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3 Steps to Better Fall Landscape Photos

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

To celebrate the bright colors of the fall, I'm deviating from my usual topic - street photography - and focusing today on the autumn landscape.


Autumn HDR image

Fall is one of the best seasons to shoot landscapes, with its short days, cool weather, and vibrant leaves. Despite the natural beauty of this colorful time, however, you can easily miss out on some brilliant shots if you neglect a surprisingly important side of fall photography: filtration. Tips The circular polarizer is perhaps the most important accessory in the landscape photographer's arsenal. It darkens skies, make water appear clearer, and, perhaps most importantly in the fall season, it gives you more vibrant colors in leaves. It's not just a saturation boost in Photoshop - it cuts reflections on foliage, which are surprisingly apparent in your images. You likely already have a polarizer for one or more of your lenses, but if you don't own one, you can pick one up online as cheaply as $4, although we'd strongly recommend a higher-quality option from Hoya, Lee, or Nisi. (cheaper filters often add discoloration to parts of your frame) When you've arrived on-location, however, your technique is far more important than the quality of your filters, so if you don't want to spend more on your filters, don't worry -- you'll still be able to come away with fantastic shots.

Circular Polarizer

On Location Once you've found the perfect composition, pull out your polarizer and screw it onto your front lens element. You may not see an immediate effect through your viewfinder, LCD, or EVF, but as you rotate your polarizer, you should be able to notice significant changes in the tones of your scene. Try experimenting with different levels of polarization for the best effect, although, as a general rule, the most polarization will often yield the most vibrant colors. If you want to build on this effect, consider your shot's angle to the sun - you'll get much better results facing 90 degrees away from the sun.

Autumn Image - Edited in Luminar and Aurora HDA

Post-Processing Once you've uploaded images from your camera into your editing software of choice, and applied basic edits like contrast, exposure, and vibrancy, there are a number of creative effects that you can apply for a unique look. One of the more distinctive effects that you can apply is the Orton effect, named for its inventor, Michael Orton. It's easy to apply in Photoshop or Lightroom, and Luminar 4 (affiliate link) even has a specialist tool for the job, involving a simple blur around the edges of the frame or the whole image. It creates an extraordinary effect that looks at once smeary and pin-sharp. The Orton effect, despite its charm, can quickly become overused. A better everyday technique could be an HDR look. If you push your shadows as bright as they can go, and your highlights as dark as possible, an image quickly takes on a hyper-realistic, dreamy look that brings out foliage beautifully. This HDR look, however, is certainly an acquired taste, and doesn't showcase light in the same way as other editing styles. However, if you go to the other extreme - accentuating the light - you can quickly come up with a classic B&W look that highlights the details in your image. With these techniques, you can easily create stunning forest shots that are perfect for autumn.


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