This is probably the perfect season for experimenting with high dynamic range (HDR) imaging because a bright, direct sun will result in deep shadows and bright highlights. Combining multiple exposures into one can create photographs with more punch.
When the sun is low in the sky, it casts long shadows that create a three-dimensional depth. But the time around sunrise and sunset is short-lived, so you need to set up and be ready to shoot ahead of time.
Gatcum acknowledges that, while the high summer sun isn’t ideal for landscape photography, just one small cloud passing through can transform the lighting. "These moments can be fleeting, but ultimately rewarding," he says.
This is the time of year when color rules everything, so Gatcum advises using a polarizing filter because, along with intensifying a blue sky and cutting down reflections on water or glass, it also reduces the reflections caused by early-morning dew or rain on fall foliage. "This will allow you to make the red, orange and gold leaves really pop," explains Gatcum, "especially when they’re contrasting with a deep blue sky."
Experiment with the "wrong" white balance setting on your camera. Setting the camera to its Cloudy or Shade setting on a sunny day will add warmth to your landscapes and exaggerate the fall colors.
As winter approaches, heavy frosts begin to form overnight. Says Gatcum, "This not only transforms the wider landscape, but also provides you with the opportunity to capture some great close-up details."
When shooting snowy landscapes, exposure is a critical factor because just slightly overexposing can mean a loss of highlight detail that’s impossible to recover. Gatcum says that "old-school" methods, such as using a handheld meter or gray card, are good solutions.
Bright snow, flat skies and dark trees are the ideal combination for creating high-contrast, abstract monochrome images, where graphic shapes are more important than identifiable subjects.
Wear plenty of layers so you can shoot for as long as the light allows.
While Gatcum says there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all, year-round camera bag, he starts with the basics: a DSLR, wide and telephoto zooms, and a tripod. From there, he adds a polarizer to enhance the colors of foliage and the sky, and neutral-density graduated filters to balance the foreground and the sky.
In the spring and fall, Gatcum adds a macro lens for picking out details such as buds or frost. Sometimes, when he wants to travel light, he takes just a fast 50mm prime with him. Says Gatcum, "A fixed focal length and wide aperture can encourage you to think a lot more about what you’re doing, rather than relying on a zoom to do the legwork for you."
Chris Gatcum’s book Landscape Photography: Four Seasons is available at Focal Press, focalpress.com, and other book retailers.