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Foliage Features

Foliage Photo Tips

There's more to look for than just color

by Annie Card

HOW IS THE FOLIAGE going to be this year? It's more than a passing interest at Yankee magazine. It's an obsession! I worked in Yankee's art department for 15 autumns, and New England's color was always spectacular. Some years there was a little more red or the leaves turned earlier than the year before, but it was always beautiful. Always.

I reviewed more than 500,000 foliage photos as picture editor for Yankee. Not all were beautiful, but some were so spectacular I wanted to climb right into them. For the latest advice, I talked to three of my favorite foliage shooters -- Steve Muskie, Kindra Clineff, and Alison Shaw. Here are their tips to help you create better photographs on your New England foliage safari.


Steve Muskie ran thousands of miles of film through his camera shooting Yankee Magazine stories over the years. But five years ago he sold the last of his film cameras and hasn't bought a roll of film since. Why? "You feel freer experimenting," he says. "You're not worried about film and processing costs. If you shoot something that doesn't work, you just get rid of it." See Steve's photography at outtakes.com.

And there are other benefits for shooting foliage with a digital camera.

If your camera has a choice of "auto white" balance or choosing a setting, Steve urges you to choose daylight. This gives you daylight "film," so when you shoot a brilliant red or yellow tree at sunset, the camera will read those colors or even exaggerate them a bit. If you shoot the same sunset photo at the "auto white" setting, the colors will be neutralized and you'll be disappointed.


A polarizing filter will improve color for both film and digital cameras. Steve admits he should use his polarizing filter more than he does because "it can make such a big difference with foliage and the sky." In sunny conditions, a polarizing filter will cut glare and capture brighter colors in the leaves and sky. This offers better overall definition. Use a circular polarizing filter; while looking through the viewfinder, turn the ring until you see the desired effect.

The other big benefit of many digital cameras is that you can adjust the ISO anytime you'd like. If you're out in bright light shooting at ISO100 but later in the day are in the woods and conditions require ISO400 or higher, you just press a button. The technology has gotten so good that the faster speeds look better in digital form than any of the faster films, Steve says.


If you're still using a film camera and want handy prints to pass around or put in an album, use print film. ASA 100- or 200-speed film will give you better color than faster films (such as ASA 400) and will allow you to make crisper enlargements.

If you want the absolute best images, shoot slide film. Kindra Clineff has filled many magazines and calendars with her foliage photos. Her favorite film is Velvia (ASA 50), a transparency film she loves for its rich color saturation. This particular film is soon to be discontinued, and Kindra will have to switch to Velvia 100 once she depletes her stockpile.

Kindra urges anyone serious about their photographs to pay the extra money for professional film from a real camera shop. The color is better, and it has been perfectly aged and properly stored. "Film is like fruit. The professional film is ripe," she says.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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