By Stephen Patterson
shunpiking, october / november 1997,
Trees and foliage make up a large part of both the
natural and man-made landscape and have been our companions since the
beginning of time. They are always within our subconscious as we see
them in their various forms from day to day, yet we generally pay little
attention to their details as we rush off on our daily routines.
I became interested in photographing trees because of my developing
sense of colour, form and texture. These visual elements can be properly
combined to inspire the viewer to see a common subject such as a tree
in a whole new perspective. The natural sculpted forms of trees allow
a photographer to make wonderful studies in visual design and freely
express his or her personal artistic vision.
Living in a climate where there are definite seasonal changes allows
me to see trees in all phases: clothed in green, yellow, orange or bright
red; unclothed in the dead of winter, often laced with snow or sheathed
in a layer of crackling ice; half-clad in the soft haze of spring buds.
Their branches are always there underneath; never changing directly
with the seasons, they present themselves as sculpural forms when laid
bare during the winter.
It is the lowering sun of autumn that allows trees to radiate their
true and often brilliant colours which have been hidden through the
summer months by a green mask of chlorophyll. Soon advancing frosts
and shortening days will slowly strip away layers of colour, turning
the forest into a wonderful mosaic of bare branches against a lingering
layer of colour. For a short time I will enjoy structure and colour
together. The brilliant tones of red and orange seem to disappear first,
then the softer golds, bronzes and browns. It is not really until mid-November,
and later, that we see the last of its colour.
On a technical note, I use 35mm cameras and several zoom lenses that
cover a whole range of focal lengths. Sometimes I use a polarizing filter
to eliminate shine, unwanted reflected light or rain drops, but I never
use colouring filters over my lenses that would alter the natural colour
of the trees. No need.
Stephen Patterson, photographer, created the shunpiking poster. The
Fall Colours of Nova Scotia. His work has appeared in Photo Life and
exhibits of his prints have been held on several occasion in Halifax.
Maine Dept. of Conservation
Here are a few tips for those of you who are taking
photos of the foliage with point-and-shoot cameras.
400-speed colour print film The lenses of most point-and-shoots are
fairly slow. A fast film helps you on those less than bright days and
the quality and sharpness of modern 400-speed print films is outstanding.
Don't worry about using it when the sun is bright. Print films have
broad exposure latitudes and at worse, your automatic camera will be
using its fastest shutter speeds (cutting down on camera shake) and
its smallest lens openings (improving depth of focus). Add Depth Add
a sense of depth to your landscapes. When shooting the distzant hills
of colour, include a closer tree, or other object in the foreground.
Occasionally include an object for a sense of scale to give a sense
of how large a landmark is in real life. This way, when you're home
looking at your vacation photographs, you can point to how high you
were on top of (a hill or mountain), for instance. You can include a
man-made object or another person to achieve a sense of scale.
Don't forget the macro setting on your camera. Most point-and-shoot
cameras have a close-up or macro setting (many times indicated by a
tulip symbol on the controls). Bringing your camera as "up close and
personal" as its minimum focusing distance will allow, can give you
a whole different type of foliage photo to enhance the large landscapes.
Cloudy Skies? - Don't Dispair
If the sun isn't out, sometimes the best foliage shots are possible.
As long as you're not insistent on having blue sky in your photos, the
light available from an overcast or even a rainy day can give you a
host of colours with a nice even contrast. On especially dark days,
one of the new 800 or 1000-speed films might be advisable.
A photo editor interviews her two favourite photographers on how to
take the finest foliage pictures
by Ann Card, Tankee Magazine
HOW IS THE FOLIAGE going to be this year? It's more
than a passing interest for us at Yankee Magazine. It's an obsession.
I worked in Yankee's art department for 15 autumns, and New England's
color is always great. Some years it's a little more red or the leaves
turn earlier than the year before. But it is always beautiful. Always.
I reviewed more than 500,000 foliage photos as picture editor for Yankee.
