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7 Ways to Take Advantage of Autumn in Your Portrait Photography

Fall is my favorite. At least it used to be before it was Pumpkin Spice Everything. I’m so tired of Pumpkin Spice Everything, but I’ll never tire of chilly weather, or scarves, or leaf piles. Or even shorter days, mainly because long summer days are just too much pressure for me.


I like everything about fall including, maybe especially, that it’s ripe for portraits. Here are seven ways to help you take advantage of all of autumn’s goodness in your portrait photography.


1) The light is phenomenal 

Yes, there is less of it, but it is so golden and delicious. I’m sure there is a very scientific reason for that, which of course I know and understand exactly, but I don’t want to bore you. I like a warmer image, so to get one without having to add a filter is fantastic. I prefer to shoot in the morning and early evening hours but in the fall, the light reflecting off of the warmer tones in the trees make even the deadest of shady patches come alive.

While people don’t normally wear yellows and oranges for picture day, the golden tones found in nature compliment all skin tones. This is why I always tell my clients to dress in colors that are found naturally outside—not only does it keep people from showing up in lime green, but the palette works for whatever background we find that day, and this time of year dressing in earth tones can really make a portrait pop.


2) Clients dress in their finest

I’m not big on fancy clothes, but even I agree that flip flops take a back seat once we can bust out boots and scarves. Fall is when people tend to take it up a notch, plus it’s layering season. Layering is the best way to achieve portraits that look high-end or even fashion shoot-like. You won’t ever find me in boots, a t-shirt, a jacket, a skirt, tights, a scarf and a hat in real life….but on picture day, I’ll happily dress everyone in five layers and make them stick with it for 20 minutes if it makes my ragamuffin family look like we bathe regularly. I’ve found that my clients feel the same. Which is not to say that my clients are ragamuffins, I’m sure they always look as sharp as they do on picture day.


3) Fall adds a playful feature to portraits

I don’t like traditional posing so fall adds so many more options: throw leaves, lay on leaves, climb in colorful leaves, throw leaves at me! (Try to watch out for sticks please) You get the idea. The colors are almost like an extra family member that matches everyone, and isn’t making things more difficult. Use it to your every advantage. It’s not possible to look like you’re miserable in five layers of fancy-pants clothes when you are having a leaf fight. I know, I’ve done the research.


4) Don’t forget black and white

While the changing fall season offers colors, it also offers texture. Black and white portraits can still feel the magical spell of autumn through texture, tone, and playfulness. Plus, that phenomenal light thing goes for black and white too (see #1). I love black and white portraits, and while I am likely to do more color this time of year, I still proof a few black and whites for all of my clients.


5) Compensate for the warmer tones

Sometimes if I am hitting the light just right, and my subjects are in perfect clothes, and the moon isn’t void of course, I find that images can get too warm. I know that sounds crazy, but it can happen. A custom white balance can help you on the front end, but if you didn’t notice it until after, don’t despair. An auto color run (under Image in Photoshop) or a cooling filter can fix everything. For as much as warm tones are flattering, no one wants to look like a seasonal gourd.


6) Fall weather is perfect for cuddling

Now I’m not one to cuddle, much to my husband’s dismay; I can’t take people in my personal space for an extended period of time. Last weekend a client that knows how I feel about hugging and all that, giggled at how often I tell people to “snuggle up” when I’m shooting family portraits. I guess I figure that most people enjoy it. Or are at least willing to pretend they do for the sake of the pictures (even I am willing to do that for a good Christmas card), especially if it’s not 100 degrees F (30c) outside. And a snuggle feels like a lot less pressure than cuddling, now doesn’t it?


7) The holidays are around the corner

In the US, the changing colors of the trees means that winter is almost here, which puts portrait photographers square into Holiday Card Season. Most of the clients I photograph this time of year are planning on using their images for sending out cards, or even creating holiday gifts.

So this is the only time of year I’m likely to offer a sale or special on portrait sessions, and every time I do, they sell out. That also means that this is the time of year that I can lose my mind in a pile of editing if I am not careful. To try to prevent both a nervous breakdown and spending a month staring at my computer screen, I usually offer mini sessions—10 to 15 minute shoots where I promise five or so pictures that I deliver as high resolution files. This takes any printing or card creating out of the equation, and also limits the amount of images I promised, rather than a full session which for me can be 50 or more. In turn, my clients get a few choices of images for their holiday cards and gifts, including that one great picture that was likely the whole reason they wanted portraits anyway. And I don’t have a nervous breakdown. Probably.


So throw back a pumpkin spice latte and put on a pair of boots and go shoot some portraits, even if you usually don’t. Everything is on your side in the fall – great light, fabulous surroundings, and more clients than any other time of year. That doesn’t happen very often (well, it happens once a year, but still).


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Lynsey Mattingly
Lynsey Mattingly

photographs families, kids, couples, and other groups of people who, for whatever reason, kind of like each other. Her portrait work has been featured in People Magazine, Us Weekly, BBC Magazine, and on national TV including CNN, Oprah, and Ellen, but most importantly, in the personal galleries of clients across the country. Her photography can be viewed at www.lynseymattingly.com or on Facebook.

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