It is not surprising that autumn is a favorite season for landscape photographers to photograph. As daylight hours decline, trees stop producing chlorophyll and the underlying leaf pigments emerge from behind the fading veil of green. Subsequently, the nearly monotone greens of summer are replaced by a brilliant palette of yellows, golds, reds, oranges, and browns – what is affectionally referred to as eye candy.
While the intensity of autumn colors varies from year to year, I am often overwhelmed to find that one photograph that represents the essence of the season. Rather, for me, it is a collective of photos and experiences that my mind melds and compartmentalizes into a lasting impression for recall later. Perhaps that is why I like the technique of intentional in-camera blurs for capturing autumn colors.
In-camera blurs combine a slow shutter speed with an intentional movement of the camera and lens. Remember as a beginning photographer how blurry photos seemed the norm? So this technique should be simple right? It is not as easy as it sounds. While it requires practice and a lot of trial and error, once mastered, good blurs have an abstract look like that of an impressionist painting complete with brush strokes.
In this photo of a stand of aspen, birch and spruce trees in Alaska in late autumn, I used a shutter speed of 1/10 sec. with an 180 mm macro lens. In my experience, short to medium telephoto lenses work well to isolate the scene and accentuate the movement. I have also found that successful in-camera blurs require a subject with good color or tonal contrast. In this photo, the white aspen trunks and the green spruce trees provide contrast to the orange and yellow colored leaves on the treetops. The contrast and moderate blur allows the viewer to recognize this as an autumn forest. Yet it has a timeless quality to it whereas a straight, documentary shot would not. As a result, it is an autumn vision that will remain with me.