Many times I've gone out to photograph the beautiful colors that blanket the trees in Fall. My mind and inner vision is completely lit up with these glowing embers that dance in the wind on the trees. At this moment and place nothing seems more wondrous and somehow these colors seems to permeate deep into my collective thoughts where vivid memories live.
You may wonder why the need for all these flowery thoughts. Its because when I get home, what I see from the camera is nowhere near as spectacular as how I felt at the time. I do shoot in RAW format and I know that this format from the camera tends to be a little muted but even increasing the vibrancy, it still doesn’t come close to the mind's snapshot.
I think that photographing the wondrous colors of fall is actually a hard thing to accomplish if you want to achieve the vision you had at the moment the shutter clicked.
I believe there are 2 main reasons for this.
First is that the reds, oranges and yellow of the leaves are highly saturated & luminous and beyond the ability of the camera's color gamut to capture. The color space of sRGB and Adobe RGB just don’t extend far enough to record these highly saturated and bright colors.
Second the leaves normally have small moments in the wind and they appear to shimmer, thereby giving them the appearance in the mind's memory of being brighter.
When I took the above photograph the yellows on these 2 trees did appear this bright. They glowed in the afternoon sun and were even brighter, almost like a candle flame, but upon reviewing the camera's result it was duller and more greenish-yellow. The image below is from camera with white balance on birch tree set to neutral white 5300K.
You may find my modified version (1st photo) a bit gaudy but it does reflect how I felt about this scene. I darkened the sky to increase contrast between the 2 yellow tees. I also, for the greenish yellow leaves, shifted the hue to be more yellow and then increased lightness and saturation as much as I could and still retain detail. The grass was also darkened and made cooler, more blue-green, to again increase contrast with the yellow tops.
In the photograph below the sun peeked out near sunset just after the rain had gone by and lit up this singular tree. Again the camera made those leaves less bright and more orange. Once again I increased lightness and saturation towards yellow for the bright leaves. I also added a purplish tint to clouds, (complementary color of yellow) to increase color contrast. I extracted the yellow leaves and increased layer size by 10 pixels and then added a slight blur of about 2 and set this layer to overlay. A pseudo Orton effect to give a glowing effect.
In the next image below, the colors, except for a little vibrancy, remain mostly as captured. I did change the sky from a bright blue to a duller and less saturated version with clouds. The original blue negative space was too dominating and took viewers vision away from the tree colors.
Many of the good fall photographs have lots of cooler and darker tones surrounding bright trees that help make those fall colors more prominent within the scene.
If you have good photo-editing tools don't be afraid to play around and change anything to suit your needs and vision. After all, it's how you saw it at least in your mind.