fall

Autumn colour at Westonbirt Arboretum

Have you ever visited Westonbirt Arboretum in Tetbury, Gloucestershire? If not, I can highly recommend it - most definitely one of our national treasures. It is ablaze with colour in the autumn and has the most extensive and beautiful collection of Acers I have ever seen. It's become something of a birthday tradition for me to visit - luckily for me, my birthday tends to fall at the peak of the colour :)

Despite moving to the coast, I couldn't miss out - Westonbirt in the autumn really is one of my all time favourite things to do. So this year, we made a little mini-break of it and stayed a few nights in Lacock, a very pretty village in the care of the National Trust, about 30-40 minutes away. We enjoyed visiting Lacock Abbey and its beautiful grounds. We also managed to fit in a visit to Bath on a rainy Saturday, and a leisurely visit to Courts Garden. We found Lacock the perfect base - considerably cheaper than staying in Bath and very well located for Westonbirt. If you do plan a visit to Westonbirt next year, it is so much better to visit on a week day if this is at all possible - it gets very busy in the autumn and the car parks get jam packed on weekends.

I make no apologies for the amount of photos in this post! We spent a very happy day wandering around Westonbirt, and believe me, I can take a LOT of photos in a day ;) It's a very popular place for photographers, so you will sometimes find yourself elbow to elbow with fellow snappers. I remember smiling to myself as I took these photos - I think there were about 8 or so other women around me, with their heads in the trees and cameras glued to their eyes and it was completely silent - apart from the sound of shutters.....

Westonbirt is HUGE. It is split into two parts - the old arboretum, and the new arboretum. My favourite part is the acer glade in the old arboretum - but there are so many paths and collections and Acers everywhere - so it's very easy to get lost. But lost in a good way! Dogs are only allowed in the new arboretum, which is vast - perfect for long walks. You'll find a greater variety of trees there, but still a good smattering of Acers (did I mention I adore Acers?!!).

The colour seemed especially good this year and I found myself drawn to the reds like a moth to a flame. The beautiful leaves make a wonderful background as well as a foreground.

If you're interested in the lenses and settings I used to capture these photos, you might like to take a look at my recent post: Photo tips: capturing autumn / fall colour.

And just to prove it's not all about the reds, here are a few other colours I managed to capture :)

And finally, I just had to include a few favourites from my visit to the very beautiful Courts Garden. We got there early, before it opened, so enjoyed a lovely walk from Courts to Great Chalfield Manor and back. And ended our visit the perfect way, by stumbling across a super lovely cafe nearby called the Old Glove Factory - bright, light and spacious with delicious food and comfy chairs for reading the papers. Oh, and superfast wifi. A most happy Sunday indeed :)

These giant heart shaped leaves came from a vine - just amazing!

Heart shaped leaf at Courts Garden

We were even treated to a few bursts of sunshine whilst we were there - most welcome indeed, after a very grey weekend.

Next to Acers, I think these gorgeous giant leaves from the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) have to be my absolute favourite. They really are a perfect tulip shape. I spent rather a long time playing with these, alongside the toddlers ;) If you'd like to see a few more, have a look at my video on Instagram - but I warn you, it's a bit spinny, spinny!

A bunch of yellow Tulip Tree leaves (Liriodendron tulipifera) from Courts Garden

You'll be relieved to know that's it from me (for now) - well done on reaching the end!

I'm shortly off on a lovely break away somewhere with no wifi, phone signal or tv - bliss! So things will be a bit quiet on here for a while - but I promise to return with plenty more tales and photos.

Photo tips: capturing autumn / fall colour

Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year to photograph - the landscape turns red and gold, leaves sparkle like jewels in the autumn sunshine, changing colour almost before your eyes. Is there anything more beautiful than watching a swirl of golden leaves spin and float gently down to rest on a scarlet carpet? There is magic everywhere - look up, look down, look all around.

