This autumn, I was determined to get out with the camera at every opportunity if there was any prospect of good light. My subjects, the Saddleworth hills and waterways, are situated in the West Pennines, so the sun takes its time getting up above the hills in the morning, only to disappear from the valleys by mid-afternoon.
The peak of autumn colour can vary, but often arrives between mid and late October, when autumn leaves quickly turn to magnificent browns, russets and golds.
We are now well into autumn and, as usual in the North West of England, the weather has turned wet and windy, threatening to hinder my best efforts to capture the wonderful seasonal colours.
As I write this, on November 1st, there’s not much time remaining before the trees are totally bare and it’s pouring with rain and brewing up a major storm outside. Before we know it, all the leaves will be blowing around and blocking up our house gutters and the time to capture the colours of autumn will have gone by, yet again. I hope it might still be possible, later in the week, to take some more pictures but at least I have some “in the bag” already! The trick is to watch the weather maps and have the camera ready to pick up at a moment’s notice. Photographing locally has become an advantage, as I can be at my chosen location within a few minutes.
My home location of Saddleworth is an area comprising a cluster of villages and hamlets nestling in the West Pennine hills, with various waterways including the River Tame, the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, a few plantations of trees, linear paths that used to be railway lines, reservoirs and mill ponds. Nearby, at Oldham Edge, is the Tandle Hills area, a large area of grassland, containing mixed woodland plantations, a magnificent beech wood and home to a variety of fungi.
In fact, there is no need to go on long journeys looking for those “tripod hole locations”. I would certainly achieve some good pictures, but how individual would they be and how disappointing if the weather turned out to be less suitable than expected? I am therefore content, for the time being, exploring my local scenery and getting out at short notice when I can, especially since we’re about to go back into full Covid lockdown again later this week.
Once you have a subject, the light is everything….soft or strong, saturated or unsaturated. This year the soft misty pictures haven’t materialised, so I have mostly gone for more dramatic lighting. The quality of light varies enormously with the weather conditions and time of day. Shooting early or late will give the warmest most saturated colours.
My camera(s), lenses and settings
For most dedicated landscape photographers, a tripod is essential, but let’s get this out of the way right now. Unless I intent to make long exposures or photograph in low light, all my landscape photography is hand held. That often means that I shoot at between 400 ISO and 800 ISO unless it is very bright and then I handle the small amount of noise (cameras are getting better at handling noise) at the processing stage. I am not a purist…I understand the technical, but my experience tells me when I can shoot hand-held and when I can’t. I shoot for exhibition prints, for my talks and for stock photography and my technique has not let me down yet! However, if you are a beginner or not good at hand-holding, ensure that you can get your subjects sharp and that might mean using a tripod or monopod.
I use anything from an 8-16mm or 17-40mm wide angle lens to a standard or telephoto lens…however, my first choice for landscape is often wide and all but the acer leaves in this blog were wide angle shots. At present, my main landscape camera is the Canon EOS R, which is full frame and low noise. Because it has an electronic viewfinder, I like to use the exposure simulation and viewfinder review…but to be honest my several years old Pentax K3 takes excellent photos too. It isn’t all about equipment, but also about the photographer’s vision and I haven’t even mentioned “composition”. There are lots of websites and books where you can learn about composition, though I also believe “if it works it works”.
Horror of horrors, I also don’t usually use filters…again many/most dedicated landscape photographers use graduated filters to ensure that bright skies don’t get blown out. I prefer to bracket exposures and combine them in post production. Lightroom provides an excellent HDR engine, which combines my three bracketed images into one high dynamic range image, that retains all my highlight and shadow detail. I can then adjust the tones within Lightroom to achieve the look and feel that I want. I also always shoot with auto white balance, preferring to warm up the colours to taste at the editing stage. I’m shooting RAW in any case. However, if I want to shoot long exposures, I do own a 10 stop neutral density filter…one day I will get it out again!
Gallery – making the most of the colours
Last, a gallery of a few more photos taken during October 2020, where I have tried to bring out the best of the light and the colours.