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Chasing the light of a mountain fall

By David A. Ramsey • Oct 6, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Autumn has long been my favorite season, much as it is for a lot of folks. The reasons are many, including common ones such as the cooling and clearing of the air and the lift I always feel in both energy and spirit. As an outdoor photographer, fall has always brought to me a kind of renewed excitement for the art I've pursued for more years than I care to mention. Every year, from my days in film photography through my work in the digital realm, it has pulled me from almost anything else I might be doing and into the brilliant heights and deep-hued hills and hollows of these Southern Highlands.

Outdoor photography has changed dramatically in my lifetime. In many ways modern-day cell phone shooters, which includes most people, have it a bit easier when compared with those of us who learned on and still use actual cameras. Notice I said easier, not necessarily better. Phone cameras are designed to give average and fairly acceptable results from simply pointing and shooting. They offer only nominal control over actual image capture and partially compensate for this by providing a few adjustments that allow us to modify an image after it is shot, including its brightness, color saturation and cropping.

But that's okay. It is not necessary to have expensive, elaborate gear or to have mastered all of photography's technical skills to come home with an image you're proud to share with other people. There are some basic concepts and techniques worth remembering that will improve the chances of getting the results we're after when we head out to shoot this season—and in fact, these apply whether we use a high-end DSLR, a phone camera or something in between.

Rich fall colors against a deep blue sky.

Choose a day, at mid-morning from around 9a.m. to 11a.m., when the sky is a crisp blue and without haze. Face the sun and then turn 90 degrees to your left where you'll see the deepest blue in the sky. Select an interesting, colorful subject to frame against this area, such as a lone, bright red or yellow maple tree placed in the bottom center of your frame, with the vast blue sky and white puffy clouds above.

Brightly colored leaves against strong earth tones.

Head to the woods on an overcast day, when your light will be perfectly even without shadows and contrast. Look for newly fallen leaves on mossy rocks, logs, ferns, etc. Frost-covered grass and lichen also make great backgrounds for red and gold leaves.

Brilliant reflections on water.

Shooting over calm water, usually in early morning, toward richly colored trees along the opposite shoreline can yield some outstanding reflection images. Make sure to capture the treetops both of the actual trees and their reflected images on the water. Here, a good polarizing filter will add to the striking results.

Autumn wildlife.

Fall provides a multicolored backdrop for photographing wildlife of many kinds, from small insects and mammals to larger species that are more active and often more photogenic at this time of year. Deer and elk are quite majestic, displaying the great antlers and powerful physiques that have developed for the breeding season. Bears often show thick, shining coats in fall. Birds of all types can be photographed amid the colorful foliage of trees and shrubs. Various species of trout, including browns and brooks display incredible colors, signaling their approaching spawn.

The magic hour.

Landscape photographers refer to the period of one to two hours before sunrise and after sunset as the magic hour. This is when the sky often yields stunning colors and the mountains and/or other elements of the composition are not backlit by the sun and therefore rendered dull and colorless. You can shoot from high on a mountain bald or summit after the sun has dropped from sight and capture all the colors of fall that unfold across the ridges and seem to melt into those of the distant horizon.


SPECIAL NOTE: The photographs in this October 6 edition of David A. Ramsey's column are available from a limited collection of fine prints titled, Autumn Light. If you are interested in one or more of these special prints, please contact [email protected].

David A. Ramsey is a regionally and nationally recognized outdoor photographer and writer from Unicoi, TN. His recently released book, Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild, is available at Mahoney's in Johnson City and online at www.ramseyphotos.com

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