Photography Basics - Ten Tips for Shooting Autumn Leaves
1 Use Backlighting. Perhaps the most attractive way to illustrate autumn leaves is when they're backlit, so they glow beautifully and the rich colours are revealed at their best. Sunny weather provides the best conditions for backlighting because contrast is high and often you can capture the leaves against a dark, shady background so they stand out even more.
2 Try Panning. It may seem a weird technique to use on shots of autumn leaves but panning can produce some great results. First, find a colourful group of leaves still attached to a tree and ideally against a blue sky so the raw materials have plenty of impact. Now frame the leaves with a telezoom lens, set a slow shutter speed, try 1/8 sec to begin with - and as you trip the shutter, pan the camera in a downwards or sideways action.
3 Frozen Assets. Autumn leaves covered in frost or trapped in icy puddles make a great subject. However, if you can't be bothered to wait for nature to take it's course, you can always create your own still life. Just find a colourful selection of autumn leaves - maybe Maple or Acer, place them in a plastic lunchbox full of water, pop them in the freezer overnight and they'll be trapped in a block of ice. If you weigh the leaves down in the container they'll be close to the surface of the ice when you turn it over and ready to shoot!
4 Slow Shutters. Using a slow shutter speed to show movement can be effective on windy days. Mount your camera on a tripod, zoom in on some branches overhead so they're framed against the sky and shoot away as they sway in the breeze. On a stormy day you will need to use 1/8 or ¼ sec or longer on calmer days. The key is don't overdo it - you need to be able to make out some detail.
5 Move it. Purists may frown on it, but there's nothing stopping you from carefully placing the odd leaf or two in a shot to improve the composition. For example if you're shooting a stream and using a long exposure to blur the water, one or two colourful autumn leaves placed on a mossy boulder can transform the shot.
6. Falling leaves. It's unlikely that you'll manage to produce decent results from waiting for autumn leaves to fall but you can easily set it up in your garden. All you need is a willing assistant, a step ladder and a bag of leaves. Use a telezoom with at it's widest aperture to throw the background out of focus and get down low to show the carpet of leaves on the ground.
7. Water works. There's something about autumn leaves and moving water. To create a strong result, mount your camera on a tripod and make exposures of at least one second so the water is blurred. You need still conditions to do this, otherwise any leaves in the shot will flap around and blur.
8. Multiple Exposures. A great technique to try when shooting autumn leaves is multiple exposures, where the same frame is exposed several times to create a montage of overlapping images. A popular technique is to take two exposures of the same image, one sharp and one out of focus so a dreamy, soft focus effect is created. Images can be layered together and blended in Photoshop.
9 Softly, Softly. Soft focus will add a dreamy feel to your macro shots of autumn leaves, especially if they're backlit and captured against a dark background so the soft focus forms a halo effect around the leaves. The easiest way to achieve this is by using a purpose-made soft focus or diffusion filter. Alternatively create your own by smearing a tiny amount of Vaseline on an old skylight filter or piece of clear plastic and hold it in front of your lens.
10. Add Water Droplets. Dew, raindrops and condensation all add interest to close-ups of autumn leaves, so early morning tends to be the best time to photograph them outdoors or after a rainshower. Side lighting is the most effective way to highlight water droplets. Set up the shot indoors and provide your own light if you can't use daylight from a nearby window.
Author: Adam Coupe