Yet this autumnal magic can be surprisingly hard to capture on camera, so I thought I would share a few tips that have helped me. I should say that I am not about traditional shots or wide vistas of lots of trees. I hate HDR (High Dynamic Range) shots with a passion. My photography is all about softness and simplicity and my macro lens is my autumn lens of choice. So read on if you are interested in capturing autumn the beautiful simplicity way.

Photos tips: capturing autumn / fall colour

1. Position yourself to best catch the light

This is probably the single most important thing you can do. Observe which direction the sun is shining (even when there's lots of cloud cover) and walk around the tree you are photographing to see where the leaves are best illuminated. Sometimes, this means standing underneath the tree to get to the underside of the leaves (but obviously taking great care not to damage it). You will usually find that in one direction the leaves look flat, dull and lifeless, but from the opposite side they are beautifully lit, with strong vivid colours.

If you're lucky enough to have a day with some sunshine, it's worth waiting for the sun to come out and illuminate your shot - it's amazing what a bit of patience can do.

And make sure your flash is turned off - you won't capture that autumn magic with artificial light.


2. Use other trees for background colour

The joy of autumn for me is the beautiful medley of rich colours - definitely a case where the sum is greater than the parts. To take advantage of this, position yourself so that a brightly coloured tree is in the background of your shot, ideally one that is a contrast to the leaf or tree you are focussing on. Sometimes it's the background that makes the shot.


3. Don't shoot against the sky

The sky is usually much brighter than the landscape. If you are trying to focus on some leaves or a tree with lots of sky visible behind them, your camera will struggle to get the exposure right - you'll find your shot will either be far too light (exposed for the leaves) or far too dark (exposed for the sky). Even with lots of post-processing, it's hard to get pleasing results. You would be better to change your angle of view so that you have other trees/leaves in the background instead of the sky.

Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. If the sun is behind you and the sky is bright blue, you might find your exposure is nicely balanced. And sometimes shooting directly into the sun provides some interesting sunflare - but it can be very hit and miss. As always, the key is to experiment, and check your results.


4. Look for fallen leaves & small details

As well as photographing the leaves whilst they are on the trees, don't forget to look around for other details as well. There is so much richness of colour and texture in the autumn landscape. A few ideas to try:

  • Fallen leaves, perhaps on a branch with some interesting moss, or floating in a stream.

  • Water droplets.

  • Reflections in a puddle or lake.

  • Ask a friend to hold a collection of autumn finds in their hands, or hide behind a leaf bouquet, or make a leaf headdress.

  • Find some colourful leaves for a backdrop for some portraits. Action shots can be fun too - try jumping off a tree stump or throwing some leaves in the air (put your camera into continuous shooting mode for this one, so you can capture as many frames as possible - hopefully one of them will be "the one").

  • Look down at your feet - the autumn carpet can be pretty special.

  • Bring some props out with you to photograph, such as mini pumpkins/gourds, or in my case, dolls :)

  • Collect some fallen leaves to take home with you and arrange them on a simple background (but work quickly, before they dry and curl).

Don't be afraid to move things around either - I will often collect together some of the most beautiful fallen leaves and place them on a branch or a tree stump and arrange them to look as if they had fallen there. I'll also remove anything that looks dead or diseased from the shot (always without causing damage to anything - always respect your environment).


5. WHICH GEAR TO USE AND WHICH SETTINGS

As I mentioned above, my absolute favourite lens to use for autumn photography is my 100mm f2.8 macro lens. This is because I love to shoot small details, with softness and simplicity. I find you need a longer lens as the trees are often very tall, so it's the only way to get close enough to the leaves. I usually shoot somewhere between f2.8 - f4, trying to find the balance between shallow depth of field and sufficient sharpness of the subject I'm focussing on.

Another lens I like to use is my 24-105mm f4 zoom lens. I will mostly use this fully extended at 105mm with an aperture of f4 to get as much background blur as possible. It's also nice to be able to capture a few wider shots as well.

I also enjoy using my 50mm f1.4 lens. However, you need to be able to get reasonably close to your subject to produce the tight compositions and blurry backgrounds I love, so this has its limitations.

