I’ve often written about the quiet beauty provided by overcast light. This is especially true in autumn, where cloudy low contrast days will saturate colors and help supply a mood of peace and tranquility. Sunlight also has some advantages. Grand landscapes, backlight, light filtering through the leaves and the sun of early morning or late afternoon can all be nice. Just the same, where I live we have a lot of cloudy days in fall and there are very few grand landscapes to be found. That makes soft saturating light the most desirable.
From time to time people have suggested to me that my autumn images must have been “tricked up” via Photoshop in order to make those pictures so colorful. A fair question to which I do not take any offense.
Yes there are tricks that I use to make colorful fall pictures. Just not the ones you might think. My first trick is to look for colorful trees and shrubs in the first place. It is amazing how easy it is to create good nature pictures when you let Ma Nature do much of the work. Using soft light also helps a lot. Having subjects (trees etc.) that are not washed out in the sunshine, and do not have the ugly, spotted contrast issues that come from sun shining into trees, will allow the colors to be saturated. When I am using quiet light I look for colors and tones that have some “inherent” contrast. Cool green combined with warm yellows and reds separate from each other and pop. It is an illusion and it is one I use frequently to make colors appear more colorful. I hold saturation in color a little more than many photographers by using a slight under exposure during cloudy day image making. Deeper tones in many colors will make them appear more saturated. I sometimes use a polarizing filter to kill reflections on leaves and therefore let the color shine through.
When I make autumn photos on sunny days I use another variety of “tricks”. I most often do my sunny day shots in the very first or last minutes (not hours) of the day. The inherently warm colors of those moments will paint the already warm tones of brown, yellow, gold, orange and red leaves with an even warmer brush. I use red and yellow trees posed in front of blue skies. Those warm tree colors will separate from that cool blue sky and make them pop and appear more saturated. I work inside thick forests where the sunshine will filter through the warm leaves and leave the tone of the entire scene appearing more colorful. Note that I do not work in thinly forested wooded areas on sunny days because it will create an overly contrasty image that will be ugly to the eye. If too much sunlight pours into the forest in-between the leaves rather than through the leaves, the difference between where the light and dark areas attack the scene can become too much and quite bothersome.
Most of my digital images have one or two clicks (the smallest available) of contrast added with photo software. This will separate tones (not colors) and make the image seem to be a bit more colorful. I rarely ever add artificial saturation, but when I do it is minumal.
I use tree trunks and branches, and anything else that is there as a part of my fall compositions. All of the ususal things that make images good, make fall images good.