Daily Archives September 23, 2020

Focus Your Fall Portfolio:
Work with a Theme to Create a Unique Collection of Images

When autumn photography season approaches, I start to anticipate the making of new photographs. I have some ideas to share that may help you develop an excellent portfolio for the fall season. I have found it useful, for myself and for teaching my students, to think about creating a story line, or clear thematic focus, for your work.

Autumn Elm and Sunbeams, Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California 2014

Consider what specific locations or aspects of autumn inspire you the most. The location could be your backyard, a nearby park or reserve, or a travel location where you can spend at least a few days to explore the area fully. A favorite aspect might include colorful reflections, or the patterns of fallen leaves, or a series focused on branch-filled tapestries of color. This approach of specialization will help distinguish your autumn images from other photographers’ work.

Two key elements needed for your selection of an autumn theme are passion for the subject and easy access during the season. Passion is a must-have ingredient for creative, insightful imagery. Repeated access to your location will build your knowledge of the light, weather, and seasonal changes, helping you find the best conditions for making great photographs. One idea would be to photograph the transition of autumn in your area, from the first hints of color in green trees to the last clinging leaves. This transition offers us great opportunities to communicate that visceral sense we all feel of time and the season moving forward.

Instead of trophy hunting for singular, spectacular scenic images, I like to explore around for quiet images, ones that don’t shout too loud. In Yosemite, for example, I often find exciting details on the forest floor, in river reflections, or on cliff faces. Finding unique images often involves photographing small sections of the landscape rather than the wide views. However, even though I usually focus on intimate details, that doesn’t mean I will avoid those epic, rare events where weather and/or light explode with drama and energy.

I have included some examples here from recent seasons in Yosemite Valley. Over a two-week period in late October and early November, I worked with private students in Yosemite Valley. I greatly enjoy the one-on-one process of helping photographers find their own vision, and sharing mine with them. 

On one dramatic morning, an amazing confluence of peak autumn color and morning mist rising off a frosted meadow unfolded before my student and me. We started out photographing from one excellent vantage point, then raced to where the sun was directly behind the extraordinary tree pictured in the opening image, where we witnessed sunbeams bursting through the graceful branches.

Knowing that the mist would burn off soon, we worked rapidly to find the best camera position for him to block the rising sun with the tree’s limbs. Even though the lens was shaded, the high contrast and rapidly changing situation called for bracketing exposures to ensure a full range of data was captured. The end result, for both of us, were top portfolio “keepers” that portray the symbolism of “a new day,” and “light shining through the darkness.”

But just as exciting to me were several quiet Yosemite images I photographed that fall. In my opinion, quiet intensity in an image can endure and engage the viewer for longer. With subtle imagery comes a depth that can be enjoyed more over time. 

When I pull together a group of photographs, such as from that autumn, I edit the collection by looking for the highest and most consistent quality, as well as for a balance of scale, light, weather, and subject matter. I might use a few wide-angle views to set the context of the portfolio as Yosemite Valley.

However, my main focus would be my intimate landscapes, such as the river with tree reflections, or leaves floating through autumn-colored river reflections, as shown in the photograph Maple Leaves Along the Merced River. When you see the selected images as a group, such as in an exhibit or online gallery, they should create a visual story, a personal exploration, a creative viewpoint. 


Here I have created a small selection of recent autumn photographs from Yosemite.

Maple Leaves and the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California 2016
Merced River Reflections, autumn, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Cottonwoods, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California
Autumn Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California 2019
Autumn Oaks and Snowstorm, Yosemite National Park, California 2015
Black Oaks and Sunbeams, Yosemite National Park, California 2016
Fallen leeaves and ferns, Yosemite National Park, California 2013
Autumn Sunset on El Capitan and the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California 2013
Oak reflections, El Capitan and the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California 2012
Cottonwood leaves and grasses, Yosemite National Park, California 2012
Black oaks, autumn, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 1984

Autumn Light

What light is best for autumn photography? When I look through my favorite fall images, I see that I’ve favored two main types of light. The soft, even lighting of an overcast day, especially a rainy one, is prime light for forest scenes. Generally, the even tonalities make it easier to see the strong colors and details of leaves and branches of most forest scenes.