Finally, you might find a monopod or tripod helpful. The light can often be very low at this time of year with shutter speeds quite slow, so having something to steady your camera can be helpful. I have to say, though, that personally I prefer to shoot unencumbered - I'm forever moving around trying to find the perfect angle/light/background, going down low, shooting high. If I had to keep adjusting my tripod, I would be there forever!

Instead, I usually make sure my ISO is set to auto, so my camera can use higher ISO settings if the light is very low. I will most often shoot in Aperture Priority mode, as aperture is the setting I like to adjust most often. My camera will then adjust the shutter speed and ISO automatically, in accordance with the light reading.


6. Beware very shallow depth of field

Whilst I absolutely love shooting with the shallowest depth of field my lens will allow for maximum background blur, you do need to be careful if you are using a macro lens.  Shooting at 100mm focal length with an aperture of f2.8 gives you an extremely small range where your shot will be in focus (just a centimetre or two), if you are standing close to your subject. 

As the light is often low, it can be hard for your camera to focus and you can't be certain exactly where the focus point always is, unless you are shooting with manual focus (something my eyesight doesn't allow). I've come home and reviewed my photos after many an autumn photography session to find that most of them are blurry or the focus point is not in the right place and too much of the shot is out of focus (there's soft and there's blurry). 

I would suggest that you vary your aperture and experiment a bit with different settings, rather than using the absolute shallowest depth of field possible for ALL your shots (I typically work with a range of f2.8-f4, sometimes up to f5.6, if I'm using my 100mm macro lens).

The shot below was taken at f2.8 and I just about get away with it, but if you look closely, very little of the shot is in focus. This would have benefitted from increasing the aperture to f4. As the background is quite a distance away, this would still have allowed plenty of background blur.


For more information about aperture and depth of field, and the relationship to focal length and the distance from your subject/background, please see my How to get background blur in your photographs post.


7. Review often

This point goes hand in hand with the one above. To avoid disappointment, make sure you sit down at some point and review the photographs you have taken. Zoom in and check to see if they are sharp and if the focus point is where you want it. Is the exposure looking OK? You then still have time to re-shoot and correct any problems and try any other shots you want. It's also the perfect opportunity for a nice cup of tea :)


So there you have my top tips for capturing autumn colour, the beautiful simplicity way. If you'd like to see more photos, have a look at my Autumn Glory album on Flickr - I've amassed rather a lot of shots over the years!

Let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to help. What are your top tips? 


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Photos tips: capturing autumn / fall colour

Autumn glorious autumn ~ Part 2

I enjoyed a fabulous wander around the stunningly beautiful Westonbirt Arboretum at the end of October as my traditional birthday treat - there really is no better place to be at this time of year :)

My favourite bit without a doubt is the Acer Glade in the Old Arboretum - I just adore Japanese Maples. We started here and returned for some Blythe shots. It really is quite tricky to find the right spot to prop them up that's at the right height and supportive enough to hold them (their heads are very heavy!). It was VERY muddy so I was paranoid that they would take a tumble into the mud. Luckily the worst that happened was a bit of green slime on their tights ;)

I love the photo below of me, taken by my lovely husband. This was how I was to be found much of the time - head in the trees, searching for the prettiest leaves and the prettiest light! My favourite lens for autumn leaves is my 100mm macro lens - I love to focus on the details with a soft background. Low light levels make holding the camera steady pretty challenging, though, so inevitably lots of photos ended up in the bin!

Most of the leaves here are now on the ground, so these photos will have to help carry me through until springtime - I really don't like everything bare and brown! Nature really does put on a pretty spectacular seasonal finale.

As always, you can find more photos on Flickr in my Autumn Glory Album. I've also uploaded several of these images to my Red Bubble shop in case you are interested in cards or prints. There's currently a 15% discount on Wall Art (posters and prints in a range of sizes and formats) and Home Decor (cushions) with code RBGIFTS15 which is valid until the end of Thursday 13 November.

