October 19, 2012

Simple Ways to Enhance Your Fall Photos

It's the time of year when Mother Nature puts on her most colorful clothes (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) and tempts all photographers out of their warm houses to record the fashion show. Here are some quick digital camera tips for getting more colorful shots of autumn foliage.

Use Scene Settings
Many cameras have a variety of Scene settings to automatically improve the photos of specific subjects. (If you've never used the scene settings on your camera, review my article on the topic here.) While I'm not aware of any scene choice specifically for fall colors, look for a Foliage setting, which intensifies the colors in your pictures. If you don't have a foliage choice, try the Sunset setting. It will also adjust the colors in your photos. Remember to take a shot on regular Automatic so you can compare the difference and see which one you prefer.

Taken on Automatic Setting

Taken with Foliage Setting

If you don't have such scene settings on your camera (as is true for many digital SLRs), then switch your camera to Program mode (letter P on the exposure dial) first. This is still an automatic setting but you can override the camera's choices and frequently end up with better photos using some of the following options.

Use Daylight or Cloudy White Balance
In automatic exposure modes, your camera's color correction feature is usually set to Automatic White Balance (AWB). Just like automatic exposure, the camera is making an educated guess about what the colors in your photo should look like. Unfortunately, this frequently results in dull colors of vivid subjects like sunsets and fall leaves. If you change the white balance from automatic to Daylight or Sunny (a sun icon), the camera will not need to guess at the colors and will give you a more vibrant picture. If you want to help Mother Nature along, you can try the Cloudy white balance choice (a cloud icon) to add more orange to the picture.


Automatic White Balance

Cloudy White Balance

Daylight White Balance

Adjust the Exposure Compensation
Another technique to use with your camera in Program exposure mode is changing the Exposure Compensation to darken the picture just a little. Using -1/3 or -2/3 Exposure Compensation is just enough to bring richness to the colors.

Regular Exposure
-1 Exposure Compensation,
a little too dark for me

Try a Different Picture Style
Most cameras allow you access to different picture styles (Canon), picture controls (Nikon) or parameters (both) where you can adjust how the camera records the intensity of colors. This is called different things depending on your camera brand & model. Nikon cameras have a Vivid picture control choice that makes all colors more saturated. Canon Powershot models have a My Colors menu where you can also choose Vivid colors. You can also try the Landscape picture style, which enhances blues and greens in most cases. (NOTE: This choice is NOT the same as the Landscape Scene setting, though you can experiment with that one, too.)

Older and more basic digital SLR cameras may not have these named picture styles. But they all have a Parameters setting or a similar menu where you can manually change how the camera records colors. In this menu is a choice for Saturation. If you increase this, then all colors in your pictures will be more vibrant.

Normal Saturation setting
+2 Saturation setting
Use with Caution
There are some drawbacks to changing the picture parameters, though. For one thing, you may not like the appearance of people in your photos. The enhanced colors tend to make skin tones look too red (a sunburn effect). And too high a setting on Saturation can cause the intense colors to "bleed" and destroy fine details like the veins in autumn leaves. So use these settings appropriately.

Mother Nature doesn't hold her show over if you procrastinate! So grab your camera, try some different settings and get out there making photos before wind, rain and time take their toll for another season.