Fall is a fantastic time of year for you to photograph the landscape and really push your creativity. The colors, textures, and soft light provide an amazing palette to create compelling photographs. It’s really easy though to just point your camera at the color and hope the image comes together without thinking about the composition. Here are just a few tips to take with you into the field to make the most of the colorful season in your fall landscape photography:
1. Use a longer focal length lens
It’s tempting to photograph grand scenes with a wide angle lens, but using a longer focal length lens, 200mm or longer, can really help simplify the scene and make the subject about more than just color. You can also use the longer focal length lens to photograph the intimate details of a forest interior. Look for elements in the scene where there is a break in the pattern or use negative space to help isolate the subject.
2. Use a wide aperture to isolate the subject
Pick a wider aperture, around f/2.8 or f/5.6, to isolate your subject from its surroundings. This will help create visual contrast between the sharp subject and the background, which will be softer and more abstract. This also adds tension between the real and the unreal, providing you with an image that’s more dynamic and expressive. Experiment with different subjects and backgrounds and get creative with your choices. Pay close attention to your subject and make sure that you have the desired amount of the subject in focus when using a wide aperture.
3. Make fall color the secondary subject
The temptation is for you to make the primary subject all about the fall colors. Find other primary subjects such as streams and waterfalls that are accented by the fall colors, to make images that have more depth and complexity. Although the color may attract your eye to the scene, ask yourself what the subject might be other than color.
4. Look for patterns and textures
Color is an obvious design element that you’ll be working with in your images but look, for others like pattern and texture, to create satisfying compositions. Learning to see the world around you as elements of 2-D design (line, pattern, texture, etc.) will help you move forward in your composition skills.
5. Be patient and wait for interesting or dramatic light
Patience may be the best tool in your camera bag. Fall colors are wonderful, but can be even more stunning when combined with the right light for your subject. Patience usually is a big factor between a good image and a great image. Many times the best light can be short lived, so think through your composition in advance, and be ready for the light to work some magic.
6. Experiment with intentional camera movement
Definitely experiment with moving your camera vertically as you release the shutter to blur the scene and create an abstract image of lines, textures, and colors. Experiment with different shutter speeds, and the pace of moving your camera, until you find the right amount of blur. This is a great opportunity for you to take your camera off the tripod and just play with camera movement. Darker elements that work well include a rock face, canyon walls, or deep shaded areas in the forest.
7. Look for elements that contrast the fall color
Fall colors are usually bright and have texture and pattern. Look for opportunities to place the fall colors against darker elements so you can create an image with some dramatic tension.
8. Don’t forget to look up
The interior of a forest can be an amazing and colorful place to photograph, but it’s often difficult to isolate a subject. If you’re having trouble, look up and explore the canopy. Images that contrast the fall colors with the deep blue sky can be really pleasing and make interesting wide angle photographs. Don’t forget to use smaller apertures like f/22, to create a starburst effect as you shoot through the forest toward the sun.
Hopefully these tips will help you make the most of your time photographing the amazing colors of the fall season. Take the list with you into the field so you can slow down, think through your compositions, and return home with some compelling photographs.