Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year to photograph. The beautiful fall colors of the changing leaves makes for great images, and the angle of the sun is lower and makes for much more interesting light than during the summer.
Although Central California is not Maine, we still have some great areas locally to shoot fall foliage. I taught a fall landscape workshop in Yosemite Valley a couple of weeks ago, and the color was about 60 percent of peak, so there might still be some good color left in the park over the next week or so.
Another great area with some amazing gold, red and yellow color is on the way into Yosemite along the Merced River near El Portal. This is a nice area to photograph as there are numerous places to park and the access is easy.
The Merced River is low right now, and on a windless morning you can capture some great colorful reflections of the changing leaves in the placid river. Plan on being there as the first rays of sunlight strike the trees and the water is still in shade.
Closer to home, Merced's Bear Creek bike path makes for a lovely stroll with camera in hand. Some of the best color can be found along the bike path on the south side of the creek between G and M streets.
Another option locally is Rahilly Park on Parsons Avenue between Olive and Yosemite avenues. This beautiful park has some ponds and a small creek that add to the photographic possibilities.
The quality of light and the time of day that you photograph are crucial when shooting fall color. Of course, this is true of any subject matter that you photograph.
Photograph early in the day, at sunrise, or late in the day, starting an hour before sunset and continuing until the sun is down. If you photograph at noon, the light creates too much contrast and the shadows are too stark. Your images will be uninteresting and difficult
to look at.
One important concept to understand about photographing fall color is the positioning of the sun. Most new photographers believe that the sun should be at your back. In reality the best leaf photographs will be made shooting toward the sun so that it backlights the foliage. This will show all of the great detail that is in the leaves.
Many times when we see something of great beauty we start shooting the scene the moment that we see it, from the vantage point that we first saw it. That is fine, but like I tell my photography students at Merced College, slow down and look beyond the obvious. Learn to find the pictures within the picture.
So, for example, if you come across a beautiful tree ablaze with color, walk around the tree, if possible. Watch and see how the light from different angles changes the look and feel of the scene.
Take photographs from different vantage points. Move in close, fill the viewfinder with color in some, and in other images try isolating just one brightly colored leaf against a background of something with completely different color and texture.
While in Yosemite for my last photography workshop, we came upon a beautifully lit tree glowing with bright yellow leaves. The sky was a beautiful, intense blue so I had my students use the widest-angle lenses that they had and lie on the ground on their backs and photograph the tree looking straight up into the sky.
The resulting images were spectacular. The warm glow of the leaves against the cooler blue of the sky made for a striking color contrast. Everyone got a little dirty rolling around on the ground but the unique compositions that were made were well worth the effort.
The main thing is to go out and photograph, enjoy this beautiful time of year. One of the great things about nature photography is it forces us to slow down and really see our beautiful outdoor world.
Check out my Web site, www.jaysousaphotography, for some fall images. I also have a great Internet fall family portrait special posted there as well. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jay Sousa, a former Sun-Star photographer, has his own photography business in Merced and teaches photography.