Techniques For Fall Color Photography

No matter where you live or travel this fall season, try these 10 creative techniques to make your best autumn images yet
Tip 1: Vibrant red maple leaves illuminated by early morning back-light in the green mountains, Middlesex, Vermont
Tip 1: Vibrant red maple leaves illuminated by early morning back-light in the green mountains, Middlesex, Vermont.

1. Backlight For Foliage That Pops

Light is the medium we use to paint our photographic masterpieces and is a critical component to their success. While sidelight is great for revealing texture and definition in the landscape, my favorite light for autumn foliage is often backlight. Since the red, orange and yellow leaves of autumn are translucent and light passes through them when backlit, the result is often an explosion of luminance and color.

All too often, people shy away from shooting backlit subjects. Yes, the light can be intense and contrasty, but the payoff of bold vibrant color that pops is well worth the attempt. When shooting backlit scenes, it’s important to watch for lens flare, taking care to shade the front element of the lens with a lens hood, your hand or perhaps the bill of your cap. Watch your exposures, as often you’ll need to open up a bit using exposure compensation if shooting in aperture priority.


    Thanks for the article Kurt and all the good comments, especially the extending the shooting hours. Heading up to the Eastern Sierra next week and hoping for some good streamside and Aspen images.

    Having just returned from my first trip ever to Vermont to see The Fall foliage, your article and creative techniques really hit the spot Kurt! This is especially true for the close up shots of trees and enclosed landscapes you predominantly use to illustrate the various techniques. The dry Summer & prolonged mild weather capped the anticipated splendor this year, but there were nontheless many photo opportunities, especially of the composition scale you illustrate. No doubt my shots would have been greatly enhanced by conscious application of the techniques you mention, but realizing their value and application after-the-fact has made them really sink in, for use in other places and circumstances…and, hey, why not return to Vermont next Fall…? Loved the place and its people.

    I am a little late coming to this article but I suspect the trees in Image 6 are birch not aspen as written. Birch would be much more likely in Acadia Park. Thanks

    Another way of exploring reflections is to try the effects of a polarising filter – sometimes it’s actually more interesting to remove the reflection altogether, to give more of an appearance of things on the surface floating “in mid air” (not really – but it can kind of look like that).

    Great article, Kurt. You gave me some new ideas. Although I’m in Upstate NY, I love all of New England, especially Acadia National Park. Experimenting with camera and post processing techniques can provide new excitement and a change from the more traditional fall landscapes we so often see. The light can change quickly in the fall, so I use neutral density filters for better control and a polarizer for water, clouds, reflections and especially color.

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