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There’s nothing like fall foliage in brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow to bring out all the shutterbugs. But many people are disappointed when they see the pictures they’ve taken, and they can’t figure out why. The sky is blue, the trees are red, and it’s not blurry, but it’s not the beautiful shot they remember taking. What went wrong? Technically, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it somehow falls flat. It doesn’t capture what they saw with their eyes. You might be tempted to blame the camera, but we’re all acquainted with that friend who owns a very expensive camera, and still manages to take below-average photos. And while it’s true that having a good camera can offer more techniques for creative photography, better pictures—with any camera—are produced by just following these few, simple guidelines:
- It’s all about the light. If you want to capture some beautiful images, you’ve got to get out of bed. Early. It is sunrise that produces those breathtaking photos, where everything is cast in pure, golden light. Pre-sunset will also give you beautiful light to work with, but you might find your subject a little more crowded, as more people are around at 5 in the evening, than they are at 5 in the morning.
- If there were only one rule in landscape photography, it would be never to put your horizon in the middle of the picture, cutting the scene in half. This is usually the shot that disappoints you. It lacks inspiration, but you don’t know why. Break up your picture into thirds, with the most interesting, beautiful or dramatic image taking up at least two-thirds of the frame.
- “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” – Ansel Adams. Not only should you walk around to get different views of the same subject, try kneeling, sitting, or lying on your stomach. This will give you the opportunity to include rocks, flowers, fallen leaves or greenery in the foreground, providing contrast and layering to that row of trees. If you’re setting out for a day of nature photography, wear old clothes and bring a towel to sit or lie on. And then you can regale your friends with the story, “You won’t believe what I had to do to get this shot!”
- Go out on a cloudy day. Don’t expose your camera to rain, of course, but an overcast sky can produce some of your most dramatic photos. Colors are more vibrant against a gray sky or in the shade. And if you want to take some pictures of your loved ones surrounded by fall foliage, this is the time to do it. We’ve all been the victims of well-intentioned photography on a sunny day. Face the sun, and you’re squinting. Keep the sun behind you, and you’re too dark. And the sun directly overhead produces ghastly shadows on your face. You might as well have your picture taken in an interrogation room under a bare bulb. This is also the time to employ the two-thirds rule again. We have a tendency to want to center things, but try placing your subject to the right or left of that red maple tree for a more interesting photo.
- Before you take the shot, look away from your subject long enough to see what else is in the picture. Power lines? Your own shadow? The camera strap?
Before you delete the photos you don’t like, take a good look at them and learn from your mistakes. And don’t be discouraged if most of them are bad. A professional photographer once told me that if you take a hundred pictures, and end up with five really great ones, that’s a good day
About SJ Wilson
SJ Wilson has been writing novels for many years, including the recently published, The Soul of Fenway. She loves spending time with her family, especially at the beach. Her hobbies include genealogy, photography, American history, and baseball.
Photo: Tamera Ferro