Autumn glorious autumn ~ Part 1

I just adore autumn and it's glorious display of colour in such warm, rich shades. It's so uplifting. Autumn leaves are such a gift - I always feel compelled to capture that beauty on my camera, to carry me through the winter months when the trees are bare and the world becomes monotone.

It's an annual ritual for me to go hunting leaves with my camera - and a traditional birthday treat - nothing makes me happier (except perhaps the sea!) :) These photos were all taken in Harcourt Arboretum in Nuneham Courtenay, Oxfordshire last weekend. And this weekend, as my birthday treat, we're heading to the amazing Westonbirt Arboretum. So I thought I'd best get these photos published pronto :)

There really is nothing finer than listening to birds chirping away with sunshine on your face, and gorgeous low, warm light pouring through the trees, setting the leaves aglow. It really is tonic for the soul.

For more autumnal fabulousness, take a look at my Autumn Glory Album on Flickr.

Glistening golden Acadia

So before autumn says its final farewells, I thought it would be good to share the third leg of our fabulous USA trip, in all its autumn glory. From Vermont, we enjoyed a very scenic (and rather epic) drive to Mount Desert Island in Maine. We stayed in another lovely Airbnb place in pretty Somesville - the perfect location from which to explore the stunning Acadia National Park. The Park had been shut, along with all the other national parks and monuments, as part of the government shutdown in October. Luckily for us, it reopened a few days before we arrived and I am so thankful it did. Acadia really is the most stunning location, especially in the autumn.

All of an autumn whirl

We were lucky enough to enjoy some days of sunshine and it just transformed the autumn landscape into a magical glistening, golden, sparkling wonderland. There really is nothing quite like it. Dancing dappled light, golden warmth, fiery leaves - it really is tonic for the soul.

Warmth
Autumn aflame
Walking the red carpet in Acadia National Park

You access most of Acadia National Park via a very well maintained Park Loop Road. Even just driving round this is something very special indeed. But we like to walk in the dappled light, feel the sun on our faces and play in the fallen leaves. So we did. Rather a lot :)

Al and I goofing around in the leaves
Al and I in Acadia National Park
Look up, it's so pretty *1*
Golden dapples

We spent a lot of time with cameras glued to our faces, as well as with our heads staring up - there was so much to look at, every which way!

How I was to be found for most of our trip!
Walking the red carpet in Acadia National Park
Golden skies

There was an absolutely stunning tree just outside where we were staying in Somesville, which was ablaze with colour. I'd love a carpet of pretty maple leaves, please :)

This gorgeous tree greeted us every morning
A fiery tumble of leaves
Nature's gold
I love autumn!
The fall

On a grey day I had fun with some Blythe photography - those gorgeous autumn leaves shine all by themselves!

Autumn girls
Hello!

There is so much to see in Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island - I can highly recommend a visit. The coastal scenery is absolutely stunning too - but that's another post or this will never end! You can see the rest of my photos in my Mount Desert Island set on Flickr. I'll leave you with some shots of Jordan Pond and it's beautiful crystal clear water, Somesville and its pretty bridge, and a beautiful sunset at Southwest Harbour.

Crystal clear water at Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond
The man from milk tray
Mount Desert Island Historical Society, Somesville
Sunset at Southwest Harbour

Vermont in the fall

Well, just about! We made it to Vermont in mid-October, at the tail end of the season. Most of the leaves had fallen, but there was still plenty of colour around and everything was still looking sooo beautiful (and fallen leaves still make very beautiful photography subjects!). We stayed in Southern Vermont in a place called Hubbardton on the edge of Lake Bomoseen (see my previous post for photos of the gorgeous Lake House we stayed in).

A Maple leaf colourwheel from Woodstock, Vermont
Three in a row
I love yellow leaves!

