Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


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Picture This: Shooting Fall Color

Though autumn foliage doesn’t always show off, these tips will help you get the best shots.

By Earl Nottingham

Unlike the predictable autumn postcard colors in much of the northeastern United States, fall color in Texas can sometimes be a gamble. One year may produce brilliant reds, oranges and yellows, while the next year seems to produce only infinite shades of brown. But when the rainfall and temperature conditions are just right, autumn in Texas can be glorious and a magnet for photographers.

From McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains to the Texas Hill Country to the Pineywoods and hardwood forests of East Texas, each of the state’s diverse natural regions displays its own unique cloak of colors.

I’ve often heard from photographers that the autumn foliage images they took just didn’t do justice to the colors they initially saw with their creative eye. This is usually due to the camera’s limitations relative to the abilities of the human eye. Our visual abilities can discriminate a much greater range of color and light value than the camera can. However, there are a few things you can do to increase the odds of getting some great photographs.

Although bright sunlight might make colors look brilliant, the added contrast sometimes makes colors appear harsh, especially when contrasted with deep shadows. Try shooting on days with slightly overcast or cloudy conditions. While it may go against our nature to shoot on cloudy days, diffused light is the photographer’s friend and will result in greater color and tonal range. It’s also easier to find more diffused lighting conditions in the early morning or late afternoon, so plan your shooting accordingly.

If you must shoot in bright sunlight, try to find angles where the sun is coming from behind the foliage, thus trans-illuminating the brilliant colors of the leaves.

Other unique atmospheric conditions such as rain, fog and even frost can greatly enhance any fall photograph, and you can feel very lucky if you encounter them while shooting. Raindrops and frost patterns are especially good candidates for close-up images. One of the secrets of good photography is that some of the best conditions for taking a photograph occur under what we would normally consider “bad” weather.

Camera settings on digital cameras also play an important part in reproducing brilliant foliage colors, and two settings in particular will help get better results. They are the color saturation and white balance settings.

Color saturation settings that intensify outdoor scenes have different names depending on the manufacturer. Some may have a “Vivid” picture style setting, while others may call it a “Landscape” setting. Both will intensify the color saturation of landscape colors. Consult your camera’s manual for the proper setting.

Correct white balance is important. While most point-and-shoot digital cameras will default to the “Auto” white balance feature, colors may not reproduce as accurately as possible. A better choice is to manually change to either the “Daylight” or, preferably, the “Cloudy” white balance icon when shooting under diffused light. This ensures that the warmer autumn colors will be faithfully reproduced. For even warmer colors, try the “Shade” setting. In fact, shoot several images at different settings and see which results you like. That’s what the delete button is for.

Finally, don’t forget that the autumn outdoors make a great studio for people pictures. Just put your subjects in earth-toned clothing (no white shirts), and you’ve got the makings for colorful family memories.

Because most Texas land is privately owned, access to good places for photography can sometimes be limited. Luckily, some of the best locations for peak color are in Texas state parks, and all are photographer-friendly. Learn more about park foliage at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/parkinfo/seasonal/foliage/.


Please send questions and comments to Earl at earl.nottingham@tpwd.state.tx.us.

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For more on TP&W magazine photography, go to our Photography page

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