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Picture-Perfect Scenery: Local Photographers Talk Fall in Central PA

by on September 14, 2017 7:00 AM

During the months of September, October, and November, travel blogs, newspapers, and even travel shows tout the beautiful fall foliage of the Catskills, the Berkshires, Aspen, and Vermont. While the vibrant autumn colors are pretty amazing in these locations, Central Pennsylvania isn’t too shabby either.

It’s just fine that tourists traipse around Vermont or the Smoky Mountains trying to create the perfect photo instead of here; smaller crowds make for better photo opportunities.

“I’ve made a lot of photographer friends across the country thanks to social media, and so many of them are jealous of our four seasons here in central Pennsylvania,” says Kelly Valeri, a State College resident and owner of Kelly V. Photography, which she started in 2009. “If you live in perpetual summer, I think that variety would be a dream. Personally, I love each season for different reasons, but I think my requests for sessions and weddings are most rapid-fire in the fall. You really can’t beat the beauty of a mountainside glowing with red and gold leaves.”

Whether it’s while hiking, biking, camping, or finding a random spot just off the highway, local photographers have found some idyllic places for a scenic shot.

Sayid Karimushan, who works in Information Systems at Penn State, says getting outside with his camera has a calming effect — it helps him relax after a stressful day or week. His subject of choice is trains.

Horseshoe Curve, just outside of Centre County, is a favorite location for Karimushan. On a sunny day, the view of rolling hills is absolutely awesome. He’s also particularly fond of a lesser-known place in Cassandra, about an hour from State College, off of Route 52, south of Route 22.

“It’s one of the most peaceful places to visit, sit, and enjoy nature,” Karimushan says. “Actually, I visit this spot several times a year, in all four seasons. Facing east, the track curves around from the Altoona side, between hills. Facing west, you can see a straight shot for miles. You can stand on the bridge and watch trains roar past below you. Both places are great for train fans and photographers, or even if one doesn’t have any interest in either.”

In Centre County, Karimushan recommends photographers check out Black Moshannon State Park. Its ample dirt roads, hiking trails, and scenic views make it a great place to hike, bike, and take photos.

Patrick Mansell, the staff photographer and feature story producer for Penn State News and Media Relations, says that all four of our seasons provide their own charm to outdoor photos, but that someone who goes out into the valley on a Saturday in October will find some great photo opportunities. He adds that the key is to take the time to drive around and see what the town, the university campus, the creeks, and mountains have to offer on a given day. In Centre County, he says there are several places to create a lovely photo.

“Collier Lake is magnificent in the fall, and if you get there late afternoon, the multitude of orange and red mountain ridges can offer some really great reflections in the water,” Mansell says. “Several of our local creeks like Trout Run and certain areas of Spring Creek can also provide some really vibrant fall foliage images. I also like to photograph water. Another seasonal photo essay to consider is Mount Nittany. The mountain changes colors throughout the year. It can be bright green in summer, purple, almost burgundy, in the fall, and slate blue or even Penn State blue in the winter months. On my drive home from work I like to see what colors dear old Mount Nittany is offering on any given day.”

Mansell advises not to ignore everyday locations like the tree-lined streets of Bellefonte and State College, because he often finds beautiful places in the obvious.

“One of my favorite fall photographs in my personal collection was taken next to the basketball courts at Spring Creek Park in Houserville,” he says. “Just a solitary tree with some early-morning mist in the distance. I didn’t plan for this photo at all. I had just finished photographing the covered bridge at Spring Creek Park and as I was heading back to my car I noticed a beautiful and lonely little tree at the edge of the softball field. It was bursting with color. So you never know where the fall foliage is going to show itself around this region. It can be right under your nose sometimes.”

Valeri had a similar experience — not on a rolling hillside or on a perfectly manicured landscape, but in an unexpectedly beautiful location.

“Obviously we have access to some very scenic areas here in Happy Valley, but you just need to find one small spot that works to make a beautiful photo,” she says. “When my daughter turned 2, I took her out for a quick portrait session and we have a photo from that day framed in our entryway. She always asks, ‘When can we go back to that beautiful place?’ and gets surprised when I tell her it was a small patch of tall grass behind an abandoned car repair shop.”

While great photographers are often born with a natural instinct to see a unique photo that no one else would consider, photography is still an excellent way to get outside and share your views with others.

“I see two things as the biggest challenges for an amateur photographer,” Karimushan says. “First, not understanding the camera and what the settings or terms mean: aperture priority, shutter priority, ISO; and second, because of the lack of understanding of the camera, people have a fear of moving away from the auto mode. That was my problem at the very beginning. I don’t call myself a professional photographer by a long shot and I learn something new every day, but, I do experiment with various settings and with digital cameras you have nothing to lose. You can take a thousand photos and get maybe 10 that you may like and you’re still a winner. And don’t think that the professionals always get the photo right in the first shot.”

Rebekka Coakley is a freelance writer living in State College.

Sayid Karimushan’s tips on proper camera settings:

First thing I will suggest is get out of the auto mode on your DSLR. This will greatly enhance your photos right off the camera!

When you're shooting a wide landscape, you would want more in focus so you want a smaller aperture, or F-stop. The larger the number, f/5.6, f/6.3, f/7.1, etc., the smaller the lens opening, which will bring more into focus. Set your camera to Aperture Priority mode on the dial and set the reading to F/5.6 or higher.

On a clear sunny day you can set ISO to the lowest allowed by your camera, typically 100. If you can, set your focus point to the single, center focus point, then frame the photo and shoot. In the Aperture Priority mode the camera will automatically determine the shutter speed. Of course, this is a very basic guideline and the best thing to do is practice. With digital cameras, there's nothing to lose!

If you're in a shaded area like a trail, path, etc., still stay in Aperture Priority mode but you may want to bring up the ISO a little bit, like to 320 or 400. Take a look at the light meter through the viewfinder. It has numbers going towards negative on the left, and positive to the right. When the marker is in the middle, it typically indicates a properly exposed picture (not too bright or not too dark). Also, frame the photo through the viewfinder, not through the LCD screen. Holding the camera against your face also helps with reducing any shake.

For the more advanced amateur, a circular polarizer mounted on the lens will help bring out more vivid colors, but be careful with cheap filters. They typically ruin a shot. Also, don’t shoot directly at the sun, at least have the sun overhead or behind your or you’ll get darker photos.

As far as lenses go – use a medium to wide lens setting such as 18mm, 35mm, etc., depending on how much you want to frame.


Rebekka Coakley is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia.
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