Some 2019 Autumnal images from my self initiated project: photographing Cornish woodland in seasonal foliage. I'll describe my learning & development journey - together with the technical stuff. At the very least I hope to show you how stunning my home county of Cornwall is in Autumn...
Where this project began...
While I was putting together my first ever calendar (check out my 2020 Calendar here), I found that I had little Autumnal images to choose from for the months of October & November. So, armed with my camera, I made it a personal project to hit our Cornish woodland hard - in an attempt to capture a photo I'd be happy to use in my second calendar for 2021...
I've always found woodland photography a challenge. Making sense of the tangle of branches takes a great amount of thought. I knew that the presence of mist would make compositions easier to find. But, as I work full time, combined with dark mornings & evenings, I missed some great opportunities. I remember driving my lorry around one morning in the most amazing misty conditions, just wishing I was out with my camera instead - I guess life too often gets in the way!
I found though, that by focusing on just woodland photography for a couple of months, I really managed to improve (I think so anyway!). Posting my shots online as I went, I took on board my followers' comments to help my development process.
Typically, I look for contrast. But when I posted a couple of subtler images, I received some encouraging feedback. I myself feel that quieter images (those by the likes of Thomas Heaton for example), although with less social media thumb stopping impact, are a more mature style of imagery. So I was keen to go down that path.
You'll notice how my work has evolved over this little project - with my trips listed in order...
Early on at Unity Woods in September / October...
"SPRAWL" - UNITY WOODS, NR SCORRIER
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 95mm | ƒ/8 | 1/4 sec | ISO 400 | Hoya Polarising Filter | Tripod | Taken 22-08-2019
My first Autumnal shot was taken at Unity Woods. Although just 20 minutes or so from home, I had never been here before.
After wandering these new surroundings for a couple of hours, I began to head back to the car without a shot - when I spotted this tree on a mound, with its tangle of moss-covered roots sprawling down the slope, amidst some fallen leaves for contrast. As I mentioned - I seem to be drawn to contrast, so I thought it looked pretty cool!
I set up my shot from an opposing mound at a similar height. A polarising filter knocked back the shine on the leaves to give more depth of colour to the image.
I remember thinking at the time, that this image would be greatly improved by a veil of mist to knock back the more distant trees.
"DISUNITY" - UNITY WOODS, NR SCORRIER
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 81mm | ƒ/11 | 2 sec | ISO 400 | No Filters | Tripod | 2x Focus Stacked Exposures | Taken 13-10-2019
Inspired by the Vlogs of Simon Baxter, I managed to motivate myself to go out shooting - not despite the rain, but because of it! As Simon explains, the rain can intensify colours and create mood. This image was shot during a such rain shower - on a second visit to Unity Woods.
Searching for compositions was still quite a challenge. The "disunity" of all the intersecting branches and trunks can easily be chaotic - so I tried to look for simpler images amongst them - again, without the benefit of mist to simplify the scene.
A longer focal length helped though - by compressing the perspective to hone in on a specific area. A longer focal length also helped to exclude the sky - which can cause distracting bright spots in the overall image.
I composed this image to use the foreground tree's roots to lead into the scene. Beyond the first tree, two more with similar shaped limbs from other trees also draw into the centre of the frame.
I felt that these trees in particular were the most important features, so I focus stacked the shot to keep them all sharp. It was quite a gloomy morning, so I decided to keep the image dark to represent the conditions.
"RESPRYN AUTUMN" - RESPRYN WOODS, NR BODMIN
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 50mm | ƒ/8 | 1/13 sec | ISO 320 | Hoya Polarising Filter | Tripod | Focus Stacked (from 3 exposures) Taken 09-11-2019
At this point, with the clocks going back and working full time, I began to find it very difficult to make time to shoot these Autumnal scenes.
Keen to make use of my weekend, I put a shout out on a facebook group for recommendations on a place to go for Autumn scenes. A fellow member suggested Respryn Woods - so that's where I went!
Arriving as always at first light, I was yet to find that elusive autumnal woodland mist for a more atmospheric image!
