Behind the Lens: Backlit Autumn

by Mark Bowie | Photography

Backlit Autumn

Exposure Data:

3 sec’s, f/16, ISO 400 
Nikon D610 camera, Nikkor 80-400mm lens at 135mm

Non-photographers sometimes express sympathy for me that it rained during my photo outings. But in autumn, I actually hope for rain; it paints the forest with color. And on bright, overcast days the lighting is even and the intimate details of autumn’s splendor stand out. Better yet, when these conditions linger, we photographers can take our time scouting and composing. They can deliver a magical day of shooting.

Step back from the shorelines of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams and notice that the open air over the waters allows the colorful foliage to be backlit. On a drizzly morning at Rollins Pond State Campground, the trick was to search for compositions that excluded the washed-out sky and its reflection—not easy, as they often filled the background but for a thin strip of forest on the far shore. I found this scene where the pond narrowed. By zooming in tight to this colorful collection of trees at a medium-telephoto focal length, I filled the background with forest and its watercolor reflections. Focusing on the near trees and shooting at a small aperture kept them in sharp focus while the distant forest faded to a soft blur. Since the background was in shaded front-light, it took on a cool blue cast, in pleasing contrast to my warm-toned trees, which absolutely glow with the backlighting. Also, I used a polarizing filter to cut glare off the wet leaves, which brought out their vibrant colors.

I find one of the most productive places to scout backlit foliage is in campgrounds, where roads wind along the shore. They offer, in essence, running movies of changing patterns, forms and, of course, colors, and can keep leaf peepers and photographers entertained for hours.  

Mark Bowie is a frequent contributor to Adirondack Life magazine and a much sought-after public speaker, offering presentations for conferences, camera clubs and other groups. He is a staff instructor for the Adirondack Photography Institute. API’s 2019 schedule of workshops is available at For more on Mark’s work visit

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