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!

Vacation

Vacation is not the absence of work. It is the pursuit of rejuvenation.

M. Graham Knox
One of the spots we hope to revisit

I’m going on vacation next week. Here are a few random thoughts.

We’re going to Wyoming again. This makes the 4th consecutive year. A different spot this time, so there will be a sense of familiarity mixed with unfamiliarity. I’m excited about that.

In the picture above, I’m wearing a Blue Ridge Parkway hat…in Wyoming. I have a Yellowstone hat, but I’d look like a tourist. Don’t be that guy. This way I look like a well-traveled adventurer.

At my work at Chick-fil-A, I often engage with guests who are traveling on vacation. This always energizes me, because it turns my thoughts toward my own adventures. Since we live and work where we used to vacation, I really love giving advice on things to do. One of the many services we provide.

My operator at Chick-fil-A is an epic explorer. He recently said, “The thing about adventures is that they make you want to have more.” This is why we’ve been planning this trip for over 6 months, and why I’m already scoping out new spots to travel to.

Carolyn has completely recovered from back surgery last December. She’s been a trouper on our adventures, even with her chronic back pain. I’m eager to see how the lack of pain will increase her enjoyment. I hope I can keep up.

We will be right outside of Yellowstone National Park. However, since we’ve been through the park several times in the last 3 years, and with all the record crowds, I’m not sure we’ll get into YNP very much. There’s plenty to see in the outlying areas. We’ve done that before in Yosemite in California. Some of the best sights are outside the borders of the parks.

Speaking of sights, I got a new lens for my camera. Last year, my lens broke during the trip, so most of my pictures were taken with my phone. Now, a Galaxy S20 takes really nice pictures, but I was missing my Canon.

Every article I’ve read about travel in the national parks this year is that they are bursting at the seams with record crowds. One article talked about the lack of rental cars and prices of upwards of $500 a day (!!!) in Jackson, where we fly in. A couple of months ago I encouraged Carolyn to reserve a car early. Prices were staggering. She finally found something that was only twice the cost of what we paid last year. She later found a better price, but it’s still not cheap. And don’t even mention Turo (the AirBnB for cars); prices aren’t much better and the owners can be sketchy, pulling out of a rental agreement last minute.

I’m not planning on doing a lot of writing during my trip, but I will try to post on this blog some of the best pictures each day. Stay tuned.

Our cabin is pretty isolated, well outside of town. I plan to contemplate the stars and the God who marks them off with the span of his hand.

I’ve got Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Up Around the Bend” running through my head: “Hitch a ride to the end of the highway
Where the neons turn to wood.”
Yep, we’re leaving the sinking ship behind and goin’ up around the bend.

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.