This blog post is part 2 of our 5 part blog mini series which was part of the packed free online Autumn Photography Bootcamp which just finished its run. Over 5 days we taught a grouo of novice and experienced photographers how to make the most of the autumn colours and sights to use when photographing their families. Sorry you missed it bit fear not – you can still benefit from the advice and lessons in this series. And if you don’t want to miss our next free bootcamp – the Photographing Christmas bootcamp – enter your details below.
Let’s start with a little thought experiment. Close your eyes and imagine a dry, crumbly autumn leaf. Picture it in your hand. Can you feel the rough, fragile texture? Can you feel it crumble in your hand? Feel it break apart? And now imagine peeling a conker fresh out of its shell. Can you feel the shiny, smooth surface? Can you feel it all cold and pure in your hand?
We all hold memory of our senses. But we rarely consider them from a visual point of view. And we don’t often think of photography as something that can evoke those senses, but it absolutely can. Paying attention to textures, colours, light and shadows will help you add another dimension to your photograph, something to make the viewer want to reach in, feel the rough texture of the leaf in their mind.
Autumn is prime time to be thinking of those because it speaks to so many senses, we have so many contrasting textures and colours, often all in one place and all those tell a little bit of your autumn story. But to get them, you need to get closer, consider the details. think about how they play and offset one another.
Let’s start with colours first:
The same as our minds hold sensory memories that can be brought up by visuals, colours and their significance hold a strong place in our subconscious. We don’t think of it a lot, but colours are culturally coded into our brains.
When we think of autumn, we immediately think of the warm, saturated palette. We picture the oranges, browns, crimson reds, dark, purply reds, shimmery gold. Not the shiny and fresh greens, not the blue cold light. So if you take an image which will subconsciously give us Autumn, you need to pay attention to those.
See these two images, taken during the same walk, just set against two different kinds of background – the first one is unmistakably autumn, the second one – open to interpretation.
But I hear you say – my images don’t come out so saturated! This may be true, and it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of images out there will have been through some sort of post-edits, be it a simple filter or a little photoshop magic. But you have a setting right in your camera which can help too – it’s called White Balance and it is responsible for the colour temperature that you’ll be achieving in your images. In most cases, if you’ve done nothing to it, it’ll produce mostly ‘neutral’ light.
But it also has a number of presets which can be of help here. Look for a setting called Cloudy or Shade and switch your camera to that.
The two images below were taken one with Auto While Balance, the other with Cloudy setting. Now isn’t that better? I feel I need to caveat here though, sometimes the saturation may be too much. Sometimes it may feel too orange. I can’t tell you right now if it’ll be good for you or not, because a lot of it will depend on your camera make and model.
Same – same or contrast?
When it comes to using colour in your images, you have two options, either go with putting similar colours next to one another or contrasting them. They will both produce somewhat different results – not better or worse, just different.
Lets start with contrast first. A bright yellow leaf held by a your child dressed in red will draw attention to that detail. Our eyes will be quick to pick it out and focus on it. It make the image about that thing.
A carpet of leaves in similar shades and hues creates more of a mood, our eyes look for textures and other elements. The colour palette creates the mood, but is not the defining thing about the photo.
A single golden tree in a dense area of greens will stand out and call out to us. A sea of similarly coloured trees, will be a background.
Let’s have a look at some examples from our students
Dress your children in colours of the background or neutrals and they will melt a little into the scene. Make statement with green wellies, red coat, navy jumper or yellow rain mack and they will stand out proudly, draw the eye, direct our gaze to them – to the thing that matters in that image.
Have a look at the images below and notice how a change of colour to the coat changes the way the child or the action or the scene is perceived
COLOURS TO GO FOR:
I’m going to pre-face this part with a little note that I absolutely do not expect you to go out and buy a new wardrobe for your kids so they ‘go’ with autumnal colours. You have the clothes you have and that’s OK, especially for the lifestyle, natural style photographer. One of my daughters went through a sparkly purple stage and there was no bribery in the world that would lift her out of those clothes. And the fact it didn’t go with mummy’s “yellow” theme? Well, tough!
BUT if you have a choice of clothes in different colour scheme and would like for your autumnal images to have the same harmounious feel, go for the colours which you would easily find in nature at this time of the year – mustard yellows, reds, oranges, browns, even magenta. Navy Blue, denim and charcoal as well as cream will complement these very well. Even if you want a pop of colour – go for a red coat against yellow leaves or yellow wellies in the orange carpet of leaves.
And for something to touch – textures
The second sensory element which we introduced is texture. Texture can help an image feel multidimensional. It can help lift a detail out of the background. Consider these two images: one is a lot more about the texture than the other. And the difference? The angle they were shot at and proximity they were shot at.
Taking images at a high will give you a more uniform background, but there is not enough depth there to get the details to shine, for the textures to come alive. You want some elements to be blurry so the detail, the textural difference to stand out – and for that you need to alter the shooting angle and make it flatter, more parallel to the ground.
How close your subject is to your camera matters too. The closer you’re able to get, the more you can force that to happen in camera. Making sure you zoom in, will help even more.
IF you are more skilled with your camera and have a lens which can do wide apertures, use those – I won’t go into the details here as it’s getting a little too technical for the purpose of this bootcamp, but if you know how to do this – go right ahead. Wide apertures, especially the ones like F1.8 or F2.8 will be best at helping you here.
A word of warning, to create variation in texture, you will see best results when using a wide aperture lens – which I know a few of you have here. If you do not have one of those lenses, you will not be able to create QUITE THE LEVEL of blurriness in the foreground or background but it’s not impossible to get some of it. The recipe for this is to zoom in as much as you can, get close to your subject and shoot at a flat angle.
Juxtaposing two elements that are not alike will help you highlight their textures. A crumbly leaf in your child’s hand, dry grass in the foreground of your image, shiny snail among rougher foliage – all make the details stand out.
For today’s challenge, aim to shoot images showing of either colour contrast or textures that speak of autumn. Find a spider’s web, wet with morning dew and shoot it agains a darker background. Go leaves or sticks or conker hunting with your child and let them show you their finds. Don’t be afraid to show their muddy boots or take a beautifully lit image of that now single leaf still holding on to the tree.