The colors of the fall foliage is one of the most beautiful sights of the season. However, it can be extremely challenging to photograph because the leaves change so rapidly and they move in unpredictable ways. In this article, I will share with you a few ideas on how to capture the beauty of fall foliage no matter where you are located.
Fall foliage is great, but it can be tricky to find. If you don’t know where to look, you may end up wasting a day photographing nothing but trees. Spend a little time looking online or in local guidebooks to find the specific locations that will maximize your chances of getting spectacular shots.
Find out what kinds of foliage are expected, and find out the times of year they are at their peak. Make notes about the location, the time of day, and the weather. Then, the next time you are there, check your notes and see if they were correct, and adjust your approach accordingly.
Equipment & Lens Choices For Fall Color
Foliage changes color much more dramatically in autumn and winter than in spring and summer. This is especially true of deciduous trees, which lose their leaves every year. It can appear anywhere from early September to late November, and it often doesn’t even last the entire month.
That means you only have a few weeks to capture the peak colors of the season before the leaves are gone for another year. Since it’s such a short window, it pays to be as prepared as possible.
The first step is to make sure you have the proper equipment. I suggest you take along a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens.
+ A good rule of thumb is to use your widest angle for everything except portraits and close ups, and your telephoto for getting as close to your subject as you can without losing visual interest.
+ If you don’t already have both a wide angle and a telephoto, consider buying them both. You’ll get the best results with a 50mm lens on your kit, but if you want to go wider or closer, you can always add a lens to your existing setup.
In addition, you should use a polarizing filter. A polarizing filter is one of the most useful accessories you can buy for your camera. It will dramatically increase the color saturation of all the autumnal colours in your photos, making them pop. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what’s happening when you use a polarizer… it’s almost magical.
Brookline, United States – Focal Length 20.0mm – Aperture ƒ/6.3 – Shutter Speed 1/160s – ISO 200 (Source Unsplash.com)
Camera Settings For Fall Foliage
+ Exposure Mode
If you use Aperture Priority mode(A), make sure you use the smallest aperture possible. This will ensure you are getting as much light as possible into the camera, and will also ensure you are not unduly influenced by subject movement.
If you use Manual mode(M), use the lowest shutter speed possible. This will allow you to handhold your camera as long as possible without camera shake ruining your shot.
+ White Balance
White balance is the process of making sure all your images are consistent in color temperature. When you are shooting in RAW format, you can make white balance adjustments later in your computer; however, when you are shooting JPGs, there is no post-processing involved, and you must get it right in camera or your pictures will be off.
The best way to ensure you are getting it right in camera is to use the automatic white balance option on your camera. If you are using an SLR, hold down the button on the top of the camera that has a little eye icon next to it until a menu comes up. Then choose “AWB” or Automatic White Balance. This will analyze the light in your scene and select the best setting for you.
If you are using a point and shoot, look in the menus under white balance. It should have an option called “Scene”, “Cloudy”, “Shade”, or “Tungsten”. Choose one of these options and your camera will do the rest.
+ Exposure Levels
The colors you will get in autumn are some of the most intense of all, and yet they can be very difficult to capture. If your camera has an “Histogram” display, you will see it looking like a long thin line of light.
This is the exposure reading for your image.
+ If the left third of the histogram is black, then the image is underexposed and will appear very dark.
+ If the right third is white, then the image is overexposed and will appear very bright.
+ Most of the time, you will want your image to be in the middle of the histogram where it is neither under- nor overexposed.
But, don’t just rely on it alone. Take some test shots with different exposures and see which one gives you the most pleasing results. It may take some practice to get it right, but once you do, your photos will be much more predictable and you will end up with far fewer “uh oh” photos.
+ Settings ISO
If you do a lot of fall foliage photography, you’ll find it useful to know how to properly set your camera’s ISO. When you photograph fall foliage, you are usually shooting at sunset or sunrise, and therefore, you want the lowest ISO possible. However, if you are not using a tripod, you should still consider raising the ISO so you can handhold the shot without getting a lot of camera shake.
+ Slowing Down Your Shutter
Autumn is a magical time of year. The trees lose their leaves one by one and the landscape changes dramatically. Brighter colors and a softer light are present in most any season, but autumn is truly unique in its ability to seduce and delight the eye.
Take advantage of this phenomenon by deliberately slowing down your shutter speed to let more light into the frame. When photographing fall foliage, this will allow more of the leaves to “pop” in your image, giving a much more dramatic effect.
