I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot of pressure every year around the fall foliage season. Call it performance anxiety or just simple pressure or something. Every year Mother Nature puts on this amazing show that lasts only a few weeks and usually around the same time it deals out some rather nasty weather from hurriacanes, to tropical storms to snowstorms. Plus this time of year always seems like the crush time when you have kids in school.
Carefree summer is over, time to get back on schedule plus do all those chores you meant to do all summer but it was too hot. Cut, chop and stack firewood, get your flu shot, get some new tires, pull up the garden, batten down the hatches — and sneak out around the region to capture amazing fall foliage shots between rain, wind, drizzle, and whatever comes along.
Then you fire up the old social media and see all kinds of great images being captured by photographers around the region. Where is the peak? Is it past prime? Where did I want to return? Where did I say I wanted to come back when the foliage season begins? What do you mean we have dinner plans during golden hour? Which moon is it and how many more years before its this great again?
And so on and so on. It can get nerve racking especially since there are so many places in New England to see great fall foliage. So many places I’ve already been and so many places yet to explore. In some ways the winter season can be such a relief after the busy summer and fall months.
So far I did manage to get out and take some great fall foliage shots in Vermont and New Hampshire. Even made it down to Cape Cod, although it was a few weeks early.
In a lifetime of photography, you really only need a couple of killer images in a season. I got really lucky this week with a shot of two Adirondack chairs in a park in Norwich, Vermont just over the bridge from Hanover and Dartmouth college. The composition was all mine but the amazing lighting came from someone above smiling down on me. It was a rather blustery day with warm tropical breezes (at least for late November in the Upper Valley) and suddenly the stormy sky opened up a bit and gave me some amazing studio like lighting around my subject.
I kind of like the overcast days we get so often in New England. Its like a giant softbox. As long as you don’t include the sky in the shot, this nice even light can be great. But this particular light was something altogether different because the light was on the foreground but darker in the background. It created a more 3D effect then I would have gotten normally.
The Challenge of Fall Foliage Photography
I see the challenge of photographing fall foliage is in finding a great subject, composing it to show off the colors of the fall AND timing everything with the peaking foliage and the light of the day.
We see the beautiful trees exploding with color filling our entire visual range. The hardest thing is selecting what to include in the photograph in a compelling composition. Often the trees themselves are kind of boring as the main focus, often they are better as supporting actors.
The quick snapshot impulse is to aim at a colorful tree, center it in the frame, snap – and post on social media. Of course as we know these shots typically don’t produce a lasting memory. For something that elevates the image to art, we need a compelling subject to pull us into the image. A fence, a road leading down a path of colorful trees, an old tractor, people, a dog, covered bridge, — something interesting with the colorful foliage engulfing the view.