Top 5 Photo Tips for Autumn

Autumn is fast approaching, faster this year (it seems) than normal. Time to gear up for fall foliage photography! I've compiled below a list of my Top 5 favorite tips for getting the most out of your autumn photos. I suggest you read this quick, and then stop wasting time and get out there—fall will be over before you know it! 

1. Shoot reflections in water.This one is my personal favorite fall color photo tip. Shoot autumn color reflected in water to create stunning abstract fall photos. These shots work best early or late on a sunny day. You want the foliage that you are reflecting to be in the sun, and the water to be in shade. Objects in shade are lit only by light reflecting from the blue sky above, and thus will be rendered cool. By mixing the two types of light, you get a lovely blend of colors. Experiment with a polarizer filter, but avoid full polarization, which can remove reflections. Partial polarization, however, can often enhance the colors in your reflection scene. 

2. Zoom in on intimate details. A telephoto zoom is perfect for zooming in on an intimate forest scene, small details in the landscape, or a distant hillside covered in fall color. I used a Canon 100-400mm zoom (@400mm) to photograph the green shack above. A telephoto lens "compresses" elements in a scene, giving you a unique look and perspective.    

3. Overcast light works great for autumn scenes and waterfalls.While most people think that sunny weather is best for autumn photography, overcast skies are actually perfect for many types of fall scenes, including stream and waterfall shots. In fact, a little bit of rain is even better! Overcast skies diffuse light and reduce contrast, whereas wet conditions can help intensify colors. Use a polarizer to remove glare from shiny and wet surfaces and to saturate fall colors. 

4. Take control of your compositions. Autumn presents photographers with a unique opportunity, the chance to control your compositions. I always collect colorful fallen leaves as I walk along a trail on my way to a photo shoot. I can then later add leaves to the foreground of my wide-angle scenes, or arrange leaves in a pleasing pattern for close-up shots. Make sure when you scatter leaves over your chosen scene that you do so in a realistic way—if every leaf is color-side up, people will know that the scene was staged! 

5. Take advantage of fall weather. Autumn often brings cool, wet weather. This can lead to some magical conditions. Rise early for sunrise and hope to get some fog. Shoot near water to improve your chances of early morning mist. 

So get out there and enjoy the season. Good luck and happy shooting! 

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13 Comments

    Thanks for the tips, heading to the U.P next weekend and hoping to get some great pictures at the Porcupine Mountains and Lake of the Clouds.

    Beautiful images, Ian — and great tips for fall photography. I really like images with reflected colors, especially “Sermons in Stones” where the intimacy of the scene gives you that amazing fall color without actually including a tree. As an aside, the last image you included gave me a strong feeling of recognition, and then I realized that I’ve been staring at the exact same location all month since the September image of the Nature Conservancy calendar is this same group of trees in Zion. Its always interesting to see how different photographers come away from the same scene with different compositions!

    Thanks Pat! It is amazing how often some places, like the Narrows in Zion, get photographed, and how very hard it is sometimes to walk away with a unique image. It’s all been done before, or so it seems sometimes!

    Thanks so much for the wonderful tips on fall photography! I hope to get some very good fall photos in the North Georgia and NC mountains! Highlands, NC is one of my favorite places for fall photography.

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