Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fall Foliage

Ever since I was a kid fall has been my favorite season since this is when Mother Nature produces a spectacular palette of warm and vibrant colors. Some of the best places to see the show include the Northeast corridor through the Appalachian mountain chain to the Southeast U.S as well as much of the Midwest. My personal favorite areas include the White Mountain National Forest and Acadia National Park. Places like the Great Smoky Mountains can be wonderful fall venues but be prepared for excessive traffic in the nations most visited park. Unfortunately, nature’s great show can vary from year to year with respect to both color and timing – both beginning and end. Understanding how and why the leaves change along with a few shooting tips can be helpful for those wishing to photograph this season in all its splendor.

What makes deciduous leaves change color? The color of leaves comes from chemicals like Chlorophyll which give leaves their green color and is necessary for photosynthesis, Carotenoids like carotene and xanthophylls are responsible for yellow, orange, and brown colors, and Anthocyanins, produce blue, red and violet colors. As autumn approaches the shorter days and longer nights break the chlorophyll down resulting in the dominant green color disappearing to unmask warmer colors. Part of the magic formula for a colorful season is moist soil (yes, rain) along with warm sunny days and cool nights that do not dip below freezing. These cool nights help to close down the veins in the leaves to prevent sugars form migrating out which would otherwise result in drab brown colors. Also, the timing of this seasonal display can be affected by the weather in Spring and early Summer. Dry conditions in Spring/early Summer cause a late beginning which can delay the start of fall foliage whereas a moist wet spring can allow for an earlier fall and plus help to lay the conditions for a vibrate fall season. After peak periods the end may come gradually or rapidly - literally overnight. Dry conditions and strong winds or storms can quickly strip an area of leaves in a single day. So don’t wait to see the show as peak periods of colorful full trees can be very short.

Shooting Tips:
- Use a Circular polarizing filter. Since a leaf is broad and shiny a CPL filter will remove some of the reflective glare, especially when the leaves are wet, and saturate colors beyond what we normally see.
- Reflections of color in water. A great way to shoot impressionist-like images is to shoot reflections on the water surface. One of the best ways is to find a stream or lake where you get direct sunlight on the leaves but not on the water. These conditions can often be found around an hour or so after sunrise when the light is hot on the trees but not on the water surface.
- Late season captures. Fall landscape shooting has two distinct periods. The first is when the trees are full and bursting with color. The second is when the leaves fall and blanket the ground before they dry up. For the latter it can helpful to shoot the ground and exclude the bare trees but there is no rule. Just search for interesting compositions.
- Check foliage reports. Before you travel great distances from home it helps to check online foliage sites for the latest info of how your target area is shaping up. Going on a long trip only to arrive a week too early or late can be disappointing. Remember, peak periods can vary by a week or two each year.

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