Chasing Fall Color with the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM | Art Lens

If you ask most photographers to previsualize their dreams for a fall foliage photo outing, you’d be very likely to hear of entire hillsides bursting into crimson and golden tones in unison, as great early or late-day directional sunlight infused the scene with depth, dimension and a magical sense of the season with a sky filled with perfect cotton candy clouds.

Fall foliage peaks at different times in different places. Close-Focusing in on sunlit details of leaves with a fast aperture zoom lens like the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM | A lens can make for dramatic shots showing the details of the season. Here we’re inches from the greens and golds on these maple leaves lit my the midday sun, as a tree just a few feet away gives great background blur elements. 1/1600 F2.8 ISO 100 on a Canon Rebel T3i.

And every now and again, with the right combination of planning and luck, those storybook conditions may be encountered and captured. But then again, there’s also the reality that trees turn at different times, that the light that’s magical one moment is flat and dull the next, and that you’ve really got be somewhere else and if you don’t make a photo now, it won’t be made at all.

The sunlight behind this single maple leaf instantly tells you it is fall. And the focus is so shallow at F2.8 at 35mm that only the very points of the leaves is in perfectly crisp focus. It’s the story of autumn told with a single leaf. 1/800 F2.8 ISO 400 on a Canon Reb T3i.

And in these situations, rather than the typical ultrawide lens for sweeping landscapes, the perfect lens for creating a feel of Fall by focusing on small seasonal details is a super-fast zoom lens like the brand-new Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM | Art lens. The close focusing and shallow depth of field offer a great way to really explore the nuances of small bunches of leaves and other typical autumnal symbols in a way that’s fresh and new. Instead of the unlimited depth of field so typical of ultrawide landscapes, this lens allows for getting up close and personal with leaves in mid-transformation, complemented by beautiful background blur.

Here we are focused again on a single leaf, with a small brook in the background at F1.8 at 35mm. Notice how the sunspots on the water surface appear in this frame. 1/200 F1.8 ISO 100.
Here is another composition from the same vantage point again at F1.8, but this time we’re zoomed back to 18mm. Notice how different the background blur looks with a quick twist of the zoom ring. 1/200 F1.8 ISO 100.

I’m itching and waiting for peak color here at my home base in Central Jersey, and when it hits, I’ll be revisiting both some old favorites and new spots I’ve been scouting to capture those sweeping vistas with a variety of Sigma lenses, but until then, it’s been amazing exploring the start of the leaf season through this incredibly sharp F1.8 zoom lens, looking for small bursts of color backlit or crosslit by the sun. And unlike the early and late-day directional light on far-off subjects; it’s easy enough to simply move about until you align a particular patch of photogenic leaves with the high midday sun.

Midday is usually one of the worst times to make photos, but it’s great for highlighting a couple of weeping cherry leaves against puffy clouds in the background. 1/1600 F1.8 ISO 100.
The afternoon sun was streaming straight through this tree and the leaves just explode with color in between glimpses of pure blue sky. 1/640 F1.8 ISO 100.

You’ll have to experiment with exposures to find the perfect numbers to make the leaves pop while retaining some color in the background, be it the clear blue sky, or a gorgeously defocused blur of another bunch of leaves.

This leaf seems to me to be reaching out to collect the rays of the sun. 1/1600 F2.8 ISO 400.
Fallen leaves, too, can be great for detail season shots. A ray of sunlight gives serious depth to this single leaf in the shallows of a creek. 1/125 F1.8 ISO 100.
Golden and crimson leaves drift down a stream as seen from a high bank. The focal plane is oblique to the surface of the water, so it is tack-sharp lower in the frame and softens up towards the top. 1/125 F1.8 ISO 100.
An ivy leaf curls and turns bright red as it casts a shadow on the tree it climbs. 1/1600 F1.8 ISO 100.

Exploring the world through this lens on the hunt for varying colors and textures, and levels sharpness and blur can create images that are at once new, and yet instantly recognizable. Close-up focusing on a pumpkin, for example, gives a shallow slice of sharpness, and lovely focus fall-off in a composition that’s pure seasonal color.

I shot wide open at F1.8 to focus just on the twisted stem of this big pumpkin and zoomed to 35mm to fill the frame. The oranges and greens in different degrees of blur add color and textural elements to this typical fall sight. And the tiny katydids on the pumpkin are a nice echo of the green background, too! 1/1600 F1.8 ISO 100.

There are many shades and tones in the palette of autumn, from multi-hued corn, to decorative gourds, mums, and of course, the whole spectrum of changing leaves. And adding the intrigue of razor-thin focus possible with the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM | A allows for creative, colorful compositions any time of day.

Read more about the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM | Art lens!

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