Identify Your Subject(s)
Ridgway, Colorado, United States – Focal Length 28.0mm – Aperture ƒ/6.3 – Shutter Speed 1/160s – ISO 200 (Source Unsplash.com)
If you are photographing fall foliage, it is important to identify your subject(s) early on. In many cases, it is the light that does most of the work for you, but if you don’t get the light just right, your photos will be nothing more than a bunch of colors.
For example, if you are photographing a field of yellow flowers, you need to make sure there is plenty of late afternoon sun to make them all pop. If you are photographing a group of people, you need to find a spot where they are well lit but not overexposed.
Subjects For Fall Foliage Photos
The best subjects for fall foliage photos are those that include some autumnal color other than just the green of the leaves. Photographs of white or yellow-colored buildings, red-orange fields, and yellow, orange, and brownish-red trees will give your viewer a much more complete idea of what the autumn looks like.
Charlotte, United States – NIKON D810 – Focal Length 23.0mm – Aperture ƒ/3.2 – Shutter Speed 1/200s – ISO 64
Composition Techniques For Fall Foliage Photography
+ Look Straight Up
Focal Length 60.0mm – Aperture ƒ/2.8 – Shutter Speed 1/3200s – ISO 200
Foliage in autumn displays a unique beauty that is all its own. It is more than just an “accent” color, it is the dominant color of the season. When you photograph it, your eye will be drawn to the leaves themselves, and away from the ground.
To make this work for you, use a low camera angle and shoot straight up. This will keep the leaves at the focal point of interest and draw attention upwards to the sky.
+ Isolate A Subject
One of the most important techniques for fall foliage photography is to simply isolate a subject, and then let the rest of the photo tell the story. This is especially true for backlit subjects. Backlighting softens all colors and makes everything look velvety, and it also illuminates the colors of the foliage to add drama to the photo.
+ Shallow Depth Of Field
Focal Length 35.0mm – Aperture ƒ/3.5 – Shutter Speed 1/500s – ISO 400
When photographing fall foliage, use a shallow depth of field (DOF) and focus on the foreground elements, such as the leaves.
This will make it seem as though those elements are sharp and in focus, while the background will be out of focus and thus “soft”. Soft focus is a very effective compositional tool that can add drama and interest to your images.
Panoramic photos are a great way to capture the beauty of the fall foliage. However, you’ve got to be careful when you are shooting panoramas. Make sure your subject is in the center of the frame, and that all the other elements in the photo are in balance.
Shoot At Sunrise And Sunset For Best Colors
Focal Length 135.0mm – Aperture ƒ/5.6 – Shutter Speed 1/250s – ISO 125
Fall foliage is at its peak between 10 am and 2 pm, but if you miss that window, don’t despair. You can still shoot it at sunrise or sunset, this is when the light is soft and the colors are at their most vivid,which will give you the reds, oranges and yellows that are the “fall colors”. But, by shooting earlier in the day, you may get more of a greenish cast to your photos.
Experiment with Different Kinds of Light
Fall foliage is a great subject for experimenting with different kinds of light.
Early in the morning, when the sun is just starting to rise, you will have a dramatic, soft light that is flattering to all types of subjects.
Later in the day, as the sun gets higher in the sky, you will have a harder, warmer light that is also flattering.
Shoot it early in the morning and later in the day and you will have two totally different looks.
Also, you can use the shadows created by the foliage to your advantage. Use them to frame your subject, or to create interesting patterns or shapes.
Composing Your Autumn Photo
+ Focus on Simplicity
Autumn is a great time of the year to practice composition. You will find that most of your subjects will be starkly contrasted against a mostly colorless, quiet background. This will force you to concentrate on what’s important… the subject itself.
If you have a cluttered background, your viewer will be distracted and struggle to see your subject.
However, if the scene is too simple, your subject will appear boring and uninteresting.
So, strive for a middle ground where the scene is neither too complex nor too simplistic. The trick is to find that sweet spot where everything is just right.
+ Hijack Some Foliage
If you are photographing autumn foliage, don’t just stand there gawking like a tourist. Go off and find a nice patch of trees or shrubs with lots of colorful leaves, and then go photograph those. You will get much better photos if you “hijack” some foliage than if you simply stand there waiting for it to happen. It won’t. Not unless Mother Nature is feeling generous.
Autumn is the best time to go on adventures with your family or friends because there are fewer people around and the weather is perfect for outdoor activities.
If you love autumn, you should definitely spend some time taking photos of the colorful leaves. The changing colors of the leaves represent the beauty of nature. In addition, taking pictures of the autumn foliage helps you capture the magic of this special season.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be able to take some amazing photos of the autumn foliage and share them with us!