We wanted to avoid epic drives, so decided to explore the areas in reasonably easy reach of where we were staying. Day one kicked off with a visit to Woodstock. We found a fabulous farmer's market to pick-up a delicious lunch and I think possibly the finest gluten-free wrap I had on holiday :) The village was so pretty. There were pumpkins and decorations outside all the houses and piles of leaves to swish around in.

Fall in Woodstock, Vermont
Camouflage
Fall in Woodstock, Vermont
Fall in Woodstock, Vermont
Pumpkin fence in Woodstock, Vermont

Day two was my absolute favourite in Vermont - one of those marvellous serendipitous days, where you don't really know what you're doing/where you're going and plans just evolve, most perfectly and magically. We drove in the opposite direction to the previous day, hoping to find some pretty red barns, white churches, golden trees still full of leaves, and houses with pumpkins outside to photograph (we didn't want much!!). As we drove through a tiny village called Sudbury I yelled "stop the car!" and we piled out in great excitement with our cameras. Everything we wanted in one small perfectly formed location. Pure magic. Picture postcard perfect!

Picture postcard perfect Sudbury in Vermont
Sunflaretastic - what fairytales are made of
Red barns in Sudbury, Vermont
Pumpkin display in Sudbury, Vermont

The day just got better, too. We drove on to Brandon, another pretty, bigger town. I yelled "stop the car!" again as we passed a cool looking antiques store/ice cream parlour (something for him, something for me). OMG. Kitsch heaven, crammed to the rafters, in the most unexpected of places. There was just sooo much to look at - impossible to take it all in. Sadly for me (but thankfully for my purse) I really had no space in my luggage to bring anything back as my handbag was already stuffed with precious Blythes! So I settled on a tiny cute owl and reluctantly put down the matching owl planter, and the bambi planter, and the kitty planter....The pics below aren't great - it was pretty dark inside and I had my wide angle lens on - but you get the general idea!

Antiques store in Brandon, Vermont
Antiques store in Brandon, Vermont
Antiques store in Brandon, Vermont

We enjoyed a wander around Brandon - so many pretty houses with white picket fences and beautiful trees outside. And a strange assortment of figures dressed up in a wide variety of outfits, strapped to trees and lamp posts...We continued a meandering drive, stopping the car regularly to jump out and take pics whenever we fancied. I also saw a black bear - thankfully we were in the car at the time - it looked me straight in the eyes! (Sadly no pictures - I was too flustered to even think about getting my camera out!)

Brandon, Vermont
Pretty white church near Brandon, Vermont

Day three saw another meandering drive, taking in lots of agricultural land - such beautiful scenery. We saw the very photogenic red barn below in Whiting. We then went on to Orwell to do a walk around the Mount Independence Trails - decided it was time to stretch our legs! I also took some Blythes with me for a mini photoshoot in the woods :) Oh and we were treated to a most spectacular rainbow on our return.

Red barn love
1880
Cheerful mailboxes in Orwell, Vermont
Al on the Mount Independence Trail in Orwell, Vermont
The pumpkin girls
Amelia glowing in the autumn sunshine

Day four (our last day) involved taking it easy before our big drive the next day. So we had a leisurely drive around the Stone Valley Byway, stopping in Poultney for coffee and photos and in Dorset for amazing, freshly made sandwiches from the general store that sold everything! Then it was back home for some kayaking on the lake (Al) and some Blythe photos (me)! The owl in the pics below is the one I found in the antiques store in Brandon :)

Pretty bike spotted in Poultney, Vermont
Pastel Chevvy love
The latest in Blythe fashion: acorn hats
Pumpkin patch

You can see the rest of my photos in my Vermont set on Flickr.

Coming next - the third and final leg of our trip - the very beautiful Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, Maine. Watch this space....

The times they are a changin'

Change is most definitely in the air. As we drift into October the leaves are starting to turn and fall, the nights are drawing in and there is a definite chill in the air in the mornings and evenings - I love this time of year!

