Fall Color In The Great Northwest

In autumn, the Northeast gets all of the glory, but the varied climates of the Northwest present some unique and distinctive fall color opportunities, as the Photo Cascadia team shows us

Wenatchee River Valley, Near Leavenworth, Washington, And The Washington Cascade Range By Chip Phillips

Why It’s Great: You’ll find some of the best fall colors in Washington here. The Wenatchee River and Icicle Creek are fun to explore and offer many unique compositions. This area isn’t as well known as other locations for fall shooting, and it’s a local favorite among many fellow Washingtonians.

When To Go: The last two weeks in October for the best fall color.

What To Bring: Weight is less of an issue because most spots are very close to the road, but I carry the full focal range from 16mm to 200mm with polarizers for each lens and a sturdy tripod. I bring waders for those hard-to-reach spots in the river, and an umbrella is a good idea, as it’s often best to shoot fall color during overcast, rainy and foggy conditions.

How To Photograph There: When shooting fall foliage in the Wenatchee River Valley, I almost always have a polarizer on the front of my lenses; however, I don’t just leave it on and shoot. One technique I often use when shooting fall color over water is to focus on just the water and adjust the polarizer to my liking. If there’s a reflection, I turn it until the reflection really pops. Then, I often notice that the top half of the scene has lost its punch, so I turn the polarizer to punch up the top for the next exposure. In Photoshop, I combine these two exposures using simple methods to get the best from each different exposure. This technique puts that polarizing filter to work!

This year, the Photo Cascadia team celebrates its fifth year together sharing areas of natural beauty and advancing photographic excellence of outdoor photography, while promoting and sharing images, knowledge and expertise with photo enthusiasts. This month, we’d like to share a few of our favorite places to capture fall color out West. So grab your camera and pop on that polarizer, and consider heading to these great fall locales.

The Canadian Rockies By Kevin McNeal

Why It’s Great: It’s hard to suggest only one place, but the best spots to shoot are right along the Icefields Parkway, the main highway that runs from Banff to Jasper. The scenic drive may be the nicest drive you ever take, as both sides of the highway parallel larger-than-life mountain peaks and turquoise lakes. As you drive, you’re met with a new set of mountains around every corner. Prepare for a long day of photography. The colors of the lakes are so vivid, they don’t seem real, and except for a small number of popular lakes, most of the areas in the Canadian Rockies are very quiet and give you the feeling you’re experiencing wildernessat its best. Because of the diversity of the Canadian Rockies, there’s a lot to photograph for any type of photographer, with many great places to shoot. To get there, you can fly into Calgary or Edmonton and rent a car. From here, it only takes a few hours to get to the main spots. You can drive the Rockies by way of Banff or Jasper if you’re taking a road trip.

When To Go: Mid-September to early October is the best time to visit for fall color. In higher elevations along the Icefields Parkway, the middle of October gets snow and it can be hard to get around at times. The Parkway sees a lot of yellow and looks great when photographed with the white snowcapped peaks and the turquoise lakes. A lot of wildlife makes its way down from high in the mountains, especially bears, who are in need of food for the upcoming winter, so bear sightings are quite frequent at this time of year.

What To Bring: Many of the best locations are just off the road, so bring your longest lens. While driving along the Parkway, have your telephoto ready because there will be many wildlife sightings. There are a large number of lakes, so I strongly recommend a polarizer to get the best detail out of the reflections. Consider bringing hip waders so you can step into the water to get the right composition. Many times, I’ve found the perfect log or set of rocks that made for a strong foreground and required wading into the shallow areas of the pond. Including these foreground elements in your composition can add impact to the overall image.

How To Photograph There: Be prepared to get up early and to make sure to never miss a sunrise. I learned my lesson after missing several sunrises in the past because it was cloudy, only to have the sun come out at sunrise. Don’t be afraid to get wet and really push yourself to get the best composition you can. Because many of the images you see are very similar in the Canadian Rockies, try to be adventurous and creative, and have fun with your photography. Step outside of your comfort zone.

Deschutes River, Central Oregon, By Zack Schnepf

Why It’s Great: There are large groves of aspen trees along the Deschutes River outside of Bend, Oregon.

When To Go: The middle of October is typically the peak of fall color along the Deschutes River.

What To Bring: I use a variety of lenses, including a wide-angle zoom, mid-range zoom and telephoto zoom. I also like to carry a circular polarizer and a sturdy tripod.

How To Photograph There: A polarizer helps to bring out the fall color and cut unwanted reflections along the river. Sunrise and sunset are always nice, but I also like mid-morning and early evening light to accentuate the color of the aspen.

The Methow Valley, North-Central Washington, By David Cobb

Why It’s Great: The valleys are filled with a variety of fall color and are surrounded by the high peaks of the North Cascade Range and North Cascades National Park. The valley floor offers numerous trails for hiking and exploring the aspen groves.

When To Go: The second week of October is usually a good time to catch fall color in this valley.

