Making the Best of Bright Light in Fall-Color Photography
Crisp and Clear, Blazing Sunshine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm — 1/500 sec, f/9, ISO 200 — map & image data
Crisp and Clear, Blazing Sunshine

Every day this week I've really enjoyed each morning's trip to drop Anthony off at school, as the cornucopia of rich colors along the way are mentally enriching, spiritually uplifting. They give me yet another reason to count my blessings to be able to live where I do. And this, mind you, is while it's been a depressingly overcast and hazy week.

So, consider what it was like in the brilliant and crisp sunshine that greeted Kyoto today. It was simply glorious. Words or pictures can never do it justice.

Today was the epitome of a perfect autumn day at the peak of Kyoto's fall colors. It was cool but not cold, few clouds, and blindingly bright sun that somehow seemed about 10% brighter than on a normal clear sunny day. The timing was perfect. The colors on the mountains are still a work in progress, but here in town, the colors are at their peak. Some trees have not yet started to turn, and some have mostly shed their leaves, but many types of trees are deeply blushing with every fall color nature can cook up.

The picture above, which I took from our front door this morning, shows a lot of bare branches at the bottom. Those are cherry trees, which are in the aforementioned “have mostly shed their leaves” group that are a bit ahead of the rest of the pack. Color-wise, cherry trees have been doing much of the heavy-lifting for the past couple of weeks, but now the show moves on to the main event.

(Perhaps cherry trees need to rest early, to prepare for their cherry-blossom curtain call; compare the shot above with these blossom-laden shots from last spring.)

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70 -200mm f/2.8 @ 98mm — 1 / 800 sec, f/4, ISO 200 — map & image data Heavy Sunlight, Heavy Contrast -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 98mm — 1/800 sec, f/4, ISO 200 — map & image data
Heavy Sunlight, Heavy Contrast

As wonderful a scenario it makes for enjoying the fall colors, the blinding sunshine adds real challenges to photographing those colors. Compared to a digital camera, the eyes are phenomenally better at coping with the high-contrast situations bright sunlight creates, so the photographer has to be creative to eek out a pleasing shot.

The first picture above – the main gate of the Heian Shrine, with a great blue heron flying by (perhaps Aotan the Heron?) – benefits from the stark lighting, but the second shot is diminished by it. It's just too contrasty. The bright light actually seems to have muted the colors, which felt more vibrant than this picture shows. (Sadly, if you're using Internet Explorer or Firefox, you're likely seeing even more muted colors, because those browsers aren't color managed, so color rendering is left to chance.)

So, What's a Good Photographer to Do?

I don't know what a skilled photographer would do in these situations, although it's on my list to ask should I ever meet one. For my own part, I've come up with a few ideas that sometimes lead to pleasant results. I spent an hour this morning on a short walk to try them out....

Defocus shadows – compose such that shadows are in the background, and are out of focus.

Out-of-Focus Shadows are Less Distracting -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 90mm — 1/1500 sec, f/3.2, ISO 200 — map & image data
Out-of-Focus Shadows are Less Distracting

Shoot in the shade — it's pretty obvious, but I should mention it.

Rickshaw Parked in the Shade -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 22mm — 1/125 sec, f/5, ISO 200 — map & image data
Rickshaw Parked in the Shade
“Shade” Doesn't Mean “Bland” -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 150mm — 1/125 sec, f/4.8, ISO 200 — map & image data
“Shade” Doesn't Mean “Bland”

Go full-on sun – put the sun behind you and the shadows out of frame. “No shadows” means no harsh contrast.

Bland -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
D200 + 1.7×TC + 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 340mm — 1/1500 sec, f/4.8, ISO 400 — map & image data
Bland

These cherry-tree leaves appear bland in the photo because... they were bland. I'm not even sure why I took a picture of them; perhaps it was out of sympathy....

Backlight – shoot from behind, letting the sun show through the leaves.

Backlit, Semi-Transparent Redness -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
D200 + 1.7×TC + 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 340mm — 1/640 sec, f/8, ISO 400 — map & image data
Backlit, Semi-Transparent Redness

(The same technique was used in the last of the fall-foliage desktop backgrounds that I posted last week.)

If you look at the larger version of the picture above, you can see the crisp, clear veins in the leaf. You can also notice an almost glowing white edge around the leaves, which, if you're into digital imaging, you might think is a sign that way too much sharpening was applied during post-processing. Indeed, one often sees such a “glowing edge” effect when sharpening has been overdone, either by an over-eager amateur, or purposefully as an artistic tool, as I did in the lead image of my First Taste of Kyoto's Autumn post.

