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Photographing Fall Foliage

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

The hillsides of New England, which attract thousands of photographers every year, are famous for their dappled assortment of species producing different shades, ranging between reds and greens.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, by Anne McKinnell

The Sierra Mountains of California and Nevada, on the other hand, are known for their vast yellow forests of Aspen and Birch.

Do some research into your area to find out when the leaves are expected to change so you can make the most of this opportunity. A quick Google search will help you find the best areas for autumn foliage in your vicinity.

If you’re planning a photo expedition, you can use services such as Flickr and Panoramio to see what different areas look like at different times of the season, simply by searching tags for the time and place you’re considering.

Whatever the Weather

No matter how the weather behaves when you go out shooting, you can get great shots in any type of light. If it’s sunny, you have plenty of light to work with, but you may get harsh shadows and glare that can diminish the colours. To conquer this, try using a polarizing filter, changing your angle of view, or shooting when the sun is low in the sky.

If the sky is white, simply leave it out of the composition. The soft light of a white sky day is perfect for photographing the smaller details which will be free of bright areas and harsh shadows.

Fall in New Hampshire by Anne McKinnell

A rainy day might seem like a wash-out, but water actually brings out colour like nothing else. The best time to shoot is right after it stops raining, especially as the sun peaks through the clouds to illuminate the saturated landscape.

If there’s a sudden cold snap, you might find some frost forming on your foliage. If you brave the cold, you can capture some amazing textures, particularly in the early morning when the air is crisp.

Techniques

Backlight

If you position a leaf between your camera and the sun, the back lighting will illuminate it all the way through making it appear to glow and revealing the details of the veins. If the sky is visible between the leaves, try it on the blue sky day for a beautiful colour contrast.

Backlit Maple by Anne McKinnell

Reflections

Photographing leaves can be especially difficult on a windy day. On these occasions I try to find reflections of the fall colours and create a more abstract image.

Fall Reflections by Anne McKinnell

Perspective

Leaves that have fallen on the ground are excellent subjects. Try getting a squirrel’s point of view for a unique perspective.

Mushroom and Maple Leaf by Anne McKinnell

Try looking straight up into the trees to emphasize their tallness and magnificence.

Fall Trees by Anne McKinnell

Waterfalls

Combining the beautiful colours of the fall leaves with a silky smooth waterfall can be magical. Try using a long exposure to blur the water as it cascades past the fallen leaves.

Fallingwater Cascades, Virginia, by Anne McKinnell

Close-ups

A simple, minimalist composition can be just as evocative of the season as a complex scene. Try getting close to a single leaf and using a wide aperture, like f/2.8 or f/4 to achieve a shallow depth of field that isolates fine details.

Autumn Oak Leaves by Anne McKinnell

Camera Settings

  • Depth of Field: Decide how much of the picture you want to be in focus, and use your aperture to control the depth of field.
  • Underexpose: To deepen the tones and make the colours stand out more, underexpose your image slightly. The easiest way to do this is to locate your exposure compensation (+/-) button and dial it down somewhere between -0.5EV and -1.0EV.
  • White balance: If you’re photographing during the golden hours (just before sunset or just after sunrise), you probably don’t want your camera’s auto white balance to eliminate the light’s yellow-orange tone, which is exactly what it will try to do. However, if you set your white balance to “daylight”, your pictures will retain the sun’s warm glow. Try different settings in any given lighting situation to find the best colour balance. It is particularly important to get this right if you’re shooting JPEG files, but if you use RAW format, the white balance can be perfected in post-production.

Fall Umbrellas by Anne McKinnell

Composition

When we find a great autumn location full of dramatic colours, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the colour and forget everything else. Fall colours don’t create a good landscape photo on their own, they simply add an element of colour. The composition should be strong even when turned black and white, so remember your basic rules of landscape composition: create a focal point, and use lines, shapes, and forms to create balance and harmony.

To create images that stand out from the rest, compose them with thought and purpose, and never be afraid to try a different angle.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Anne McKinnell is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RV and travels around North America photographing beautiful places and writing about travel, photography, and how changing your life is not as scary as it seems. You can read about her adventures on her blog and be sure to check out her free photography eBooks.

