Tips for Photographing Autumn Colors

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Photographing autumn colors can be the most fun you have with your camera. The fall is a great time of year for photography. There are an unlimited number of sights, sounds and smells to stimulate your senses. After reading this article you should be able to pick a great subject to display and dress it up with the fabulous colors of the fall season. This is a very emotional time of year. Think about that when you are out shooting. What you feel when the day is overcast will be different than when the day is bright and sunny.

autumn colors photography

“Fall Part 2″ captured by Joe Lohr (Click Image to See More From Joe Lohr)

The odors in the air will also play an important part. The air smells quite different just after a fall rain and it is not uncommon to detect the odor of smoldering leaves. All of these elements can play a part in your mood and therefore on the photos you take. Try to capture these emotions in your photos and you will be very pleased with the results.

Fall is all about moods and emotions so make the best use of this and you will produce some of your finest photographs.

Your photographs should not be just about the autumn colors though. Keep in mind many animals are quite active at this time of year. Keep your eyes opened for these opportunities. It may be a squirrel out collecting a winter stash of food or a flock of birds gathering for the migration south.

Be ready for that surprise shot. Take your camera everywhere but remember fall weather can change very quickly so be prepared. Make sure you have protection for both yourself and your equipment.

Camera equipment and settings

Use the aperture priority mode to set the depth of field. The camera will automatically take care of the shutter speed for you. Be sure to use a tripod to help keep the scene in perfect focus. You may want to set a shallow depth of field to blur the background but you will always want to keep the main subject well focused.

When using the tripod you should use a shutter release cable as well. This will help to prevent camera shake.

Keep an eye on the white balance. You may have to adjust it several times depending on what the weather is doing. But experiment with it as well. You can often get softer colors on a sunny day by setting the white balance to cloudy. Try the different settings and make note of the results. Trying everything you can think of is a great learning tool.

photographing colors of autumn

Photo captured by Edgar Barany (Click Image to See More From Edgar Barany)

Use a low ISO setting to help keep your shots as sharp as possible. However if it is a dark day by all means try a higher setting but be aware that they will have a more grainy appearance. This is called noise.

With such a range of autumn colors you may get a nicer photo if it is a little under or a little overexposed so set your camera to bracket the shots.

It is always a good idea to have an off camera flash unit. You can then position it to use as a fill flash to eliminate unwanted shadows or to produce a shadow effect that you do want.

To help cut through the morning mist or avoid the glare off of reflective surfaces such as glass and water carry a polarizing filter. This filter will also help to deepen the blue of the sky.

If you find that the sky is quite bright and the surroundings are a bit dark then use a graduated neutral density filter. This will help to equalize the exposure. A very bright sky may tend to wash out those great autumn colors.

And remember take a lot of memory with you. You will be taking a ton of shots and you are going to need it.

Composing the shot

Make sure you walk around the scene before shooting. See it from every perspective and take your time studying the area. This way you will be able to choose the best point of view for your composition. Autumn colors can look very different depending on the angle.

Don’t just look at the leaves on the trees. When they fall to the ground they can make a very colorful carpet as well. This can be used as a great background for your shots.

fall colors

“Autumn” captured by Mia Rose (Click Image to See More From Mia Rose)

Instead of simply shooting a lot of landscapes of trees with colorful leaves on them choose a main subject and use the colors to enhance it. Use such things as a building or body of water surrounded by the autumn colors. Even a person or group of people enjoying an autumn day can make for a great photograph.

Get close to what you want to photograph. Look for patterns in a leaf or in a rock formation. There may be a fence with some climbing vines that form some great patterns. You may even be lucky enough to spot an insect you can zoom in on, especially if they are perched on a colorful background.

Remember take lots of shots and bracket them. You can choose the best exposure later on and delete the ones you don’t like.

Try shooting from different angles including high and low shots. This type of perspective can make for a very unique scene.

Don’t limit yourself to simple snap shots, pay close attention to the composition and create great photographs instead. Keep the rule of thirds in mind when positioning the main subject.

Keep your eyes opened for bodies of water. Autumn colors make great reflections. In the early morning the surface of a pond or lake can be very still and thus reflect the spectacular colors that fill its shoreline. This type of shot can be the one special photograph you have been looking for.

If the surface is misty instead of reflective, take some shots anyway. Misty ponds and lakes can make for some terrific photos. The mist will eventually dissipate and you will then have your reflective surface. The same scene under different conditions will make for two entirely different photographs.

When shooting a landscape scene be sure to set a large f-stop, which will maintain a greater depth of field. Remember to focus your camera 1/3 of the distance into the scene as well.

