We took one day and drove up to Burke's Garden, Virginia. It's a favorite place for landscape photographers but we had never been. Burke's Garden is a bowl valley completely surrounded by Clinch Mountain. The valley is reported to be the highest in Virginia at around 3,000 feet above sea level. This elevation brings fall to Burke's Garden before many other places in our area.
The day we picked turned out the be cloudy and overcast. When we got into the valley the clouds had come down far enough to cover the surrounding mountains and even creep into the valley. Overcast days can be great for some photographs but challenging for others. One of the most valuable lessons for an outdoor photographer is to know what to shoot under different lighting conditions. A cloudy overcast day produces fantastic soft light, obscuring shadows and eliminating bright spots. It can also make colors more vibrant.
In this first shot you can see how the clouds were hanging very low over the mountains. The clouds thinned a little allowing just enough sunlight through to highlight the trees in this shot. Including the sky in this shot puts it in perspective and tells more about the place and conditions.
Most of the time you want to avoid including the sky in the composition if it is bland and uninteresting. Below is the same shot with different crops.
The next weekend we took a side trip to Cataloochee Valley on the way to meet friends for the weekend. At times we had the same overcast conditions but later in the day the clouds started to break up and create some different conditions.
With some interesting clouds in the sky I had some different compositional opportunities. In this photo of an old barn the blue sky and clouds added to the photo. The clouds are cool and the blue is a nice contrast with the fall colors. To make this shot I had to use a graduated neutral density filter to compensate for the sky being much brighter than the rest of the image. I don't use these filters on every trip but when I need them they make the difference between an impossible shot and something worth sharing.
Of course these bright conditions made other photographs very challenging. I had to wait a while for the sun to go behind a cloud before I could get a picture of leaves in that little stream.
The secret to getting good photos outdoors is to understand your light conditions. Unlike the studio, you take what God gives you and make the best of it.