Fall Contrast

Fall is all about the changing of the seasons and seeing that dramatic pop in color in the trees. Some of us are lucky enough to live in areas where that is more prevalent than others. What I’ve always loved about this time of the year is when an afternoon storm rolls through and the sky becomes very dark. All of a sudden there is this great contrast between the dark sky and the bright leaves on the trees which makes for some great drama.

The Leaves are Turning

Fall color is starting to pop up around Gallatin Valley but nothing major yet. I’m really curious with the hot summer and lack of water what kind of fall color year it’s going to be. In theory, it should be really good but anything could happen and one big rainfall, snowstorm or a month of cold weather could change everything. I took this last year while out fishing a local creek on the same weekend last year and now I sit here waiting and watching what this year will be like.

Fall is Officially Here

It’s most definitely Fall again. The year has gone flying by and the mountain tops are already getting coated with snow. The Cottonwoods and Aspens are starting to turn that wonderful range of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds. It’s a great time to be in the Rockies where there are endless opportunities around the bend to photograph. The Gallatin River is surrounded with Cottonwood trees and this time of the year it’s great to be on that river for two reasons, big fish moving through and all the colorful trees.

Image Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Barns in Fall Color

If you were at Photoshop World this past August and came to my class, then you probably heard me talk about writing down places you’ve traveled to previously so that you can go back later. There are a lot of barns in Montana and I love photographing them because they make great subjects. I keep a list of barns and there locations so that way when the season change or there is good light or dramatic skies I have a subject to go work with. This particular one I found a few years back hidden away in one of the local canyons. Now it’s more of a shack then a barn but it’s still rustic enough to count in my book. What’s important is the background and in this case it’s that great grove of Cottonwood trees. Now I’ve photographed this particular barn in every season and I have to say that fall definitely looks the best.


Breaking up the Fall Color

This time of the year brings a lot of photographers outdoors to photograph the fall color. In Montana Yellowstone is one of the hot spots to go to in the fall because of the great fall color spots as well as the fall rut going on with the Elk. Fall has always been one of my favorite times to go out shooting, with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S on my lap, I just pick a direction and go.


The one nice thing about working with fall color leafs is that you can’t really get it wrong. Everything from abstract to documentary is possible during this season. One thing that I always strive for is trying to find that balance while making a unique capture. I took this shot a couple years back because it was such a small grove of trees situated around a pine forest. The contrast of the two just made me stop and enjoy. It’s little things like that contrast that can make a big impact in your photography.

Go Black and White

Lesson number four is pretty straight forward, go black and white. Again it’s easy to be seduced by all that color but remember that all of that color when converted is just going to be bright white or grey against a dark background. It’s really simple to get a strong black and white out of fall color because there is naturally a lot of whites and blacks which are the two most important factors to consider. There must be an absolute black and absolute white in every successful black and white image. Don’t forget that.


One of the important factors to remember when working with Fall color and black and white is the composition. There has to be enough dark space in between all of those leaves in order to give a shape to the trees. If there isn’t the eye just gets lost. One of the great things about working with Aspens or Cottonwoods is the trunks are usually pretty bright surrounded by a pretty dark dirt forest floor. This helps to provide that shape. Keep in mind the gradient filter in Camera Raw can be very helpful when it comes to working with foregrounds and backgrounds.


Lastly for this lesson, remember to go small. One leaf can be a powerful image with the right help. What is the right help? Well go to my last blog post to see what that is. But here is a quick summary: quality leaf, good background, gesture, light and depth of field.

The Smallest Detail, the Leaf

Okay here’s lesson number three and it’s an important one. It’s easy to get distracted by the macro opportunities that come with Fall color, but if you are going to photograph a single leaf make sure it’s done RIGHT! We have all seen images of just one leaf positioned in a certain way during the fall season. It’s probably the most common image taken of them all during Fall. The problem is not everyone does it right and just to help here is my poor example.


Okay first and foremost find a good leaf! That might sound obvious but you’d be amazed at how many people just use one that’s already somewhat propped up and has somewhat a decent background. Well If nature provides you with that awesome single moment then take it but for the rest of us, find a good leaf, no bug holes, no bent stem, a good solid color and a good shape. It’s actually a lot harder then it sounds to find that right one. Next find a good background! It’s still the most basic rule of photography, background is important. Once you have both of those doing something interesting with the gesture. Don’t just stick it in the corner of the photograph and call it good. Remember the words of Maisel, gesture is key. Next, the light. Make interesting light don’t just take a flash, blow out the details of the leaf and have a dark background. Lastly play around with depth of field, a shallow depth of field can go a long way in this scenario. As you can see by my example I did NONE of these things and that’s why it is a poor example but it made you read why.

Working those inner patterns

The first lesson is really the most important as you will see in this next one that it still plays a role. The second lesson when working with Fall color is to not be distracted by the overall scenario, remember to work the smaller details. What do I mean by smaller details? Well lets start with the grove of tress themselves. This is a group of Aspens in California just past Conway Summit. It’s a great grove that tends to have a narrow window of color before the leaves are blown away. Well the skies sucked that day but the grove didn’t, so don’t include the skies. Work the leaves.


Jay Maisel said it best with Color, Light and Gesture. Well the color is obvious, the light is flat but what’s the gesture? The gesture is the naturally lines that form between one tree and another. Those tree tops change color at different times giving rows of different color. All those patterns or gestures amongst the grove can tell a story by themselves. A great way to capture this isn’t with a 24-70 but a 70-200 to isolate those little pockets.


Remember the first lesson? Well when you have a bright color, like yellow, if you have a brighter color, like white, your eye will go to that instead even though the entire frame is filled, in this case with orange. It’s important to keep in mind where the tree trunks are in your frame when composing because those white lines can either be helpful or hurtful.

My Fall Color Blog Shop!

Well Summer has come and gone already as most of us have already experienced. Every year it goes by faster but that’s alright because now we are going into one of my favorite shooting periods, Fall! I love shooting in the Fall. Everything from the color of the trees and grasses, to the temperature, the big critters and best of all sunrise is a whole lot later then in Summer. I don’t know about you guys but getting up for sunrise is a lot easier for me in the Fall when it’s 7:30 light up as opposed to 5:30 light up. Well with all of this in mind I thought to myself, “hey not everyone gets to go to a fall color workshop so why not do a Fall blog week for those people?” That’s what I’m going to do.


Obviously the best part is actually doing some shooting, but as we all know work gets in the way of life at times. So here is the first lesson, when shooting a landscape that has a lot of Fall color in it, those yellows and oranges, try and find a fixed point that is a dark color. Our minds eye naturally goes to light and bright, but if the whole image is light and bright, like Fall color leaves, having something dark in the frame is going to act in the reverse and that will be the first thing you see. Take a look at this image and see where your eye goes to first. Keep in mind how much of the frame is being filled up by that fall color because it will make a difference.

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