Here, I used the twisted fallen tree as a lead in to the tree displaying vibrant autumnal colour - which stood out against the dark background (high contrast again!). I tried to use the fallen leaves strewn over the fallen tree as foreground interest.
Again, I focus stacked for front-to-back sharpness.
"AUTUMN OAK" - RESPRYN, NR BODMIN
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 105mm | ƒ/8 | 1/6 sec | ISO 100 | Tripod | Taken 09-11-2019
This was the second image from Respryn that I posted to my social media - depicting a large oak tree in full autumn display. With a full zoom on my kit lens, I did my best to pick out the gnarly, twisted branches amidst the orange leaves.
It's "quieter" tones gained a couple of encouraging comments on my social media - although I did notice that without striking impact, these types of images aren't as well "liked." I guess that news feeds are scrolled through so quickly that imagery with bold shapes and colour are noticed more. That said, I became keen to pursue this more mature style.
Searching for "subtle" at Idless Woods...
"AUTUMN AT IDLESS" - NR TRURO
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 30mm | ƒ/11 | 1/4 sec | ISO 100 | Hoya Polarising Filter | Tripod | Manual White Balance | Taken 17-11-2019
Untypically, I arrived well after sunrise at around 9am, but there was still the faintest hint of mist in the air which helped to give a painterly feel when light by the sunlight diffused by the overcast sky.
Well into my walk, I found some particularly colourful trees amongst some ruined buildings. The area was stunning to the eye - but a challenge to capture in an image!
A work colleague who lives near the area told me that this was an old monastery - although my social media followers tell me that it was a gunpowder works! I'll let you make your own minds up!
It was on this trip, that I started playing around with manual white balance. I've never been overly impressed with the white balance pre-set programs for woodland photography. I find "Auto" to be too blue, while setting "Cloudy" or "Shade" goes the other way to cast a yellow tint.
So I decided to delve into my settings and found that setting to "Cloudy," then manually dialling up the Blue and Magenta colours gave a much more natural look in the camera's live view. This translated pretty well to my computer screen - so I decided to continue with this technique throughout the rest of the project...
"ASPIRE" - IDLESS WOODS, NR TRURO
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 85mm | ƒ/11 | 1/4 sec | ISO 100 | Hoya Polarising Filter | Tripod | Manual White Balance | Taken 17-11-2019
A small birch tree in autumn finery stands next to a much larger tree in similar seasonal colours - amidst their evergreen and fully shed deciduous neighbours.
"AUTUMN WONDERLAND" - IDLESS WOODS, NR TRURO
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 105mm | ƒ/11 | 1.6 sec | ISO 100 | Hoya Polarising Filter | Tripod | Taken 17-11-2019
There's nothing particularly clever about this shot... I simply spotted some autumn colour illuminated by some cracking woodland light, diffused by a thin veil of mist. Then pointed my camera at it!
Maybe I'm being a little unfair to myself... I chose a long focal length to compress the scene and eliminate a dull sky, and placed the strong figure of a tree on the left third. Even with a 1.6 second exposure, the leaves remained pretty sharp as there wasn't a breath of wind.
I didn't realise how much I liked this shot until I began to process it (which was pretty minimal). Maybe I like it just because it reminds me of how stunning nature was in this moment...
"IDLESS RUINS" - IDLESS WOODS, NR TRURO
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 24mm | Æ/11 | 2.5 sec | ISO 100 | Hoya Polarising Filter | Manual WB | Tripod | Taken 17-11-2019
Back to the ruins... I was really keen to find compositions with the crumbling walls and orange leaves - which I didn't find easy. After trying a few angles, this almost obvious composition was amongst my better attempts. A square crop helped me to focus in what was really important in the scene.
"TREGARGUS" - WOODS NR ST STEPHEN
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 35mm | ƒ/11 | 0.5 sec | ISO 400 | Hoya Polarising Filter | Manual WB | Tripod | Taken 23-11-2019
Again, I managed to head out on a rainy morning! Normally I have to go to sleep with a plan in place for the morning to stand any chance of motivating myself to get up. But due to the inclement weather, I opted to decide in the morning when the weather apps would be more accurate.
