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Focus Your Fall Portfolio

September 4th, 2016
Autumn Elm and Sunbeams, Cook's Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California, 2014

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

Focus Your Fall Portfolio

Below is an essay  I wrote last year for my On Landscape column published in Outdoor Photographer Magazine. I would love to hear feedback on your favorite images, and share links to any “epic day” images you wish to share!

With autumn photography approaching soon, I want to share some ideas that may help you develop an excellent portfolio for this 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. 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 that we all feel of time 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 cliff details. I have included some examples here from last fall in Yosemite Valley. Over a two-week period in late October and early November, I worked with private students in Yosemite Valley. I enjoy the one-to-one process of helping photographers find their own vision, and share mine with them. 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.

On one such dramatic morning, an amazing confluence of peak autumn color and morning mist, rising off a frosted meadow, unfolded before me and my student. We started out photographing from one excellent vantage point, then raced to where the sun was directly behind this extraordinary tree 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 from direct sun, 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!” The images portray the symbolism of “a new day” and “light shining through the darkness.”

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

Yellow Maples, Cedar and Pine, Yosemite Valley.

When I pull together a group of photographs such as from last autumn, I edit by looking for the highest and most consistent quality, as well as looking for a balance of scale, light, weather and subject matter. I might use a wide-angle view or two to set the context of the portfolio in Yosemite Valley. However, my intimate landscapes would be my main focus, such as the river and trees reflections, or leaves floating through autumn-colored river reflections. 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.

This fall, think about what thematic project you could develop. Selecting a title, even if you change it later, can give you additional focus for both your shooting sessions and editing. Think about what you want to say with your images. Your unique viewpoint will be better revealed, and the concept behind the photographs will heighten the portfolio’s impact.

Best wishes for great light, wondrous color and creative autumn photographs!


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11 Responses to “Focus Your Fall Portfolio”

  1. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for your feedback, and good luck with your autumn image making!

  2. Hi Bill, these are spectacular images. If I say the second one seems to be channeling Eliot Porter, please take it as a compliment! This was a timely opportunity to reread this article. Often when I do a foliage trip to NH’s White Mtns I spend so much time driving and chalking up mileage and not enough actually shooting. I decided that this time, if i get there, I’m going to pick perhaps two or three fairly close-by places and concentrate on them. Your article is affirmation and confirmation that this is a good idea. Thank you!

  3. Bill: Many thanks for continuing to share your work (both words and images!) Here on the ‘wet’ coast we don’t get as much fall colour as they do back east, but here are a couple of older images to which I’ve always been partial:

    Tulip Tree Leaf

    Garry Oak Sunset

    The second one was made in February so it’s more winter than fall, but we don’t often get much in the way of winter here. 😉


  4. Thanks Chris. I lived in Boulder for four years, and graduated from CU. I had no car so I began my photo career photographing nature details along Boulder Creek.

    Glad to be helpful! Bill

    • Jodi says:

      de Gales siempre se quejò que para esta familia todo era cuestion de genes…. como cruzar perros siempre buscaban la “sangre real” pero que sangre? la sangre original annunakki trasmitida de generacion en generacion desde los reyes antiguos hasta los reyes-gobernantes actuales, para procrear al indicado para que lucifer encarne en el y de a luz a su pritigenomo… el anticristo. Recuerden ustedes las cruzadas los reyes ingleses no siempre fueron tan cristianos solo si el interes politico….

    • http://www./ says:

      This site is like a classroom, except I don’t hate it. lol

    • Información…Valora en En la web de Infografías y Diagramas de Social Media de Dolores Vela (a la que recomiendo encarecidamente que sigáis en Twitter) he encontrado una infografía muy interesante acerca del Márketing de Contenidos. El Márketi……

  5. Chris Wyatt says:

    Thanks for your ideas and especially for looking at more intimate landscapes. I live in Colorado and have always looked at the grand landscape and not the intimate ones. Your ideas promote new ways of seeing and are very helpful. Thanks.

  6. Hi Gary, I hope you can make it! Thanks for adding your comments here.

    Glad that you enjoy my writing. I’ve written 118 of them!

  7. one of my photographic goals is to get out to a one on one workshop. As I mentioned earlier your style is something I try to emulate. I spent 4 days in Mariposa in 2013 but due to vacation obligations I was not able to get by your gallery. I regret that!
    As A 68 year old photographer time seems to be my adversary, hopefully I will get to most of that bucket list.
    thanks, your columns are a great help.

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