With its vivid reds, oranges and yellows, fall is an excellent time to take photos in Vermont. Throw in a classic red barn, picturesque stone wall, or a backdrop of mountains, and you’ve got an excellent reason to get behind a lens.
“Whether it’s sunny, cloudy, or rainy, you can get good pictures in all of those conditions,” says Jeb Wallace Brodeur, staff photographer with the Barre Montpelier Times Argus. But, he says, the weather does make a difference in how you capture the perfect shot. I recently sat down with Wallace-Brodeur to hear his tips on how to get a great foliage photo — and where to go to find the perfect frame.
Be patient — but don’t wait too long
Every year, there are people who say the foliage isn’t going to be good this time; everything’s just turning brown. But wait for it, says Wallace-Brodeur. It will come. When it does, though, get to taking pictures quickly, because the season is fleeting. All it takes, he points out, is one windy day or heavy rain, and the leaves can come down. As with many other things in Vermont, like hay or snow, you’ve got to get it when it’s good.
Don’t worry about the weather — but do worry about timing
Rain and overcast conditions can actually make for nice foliage photos. “The foliage pops against the grey,” says Wallace-Brodeur. He says wetness even helps with the colors, in the same way that rocks look more colorful when they’re wet, such as in a stream or at the edge of the ocean.
No matter what the weather, the light is softer in the morning and afternoon, so plan to shoot at those times for the best results. However, Wallace-Brodeur points out, backlighting the leaves with the sun behind them, at any time of day, can create a nice effect, “like photographing stained glass,” he says.
Feature friends, family, or fun
Photo composition, or how the elements are laid out across the image, will make or break the quality of the outcome. “I like to have some depth so it’s not all in one plane,” says Wallace-Brodeur. Putting something in the foreground, like a person, tractor, or boat floating in the water with foliage in the background, is a nice way to add depth.
“Having people in a foliage photo can be cool,” he says. “If you’re in a beautiful section of woods, having someone walk through the woods can be nice.” He recommends photographers follow the rule of thirds: Split an image three ways horizontally and vertically, then use the crossing point of those lines as guides for where to put foreground subjects.
Leading lines also have a dramatic visual effect, “like a series of maples, rock walls, fence lines, all give a depth of field that leads the eye through the picture.”
Lastly, don’t forget about framing the image. A photo of a barn surrounded by foliage, for example, can be made better by including some colorful foliage between the photographer and the barn, helping to lead the eye into the image.
Play with camera effects and accessories
Foliage photography can be a nice excuse to try some new camera accessories or settings. A polarizer, which is a lens that cuts down on glare, can help showcase the colors better on a rainy day when leaves are slicked with water. Vivid color settings, such as those on a phone camera, will help balance out the colors by adding warm reds and yellows back into the image. As a camera works to reduce light from the sky, it may lose some vividness as well, but this setting can help take care of that. Photo editing programs, like Adobe Photo Shop, can help with editing a photo to bring out more color, too. Time-lapse photography can capture the movement of a stream surrounded by fallen leaves, but this approach won’t work as well on a windy day when there is a lot of movement in the frame.
Where to go
Route 12 heading north out of Montpelier towards Worcester is a great place to catch color, says Wallace-Brodeur. Foliage tends to be good in the same places year after year. Other favorite spots are: Owl’s Head in Groton State Forest, Devil’s Hill in Peacham, historic Peacham village, Wrightsville Reservoir in Middlesex, and Stratton Pond and Little Rock Pond along the Long Trail in southern Vermont.
Bodies of water make excellent places to photograph foliage, particularly by including reflections in the water. Ski areas are another spot that he recommends, “because they’re kind of disturbed, there are often young birches growing up along the trail, and that’s really pretty.” And, he points out, don’t forget the moss and lichens along alpine summits. “There’s a mini foliage with those plants that’s really pretty in the fall.”