In this case, though, the “glow” is natural (the image has had no extra sharpening added in post processing), as light escapes from the edges of the brightly-backlit leaf.

Backlighting, but more Subtle -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
D200 + 1.7×TC + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 340mm — 1/320 sec, f/6.3, ISO 400 — map & image data
Backlighting, but more Subtle

Embrace the Contrast – make the high contrast part of the composition.

This Looks Better When It Fills Your Screen -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 55mm — 1/250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200 — map & image data
This Looks Better When It Fills Your Screen

This is of a similar ilk to the second of the bonanza desktops that I took at a different location, but in today's shot I made sure to keep the sun out of frame (to make some people happy. )

Look for low-contrast shadow – mild shadow makes direct sunlight feel softer.

Bed of Ginkgo Leaves -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
D200 + 1.7×TC +70-200mm f/2.8 @ 340mm — 1/320 sec, f/8, ISO 400 — map & image data
Bed of Ginkgo Leaves

Shadows that can be filled in by other light (such as from the wide expanse of sky) are softer, and make for wonderful photography, especially when punctuated by soft areas of direct sun.

When I got home from dropping Anthony off at school this morning, I just could not resist going out for a short walk – I went less than a quarter mile in one direction, and returned – to take a few shots.

Of course, today's time budget had nothing reserved for this, so again, this is a good example of why I hate living here... Kyoto just doesn't let me get anything done!

I'd earlier decided not to post any more fall-foliage pictures this year because most of the hemisphere is already well past the season, so I assume interest is waning. And truth be told, I have so many great shots from the past couple weeks that I wouldn't even begin to know where to start in posting them. I figure I'll save them for next September, when I can then match the growing “getting into the fall spirit” feelings with an increase in related posts. Anyway, today's post is not a fall-foliage post, but, rather, a photo-technique post. Yeah, that's it, a photo-technique post.

Speaking of fall colors, chatting with the 70-year-old taxi driver taking me to the station yesterday (on my way to visit my friend Ram in Tokyo), he lamented that the colors have been getting worse over the years, particularly over the last three to four. He said that this year is just pathetic. Fumie's mom has echoed the same sentiments. All I can say is that if this is pathetic, I can not possibly imagine what a “good” season would be like.....


All 6 comments so far, oldest first...

Well, it’s made me happy!

It’s a fascinating exercise, of the ‘why didn’t I think of doing that’ type. The ginkgo leaves look like a flock of yellow butterflies at a salt-lick.

I don’t want to be struck off, but I think your “bland cherry” may actually be keaki, Zelkova serrata? Wish I had one here.

— comment by Peter on December 1st, 2007 at 3:13am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

It won’t fix everything, but a good circular polarizer can eliminate glare off waxy leaves and help create rich colors.

I just bought one of those last month, but didn’t even think to use it. If we get another sunny day, I’ll have to give it a try, but it’s been overcast and early-wintery since. —Jeffrey

— comment by Jon on December 1st, 2007 at 5:12am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

IE6 and up manage color profiles correctly, AFAIK. Thanks for nice images!

Unless they’ve issued a patch recently, the only version of IE that has ever been able to manage colors properly is the long-defunct “IE for the Mac”. No version of IE for Windows knows anything about color management. —Jeffrey

— comment by Alex on December 2nd, 2007 at 7:33am JST (9 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

What a nice place!

Oh yeah, the photos were nice too!

I have just stumbled across your blog, full of great posts. Keep up the good work.

Couple of questions…

Since you mention that IE & FF are not color managed do you have a recommendation?

Do you have a post regarding your workflow?

— comment by Chris on January 17th, 2008 at 10:20am JST (9 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

FF is color managed since version 3.0 and it’s activated *by default* since version 3.5. You can verify your browser’s support here: http://www.color.org/version4html.xalter

— comment by rx1337 on October 28th, 2009 at 12:42pm JST (8 years ago) comment permalink

Oops, I hope you don’t mind a late response (1 year and a half)…

— comment by rx1337 on October 28th, 2009 at 12:45pm JST (8 years ago) comment permalink
Leave a comment...


All comments are invisible to others until Jeffrey approves them.

Please mention what part of the world you're writing from, if you don't mind. It's always interesting to see where people are visiting from.


You can use basic HTML; be sure to close tags properly.

Subscribe without commenting