Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Tips for Shooting Autumn Foliage

Fall colors can be very different from place to place. Some areas will have a very short color-changing season of a week or less, while elsewhere it can last nearly a month. Every location will produce different colors, depending on the type of flora and other factors such as climate and soil. Here are some inspirational tips.

Tip 1: Make a Mirror Reflection

Windless conditions are critical for achieving mirror-like reflections of autumn color in water. But an uninterrupted mirror can create too static a picture. Instead, look for rocks or logs in the water to break up the reflection and to provide a visual anchor to help strengthen your composition.

Another key factor: the angle of the light. I made this photo at sunrise, when first light started to strike the peak autumn color. Plan to be on location for sunrise and sunset to capture moody autumn shots—midday sunny weather won’t provide nearly as much drama. Don’t worry, though, if you don’t have ideal weather every day. Fall often brings cool and moist conditions— a magical recipe for fog, morning dew, and striking sunsets and sunrises. I love it when so-called bad weather moves in, as unstable weather can often result in the most photogenic conditions.

And don’t stop shooting when peak color fades. Sometimes you can make the best fall photography when the trees stand bare and fallen leaves carpet the forest floor. You'll find poignant images in a mostly bare tree with just a few lone leaves still clinging to the branches. Post-peak also offers a great time for you to look for scenes of streams and waterfalls with rocks covered with leaves.

Tip 2: Capture Color Combinations

Everyone loves bold autumn color juxtaposed with a brilliant blue sky. Frame the most vibrant sunlit reds and yellows against the sky to create the strongest color scheme; including a few puffy, white clouds can’t hurt, either.

You can use a polarizing filter to darken skies and increase contrast with clouds. Blue sky, though, is not the ideal lighting for other types of scenes. Overcast light often works best for streams and waterfalls, as in the shot below, and a little bit of drizzle can really help to saturate autumn colors. In situations like this, a polarizer, by reducing reflections and cutting through glare, strongly enhances color. Polarizers also act as neutral-density filters, reducing light without shifting color, which allows me to use a longer shutter speeds.

Tip 3: Scatter Leaves

Autumn is one of my favorite times to shoot because it’s one of the few times I’m not completely at the mercy of the landscape and the light. As I hike along a trail, I like to gather fallen leaves, looking for the most colorful. When I arrive at my shooting location, I strategically scatter them in order to enhance the scene.

This works particularly well for waterfalls and streams (sprinkle rocks with color), and intimate still lifes (add a splash of leaves to a shot of bracken ferns). Just make sure that your scattering looks natural—too many leaves facing color-side up are a dead giveaway that the scene has been arranged.

Tip 4: Isolate Colors and Detail

Create compelling images by photographing autumn color­—but not the trees—reflected in water. Photograph reflections in blurred moving water, such as a fast-flowing brook or mountain stream, or rippled lake water on a breezy day. Experiment with exposures of 1/2 sec or longer to capture a pleasing amount of motion blur. Don’t go too long, though, to avoid smoothing out the water and reflections too much. Zoom in with a telephoto lens to exclude all but the most colorful reflections in the water; rapids and boulders can help enhance the scene.

When photographing reflections, a polarizing filter can help to bring out the colors if you dial it up only slightly—a little bit of polarization can enhance the scene, but too much can reduce or eliminate reflections. While you’re zooming, look for intimate still-life images. A 70–200mm lens (for full frame) is perfect for such scenes. I like to capture the details that help tell the story of the changing of the seasons. Look to zero in on a distant autumn hillside, dew-covered leaves carpeting the forest floor, or just a dash of fall color reflected in a still lake.

Don’t focus all your efforts on trees—plenty of other flora, such as ferns, blueberry bushes, and other ground plants, take on autumn hues. Pattern photos of bracken ferns are an autumn classic; ripening berries are also another cue that fall is in the air.

Tip 5: Create Fall Abstracts

This season is a great time for making impressionistic motion-blurred images. Although wind often creates problems when photographing autumn foliage, you can use it to your advantage. So if it starts to blow too hard for sharp shots, switch gears and go for motion blur.

Look to take fall photography of wind-blown foliage using long exposures of 1/2 sec or more. Such images usually work best if some portion of the scene remains stationary, such as a solid tree trunk surrounded by wind-blown autumn foliage. Use a tripod to ensure that stationary objects are rendered sharp in your photo during the long exposure.

No wind? Try creating your own motion blur by moving the camera during a long exposure to create interesting abstract blurs. This technique works well when photographing forest scenes with lots of color. About 1/2 sec to 2 sec of exposure time usually works best with this technique.

I hope these tips will be inspirational to you when you are out with your camera!


  1. Beautiful tips. Loved all pics.
    Keep sharing :)

  2. These are all beautiful, of course; but I especially like the last one, with the picnic table.

  3. Oh, these are gorgeous! My favorite time of year. :)

  4. We've pretty much had the peak of it here, but we'll have SOME for another 3 weeks or so. Nice pictures!

  5. Thank you for these great tips they are very valuable.

  6. You have captured autumn in all its brilliance! Thanks for all the amazing tips!




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