This is a wonderful time of year. It’s like the trees are throwing a big party for having survived another year, and they’re all wearing their best. Everyone joins in — the weather is pleasant, the food is amazing and everywhere you look is beautiful.

But you’re a portraitist, not a landscape photographer. Sure, your client said they want pictures with the leaves, but that doesn’t mean they want pictures of the leaves. You need to apply all your skills for making great portraits regardless of what the trees are doing.

Here’re some things to keep in mind as you pose your portrait with the Kodachrome of colors coming on.

Give them some room

Remember, the leaves are the background, not the subject. If you have trees and bushes right on the same plane with your subjects, the leaves in sharp focus could be distracting from your people.

Leave some room around your subjects so they can be the focus of the picture. Put the leaves far behind. If the leaves from your people, try to keep them at different distances.

Look for a hill

It’s almost always easier to photograph people with a hill behind them. If you go to a park that is flat, then cars and distracting stuff are all at the same level as your people and the leaves are over their heads.

Find a hill or a knoll or a landscaping bump — anything to get some elevation. You’ll probably need to lay on your stomach to remove distractions, but it’ll be worth it.

I love this spot I found. It’s on the side of the road at an overlook. The hill drops away down to a creek, then the canyon rises on the other side. It gives terrific depth and plenty of leaves at various levels.

Remember the light!

Lighting is still one of the most important things to make your picture look good. The leaves don’t matter if your subjects look drab or have too much contrast.

This spot was also great because to the right is a steep hill that blocks the direct sun, but right behind me at the camera is a huge open hillside with brown grass on it that reflects light forward onto my subjects. I’d have liked even more to put up a light, but conditions weren’t quite right.

Definitely make portraits with leaves …

… But remember that it is a portrait with leaves, not a landscape with people. As you scout spots to shoot, keep the people at the front of your plans. You’ll end up with spots that will flatter your clients and give them the kind of portrait they had in mind. Have a great fall!

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.