  • http://thoschmiphotos.blogspot.de/ Thomas Schmidt

    Very interesting article, Anne. The Fall season has not started yet in my region, but I’m looking forward shooting colourful nature soon. Last year I experimented a lot with photographing Fall scenes and this is one example for playing with depth of field.

    http://thoschmiphotos.blogspot.de/2012/10/fall-foliage.html

    Another technique that I like to point the colour of leafes is a kind of colour key technique, like this one here:

    http://thoschmiphotos.blogspot.de/2012/10/orange-leaf.html

  • http://www.phogropathy.com John Davenport

    Awesome set of tips Anne – I’m so excited for this season’s fall color! Leaves have just begun to turn around here.

  • http://www.wildlifeencounters.eu Steve
  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    There is no fall where I live and that leaves me in a super sulky mood.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • http://www.acceleratedstall.com Maria

    Breathtaking photos Anne and thanks so much for the tip on what to do with a white sky… I’ve been wondering about that.

  • Josh

    Great tips! I have been overwhelmed by the wide open expanses and beautiful colors on Lake Superior’s North Shore the past few years and struggled with how to capture them. Example.

    The best tip in the article is in the composition section: “Fall colours don’t create a good landscape photo on their own, they simply add an element of colour.” The above example doesn’t have a clear focal point. While it was a beautiful view on a beautiful day. This one is marginally better because it has a stronger focus.

    Thank you! I’m planning a trip up there this coming weekend and will keep this in mind.

  • http://list25.com/ Juan Castillo

    Great Tips! I like how you pointed out the different angles of capturing a leaf. I also like the caution of using colors as the overall composition while forgetting the basic rules of composition. Great things to watch out for!

  • katesi

    Also POLARIZING FILTER is super helpful. Blue and gold are already complimentary colors so they get even better.

    Not a great picture but you see what I mean. http://www.flickr.com/photos/katesi/5111378603/in/set-72157625108481621

  • Cram

    Great tips for fall photography !! Have planned a fall photography session in Ithaca, NY. Waterfalls and fall colors should make for great pictures

  • raghavendra

    Occasionally in college i study have different flowers and trees :)

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/2012/03/before-and-after-climate-change.html

  • http://GreenGlobalTravel.com Mary @ Green Global travel

    Fantastic article! Thank you! I love the way you’ve combined technical details with experienced and insightful suggestions and your images are beautiful! I love the “squirrel’s perspective” as well as your “longer exposure” of the waterfall. Beautiful!

  • Kimanshu

    Thank you Anne. Great tips as always and simply superb pictures. Fall will be in a week or two and can’t wait for a great capture. Your tips will come in handy!

  • http://Jillthinksdifferent.bligspot.com Jill

    Be sure to watch for reports of expected snowfall in autumn. Fully colored trees dusted in snow make awesome photos.

  • http://Jillthinksdifferent.bligspot.com Jill
  • http://www.throughcherylseyesphotography.com/ Cheryl Garrity

    Anne,

    Great recommendations and lovely photos. I always appreciate reminders, as it is hard to remember camera settings and composition tips when the color is calling to me to get that shot now! I do shoot RAW photos so I don’t worry about white balance, but I like to get it right to begin with if possible. I believe your suggestion to underexpose is helpful if shooting JPEGs, but a mistake if shooting RAW. I can capture more information if I expose to the right and then adjust exposure when I edit in RAW.

    I was driving on the Blue ridge Parkway in NC a week ago. At a stop along the drive, a visitor center worker told me that the prediction is for a short leaf season based on this year’s weather. I think the message was when you see or hear about the color, get out there and get your photos quickly.

    I have a few fall color shots, but not as many as you. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    Cheryl
    http://www.throughcherylseyesphotography.com

  • Tracy

    Loved reading this article…the leaves have just started to turn colors here. Took this one this morning on my walk.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/98113267@N07/9960845816/in/photostream/

  • http://www.saiyyam.com Vanita

    Thank you for these tips! Here are some leaves during summer in Miami… http://www.flickr.com/photos/saiyyam/7388832926/

  • http://hikebiketravel.com/ Leigh

    Great suggestions – and in the nick of time.

  • Owen

    Some great tips here that I tried to emulate today.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/40516254@N00/

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • bil

    hi

Some older comments

  • Leigh

    October 3, 2013 12:36 am

    Great suggestions - and in the nick of time.

