How best to photograpgh autumn – and the changing of seasons

Talk to anyone about autumn and the conversation will generally revolve around cooler days, the onset of winter and delicious rich hues that dress the landscapes. You very rarely hear a professional landscape photographer raving about the potential of summer photography but get them onto the subject of autumn and winter? You’ll be met with an enthusiasm and they will espouse about their favourite locations.
 
Don’t get me wrong there are lots of fine images to be captured in the ‘warmer months’ of the year but those colours and mist shrouded scenes between September and mid November are usually worth the wait.
 
We are lucky being blessed with the seasons, something I know we take for granted and each year I am honoured that people who have travelled from much warmer climes come over to England for my workshops. They specifically seek the seasonal changes we experience and want to photograph them. The rich diversity of landscapes we have on our door-step are there to be savoured and that’s were autumn delivers. Witnessing locations we cherish as they go through their natural cycle of life demands our attention.
 
Like most of you reading this, I have favourite places that I revisit time and time again. Just like us, ‘they’ have their own moods that come to the fore when light and the onset of natural change take hold.
 
Sometimes a specific season will present us with the obvious scene to photograph such as snow in winter but its good to seek some of the ‘lesser lights’ and make them the focus of your attention. I particularly like the Heather. A gregarious, hardy plant that hugs and creeps across the ground, delivering a dense purple carpet.
 
Over the past year, I undertook a commission in the Duddon Valley, which is one of the most tranquil corners of Lakeland. Over eighteen miles long, the River Duddon meanders through the valley it has created in the shadow of iconic fells that shelter its journey to the Irish Sea. One of the best vantage points can be gained at the top of Wallowbarrow Crag. It rises above the valley and presents you with a wonderful view. When you approach from the direction of the coast it towers above the hamlet of Seathwaite and is situated at the head of a classic ‘V’ shaped gorge. You can clearly see that from the slopes of Caw. One of the best summer views I have witnessed.
 
The Duddon Valley as Seen From The Lower Slopes around Caw
THE DUDDON VALLEY AS SEEN FROM THE LOWER SLOPES BY CAW
 
In the autumn, there is Heather in abundance.
 
As a photographer there are options. That’s the beauty of photography. Choice. Your perspective on the view. ‘We’ can either make the plant and its ‘soft’ carpet the dominant feature in the image or ‘we’ can restrict it to subtly reveal the season without detracting from the view. I chose the latter on this occasion on an overcast afternoon with the occasional burst of sunlight.
 
Rich Heather showing on the summit of Wallowbarrow Crag
AN AUTMNAL AFTERNOON IN THE DUDDON VALLEY
 
This is a nicely balanced image and invariably there will be a disparity between the land and the sky as the different strengths of light will cause your camera to provide you with one of two images:
 
A great foreground and a bland sky
or
A great sky or bland foreground.
 
If the light is directly over your shoulder illuminating the scene, you wont have the problem but if it isn’t, those two images will present themselves. You can alleviate this by using a set of graduated filters.
 
1. Poor Foreground
1. Poor Foreground
 
2. Poor Sky
2. Poor Sky
 
3. Balanced with a Lee 0.6 soft Graduated Filter
3. Balanced with a Lee 0.6 soft Graduated Filter
 

The ‘grads’ are neutral so do not affect the colour of the photograph but they hold back light and balance out the image cancelling out the disparity.
There are various makes of filter on the market that you can buy but I find LEE deliver the best photograph.
 
I would be interested to see your results over the coming months so please feel free to send me your images to the email address that is on my website.
 
Enjoy your photography!
 
By Mark Gilligan aka www.wastwaterphotography.co.uk