame with color and the downward view on the leaves left few holes into the background.
The next time you are looking at beautiful fall foliage, consider moving to a position that affords a downward view to maximize the color available to you.
I have to confess. I'm a fall leaf color addict. If the leaves have changed to their fall colors, I'm struggling to resist being outdoors 100% of the daylight hours with a camera in my hands. Fortunately, I don't have to go far from home to find some of the best color available anywhere.
Even with colorful trees being easy to find, photographing the fall color can be very challenging and one of those challenges is to create a compelling composition. Many of the most-brilliantly colored local trees, primarily old maples, are found in town, where houses and other buildings, power lines, signs, etc. interfere with the natural look I'm typically seeking. A picture of a complete tree may capture the color, but the likelihood of something undesirable being in the frame is quite high. Even in the countryside, the ideal trees can be difficult to work into great compositions for a variety of reasons including a lack of supporting elements.
One fall foliage technique I like to use is isolation of the colorful leaves of one tree with other parts of the same tree or another tree filling the rest of the frame. Find an attractive leaf or set of leaves that are in good condition and then determine what could be a good background for the composition.
Determine the focal length of your lens based on how large the foreground leaves should be in relation to the selected background. The focal length decision will also be affected by how large the selected background is and the space you have to work in with a longer focal length requiring less background area needed. The longer the focal length selected, the easier it will be to make the background blurred and of course, the vice versa is also true.
Determine the aperture used based on how much depth of field is desired with a very wide aperture capable of putting the background into a primary-subject-isolating blur. Also note that a wider aperture makes a faster shutter speed easier to obtain (at a lower ISO setting) and a faster shutter speed may be necessary to stop any wind-imparted motion of the primary subject leaf or leaves.
Don't stop with your first setup. Continue to refine the shot until you have it perfected. Then find another composition to work on.
The brilliantly colored maple tree in this picture was on the corner of an in-town street intersection with power lines and houses directly behind it. I moved in close to the foreground leaves and aligned the angle of view with the lines created by the trunks and limbs. The backlit leaves on the other side of the tree and some green grass across the street complete the composition. The result is a brilliantly colored fall photo that is, at least somewhat, unique.
While photo trips to grand landscapes with brilliantly colored trees are awesome, knowing the isolation technique can land great fall foliage images much closer to home (for many of us) and in many more locations (for all of us).
People seem to enjoy being creeped out around this time of the year (Halloween) and spiders are a perennial favorite source of creepiness. They happen to be my wife's biggest fear at any time of the year, so when I brought a mother dark fishing spider carrying a big "cluster" of babies into the house for a photo op (it was dark outside), she was not too happy. And when the spider jumped off of my white paper background and lost her cluster, I went back outside (after corralling what seemed like hundreds of tiny baby spiders).
I wasn't looking to create an award-winning photo of this spider, but wanted decent quality without much time investment. I mounted a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens to a Canon EOS 5Ds R and attached a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash. The scene was dark (even inside) and the lens shaded the subject at this distance, so I utilized the MR-14EX's focus assist lights to manually focus on the mother's eyes (all 8 of them) with the plane of sharp focus angled to include many of the babies.
As mentioned, I went high-tech with the background: a sheet of white printer paper goes with everything. With the main subject being medium-dark colored, I was able to boost the highlights slightly in post, creating a pure white background, without negatively impacting the mid and dark tones.
Spiders are a popular fall theme and that is probably the only time of the year when you can post a spider picture that gets socially shared. Find out who has arachnophobia. Dig out one of your spider pics or better yet, go create a new one. Share it and peg the creep-out meter.
There is a lot of advice to be found regarding photography during the autumn season, but the primary visual difference of fall is the color of the foliage and to capture that color, one must go outside.
While that tip might sound simple, it is easy to sit in front of a computer or TV instead of making the effort to go out. You can DVR the football game to be watched later. Darkness comes earlier in the fall, so you have some time to catch up on the game or what is going on in the photography world after the light is gone. You can catch up on your post-processing backlog in the winter (what I'm telling myself).
A great fall location is Ricketts Glen State Park, near Benton, PA. With 22 named waterfalls in this park, along with many other photogenic woods and stream scenes, it is not hard to find wall-grade compositions. Located just below Waters Meet on the Falls Trails, Harrison Wright Falls, shown here, is one of my favorites.
Don't let the weather keep you inside. My favorite weather condition for shooting in RGSP is a light rain or immediately after any rain. The rain provides more flow in the stream, but it serves a couple of other important purposes. It keeps the other hikers and less-serious photographers out of the image (they stay home). It also makes everything in the scene wet, giving the surroundings a deep, rich color when photographed through a circular polarizer filters.
You will not capture images like this one indoors. Get out and find the colorful fall foliage. Get some exercise and breathe in the crisp air while doing so. Your body and mind will be rewarded along with your portfolio.