What To Bring: Carry your zoom lens to capture the backlit aspen stands in the valley. The Methow Valley aspen are quite stately, and there are red groves to go with the orange and yellow.

How To Photograph There: For sharp aspen images use Live View while composing your shots. Then hit the zoom button and manually adjust the focus for the best sharpness. Live View also will automatically include the mirror lock-up feature, so your photos will be beautiful and sharp.

Silver Falls State Park, Outside Of Silverton, Oregon, By Sean Bagshaw And Adrian Klein

Why It’s Great: You’ll see 10 waterfalls surrounded by splashes of fall color, all within a nine-mile hiking radius of only moderate difficulty. All of them are photograph-worthy. There aren’t many places you can visit to find a high concentration of good waterfalls like this. The waterfalls range from short and fat to tall and slender. You even can hike behind a few of them for a more unique take. In the fall, chances for good waterfall weather of overcast and/or rain are more likely, making for great images. Also, the volume of visitors drops off significantly by the time fall color peaks.

When To Go: I’ve found the best time to be late October, yet it can vary from year to year.

What To Bring: First and foremost, bring good hiking shoes. Although not a tough hike, covering this distance with inadequate footwear will be miserable. Like anywhere else in the region, a rain jacket for you and your camera and camera bag are essential. Photo compositions can range from wide-angle to telephoto zoom. As hard as it may be, don’t limit yourself to one lens on this hike unless it covers a wide range.

How To Photograph There: Plan to spend at least one full day here. With the hiking and time you’ll want to spend at each falls, you don’t want to rush. Often, we want to see the whole waterfall. I find this is a good place to capture part of a waterfall with fall color leaves and branches obscuring parts of it.

The Upper Rogue River, Southern Oregon, By Sean Bagshaw

Why It’s Great: The Rogue River is one of the original eight rivers named in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and is one of only three rivers in Oregon that starts in the Cascade Range and flows to the Pacific Ocean. The Rogue originates from springs on the northern slopes of Crater Lake and flows through the rugged volcanic Cascade Range landscape. Despite its beauty, the upper portion of the Rogue River sees relatively few visitors. It boasts many waterfalls, narrow gorges, old-growth forests, and at Natural Bridges, it even disappears underground into a lava tube for a few hundred feet. Many sections of the Upper Rogue are edged with vine maple, big leaf maple and dogwood that burst with color in the autumn. The Upper Rogue River Trail closely follows the river for about 40 miles from its headwaters at the edge of Crater Lake National Park to the boundary of the Rogue River National Forest.

When To Go: The best fall color on the Upper Rogue River is usually found in the middle of October and lasts for a couple of weeks, although it can vary a week in either direction, depending on the year.

What To Bring: If you’re photographing from the many pullouts along Highway 230, you can easily have all your gear at hand. When hiking longer sections of the Upper Rogue Trail to reach more remote sections of the river, I lighten the load with a reduced kit that includes just a medium-sized tripod, a superwide zoom and a mid-range zoom.

How To Photograph There: While there are many sweeping river scenes to be found, in the fall, I enjoy hiking the Upper Rogue Trail below Union Creek where the vine maple is most concentrated. Here, I look for smaller scenes and artistic abstracts.

The Sawtooth Mountains, Central Idaho, By David Cobb

Why It’s Great: Fall color, jagged mountains and reflective lakes with morning mist all combine to make this a photographer’s dream setting. If you’re lucky, the peaks will have a dusting of snow. Clear night skies make for night photography opportunities, as well.

When To Go: The aspen turn about the third week of September, and that’s when the forests become alive with color. The reds of the huckleberry bushes also fill the forest floor for interesting forest photography.

What To Bring: A warm jacket, gloves and a hat because fall temps can fall in the single digits out here, but the days warm rather quickly, so dress in layers.

How To Photograph There: Reds, yellows and greens on the forest floor make for great opportunities for creative forest pans. Try a half-second vertical pan of the forest to get the colors to blend and blur.

The Enchantments Of Northern Washington By Zack Schnepf

Why It’s Great: The Enchantments is the premier wilderness anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Nestled between the granite mountain peaks of the Stuart Range is a string of alpine lakes that feeds into one another. This area is populated almost exclusively with subalpine larch trees, a species of deciduous conifer that turns a beautiful gold in autumn. There’s a lottery system to acquire a permit to enter this unspoiled wilderness area and a grueling hike to get to this mountainous wonderland, but it’s well worth the trip to visit this spectacular landscape.

When To Go: Usually the last week of September or the first week of October is the best time to catch the larch in their autumn color, but watch out for early-season snowstorms in alpine country.

What To Bring: I recommend traveling with minimal equipment for this trip, as you need to carry all the essentials for normal backpacking in addition to your camera gear. My essential kit for the Enchantments consists of an ultrawide zoom and a short telephoto zoom, lightweight carbon-fiber tripod, polarizing filter, plenty of memory cards and batteries, and a warm coat, hat and gloves.

How To Photograph There: I like to use a polarizer for the larch trees to help bring out the golds. I also like to use backlighting, which gives the trees a sense of being lit from within.