Photographing fall foliage – backlighting

It’s the season when fall colors will soon be in full array, and that brings out the photographer in all of us.

First of all, the most important thing about fall colors (and any outdoor activity, for that matter) is to be present in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.

But if you do want to capture the beauty on your camera, here’s a couple of factors I’ve discovered, particularly when it comes to late-morning or early-evening lighting.

When the sun is low in the sky, you are presented with some opportunities for backlight photography. Backlight is just what it sounds like – the light source is behind, or in back of, the subject.

In the diagram above, I’ve identified three zones at which you can point your camera and achieve different results, all of them good depending on your intentions.

Pointing directly at the light source gives you direct backlight. In this setting, your foreground objects are often blackened out and silhouetted. If that’s your design, well and good. This especially looks great if you have fog among the trees and the sun is creating crepuscular rays. But it’s not the best angle for highlighting the fall colors that we’re after.

Crepuscular rays

At about 45° from the light source, the light is now a source of direct illumination. The sunlight is falling on the surface of the leaves that you see. With the sun low in the sky, colors are at their deepest as compared to midafternoon when the sun is high. At this point you have moved off backlighting. Starting at about 45°, the sun is increasingly behind you. You would want to get the sun behind you if you are photographing a hillside full of various colors.

My favorite zone of backlighting is partial backlight. This is just off the source of light, and what you are seeing here is not the light shining on the leaves, but the light shining through the leaves. This gives us the most brilliance in the colors, which pop in the photo. Notice in the top photo that it is in this zone that the hues are most vivid.

I hope this helps as you look for the right angle for shooting fall colors. Move around a bit so that you’re pointing somewhat toward the sun, but not directly! You’ll be surprised at the colors you see.

And as always, be an observer as well as a chronicler. Let the scene feed your soul!

Design delights

West Asheville Family Vet

I’m a fan of design. I’m not a pro, but I know what I like.

This building is next door to my church, and it’s being turned into an animal hospital. The building has housed a cafe in the past, complete with hideous orange exterior walls. The animal hospital has gone with a much more subdued look, and in a city (Asheville) known for artistic murals, this one stands out.

I don’t live close enough to bring my doggo here, but if I did, I’d surely come here. Who wouldn’t look forward to a trip to this building? Design matters.

Creativity and technology

There has probably never been a time where “creativity” has been as much in the forefront as now. Watch pretty much any ad for the newest phone, and the thrust of the ad is not the phone capabilities (I mean, you can make and take calls; how exciting is that?). Rather, our phones – or should I say, mini pocket computers) appeal to us for the ability to express our creativity. Suddenly, we’re all capable of being photographers, movie makers, music producers, and more.

“Creative” has become a nown, as in, one could identify as a “creative.” Not just creative, adjective. “I am creative.” But, A creative.“I am a creative.” “I am part of the creative community.”

There’s nothing wrong with this impulse. I believe it’s part of our nature as being created in the image of God, who displays his enormous creativity throughout all the things he has made. Everyone of us has marvelled at the beauty of a sunrise, the refraction of light into brilliant colors in a rainbow, the variagated song of a mockingbird. And then there’s those weird-looking creatures at the bottom of the ocean, just because.

So, if our technology allows us to explore our creativity more freely, I’m all for it.

I’ve been a hobby photographer for my whole adult life, starting with an Olympus half-frame 35mm camera that belonged to my brother, to now going back and forth between my Canon DSLR and my “phone” – my Galaxy S20 Ultra. A few years ago, I discovered that shooting a digital photo was not the end of the process, and I began learning Lightroom and other processing apps that really helped clean up and enhance my photography.

Technology has made that easy, too. Sometimes, a little too easy.

It has raised a question in my mind about what is really creative. For a simple illustration, look at this collage of a photo I shot a couple weeks ago in my back yard.

The picture on the left is pretty much “no filter.” In other words, this is the way I saw it and captured it. The scene caught my eye because here was this lone tree amidst others that had maintained its fall folliage, standing tall against the inevitable forces of winter.

For the picture on the right, I simply took the original into the app Photoshop Camera, and with one click applied a filter that turned everything that was not yellow or green into black and white. It looks cool.

But with which picture did I engage the most creative activity? One might say the right picture is more creative. But technology allowed me to create that with one click. And there are dozens and dozens of effects out there, that someone else has created, that I could have applied. Yeah, I chose which one I liked best, but I didn’t really feel like I was being all that inventive.

On the left picture, the original one that I shot, I had to take notice of the scene, value its creative potential, compose the shot. While I like the effect of the second picture, I chose to post the left one to Instagram because it felt like it was mine.

Is creativity accomplished on the presets of others really creativity? Well, to a degree, of course. Anything that helps me to see in more creative ways becomes visionary. But we must beware of the danger of pre-fab “inventiveness.”

I remember going to an art boutique in downtown Asheville once, where one of the booths featured a local landscape photographer. This photographer took some beautiful shots, but honestly, had applied too many and too extreme Photoshop filters to the photos, increasing the saturation levels to create bold colors and other-worldly vistas. In the guest sign-in book, one person commented that it was “cheap” to simply apply a bunch of filters and then pass it off as original “art.” That might have been harsh, but it was a valid point.

As the creative community grows with the rise in inventive technology, I welcome you. Use the tools at your disposal. But while you do, make sure it’s your vision, your skill, your creativity.