Autumn provides the transition from the warm months of summer to the cold months of winter. As autumn progresses, the greens of summer give way to hues of gold and red as chlorophyl is withdrawn from leaves, and plants fade in preparation for winter. As this transformation occurs, the earth tilts further away from the sun, increasingly shortening the hours of daylight and cooling temperatures, resulting in an increase in the photographic qualities of light.
In the United Kingdom, the autumn colours typically peak for some two weeks around the last week of October and the first week of November, the exact time depending on latitude. The weather also plays a strong role in determining when and to what extent the colours peak. A warm and wet spring and early summer, giving ideal growing conditions, followed by a warm but dry late summer and early autumn provide ideal conditions for autumn colour. However, the weather can also play an adverse role, with strong winds in early autumn stripping leaves from trees before the colours peak.
Some of the best remaining deciduous woodland in the United Kingdom can be found in steep sided river valleys and gorges, areas that were not cleared by man for timber or to make way for agriculture, industry or other development. The combination of the autumn colours in these woods and the water that flows through them offers many photographic opportunities.
For several years I have hoped to visit ScaIebar Force in the Yorkshire Dales National Park during the peak time for autumn colours. This year, whilst on holiday with my wife, I managed to spend an hour late one afternoon photographing the waterfall at the head of this small gorge.
As well as photographing the wider scene, I also look for images that can be made from focusing on the smaller details of the rivers within these wooded areas. Fallen leaves caught on rocks jutting out from the flowing water make great compositions. Using a polariser not only eliminates reflections and saturates colours but it also increases shutter speed. Used together with a neutral density filter, the combined result is a much longer shutter speed that causes the flowing water to be rendered as a milky blur whilst the leaves and rock are kept sharp.
Near to my home, I found a young Beech tree growing at the edge of a pine plantation. I was struck by the juxtaposition of the native Beech, a remnant of the great woods that once covered much of the United Kingdom, and this commercial pine plantation. Catching the last light of the day, the young Beech tree stood out against the darker pines behind.
As well as making more traditional landscape images, Autumn colours suit a more impressionist approach. One technique that it is very effective is to make multiple exposures that are combined in-camera. By combining two or more exposures that have different points of focus and/or exposures that are in focus with those that are out of focus, the resultant images can be quite ethereal and striking. Digital capture allows the in-camera multiple exposures to be reviewed at the time and point of capture and adjustments to be made whilst photographing.
Another technique that can be used to great effect is to deliberately move the camera and lens during a long exposure. These so called “Intentional Camera Movements” are very much a hit and miss technique and it can take many exposures to produce any good images. Late one evening with the light falling after a day photographing fungi, I experimented with moving the camera vertically whilst making images of a grove of Beech trees.
With winter deepening, the Autumn colours recorded in the above images are now just a memory. Whilst these colours are fleeting, as the seasons continue their cycle, they will return each year during Autumn.