Backlit Swipes: A Novel Approach To Fall Photography

Fall is that time of year when we as photographers aspire to capture the splendid color burst that surrounds us. After a few years it can be difficult to come up with new and fresh approaches. Combining camera movement with backlight is one way to capture the colorful exuberance of a bright autumn day (#1).

#1. “Orange Maple Immersion”—Early morning sun backlit this young maple as the camera was slowly swiped with a vertical motion: 70mm (70-200mm f/2.8 lens), 0.5 sec at f/20.
All Photos © Stacey G. Lloyd

If you haven’t tried this technique, start by finding a grove of tall trees (#2). Set your shutter speed between 1/8-1/2 sec and while moving your camera in line with the tree trunks press the shutter. Make sure you start moving the camera before you press the shutter release and keep moving as the shutter closes (somewhat like swinging through in golf or tennis). Try this multiple times until you end up with an image you find pleasing. Tweak the shutter speed or your rate of motion as needed. Once you have the hang of it, try different subjects—moving the camera with the dominant lines in the frame. That may be straight lines, V’s, circles, etc (#3).

#2. (Left) A grove of tall trees against a colorful background makes a good setting for learning to create impressionistic images using swipes: 95mm (70-200mm f/2.8 lens), 4.0 sec at f/22. #3. (Right) “Autumn Firs”—The same grove of trees, as in the previous image, photographed using the swipe technique: 105mm (70-200mm f/2.8 lens), 1/3 sec at f/6.3. Notice the almost chalk like effect.

Now that you have the basic swipe technique down, combine it with backlit subjects. The backlight can be from early morning or early evening sunlight or from a bright overcast sky. Backlit autumn trees make for wonderful subjects (#4). As is typical of backlit subjects you may need to compensate your exposure by +0.5 to +1.5 EV. You may also need to add a polarizer or adjust your ISO to get the longer shutter speeds (#5).

#4. A backlit grouping of three maples in the late afternoon: 200mm (70-200mm f/2.8 lens), 1/15 sec at f/16. Wonderful color, but the branches are a bit busy.

#5. “Trees on Fire”—The same set of backlit maples, as in the previous image, using the swipe technique: 160mm (70-200mm f/2.8 lens), 1/ 5 sec at f/14. Notice how the clutter in the image is cleaned up and reduced to the basic lines and color.

Be careful not to catch the sky in your shots. This will result in white streaks (#6). Don’t worry too much about hot spots because the camera motion often blends them with darker tone areas, keeping them from burning out. Should you end up with some distracting white lines in the image you can either remove them using Photoshop’s Healing Brush or tone them down by Cloning over them using a medium opacity soft edge brush.

#6. A piece of sky got into the frame during one swipe. The result is bright white streaks in the frame. Small streaks like this can be cleaned up in post processing, but in this case it is better to try again.

When post processing your images you will likely find it necessary to increase the contrast and or saturation. The blending of tones that takes place as you move the camera tends to mute highlights and wash out the blacks. The result can be a low contrast image. Add localized tonal adjustments as needed just as you would with any other image (#7a and #7b).

#7a.

#7b. “Two Trunks”—This is a swipe of the base of two oaks with autumn maples in the background: 200mm (70-200mm f/2.8 lens), 0.6 sec at f/14. The first image (7a) has no post processing adjustments; notice the lack of contrast. After adding contrast (7b) the image definitely has more punch. There was no saturation adjustment needed.

There are lots of variations possible. Try different depths of field to impact the blending of color, different shutter speeds, different focal lengths or perspectives, etc. And remember, come winter or spring, this technique is not just for fall (#8).

#8. “Leaves and Trees”—Try different framing, different motions and break the rules. In this case the camera motion wasn’t started until the shutter was pressed. This left the initial leaf impressions while still blending the colors. The trees were backlit by bright clouds near noon: 135mm (70-200mm f/2.8 lens), 1/4 sec at f/18.

Stacey Lloyd regularly writes “Photography Along The Way”, a blog that focuses on seeing and capturing creative images wherever you live and work (www.staceyglloyd.blogspot.com). Additional images can be found on his website, www.staceyglloyd.com.

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