Top tips to improve your fall foliage Pictures
I’ve been doing photography for a lot of years, and never have I been able to say, “I’m as good as I’m going to get”. Either the equipment keeps getting better or the software gets better. Even if I go back only a few years I can see a big difference in my fall foliage shots.
Too much or too little
Some folks post process their images in hopes they can turn a mediocre image into an award winning picture that will sell and on the other end of the spectrum you have folks that beam with pride that they are purists that never post process and “They always get right in the camera”. You may be wondering what is the right way? To post-process or no-post-process?
My answer my be a cop-out but William Shakespeare said it best, “To thine own self be true”. I don’t make images to make you, or you over there in the back, happy! I do it to make me happy (and if you are also happy with it, well, that is a little extra gravy on top) 🙂
No matter what you think, it will be wrong to someone else. I will bet someone has already stopped reading this because I am someone who firmly believes in putting every image through post-processing before I show it to the world.
Some push the envelope with psychedelic colors and create fall foliage colors never seen in nature and others, “purists” who grew up in the Kodachrome film or Fuji Velvia age don’t believe changes outside the camera should be made. They remember how nice the New England fall colors looked with Velvia which was a very saturated print film. They will point to Ansell Adams as a purist but we now know Adams was a firm believer in post processing in the darkroom before showing his work and sometimes worked on his images for years as he gained new darkroom techniques. His Darkroom is my Lightroom!
My viewpoint on the creative use of artistic expression
What follows are my tips to improve your fall foliage and are just my viewpoints and if you agree fine, if you don’t, fine. I’m not here to tell you that my way is the best way. It’s just, “my way” to create my art and that’s all.
First, I shoot all my images in raw. Yes you can save room by shooting in JPEG mode but you’re relying on the camera to make all the decisions for you and I prefer a more hands-on approach. (Don’t know why Raw is better? leave a comment)
Second, I would die without my Lightroom software! I rarely go to Photoshop (yes I do own it because the cloning is far superior in Photoshop) but Lightroom lets me control what the end product will look like, unlike any other program out there. You can use the software that came with your camera and it’s normally very good or you can use different pay-for or free programs that are on the Internet. Like I said before, Lightroom is what works for me.
Do I use other programs? Yes, I use Topaz and Google’s, HDR Pro which came from the NIK company. To me these are tools to be used and they are powerful tools in the right hands. They are also dangerous tools in the wrong hands. 🙂
This first photograph is as straight out of the camera as possible. Lightroom makes certain changes to the tonality that I haven’t been able to turn off. Another issue is whether or not you calibrate your monitor’s or not. Calibration of monitors is an article unto itself and I don’t have room here.
The first image is my “as straight from the camera as a can come image” and if you wanted to check I could show you that all my sliders in Lightroom are in the default position (centered) to show its making as little impact on the image as possible. Follow @Foliage_Reports
There’s nothing really wrong with the image but to my eye the pine trees in the back detract by being in focus. In checking my numbers, I had an f/13 for an aperture which gave me too great a depth of field. Secondly and I know because I was there, that the sun was just coming over the far hills and the trees were brightly glowing but because our cameras try to balance the light and dark areas, the leaves are not nearly as bright as they were that morning.
So as you look at the second image you can see that by painting in a mask and Lightroom I’m able to throw the background pine trees out of focus which means your eyes will look at them once and then ignore them because they’re not sharp. Our brains are wired so that we like to look at sharp clear images and not blurry or out of focus images or parts of an image. This is why depth of field is so critical in an image, you can make people look where you want them to look just by using a shallow depth of field.
In the second image you are still looking at a raw file that is straight from the camera but because Lightroom works non-destructively I can make changes to the file without permanently changing the image.
My steps for making the second image
First, I go into the develop module of Lightroom (I realize some if not most of you may not have Lightroom but you should be able to grasp what I’m talking about. If not leave a comment or go to my Vistaphotography Facebook page and I will go into a lot more detail there)
In the develop module I paint over the yellow leaves of the tree (as you can see in the next image) and I raised the exposure by one stop and I raised the contrast by 65% which darkens the blacks and saturation was raised by 12% (0 Is Ctr. on the line and I went up 12 clicks to the right, That is barely noticeable!).
To give my Maple leaves an artsy kind of glow, I lowered the clarity which affects sharpness by working on the mid-range of light and I lowered the sharpness which promotes a soft glow. You will notice that this only affected the area I painted in red (below) and not the whole image which was not my goal. Then I raised the exposure by 1 stop to brighten just the leaves (area painted in red).
In the next image below, you will see I painted a separate mask that covered from the tall grasses in front of the pine trees up to the bottom edge of the leaves of the Maple. I again used the clarity and sharpness slider moving them both to the far left and throwing the edge of the forest out of focus.
You’ll notice even going to the far left the forest still has definition but when you look at the picture (adjusted image above) you will see that when you look at the evergreens your eyes are immediately drawn back to the brighter and more “in focus” leaves on the Maple tree. So the red area I painted below will be slightly out of focus like I should have done in camera by choosing… maybe a f5.6 aperture. I could also have darkened it also or even desaturated the forest area with another mask for just the trees!
This is a very condensed tutorial on what I sometimes do with some of my photography and I realized it probably raises more questions than answers but if you’re interested in getting your fall foliage images to look more like you saw them when you were shooting the scenes then this is a good starting point for you to explore the possibilities of what your images can look like.Jeff "Foliage" Folger You can purchase images by visiting my Fine Art Gallery websites
- My Gallery on Fine Art America
- Visit my Art and stock images on Vistaphotography
- *NEW* We created a new Fall foliage forum
- Join my New England Fall Foliage page on Facebook
- Follow @Foliage_Reports on Twitter
but people call me Jeff Foliage.
I have several pages that I write blogs for such as: http://www.4cornersnewengland.com/
My most popular blog is for Leaf peepers: Jeff Foliage.com.
I live in Salem, Massachusetts and work as a blogger and Travel Photographer. I'm also the founder of the New England Photography Guild.
Feel free to visit me on my blogs and see what life in New England is like.
I started with Yankee Magazine as their first blogger on everything fall foliage. Now I blog on my own blog on my favorite subject, telling leaf peepers where the fall foliage is showing up in New England and helping them (to some extent) plan their fall foliage vacations.