Autumn (or Fall) is without a doubt the prettiest time of year to break out the camera, get up early and capture some local beauty. With a little planning, and keeping an eye on your favorite vistas, you can be sure to capture something spectacular. But once you’ve shot those moments (and those moments can be brief… sometimes it’s just a matter of days between the trees looking like fire and them looking like skeletons), you need to bring them into the computer to have a little enhancement fun.

Here’s a photo shot at the peak of fall in North Carolina. The leaves are brilliant, and the sky was a little bit cloudy, so we have a relatively flat image to start with. And that’s good. It’s almost always better to start with something a bit flat so you can control where the shadows and highlights appear. 

Basic exposure

Using DxO PhotoLab, let’s start with basic exposure. Sometimes, and image that is a little underexposed can look more dramatic than one that is properly exposed. The darker shadows will offset the colors of the leaves, making them really pop off the screen.

My favorite way to adjust exposure for a scene like this isn’t to use the exposure slider, but to instead use Tone Curves.

With the curves adjustment, you have more control over which parts of the shadows get darker, and simultaneously protect or even brighten the brighter leaves in the scene.

Here’s the same photo with the above curves applied. It’s a simple adjustment that brings a dramatic change to the photo

A little curves goes a long way!

Sometimes when you use curves, it can desaturate the image. This is pretty typical of curves; they tend to pull color out of the scene. This photo didn’t get affected by that too much, but it’s still worth playing with the Color Accentuation > Saturation or Vibrancy to see if it has a positive effect. It’s easy to overdo this, so don’t forget to toggle the before and after a few times while adjusting to ensure you’re not hurting anyone’s eyeballs.

It’s easy to overdo saturation, so apply sparingly

Next, I’ll play with micro contrast. This adds contrast to the fine details in the scene, which makes an image appear sharper and more contrasty without crushing the blacks or highlights. It can be pretty dramatic, so again be sure to toggle the effect off and on so you don’t get carried away. 

The difference is subtle, but it is noticeable.

Applying Local adjustments in DxO PhotoLab

Finally, I’m going to selectively darken and brighten some areas. Some may consider this cheating a bit, adding and removing light that was or wasn’t there in the first place, so that’s up to you. I’ll call this a creative decision, and you can do it if you want! 

In DxO PhotoLab, the way to do this is through Local Adjustments. Fans of Nik’s plugins may recognize these tools, and that’s because the Nik “U Point” technology is now inside of DxO PhotoLab! Here’s a step by step on how to apply an effect:

1. Enable Local Adjustments

2. Click anywhere to add a Control Point. The size of the circle is adjustable, so have it cover the area you want. Don’t worry about it being too big or only round; the tones that will be affected are determined by where you drop the point (i.e., if the point is on an orange leaf, all orange leaves within the circle will be adjusted). Once you start adjusting it, you may want to move it slightly to ensure the effect is applied where you want it.

3. Adjust the sliders! In this case, I’m brightening up some of the rocks in the waterfall

4. You can add additional Control Points to the same adjustment by simply clicking again elsewhere in the scene

5. If necessary, you can add negative adjustments, too. This will block an area from getting the effect. First select the negative adjustment tool, then click anywhere in the scene that’s being effected but you don’t want it to be.

6. Create additional Control Points with their own settings by click the New Mask button, then clicking again anywhere in the scene to add another U Point, and repeating steps 3 to 5.

7. When you’re done, click Close.

In this scene, I have four sets of Control Points. The one that’s active in the screenshot above is showing brightening of the rocks. There are two more collections on the sides, darkening the trees to bring attention into the center of the scene, and one more on the green tree, slightly brightening it and also saturating the greens a bit more.

Here’s my final image:

The final version is so dramatically different from the original!

And you, where’s your favorite place to photograph fall colors? 
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