Posts tagged ‘fall’

10 Reasons NOT to Take Fall Leaf Photos

This fall’s color has been one of the most spectacular in recent memory…It is not every year that the oaks, aspens and maples all peak at the same time, but this year they are. So what’s your excuse for not getting out and shooting? Here are some of the reasons I find myself hmmming and hawwwing and procrastinating and avoiding taking fall foliage photos.

1. I CAN’T FIND A GOOD COMPOSITION
SOLUTION: Make your own! I found this dewy Quaking Aspen leaf and very carefully placed it on a background of reversed maple leaves that I laid out. I love the contrast of the yellow with the magenta.

2. IT’S CLOUDY OUT
SOLUTION: No problem, cloudy and foggy days are the best for recording the saturated colors of fall. Even rainy days can be great. But remember to use a polarizer to reduce the sheen from wet leaves.

3. THE LEAVES HAVE ALREADY FALLEN
SOLUTION: So what?…The leaves can be just as pretty and colorful on the ground.

4. I WORK DURING THE DAY
SOLUTION: Get out early! Frost on fall leaves can be a dramatic element

5. TOO LATE…SNOW HAS ALREADY FALLEN
SOLUTION: Count your lucky stars because this is a rare event. Get out right away and find some colorful leaves dusted with snow to make a stunning shot.

6. IT’S JUST A JUMBLE OF LEAVES, TREES, AND COLOR OUT THERE…I CAN’T FIND A SUBJECT
SOLUTION: Isolate! Find a clump of particularly beautiful leaves…or an individual fallen leaf…or grab the telephoto lens to highlight one area of color.

7. THE LEAVES WON’T STAY STILL
SOLUTION: Use this to your advantage…If leaves are swirling in an eddy of a river or creek, just set your tripod up and shoot at a very slow shutter speed…Slower the better. The leaves will become a swirl of color but the rocks and shoreline will be sharp.

8. I CAN’T FIND ANY COLORFUL LEAVES
SOLUTION: Shoot brown leaves

9. I ONLY BROUGHT MY WIDE ANGLE LENS
SOLUTION: The best lens is the one you have with you…So use it! But you have to be careful with wide angle fall foliage shots that you don’t include too much of a gray sky. Here I intentionally eliminated the sky to focus on the variety of colors in a wooded meadow.

10. I ONLY BROUGHT MY TELEPHOTO LENS
SOLUTION: Perfect…Much easier to find good compositions with a medium telephoto (70-200mm) than with a wide angle lens, I believe. Head to a vantage point or lookout where you can isolate part of the scene like in this image from Oberg Mountain, Minnesota, Lake Superior North Shore.

There you have it…A bunch of reasons NOT to shoot this fall’s gorgeous leaves…And a bunch of solutions to these common excuses. Now let’s get out there and shoot like crazy before all the leaves are gone!

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Moose! Called in to 30 yards: Shooting with Sparky

My hand was actually shaking…I eyed my “escape route” one last time, wondering how fast I could really climb that birch…Because I could hear large branches breaking and the deep guttural grunt of a bull Moose getting closer. I calmed myself and found the very tall dark blob through the vegetation in the viewfinder, focusing until the blob became the sharp image of a bull Moose. He was staring straight into my eyes…or the singular “eye” of my lens… I couldn’t tell which. His nostrils flared, trying to catch the scent of a cow Moose, and drool dripped from his mouth. Now was the critical time when he had to decide if he should come closer or retreat. He circled around me to get a better look…Maybe to actually get a better smell, since their eyesight is not great. As he shook his back and head violently, morning dew flying off his hump, his ears making audible flapping sounds, one could get a glimpse of the strength and power these animals possess. After another stare down, he moved off towards the west, grunting a few times as he departed. Sorry buddy…Hope you get lucky next time.

I’ve called in Moose before (see this post about a 2-Moose Adventure), but each time it is a rush…a thrill. Of course there are many unsuccessful attempts that make the successes so much sweeter. It was just a good day to be in the woods and there were many more highlights to come…a male Spruce Grouse feeding on the road, a Timber Wolf that appeared about 40 yards from me but then disappeared silently before I could get a shot, a Goshawk streaking through the trees. Then the most bizarre encounter…I drove a remote 2-track road a couple miles to a little used trail head…I’d only seen a couple grouse hunters all day…but there was a car here…odd, I thought…then my friend and fellow wildlife photographer Jason comes out of the woods on the trail. Crazy! We talked wildlife encounters for about an hour before my day-ending hike into the Boundary Waters Bog Lake. Yeah, a good day.

Iowa Prairie Monarchs…from 4 inches away!


I really have a passion for “wide angle wildlife”…which can be a challenge with critters…most of which would rather be a long ways away from us stinky, scary humans. And, of course, to get the bird, mammal, reptile or butterfly a respectable size in the frame, and not just an indistinguishable dot, you have to GET CLOSE!

So, on September 6th I found myself taking a detour off the highway near Lime Springs, Iowa to check out Hayden Prairie State Reserve. It is a 242 acre parcel of tallgrass prairie..and sadly the largest tract in the state outside of the Loess Hills. The prairie honors Ada Hayden, an Iowa farm girl who became one of the first woman botany professors in the country, receiving her PhD in 1918.

I had a few hours to shoot before sunset and I noticed many Monarchs feeding on the sunflowers and goldenrods. But getting close to the Monarchs was not easy…First I tried just walking up to nectaring Monarchs on the head-height sunflowers…but they didn’t appreciate that. Then I discovered a patch of goldenrods where the nectar must be especially good and abundant. The butterflies were a bit more tolerant here. And as anyone who’s shot a lot of wildlife knows, every individual has a different comfort zone. So I just kept trying to find a mellow Monarch.

The image I had in my head was getting the Monarch large in the frame, shooting into the sun so the sky was dark and the sun would be a starburst. Backlit subjects can make for tricky exposures. I knew I had to shoot at high-speed sync in order for the butterfly and sky to be in the same exposure range. I’d pre-set my camera on manual exposure to f22 at 1/1250 and my Canon flash was set to high-speed sync. Then I autofocused on my hand at 4 to 6 inches and then turned off the lens autofocus. The technique was to crawl as close as I could to the Monarch, then extend my arm with the camera and start shooting…keeping my finger on the shutter button as I reached out towards the butterfly. It was low percentage shooting but lots of fun. My knees paid the price though.

The photos here are images you could not get with a telephoto lens…Note the extreme depth of field in the shots.


Crawling through tallgrass prairie can be tough on the knees…and jeans!
The Monarchs were starting their migration south to Mexico’s Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve where they would overwinter. As any school kid knows, this migration is one of the most amazing in the animal kingdom…A fragile butterfly flying several thousand miles south to the mountains of Central Mexico where this species has likely overwintered for thousands of years. Even more amazing may be the fact that it is a different generation of Monarchs that returns to the north each spring. You can actually track the Monarch’s southward flight on the internet. Check out Journey North’s Monarch Migration map here to check on their southward flight.
To get the “starburst” sun you need to be shooting at f16 or smaller aperture.

Baptisia leucantha Largeleaf Wild Indigo or White Wild Indigo, a unique tallgrass prairie plant. Note the crazy large seed pods.

[All photos taken with Canon 7D and Sigma 10-20mm lens (between 10mm and 16mm) at f22, ISO 400, 1/1250 second, Canon 420ex flash set to high-speed sync at -2EV]