To give your landscape that sense of depth choose a foreground element. This can be a building or rock outcropping. It could also be an oddly shaped tree or body of water, any element that doesn’t blend into the background.

Foreground elements can also be used to frame the shot. Two good examples of this would be a tree with overhanging branches or a bridge crossing a stream. Position these elements to frame the scene and produce a one of a kind picture.

Overcast days can be quite dramatic and when the wind picks up there will be a great opportunity to add action to the shot. Leaves blowing in the wind or those dark menacing clouds swirling about will add an element of intensity.

autumn photo

“Fall” captured by Ron Hopper (Click Image to See More From Ron Hopper)

If you want to add more drama to the picture look for straight lines and sharp angles. An example of this would be a long fence line or power lines.

When looking for a more serene shot seek out the curved lines. Rivers and streams or shorelines of ponds and lakes can be great for producing curved lines and especially the “S” curve.

Many bodies of water have a path following the shoreline. This can be a great opportunity for you if there is a person or animal walking along the path. The shot will become more personal with this type of element included. It will help you to show temperature or wind movement as well as adding scale.

Take a drive in the country and look for farmers’ fields. They should be full of colorful fall produce. Seek out the farmers’ markets and fall fairs. It’s here you will find a bustle of people mixed in with patches of great color where the fall harvest is displayed.

Autumn colors and lighting

The best time of day to photograph the autumn colors is early in the morning or in the evening. The light is softer at these times and can produce deep rich colors. The midday light can be harsh especially on a very sunny day but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shoot at midday, just be aware of the conditions.

When shooting close ups have the light source coming from a side angle. This will help create a shadow and add more contrast to the scene. If you find shadows in the scene that hinder rather than help then use fill flash to eliminate them.

Don’t be afraid of the fall rains. Wet colorful scenes can be very spectacular. Showing drops of water just about to fall from a leaf, branch or berry can make for a very artistic shot especially if you can capture any reflections in the drop.

If you get the opportunity shoot the same scene in all the different lighting conditions. Bright sunny days can produce some great contrasts while cloudy days can soften the autumn colors.

how to take autumn pictures

“Fall Leaves” captured by Gabrielle (Click Image to See More From Gabrielle)

Now all you need to do is pick up your camera and get out into the crisp clean autumn air. Take a lot of shots of the autumn colors and have a great time.

Summary

Pay very close attention to the composition of your photos. The mood and the surroundings will play an important part in this. See the scene from all sides and try different settings to capture the best shot available to you. Most importantly just have fun.

About the Author
This article was written by Terry Girard who formerly moderated ultimate-photography-tips dot com.

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6 Comments

  1. Jan Timmons says:

    Perhaps next autumn you might run similar articles a tad earlier in the month—or even in September.
    Jan

  2. vik says:

    nice artiicle…wish it came a lil earlier too

    nice one, will hopefully go out tmrw morning

  3. Miss Understood says:

    Excellent site! Will definately be linking back to here!! Thanks so much for the tips!! Cant wait till next fall!! :)

    xx Miss Understood~PhotographyIML

  4. Eric Alder says:

    Autumn is my favorite time of the year for many reasons, especially photography. Good reminder about white balance – fall days often have fast-moving clouds passing high overhead, constantly changing the lighting – sometimes right in the middle of a shot!

  5. William Melchior says:

    A polarizer can also decrease reflections off leaves, giving more vibrant colors. (Even non-shiny leaves can reflect the sky, washing out color.) Try both with and without the filter, or at least with it in different orientations, to see what gives the effect you like best.

  6. Brian in Whitby says:

    This article is riddled with errors. For example: “Be sure to use a tripod to help keep the scene in perfect focus.”
    For the information of the author, a tripod is used to hold the camera steady to prevent blur caused by camera motion. It is only relative to focus when shooting macro and that is because of the very shallow depth of field.
    Another example: “If the surface is misty instead of reflective, take some shots anyway.” The mist is not on the surface but above the surface. It does not prevent the photographer from shooting reflections. I have several shots of reflections in the water with misty over it.
    While not an error, the use of the term “large f-stop for greater depth of field…” is certainly a strange way of saying, “Use a small aperture… ”

    There is some good advice in the article but one of the most important aspects of autumn colour photography is missing. . The application of colour theory and colour harmony to photography, especially in the autumn is, is important and should be included. For example red against green or blue such as a red maple in front of a blue lake or between a couple of coniferous trees or the gold of aspen or tamarack against a blue sky make for very pleasing colour contrast or harmonies. Too many colours included in the same photo however become chaotic and scream in a cacophony of colour. These are basics to autumn colour photos. the article is incomplete. I can’t help thinking it was churned out as fast as possible in order to promote Topaz Restyle.

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