Not all were beautiful, but some were so spectacular I wanted to climb
right into them. I asked Kindra Clineff and Alison Shaw, two of Yankee's
finest foliage photographers, how they capture images that preserve
the essence of autumn. Here are their tips to help you create better
photographs on your foliage safari. Some suggestions deal with interchangeable
lenses, but most of these words of wisdom apply to anyone, whether you
are using a disposable box camera or a sophisticated 35mm or digital
If you want handy prints to pass around or put in an album, use print
film. ASA 100- or 200-speed film will give you better color than faster
films (such as ASA 400) and will allow you to make crisper enlargements.
If you want the absolute best images, shoot slide film. Most Yankee
photographers choose Velvia (ASA 50), a transparency film favored for
its rich color saturation. This is very slow film, so in low-light situations,
you will need a tripod.
Kindra urges anyone serious about his or her photographs to pay the
extra money for professional film from a proper camera shop instead
of buying it at the local drugstore, because the color density is better.
It has been perfectly aged and properly stored. She says, "Film is like
fruit. The professional film is ripe."
If your prints come back looking grainy or gray, it may not be your
technique or your camera -- it could be the processing. Old chemicals
result in washed-out prints. Invest in better-quality processing. Ask
to see samples before you trust anyone to process your film.
Keep it simple. Look for a dominant element, like one tree in a field
or a single branch of leaves against the sky. Alison suggests that photographers
"should isolate elements by using a shallow depth of field. This allows
one tree or part of a tree to be in focus while everything else is out
of focus." The sharp part of the photo is then your dominant subject.
"Change your point of view," advises Kindra. "Get down on your belly
and shoot through things, letting objects in the foreground go out of
focus. This will give you a nice wash of color in the foreground and
lead you into the background that you've kept in focus. Or you can keep
the foreground sharp and let the background go soft."
In sunny conditions, try a polarizing filter to cut glare and capture
brighter colors in the leaves and sky. This offers better overall definition.
Look through the filter and see what it does, turning it for more or
less polarizing effect.
When to photograph
Early morning and late afternoon provide the most interesting light,
but don't grumble on an overcast or rainy day. Alison insists that she
loves to shoot foliage in these conditions: "Overcast days will show
color better than sunny ones."
Kindra's favorite time to shoot is during the 30 minutes before and
after sunrise and sunset. But she adds, "Don't put your camera away
in the middle of the day. And forget all that advice about keeping the
sun behind you when you photograph." She prefers shooting into the sun,
so her subjects are backlit. If you've ever seen a sugar maple with
the sun punching through the leaves, you'll agree. Be sure to protect
your lens from sun flares. A lens hood or a piece of cardboard will
shade your lens from the sun.
"Avoid wide-angle lenses," says Alison. If you want the big, long view,
"buy the postcard." Alison suggests that a photographer should "come
in closer, focusing on a single tree -- or just part of it."
If you want the view
Well, then do what Kindra does: "Be sure to have something interesting
in the foreground to frame the view." This can be a porch railing, a
tree, or whatever strikes your fancy. Remember backlighting, when applicable.
Alison reminds us that "Everything doesn't have to be in focus. If you're
near running water, put your camera on a tripod and focus on some bright
leaves on a rock just above the water. Set your shutter speed for one
second or longer. This will give you a sense of movement in the brook,
while capturing the still part of the frame as you see it."
On a windy day, use a tripod and focus on a beautiful tree or row of
trees. Be sure the trunk is in focus, and expose your film at one-half
second or slower. The trunks will be sharp, and the moving leaves will
create a lovely, fiery look. Experiment with slower and slower shutter
Early morning is the best time to capture reflections in a lake or pond.
The water is more likely to be still, and you may get mist rising off
When asked how she keeps photographing foliage in fresh ways, Kindra
answers, "It is such a short season every year -- fleeting really. I
don't have time to get bored with it. So at the end of each autumn,
I look forward to the next one, when I can go to new places or return
to some of the old favorites and try something different."