8 tips for better autumn shots

Lots of our favorite spots for fall foliage in the Rocky Mountains are peaking now, with the gorgeous Southwest (think Silverton and Durango) still predicted to peak in the next week or so. Our California readers have a little extra time, with Yosemite and other surrounding forests’ color on the up-slope and predicted to peak next week.

Get your gear together (don’t forget your drone for fantastic aerial views, where legal) and head our for a photo expedition, armed with these tips from Olympus Visionary Peter Baumgarten!

If the camera was invented for only one of the four seasons, it would have to be autumn. The colors, cooler weather and threat of the long winter ahead inspires countless photographers to get out and photograph the beauty of fall. If you are one of those photographers, here are a few tips and techniques that I use.

Make it vivid

In the debate between shooting RAW or jpeg, I say shoot both! Like most photographers, almost all of my images have a degree of post-processing applied to them. But with today’s digital cameras, I now “pre-process” my photos as well by using the various Picture Modes available on my Olympus cameras. Autumn is all about the colors so switch to the Vivid picture mode and really make them pop! Use the Super Control Panel to change the Picture Mode to Vivid. You can also adjust Sharpness, Color Saturation, and the Tone Curve. The increased color saturation is only applied to the jpeg file. Should I decide to process the RAW image I now have the jpeg as a frame of reference.  The reflection below should make the difference obvious. (Similar options are available for non-Olympus shooters. If you’re not sure how, stop into any Mike’s Camera and we’ll be happy to help you out!—Ed.)

RAW image
JPEG image using the Vivid Picture Mode

Another way of improving the colors in your images is to attach a circular polarizer. When adjusted properly, the polarizer will increase the color saturation of both the leaves and sky. It will also reduce glare, which is perfect if you go out after a rainfall or are photographing near water. Just remember that a polarizer is most effective when your subject is at a 90 degree angle from the sun.

Click here to learn more about using polarizers.

Don’t let the weather stop you

If you have a weather-sealed camera like the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, E-M5 II or Tough camera, that’s just another reason to get outside. Just make sure you are weather-sealed, too!
OM-D E-M1, M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO. ISO800, 1/60s, f/8, -0.3EV

Fall weather can certainly be unpredictable, but if you only wait for the beautiful sunny days to go shooting, you are definitely missing out. As a matter of fact, bright sunshine can wash out the colours and create unwanted glare on the leaves. Keep in mind that the first strong wind can drop those leaves and leave you with a colourful carpet and bare branches. Speaking of wind, stormy weather can also make for a great subject. If you have a weather-sealed camera like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II or OM-D E-M5 Mark II, that’s just another reason to get outside.

Shoot high, shoot low

Shooting low and backlighting your subject can make for a stronger, more interesting composition.
OM-D E-M5 Mark II, M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO + MC-14 Teleconverter

Try to find some hiking trails or roadways that provide a panoramic view of the tree tops. That 1970s shag-carpet look can really add dimension and depth to an already splendid view. Of course, if you find yourself under a canopy of colour, put your camera near the ground and point it upwards. The articulating or swivel LCD on all Olympus interchangeable lens cameras can make composition easy.

Find hiking trails in your area that will provide a panoramic view of the tree tops.
OM-D E-M1, M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO. ISO400, 1/30s, f/16, -0.3EV

Details matter

Try to capture freshly fallen leaves on the water.
E-30, Zuiko 70-300mm, ISO 200, 1/200sec, f/4.5

A grand vista can certainly get shutters clicking, but don’t overlook the smaller details that might be right at your feet. The entire line-up of Olympus PRO lenses have incredibly close working distances which allows your to focus in on the finer points of your autumn hike.

OM-D E-M1, M.Zuiko ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO. ISO400, 1/100sec, f/2.8

Perfect portraits

While you are out for your autumn hike with family and friends use the opportunity to capture some portrait shots in front of a beautiful backdrop. The sun is at a lower angle in autumn creating warmer light. You may have to bump up the exposure value by a full stop or more in order to ensure that faces are properly exposed. As well, select a wider aperture to soften the background and isolate your subjects.

My wife and youngest daughter are often ‘victims’ of my desire to be a portrait photographer. Just remember to expose the shot for the people’s faces.
OM-D E-M1, M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, ISO320, 1/400sec, f/4.5

Track the colors

Looking out your window may not be enough to determine the best time to get out and capture the maximum color palette. Go online to find out when the autumn colors are peaking in your area or wherever you plan on travelling this fall. In the U.S. check out The Foliage Network. Reports are provided for the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast that will help you time your excursion with prime viewing.

When your vista is obstructed by trees, try incorporating them into your composition. OM-D E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko ED 12-100mm F4.0 PRO, ISO200, 1/250sec, f/8

In Canada check out the Fall Foliage Reports which will guide you to reports specific to your province.

Across the entire USA, get a quick visual reference over at the Smoky Mountains website.—Ed.

Autumn sunsets rule

Cooler air temperatures can create mist over bodies of water giving the light a magical quality.
OM-D E-M1, M.Zuiko ED 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II. ISO400, 1/3200sec, F10

…and so do the sunrises!

The shorter days and more unsettled weather help to create the perfect conditions for impressive sunrises and sunsets.

Take the road less traveled

Use a telephoto lens to compress space. This is a vertical panorama of two images.
OM-D E-M10, M.Zuiko ED 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II. ISO400, 1/400s, f/11

Autumn is the perfect time to explore. Hop in the car and spend a weekend driving down roads you’ve never been on before. Nothing inspires the photographer more than discovering new sights. Almost all of the images in this post were made in locations that I had been to for the first time. I can’t wait for my next autumn excursion!

After a hot, dry summer, the more unsettled weather of autumn can get streams running again with a bit more flow. This can make them the perfect place to visit in autumn.
OM-D E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko ED 12-100mm F4.0 PRO, ISO64, 1sec, f/13

This article was re-posted with permission from Peter Baumgarten’s “Creative Island Photo” blog. View more photos and tips at Peter’s original post.

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Peter has been a dedicated Olympus shooter for over 30 years, and he has found a way to combine his passion for photography with his love of teaching to develop photography and graphic design courses at the high school level.

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