Framing fall: Tips from the pros
Special to The Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – It’s just before sunrise in the last week of September, and while most of us have yet to enjoy our morning coffee, at least 20 photographers from all over the state have already secured a spot at the iconic Maroon Bells, their cameras fixed upon tripods as they stand shoulder to shoulder in anticipation of the perfect moment: when clouds hang low between the peaks, set against a bluebird sky, and a soft glow of sunlight peeks through the golden groves of aspens to paint a reflection on Maroon Lake below. If they’re lucky, they might even capture a perfect contrast of freshly fallen snow on the face of the Bells, and that traditional blanket of bright oranges and yellows at the foothills; a sign that another ski season is just around the corner.
This time just before sunrise in late September doesn’t only mark the magic hour for the best light quality, it marks the onset of fall – the time of year where the activities of summer dwindle; vacationers return home with the cooling of the air and vibrant colors of reds, greens and yellows dance in our neighborhoods. Those who stay year-round know it is a precious time, for this promenade of color only lasts through mid-October. For many of us here in Aspen, it means pumpkin pickin’, apple pie eatin’ and leaf peepin’, but for the photographers who rise before the sun to stand in utter patience for the perfect moment of color and contrast, it means heaven.
And in a conscious attempt to share a little piece of heaven with the rest of us photographically-lacking leaf-peepers, three local landscape photographers break down (in people terms) the most essential tips for taking fall photos. So whether flying solo or with a group, using a Canon DSLR or a good old point and shoot, from the backyard or backcountry, these tips provide a where and how guide for capturing the best in Aspen’s most colorful season.
Years in the valley: 40-plus
Experience: freelancer for National Geographic magazine, teaching journalism and digital photography workshops at Anderson Ranch
Approach: “To participate in a genre where beautiful pictures are complemented with information.”
Favorite fall hideouts: Maroon Lake, Castle Creek, Ashcroft
Fall photo tips:
1. Pay attention to detail: “Often people will only look for the big picture of the landscape – the trees with the sky and mountains. I like to look for the details of the subject, for instance, a bright yellow leaf sitting amongst a handful of dark leaves.”
2. Quality photos don’t mean expensive photos: “I have found point-and-shoot cameras today, including phone cameras, to take really great photos. For a simple 8-by-10-inch photo, you couldn’t tell the difference between a $30 camera and a $300 camera.”
3. Have patience: “The most important about nature photography is having patience and waiting … experienced photographers will wait for hours for the perfect light, for the clouds to be just right.”
4. Try shooting against the sun: “While shooting against the sun is known to cause a dark subject, if you position your camera just right you can get the sun to create a backlight behind the translucent leaves, making the aspens glisten with a golden glow.”
5. Sign up for a workshop: “I see so many people out with thousands in cameras and equipment without having any knowledge for how to use it. Taking a workshop in a group setting provides the kind of instruction that you may not find on your own.”
Years in the valley: 12
Experience: Communications at Anderson Ranch, freelance photographer for the Aspen Skiing Co. and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association
Approach: “A picture is mostly about framing to find meaning. If you have an idea or a story you want to portray beforehand, it really shows when you take the photo. I find the more specificity I have ahead of time, the better the photo tends to be.”
Favorite fall hideouts: Independence Pass, Kebler Pass, Red Mountain, Government Trail
Fall photo tips:
1. Don’t ignore cloudy days: “Most people tend to wait only for the crisp, bluebird sky days. While those days are good, you can also get a lot out of those early mornings with low-lying clouds … the effect is very quiet and serene.”
2. Try using a polarized filter: “The filter fits on the camera’s lens, most effectively on an SLR. Using a polarizer tends to bring more saturation to the sky and reduces reflections on water and other surfaces such as foliage, resulting in more intense colors.”
3. Go for the “golden hours”: “The best times to go are around the hours of sunrise and sunset. In midday, the sky is over lit and subjects tend to have a washed out look. If you get up early and go before work, it’s always worth it.”
4. Look to your environment for inspiration: “There is a reason why Aspen is often tagged the richest place on earth … the beauty surrounding us is surreal. Finding the perfect setting for shooting can be found just outside my door.”
5. Give a child a camera: “It sounds silly, but I’m always amazed what a child can capture with a camera. Their views are lower than ours, and they usually see and find things we don’t.”
Years in the valley: 24
Experience: Helped jump-start the photography program at Anderson Ranch, specializes in architectural and and residential property photography, teaches photographic workshops locally and internationally
Approach: “From details to the environment at large, I work to capture the essence of each space: e.g. from the relationship between traditional and new materials to community spaces with the people who pass through them.”
Favorite fall hideouts: The Grottos, Hunter Creek Valley, Fryingpan, McClure Pass
Fall photo tips:
1. Bring a tripod: “Taking a three-legged tripod with you on landscape photography trips is imperative. It prevents camera shakes and maximizes depth of field and image sharpness at low speeds.”
2. Switch camera from “auto white balance” to a “daylight” setting: “Sometimes, specifically with a point and shoot, the camera has a hard time determining the temperature of light when it’s set on auto. If you set it to “daylight,” the camera will increase the light it allows into the lens, resulting in more vivid images.”
3. Look for soft light: “Finding subject matter that is not overblown from the sun is important. I like to play with the contrast of shadows in the fall, including the interplay of colorful leaves in moving water.”
4. Eliminate a white sky background: “Because of the vast colors of fall, I like to look for the details in my subjects, like zooming in to exaggerate a red or yellow tree against an evergreen. Having a white sky in the background can be distracting to the eye.”
5. Shoot in RAW: “Shooting in JPEG compresses the scene, preventing information from entering the camera. If possible, shoot in RAW so you can change many of the shooting parameters after exposure in the editing process.”
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