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An “iPhone-ographer’s” guide to photographing fall’s splendor


BLUEFIELD — With the recent cold snap finally bringing crisp autumn weather to the two Virginias, the rolling hills will soon glimmer with fall foliage after an “Indian summer” of sorts kept the colors at bay. Leaf peepers still have a few weeks to catch fall foliage, according to the W.Va. Tourism Office and Division of Forestry third fall foliage report.

According to a fall foliage report, released on Oct. 10, some yellow leaves appeared in the northern panhandle while north-central W.Va. hills revealed some red and yellow during the first week of Oct. Southern W.Va. can expect the brightest fall colors in mid to late Oct., according to the W.Va. Division of Tourism’s fall foliage map. According to the Virginia fall foliage report for the weekend of Oct. 13, in parts of southwest Va., about 30 percent of trees have changed color but because of continued warm days more vibrant colors are still lacking.

While warm weather may have delayed fall foliage, the extra time gives leaf peepers more opportunity to see, experience and capture the colors of autumn.

Just a few years ago capturing the full brilliance of the two Virginias fall colors in an image required a knowledge of photography, experience and an expensive camera. However, with technological advances, most people have a 12-megapixel camera in their pocket or purse: the iPhone.

Smartphones have opened the world of photography to millions with the power to snap a high-quality image in seconds (or less) with just the tap of a screen.

Images that would have taken Ansel Adams, a prolific landscape photographer who spent from 1920 to 1950, thirty years of his life, photographing the American southwest, hours to set up, expose a glass plate and transport that plate before even beginning the development process, now takes seconds. This wave of technology has made most people, at least in some sense “iPhone-ographers.”

Most everyone uses the camera built into their cellphone daily with good results. However, with some research, the iPhone’s camera reveals just how powerful it can be in capturing fall foliage in an image. The iPhone camera has a simple function to focus the image: simply tap the screen where the focus of the image should be. This tool becomes more powerful when it is tapped and held on the focus, locking it in, and allowing the “iPhone-ographer” to experiment with the framing of the image. In addition, after tapping the focus, a small sun icon appears to the right of the focus square to allow the user to control the brightness of the image: scroll up and down with the sun icon the adjust exposure in real time. The full power of the focus lock allows for a high-quality, focused and well-exposed photograph of any particularly interesting leaf.

Another key to a good quality photograph is framing. Despite the tendency to center an image in the frame, professional photographers generally follow the rule of thirds. This is a basic concept in photography that asks the photographer to imagine breaking down the image into thirds, horizontally and vertically, into nine parts. The aesthetically pleasing aspect of many professional images comes from framing the subject in a “third” of the frame. For an easy hack into this concept, the iPhone provides a grid option. On the iPhone camera settings, the user can turn the grid function on. This will display a grid in camera mode, allowing the “iPhone-ographer” to frame a landscape of rolling and colorful hills like a professional.

One feature of the iPhone camera that is drool-worthy to photographers is its “High Dynamic Range” or HDR option. The iPhone takes several photos in quick succession at different exposures and merges them into one image without distorting the lighter or darker parts of the photograph. This tool is particularly useful in photographing a bright sunset against a dark foreground that may be shaded by the sun. This tool is at the top of the home screen of the iPhone camera app labeled “HDR.” Turn HDR to auto and capture a sunset over the red, oranges and yellows of autumn the way the human eye is able to see it.

So-called “third-party camera apps” can enhance the iPhone’s photography power even further. However, most require a basic knowledge of ISO settings, shutter speed and aperture.

With the amateur photographer in mind, there are some basic photography tips for shooting fall foliage that can be of use. Obviously, the draw of leaf peeping is to experience spectacular autumn colors and with the knowledge of how to use the smartphone camera to its fullest extent in hand (literally), even the brightest colors are the “iPhone-ographer’s” friend. Take advantage of the color contrast the season provides and try framing a shot straight up, towards the sky. The yellow, red and greens of the trees will pop against a blue autumn sky.

Another tip that is especially effective when using the HDR feature is to use sunlight to the images’ advantage. This technique, commonly known to photographers as “backlighting,” uses sunlight in different ways. The autumn sun cascading through the leaves of a tree can bring the colors in the photo to life in ways that no amount of adjustments can. Try photographing from a different angle and turn the camera toward the sun to make the leaves glow in the photograph.

Another useful feature of the more recent camera updates on the iPhone is “portrait mode,” found in the iPhone camera app’s mode menu. This tool replicates the settings required on a manual camera to create a “low depth of field.” The depth of field refers to what is in focus in the image, giving the photo depth by eliminating certain elements of it. While the tool is called portrait, it can be used on any subject. While utilizing the focus square, try isolating a certain part of the scene using portrait mode to create depth. These images can be particularly interesting if instead of focusing on the brightest color in the scene, the “iPhone-ographer” focuses on a neutral color and uses the bright color as the background.

Autumn is a great season to spend time outside, experience cooler temperatures, gorgeous sunsets, unique events and beautiful foliage. Combine these autumn opportunities with some new-found photography knowledge and leaf peeping “iPhone-ographers” will be all set to experience and document a beautiful autumn season.

— Contact Emily Rice at erice@bdtonline.com and follow her on Twitter @BDTrice





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