When I woke, I checked the weather radar for areas of slighter lighter rain and found mid Cornwall to be a good option. I also fancied going somewhere new - so I did a quick search online and found Tregargus Woods near St Stephen, St Austell. I had never heard of this place before!
Upon arriving at St Stephen, I drove around the woods to look for somewhere to park - and found a lay-by close to the nearby quarry.
The walk was pretty nice, with lots of interesting ruined buildings - including some water mills with their wheels still intact. I always find myself wondering how places like this would have looked in their hay day - when Cornwall was at the forefront of industry. Unfortunately though, the area was really let down in places by litter and graffiti - a real shame!
Luxulyan Valley and a revisit to Respryn...
"TWISTED AUTUMN" - LUXULYAN VALLEY
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 59mm | ƒ/11 | 2 sec | ISO 200 | Hoya Polarising Filter | Manual WB | Tripod | Taken 24-11-2019
On my last trip out to capture Autumn in Cornwall before I fly to Budapest for a long weekend (and hopefully some photos!), I think this was my best so far - and potentially a 2021 calendar shot! All the practice finally paid off.
In actual fact, I was planning to take a break from woodland photography on this day! I felt a little burnt out from trying to capture that epic woodland shot, and with a weather forecast the night before suggesting wispy broken cloud more suited to my style of coastal photography, I was actually planning to head for Castle Beach in Falmouth (although on my doorstep, I've never gone there to shoot!)
But... the weather had other ideas! Despite the previous night's forecast, the morning was proper overcast. So I reverted back to my woodland project - more suited to the diffused lighting conditions.
With little time to prepare, I put the amalgamation of my recent woodland photography experience to use... I decided to head for an area of mid-Cornwall with an abundance of woods - most with rivers to help churn up some mist, and with valley sides to use for background (instead of including a distracting bright white sky in my shots).
As I approached mid-Cornwall on the A30, I could see mist lingering in the valleys. As I drew closer, I decided to park up at Luxulyan Valley.
This composition almost has two contrasting focal points; the moss-covered twisted tree at the front, shed of all it's leaves; and the vibrant orange birch leaves. I think this provides a balanced tension - that keeps the eye moving around the image (in a good way... hopefully!)
"RESPLENDENT RESPRYN" - RESPRYN, NR BODMIN
Canon 6D MkII | 24-105mm lens at 64mm | ƒ/5.6 | 0.8 sec | ISO 100 | Hoya Polarising Filter | Manual WB | Tripod | Taken 24-11-2019
Late into the morning after wandering Luxulyan Valley, with a thin veil of mist still lingering, I decided to see if Respryn Woods would provide some new compositions since I was there two weeks prior.
And indeed, the trees had changed a lot. The oaks had almost fully shed their leaves, while some birch trees had turned from orange to a reddish colour as they just about cling onto their leaves.
I was happy to bag this shot of the River Fowey under the spell of some faint mist - I presume churned up by the rushing water.
I intentionally used a large aperture to include the blurred leaves in the foreground. I think they fill what might otherwise be a distracting empty space.
That's it for this year!
This will probably complete my Autumnal photography excursions for this year, as by the time I return from Budapest I don't think there'll be a lot of colour left! Although, I may delve into my files and process a couple more images from these trips - so keep an eye on my social media!
I'm really glad that I did this little project as I believe that I learned a lot through trial & error and feedback from my followers. I'm looking forward though to getting back out to the coast to capture some rugged wintry coastal shots soon!
Other woods I enjoy in Cornwall...
My limited free time didn't permit me to visit any more woods this Autumn. But here are some other woodland locations that I like to visit (usually when coastal conditions aren't quite right for me)...
- Devichois, Nr Penryn
- Golitha Falls, Nr Liskeard
- Cardinham Woods, Nr Bodmin
- Kennall Vale, Nr Penryn
- Ladock Woods, Nr Truro
I hope you enjoyed this Blog. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts either via my contact page or by commenting on my social media pages.