I only had one shot of getting today right, and by today I meant a few short hours. The sky was 100% overcast – no sunshine in sight. It was late morning so all that moody mist had long since disappeared. The leaves had started to turn, but the deep reds and oranges just hadn’t yet blossomed. Knowing that the conditions were less than ideal, I needed a subject. I grabbed my black lab, Stanza, and headed out. [Admission: Stanza is well trained. She’ll sit and pose for photos if I ask her to (especially if I have treats in my pocket). But, she’s not ideal. Kids, spouses, friends–they all make great subjects for photographs, and are generally more appealing than a slobbery dog. So, if you have an opportunity to put real people in your photograph, you’re already one step ahead of me!]
Pumpkins, dried corn stalks, and leaves. Incorporate these elements into a photograph and let your background set the mood for you. Keep your subject the primary focus! In this particular occasion, I didn’t have much to work with. I found some yellow and orange leaves on the opposite side of a creek and tried to make do. I knew Stanza wouldn’t sit still unless she was tired, so I let her run around and splash and do all those things labs love to do. Plus, it’d make her a more interesting subject with some wet fur (on a sunny day this would be much more difficult because the water on her coat would end up being blown out highlights). Today, though, a wet dog was a good dog.
I tried some different angles of this shot, but the best ended up being not showing the creek at all. I laid down to change the perspective (I ended up with very soggy knees and elbows), blurred the background, got my subject sharp, and snapped away.
The key to portraiture is to make your subject work with your background, not compete with it. I knew my background elements weren’t strong, but I introduced enough color to make it seasonal. If I had kept the leaves sharp, the photo would have been too busy. Also, tighten up on your subject and have fun with them! If they are enjoying themselves, you’ll get better photographs (even if your subject is a dog).
What to do when you don’t have anything
The most challenging part of taking great photos is making a photo happen when you just can’t seem to find anything. Today I had adverse conditions, and stripped of my model (who was now rolling gleefully in a pile of dead leaves), I had to make something happen. When you don’t have great conditions, get up close, real close.
These seed pods were interesting to me. They had a sort of wizard-like quality to them and hinted at a rebirth to come after a long winter. I set up shop next to one that had a some color behind it (to warm up the gray of the pod) and snapped this photo.
If you’re ever lacking fall color, look for moisture. Find a lake, a creek, morning dew, go outside just after a rain–just find colorful leaves when they are wet. As I had mentioned, the red leaves hadn’t turned yet, but I found this cluster of fallen leaves swirling in a pool of water. I ended up precariously about 4″ from the water for this shot, but I got the fall color I was looking for.
Fall is a great time to take photos. There are always photographs to be taken, but sometimes you have to work a little harder to find them. Hopefully these tips can help you capture some great shots. Remember, you’ll never get great photos unless you go take the pictures. Get out there!
– Wyatt enjoys wearing tweed caps and his size 13 Chuck Taylors, especially while hunting down great photos with his black Lab, Stanza.