Autumn is a great season for many reasons, the obvious being the colours of leaves, but also the colour temperature of the light. The light of early mornings and late afternoon compliments the subtle warm hues of ambers, yellows and rusty reds. According to Chris, it's a great time for family portraits as they can get outdoors, enjoy the space and feel like a family. Autumn portraits also have a great informality about them, so people feel more confident in casual clothing.
Woods, leafy parks and lanes are always the first choice for locations and from a selling point of view, that's what people are looking for. These shoots take time to get ready so Chris does this at a coffee break, or if there's a change of tops, hats and scarves.
“The most popular selling shots are shafts of sunlight through autumnal leaf canopies, children having leaf fights, and lovers kicking leaves. All clichéd but still very much in demand. If you can do autumn leaves by open water...even better,” explained Chris.
What makes Autumn shots great is the quality of the natural light, so make sure you use plenty. Chris also uses Speedlights, but selectively. If you decide to use some added lights, research will help you know where they need to be placed. Remember, children have a short attention span so setting the lights up while they have a snack break is a good idea.
If the location for the shoot is new then Chris recommends you visit it before the actual day. Doing this will give you time to check where lights will need to be placed, where the sun will be, or where to take cover from the rain. Another good tip is to always look back - the best shot might be behind you.
As well as looking to shoot the typical autumn shots, you should also look at the colours and suggest to clients or parents what clothing would co-ordinate best.
“Autumn shoots are also about using leaf colour as colourful, out of focus backdrops. Shooting a portrait of a young child with a burgundy hat and scarf on a 135mm lens at f/4 about 3 meters from a Virginia creeper clad wall makes for a stunning seasonal shot.”
According to Chris, very subjective, multicolours work great with children while colours which compliment work well for adults. A good piece of advice is to get a colour wheel from a good decorating shop or paint manufacturer and see what works well and what will push the boundaries.
Even though early morning or later afternoon is always a good time for photography, the beauty of shooting in the Autumn months is that the sun is quite low in the sky all day so it doesn't present too much of an issue.
“Early morning and late afternoon are always the best times. Light can be quite harsh on cold frosty mornings, but use this to good effect and shoot contre jour. Three stops over into the light will give you those really milky shots that were 'en vogue' in the 70's and now very much fashionable again.”
When it comes to the actual shoot, a little direction helps but watching the family enjoy the space, the occasion and each others company makes for great pictures. Meeting for a coffee before and having a chat about the shoot and the colour combinations they can create from the accessories in their bags is a good way to break the ice. From there, Chris says just walk with them and the inspiration will come.
With any portrait shoot, Chris suggests you give your clients choice. He will always shoot a selection of shots which includes full length, 3/4, head and shoulders and relaxed, informal shots.
“Quite often they will go for something where they only feature as 15% of the picture. These tend to be the big wall pictures where they are part of an overall scene, without it making the statement 'hey look at us'. Kids portraits tend to be more in your face style.”
Chris likes to shoot on a longer lens like a 70-200mm around the f/4 mark. He likes the way this lens makes the backgrounds appear compressed, and how colours and highlights really stand-out. For the wider, big shot, he would much rather walk back to fit it in, rather than opt for the easier choice of reaching for the 18-55mm. In his film days, Chris would be shooting on scotchchrome for muted pastel colours and grain. Digitally, his scotchchrome look is created in post production.
“As a rule of thumb, select the lowest ISO you can which gives you the shutter speed to freeze client movement, especially kids.”
Autumn shoots can be incredibly popular if you sell the concept correctly. Most families have summer pictures, so getting wrapped up with hats and scarves, gloves and fleeces
make for great 'lifestyle images'.
“We have regular clients who will have a shoot once a year, which we'll shoot in different seasons, but by far the most popular are autumn shoots invoked by the colours and the light of the pictures.”
For more information about Chris Hanley and the one-on-one or small group days he has to offer visit his website