Soft landing
Autumn pinks

And for me this year, things are changing in a big way. I've just left my job of 9+ years as the Head of the Systems & Information Management team in Research Services at the University of Oxford. It's been a wonderful place to work and I've been privileged to work with many fantastic people that I respect and admire. But I've been battling with chronic fatigue for the last few years and am thoroughly fed up with feeling achey and exhausted all the time and barely able to drag myself through the working week....

So I decided I needed a big change and a chance to rest and recuperate and focus on my health. I'm taking a career break for 6 months or so to give myself the time I need to recover. And a chance to think about what's next. I'd love to do something creative, ideally with my photography....perhaps some freelance work - who knows - the possibilities at this blissful stage are endless :)

If you go down to the woods today….
Every shade of autumn in one tree

I'm planning to spend my time doing lots of lovely creative, crafty things. I want to learn to knit and sew properly, and hopefully crochet too. I am so looking forward to being able to potter about at my own pace, instead of rushing from meeting to meeting....

I have been slowly amassing a little stash of vintage fabrics and I am so looking forward to getting stuck in and making things....I have booked myself into a sewing course for November and will be making a tote bag and a make-up bag as part of the course...and then I hope to get to work on some cushion covers...and maybe an owl if I'm feeling adventurous.

My vintage fabric stash
Destined to be some Blythe scarves and maybe some hats...

I will be able to surround myself with beautiful happy colours in my home. My owl shelf of happiness makes me smile every time I walk into my bedroom. It's had a very special recent addition - the new owl on the far right was custom made for me by the wonderful Modflowers in a pink and aqua colourway, especially to co-ordinate with my owl shelf :)

I'm over the moon with him - isn't he gorgeous? You can read about the making of him on Modflower's lovely blog.

My owl shelf of happiness
My fabulous owl from @modflowers

I'm also really looking forward to doing some more Blythe customisation and photography. I've got lots more faces to matte....These shelves of colour in my craft room just make me smile, even on gloomy days...

My happy shelf #1
Work in progress….
Zahra approves of the new chair

I'm planning to do lots more photography too - I've got lots of ideas for a new line in greeting cards and small prints....I've been hunting out bambis like my avatar over the last few months and will finally have the time to photograph them :)

Vintage teal & yellow: a delicious combo
Finally managed to find a bambi like my avatar :)
Bambis are multiplying!

So, exciting times ahead! But first, I'm off on a special trip to the USA, including a visit to Blythecon New York to celebrate my (gulp) 40th birthday later this month! So my blog will be quiet for a little while. But no doubt I will be posting like a mad woman on Instagram, so you can follow along with me there :) Tara for now! Z xx

Autumnal softness

Before succumbing to the seasonal lurgi, Al and I had a super lovely day pottering around the stunningly beautiful Westonbirt Arboretum at the end of our Bath trip. It was a misty, murky grey old October day - but the leaves still looked sooooo beautiful - little autumn gems.

There's nothing quite like watching leaves gently fall like pretty snowflakes, kicking around autumn leaves in every shade imaginable and walking over the most spectacular carpet, to nourish the soul - I really wish it would stay like this.....So here's a little bit of autumn to enjoy all year round :)

More autumn colour can be found on Flickr, as always.

Soft landing
Autumn pinks
Drifting
Bokehlicious autumn
Softly, softly
Fallen
Two little bears up a tree
Dancing leaves
Soft velvety autumn
Autumn fireworks
Autumn bear
Autumn cascade

Autumn in the frame

I adore autumn. The colours. The richness. The stunning views everywhere you look. Leaves blowing in the wind - each one so perfectly formed. The low, golden light and long shadows. The cosiness as the nights draw in, the lights go on and the blankets come out. It's only just begun and I've already gone mad with my camera - can't help myself. Here are some autumn highlights so far - the rest are on Flickr as always - and there'll be more to come :)

The leaves they are a turning…..
Autumn medley
Wham bam, hello autumn! The original
Wham bam, hello autumn! with a little more red...
Autumn cascade
Autumn in the frame
Autumnal riches
Autumn does disco
Glimmering golden