Don’t Take A Fall When Fall Comes

I’d never realized how beautiful a common maple leaf could be until I inspected one closely through my camcorder lens. Every detail of the rich color, texture and intricate veins running through the leaf became clearly visible. To best capture steady close-up footage of these attractive features it’s imperative that your video camera is tripod-mounted. You can either zoom into a single leaf or move the camcorder closer to your subject matter. For this kind of macro videography, you need to pick a day when there is little or no wind moving the branches and leaves.autlv

The best camcorder lenses let you focus in the macro range only a fraction of an inch away from your subject matter so you’ll have no trouble filling your viewfinder with even a small portion of a single leaf. The only limitation on your recording will be the shadow of your own camcorder. You can overcome this problem, and move the lens even closer, if you point up to the sky when focusing on a semitransparent leaf. With strong backlit illumination of the leaf you’ll be able to record its intricate web of veins and capillaries.

Digital Dissolves

The ground cover of autumn leaves can be attractive subject matter, especially if you give nature a hand and slightly re-arrange the composition. Even a single leaf on the lawn, footpath or in the gutter can look strikingly beautiful when you zoom in close. With a tripod-mounted camcorder you can capture colorful stills and create some stunning special effects using digital dissolves and wipes. These digital features, found on most of today’s high-end camcorders, will help you achieve creative transitions when recording a series of colored leaves.

To make your dissolves look professional, focus on still images and keep the recording time to less than five seconds for each segment.

Flying Colors

Although autumn storms create undesirable wind noise in your microphone, on the plus side, they move countless colorful leaves through the air like a never-ending swarm of butterflies. But it’s difficult for your camcorder’s auto focus to capture sharp images of individual leaves floating through the air. And zooming in on a single leaf is almost impossible.

Instead, if your camcorder is rolling when a strong wind gust hits the trees, try panning the leaves as they float through the air. Although a high shutter speed (4000/sec) should theoretically capture sharp images of the whirling leaves, personally, I prefer a slow speed of 1/6 or 1/12 per second. This kind of low shutter speed will create colorful painted streaks, and then it’s not important if your leaves are somewhat out of focus. You’ll be delighted at the wonderful visual effects you can achieve when you handhold your camcorder on medium zoom using slow speed. And if you point skyward as you pan the leaves, bands of warm, rich autumn colors will trail across the blue sky.

Digital Effects

When you focus your camcorder lens on a branch that still has all its leaves attached, you can capture a different kind of movement. Again, when shot at slow shutter speed, the gentle swaying of the bough with its fluttering leaves looks dreamlike, almost unrecognizable. In this situation, also try out some of your camcorder’s special digital effects like Solarization, Tracer, Mirror, and several others, as these can help you produce even more innovative video footage. But do remember that when you use digital effects, the camcorder’s auto-focus doesn’t work, so you’ll need to focus manually in the normal recording mode before you start your recording. A contrasting even-colored background will best show off your artistry.

Backlit Recording

When shooting into trees covered in autumn leaves, I try to pick a sunny day with a brilliant blue sky. But before pointing my camcorder into the crown of a tree I always make sure that the sun is well covered by the spectacular array of shapes and colors. The effect of the sun’s rays shining through the brightly colored leaves makes the backlit canopy glow as if it were on fire. And, when occasionally a strong wind gust moves the leafy branches, shafts of light pierce the foliage in sharp flashes adding sparkle to my footage.

Manual Exposure

To successfully capture the brilliant hues of autumn and the bright rays of sun as your eyes see them, you need to lock your automatic camcorder exposure or set it to manual. A camcorder, in the auto mode, would instantly close the iris and render the colorful autumn leaves only as silhouettes. A word of caution! Be very careful when using this manual technique. There is always the potential danger of damaging the camcorder’s recording chip if the sun directly hits your lens for more than a fraction of a second.

Polarizing Filter

If you don’t want to record the autumn foliage from a backlit angle, but still want to intensify the brilliant colors and dramatize the blue sky–a circular polarizing filter is your answer. With the aid of this unique filter you can cut glaring highlights and unwanted reflection, and as a bonus you’ll also be rewarded with stronger, richer colors. Although some videographers may think a polarizer works only on a sunny day, this filter will effectively cut reflection even in overcast conditions. The circular polarizer is such a useful accessory that many camcorder enthusiasts permanently leave this filter on their lens as a recipe for punchy, saturated footage.

Enhancing Filters

A dull and overcast day doesn’t necessarily have to translate into dull and pale images. Popular photographic warming filters such as 81A, 81B and 81C can help to improve the autumn glow of your foliage. But if you really want to set your fall colors ablaze, look for an enhancing filter. These special filters, made by Tiffen and other U.S. companies, create selectively stronger and more saturated reds, oranges and browns with little effect on other colors of the spectrum. If this year’s fall display turns out to be a disappointment, an enhancing filter goes a long way to correct the problem.

Taping In The Rain

Wet from recent rain, autumn leaves and rugged-looking tree trunks really show off every hue of their colors, especially when videotaped in full shade. And while most of us tend to aim high for our fall foliage, remember to also point your camcorder at the carpet of wet leaves on the ground. But on a wet day beware of reflection on the glistening surface. Although a circular polarizer absorbs almost two stops of light and dramatically reduces the depth of field, it is the only filter for reducing unwanted reflection. By turning the outer filter ring, you can selectively eliminate reflective highlights on the leaves and saturate the colors in your recording.


The climatic conditions in late autumn can be harsh on outdoor videographers but we can always dress warmly, wear a hat and use gloves. At times like these, our expensive camcorder also needs some protection against the rain and the strong winds. Tiny rain droplets, pushed by strong wind, can otherwise enter the camcorder housing and potentially damage the electronic circuitry. A raincoat for your camcorder is the answer. While I use a simple clear plastic bag with an opening for the lens and the viewfinder to keep my camcorder safe and dry, there are also purpose-built camcorder raincoats available.

Even though you may have engaged the camcorder’s electronic wind filter, strong wind gusts are still likely to adversely effect your audio recording. In windy situations, I always use the wind filter, but for added protection I also attach a piece of foam rubber to the microphone to cut out as much wind noise as possible.

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