Last Updated on March 21, 2021
Amazing photography opportunities come as the berries ripen on their vines and oaks shed their leaves in anticipation of a winter slumber. And to capture the most brief and spectacular season of the year you must know how to use the unique light and color it offers.
Photographing Fall Colors
As the summer heat sets the vibrant reds, golds, and oranges of autumn ushers in a dramatic landscape of photography opportunities. Following these tips and get the most out of your fall photography.
Shift Your Perspective
Autumn provides so many beautiful opportunities to capture interesting images. As you walk through the forest look up. Change your perspective from vertical to horizontal and point your camera straight up with a wide angle lens.
This will create a stunning perspective when the sun is high overhead, cascading light through those colorful fall leaves. The leaves will be translucent giving the feeling of glowing foliage. And the brighter your light the better the effect will be. Check your histogram to avoid overexposing your images.
You can also create a starburst effect by including the sun. Use a wide angle lens again and set your aperture around f/11 or f/16 for an eye popping point of interest. The smaller your aperture is the better the effect will be.
You can reduce lens flare when shooting at the sun by obscuring it slightly with the trunk of a tree. The key is to only block part of the sun though. This will create a big burst.
Flatten Your Perspective
You can also flatten your perspective on a distant scene by using a telephoto zoom lens. Go somewhere around 70-200mm which is perfect for shooting autumn scenes. This range lets you focus in on the important details while taking advantage of telephoto compression.
Use this to your advantage by focusing in on a vibrant part of your scene. This also works very well for shooting distant tree lines while capturing those stunning fall colors. You could also take early morning shots of dew covered leaves with this technique with amazing results.
Keep A Parallel Plane
And when photographing leaves on the ground, you want to keep your camera plane parallel with your subject. So get right down and it will minimize your depth of field for a sharp focus. Make sure that you use a low aperture for that corner to corner sharpness.
Isolate Your Subject
You can also zoom right in on leaves on the tree and isolate the leaves from their background. This can create some dramatic images. Do this when the wind is low and capture those leaves with a dramatic background such as a waterfall or a river.
Find Reflected Fall Colors
There is so much more to fall than the colors on the leaves. You should also be looking for color reflections. Water can produce some of the best fall images and you should look for opportunities to incorporate it.
Water reflecting leaves, trees, logs, rocks and other forest elements make incredibly interesting compositions.
Take your telephoto zoom lens and look for interesting reflections as you walk through the woods. Zoom in tight on these reflections and capture those amazing colors. For an even more dramatic effect, capture reflections in moving water whenever possible.
Your images will be best if the sun is bright on your reflected subject while the water is more in the shadows. This creates a contrast of warmth and cool to dramatic effect. Keep your white balance so to maintain the blue hues of your shaded areas. Generally you will use daylight or a cooler setting for this effect. But if you are shooting in RAW you can adjust your white balance during processing.
Use A Polarizing Filter
If you really want to capture the beauty of fall foliage then you must use a polarizer filter. Of course you can use your polarizer to enhance the contrast of the clouds and to deepen the blue of the sky but there is more to keep in mind to get the most out of your images.
If the sun is particularly bright then using a polarizer on a wide angle lens will lead to part of the sky looking darker leading to an uneven effect. If you run into this issue you will need to take off the polarizer and add contrast during editing.
That means the best conditions to use your polarizer filter is when it is overcast out. And it will work even better if it’s just after an autumn rain. The moisture on the leaves following a rain will lead to a more intense image with the polarizer as wet leaves will reflect a glare.
Your polarizer allows you to get through that glare and capture those stunning fall colors. To achieve this you will need to adjust your filter until all those colors darken. Take your photo and voilà!
Your polarizing filter will also enhance pictures of water as you can easily enhance contrasting colors such as rocks and trees.
The key to using a polarizer filter for fall images is to remember that you will lose two full stops of light which can lead to blurring. This is particularly problematic when using a long exposure. You can adjust for this by using a higher ISO and a larger aperture when possible. This allows for a faster shutter speed, thus eliminating blur.
Be There For Peak Autumn Color
To capture the best fall pictures possible you must be present at peak foliage color. Because even in the same area colors peak at different times you must monitor color change daily.
A quick google search can help you know when the anticipated time period for peak color is but the best way is to be out in the field yourself.
Different species of trees will peak at different points in the season so understanding your local forest and the types of trees it contains is crucial.
You should always focus your autumn photography efforts on forests with the most diverse and powerful colors. The more varied the local foliage is the more intense and interesting your images will be.
And there is more to shooting fall photography than just trees, there are other interesting plants out there that show off during the fall. Know what is in your area and how to locate them. In my area berries and ferns offer some truly inspiring scenes.
Incorporate ground plants, trees, and all foliage for the most intriguing images possible. And don’t forget to include some evergreen trees too. Pines and the like are perfect for creating contrast and interest in your fall photography.
Explore your area before peak color. Know your local species and where they converge. With proper scouting and preparation you can find locations that offer the full color palette. Fall offers such a rich tapestry of colors the possibilities are nearly endless. With the right scouting you can find scenes that offer vibrant reds, greens, oranges, yellows, and even purples all in the same scene. Fall might be the best season for a photographer who is willing to prepare properly. Don’t be afraid to get out in the woods and scout your area thoroughly and you will be richly rewarded when the colors begin to change.