  • Vanita

    September 29, 2013 02:46 pm

    Thank you for these tips! Here are some leaves during summer in Miami... http://www.flickr.com/photos/saiyyam/7388832926/

  • Tracy

    September 27, 2013 02:37 pm

    Loved reading this article...the leaves have just started to turn colors here. Took this one this morning on my walk.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/98113267@N07/9960845816/in/photostream/

  • Cheryl Garrity

    September 27, 2013 02:21 am

    Anne,

    Great recommendations and lovely photos. I always appreciate reminders, as it is hard to remember camera settings and composition tips when the color is calling to me to get that shot now! I do shoot RAW photos so I don't worry about white balance, but I like to get it right to begin with if possible. I believe your suggestion to underexpose is helpful if shooting JPEGs, but a mistake if shooting RAW. I can capture more information if I expose to the right and then adjust exposure when I edit in RAW.

    I was driving on the Blue ridge Parkway in NC a week ago. At a stop along the drive, a visitor center worker told me that the prediction is for a short leaf season based on this year's weather. I think the message was when you see or hear about the color, get out there and get your photos quickly.

    I have a few fall color shots, but not as many as you. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    Cheryl
    http://www.throughcherylseyesphotography.com

  • Jill

    September 27, 2013 12:31 am

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Oi_ouGtBOdU/To8iz2SH_eI/AAAAAAABimc/wKDlUlxDXBo/s1600/IMG_2128.JPG
    Fall colors in snow.

  • Jill

    September 27, 2013 12:25 am

    Be sure to watch for reports of expected snowfall in autumn. Fully colored trees dusted in snow make awesome photos.

  • Kimanshu

    September 26, 2013 07:36 pm

    Thank you Anne. Great tips as always and simply superb pictures. Fall will be in a week or two and can't wait for a great capture. Your tips will come in handy!

  • Mary @ Green Global travel

    September 26, 2013 02:48 am

    Fantastic article! Thank you! I love the way you've combined technical details with experienced and insightful suggestions and your images are beautiful! I love the "squirrel's perspective" as well as your "longer exposure" of the waterfall. Beautiful!

  • raghavendra

    September 25, 2013 12:50 pm

    Occasionally in college i study have different flowers and trees :)

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/2012/03/before-and-after-climate-change.html

  • Cram

    September 25, 2013 02:25 am

    Great tips for fall photography !! Have planned a fall photography session in Ithaca, NY. Waterfalls and fall colors should make for great pictures

  • katesi

    September 25, 2013 12:26 am

    Also POLARIZING FILTER is super helpful. Blue and gold are already complimentary colors so they get even better.

    Not a great picture but you see what I mean. http://www.flickr.com/photos/katesi/5111378603/in/set-72157625108481621

  • Juan Castillo

    September 24, 2013 10:59 pm

    Great Tips! I like how you pointed out the different angles of capturing a leaf. I also like the caution of using colors as the overall composition while forgetting the basic rules of composition. Great things to watch out for!

  • Josh

    September 24, 2013 10:54 pm

    Great tips! I have been overwhelmed by the wide open expanses and beautiful colors on Lake Superior's North Shore the past few years and struggled with how to capture them. Example.

    The best tip in the article is in the composition section: "Fall colours don’t create a good landscape photo on their own, they simply add an element of colour." The above example doesn't have a clear focal point. While it was a beautiful view on a beautiful day. This one is marginally better because it has a stronger focus.

    Thank you! I'm planning a trip up there this coming weekend and will keep this in mind.

  • Maria

    September 24, 2013 08:24 pm

    Breathtaking photos Anne and thanks so much for the tip on what to do with a white sky... I've been wondering about that.

  • Mridula

    September 24, 2013 08:19 pm

    There is no fall where I live and that leaves me in a super sulky mood.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Steve

    September 24, 2013 05:36 pm

    A little mistiness adds to an autumnal mood

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Wild-Flowers-trees-And-Tree-scenes/G0000rwFLTO5_k18/I0000YQHUrW582O8

  • John Davenport

    September 24, 2013 08:07 am

    Awesome set of tips Anne - I'm so excited for this season's fall color! Leaves have just begun to turn around here.

  • Thomas Schmidt

    September 24, 2013 03:53 am

    Very interesting article, Anne. The Fall season has not started yet in my region, but I'm looking forward shooting colourful nature soon. Last year I experimented a lot with photographing Fall scenes and this is one example for playing with depth of field.

    http://thoschmiphotos.blogspot.de/2012/10/fall-foliage.html

    Another technique that I like to point the colour of leafes is a kind of colour key technique, like this one here:

    http://thoschmiphotos.blogspot.de/2012/10/orange-leaf.html

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