Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I see a lot of over processed nature photography from just being over saturated, to the most egregious HDR work, where all the shadows are processed out creating a flat two dimensional scene. Yuck!

Now I’m no purist naturalist that says we should mirror nature making photos that only show it in it’s natural state. No, I think then we would merely be technicians reproducing the scene in front of us.  An artist interprets his subject often idealizing a natural scene as the classic painters did and, in the photographic arts, the way Ansel Adams and W. Eugene Smith did with their extensive post capture negative and print manipulations.

So, I’m not going for the totally natural look-I never have. I prefer the interpretation of nature that I used to get with Kodachrome 64 slide film. To that end I think I’ve achieved that look with my digital raw files processed in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw).

Before I go on to how I process my RAW files, It’s very important to discuss the lighting you choose when capturing fall colors, because the lighting determines the method and the degree (or strength) of your processing.

There are three ways, using natural light, to do fall colors…in my opinion:


 f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
The image above was done in this light. Overcast sky is like a giant soft-box as we use in the studio to soften the harshness of studio flash.  It’s very easy to use the outdoor version of this light because it’s so soft and diffuse. Overcast sky is the best way to reduce the dynamic range of a scene enabling you to capture a full range of colors very easily.  The biggest problem with this light is that you have a lower level of light to work with so you may be on a tripod and/or you’ll have to bump-up your ISO. I’m usually at ISO 800 in this light, especially if I’m hand holding.

BACK LIGHT - Hard Light

f6.3 @ 1320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 85mm
Backlight can be stunning. You’ll get very dramatic colors, but if you have multiple leaf colors—say from yellow to deep red in the same image—you may have trouble getting detail in that range of colors because of the difference in the transmissive nature of those leaves.

It’s all about the dynamic range (exposure latitude) that your camera’s sensor can handle.  In addition if you properly expose those leaves and have something in the foreground that is opaque it will usually under expose. And, sometimes that’s OK. So, go for it…you’ll learn a lot about exposure with backlight.

With many subjects this is the lighting I start with; then I may do that same subject again in overcast sky-light.

FRONT LIGHT - Very Hard Light

 f5.6 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 135mm
Sunlight falling directly from the front should always be avoided in most photography.  It’s way too easy to blow out the high lights (again, exceeding your camera’s dynamic range) with harsh sunlight.  You should at least place your camera in a position where the sunlight is falling across your subject from one side. It’s also best to use morning or evening sunlight.

So, with this light it’s all about timing and direction of the light.

Next week, in Part 2, I’ll move on to how I process each of these types of lighting.

Don’t hesitate to leave comments or questions…’Till next week…

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Certified, Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com

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