Every year fall’s rich color palate creates a stampede of photographers looking for “the” shot. Over the years Dad and I learned a few lessons that helped us track down amazing fall displays. Save yourself some time and use these tips to create a memorable fall photo shoot.
Location, location, location!
As with any photo, location really makes a difference. Parts of the country stand out as fall color hot spots. Well before fall rolls around, we do a lot of research before we even think of picking up the camera.
First we study the potential locales, both well-known spots and off-the-beaten path. California’s Sierra Nevadas, Colorado’s San Juans, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and the entire state of Vermont, to name a few, offer wonderful autumn hues.
Our research includes photography-specific information such as key spots to photograph, permit applications, sun positions, weather patterns and hiking guides. We also scope out hotels, restaurants and transportation.
Timing Is Everything
We pare location intel with websites and social media for leaf color reports. Even if you know where to go for fall color, timing really is everything.
Just because the leaves in the San Juan Mountains hit peak color the first week in October last year, doesn’t mean they will this year. Temperature, soil moisture and sunlight influence fall foliage displays. An early frost, a drought or even a windstorm can change or curtail autumn’s pageantry.
Thanks to the Internet many areas provide fall foliage reports in real time. Several I find useful include:
Don’t over look local connections like chambers of commerce or message boards from that area. All of these sources help us to pick the perfect time to shoot while capturing the maximum amount of stunning color.
Once we find an ideal location and know when to hit the road, the fun begins. You might think shooting at sunrise and sunset produce great results. They do, but don’t overlook cloudy, stormy or foggy situations.
An overcast day works like a giant soft box, allowing details that would normally fall in the shadows to be seen. It extends your shooting time from just a couple of hours to all day.
A stormy or rainy day helps to super saturate those fall tones. Water drops on leaves also can make an interesting close up.
Fog helps create an air of surreal mystery and really makes the colors pop. Dad made good use of fog in the photo at the top of this blog.
So don’t overlook those less than stellar weather days.
Use the Light
Backlight or sidelight shining through a leaf really makes the color pop. It also shows off the veins and texture of the leaves.
If you’re not convinced this duo creates zing in fall photography, slowly walk around a tree and observe the light. Backlit and side lit leaves will glow with color while front light flattens the color.
Leaves and Other Stuff
Don’t limit your photographs to just trees. Include the surrounding landscape. Mountains help give context to the size of the color displays. Lakes, rivers and ponds create beautiful reflections of that autumn color.
Additionally a myopic focus on trees might cause you to miss the smaller shrubs and grasses that are also changing color. Don’t overlook including those in your photograph. They provide layers of interest for your photo.
Change Your Perspective
To create a unique image, change your perspective. Look up. Look down. Don’t just fill the frame with row after row of trees shot at eye level.
Dad created a memorable image by getting down on the ground and shooting up into these aspens with a wide-angle lens. The tree trunks lead the viewers’ eyes straight to the explosion of color at the top of the trees.
Isolate Colors and Details
Fall photos don’t have to be all about the trees or shot strictly with a wide-angle lens. Use a longer lens to create an intimate image. Isolating the leaves and the colors can be very effective. The lack of color in these leaves allows the one colored leaf to really pop when shot with a 70mm lens.
Use Complementary Colors
Artists often use the concept of the Color Wheel to create striking images. The wheel literally shows primary colors on one side and their complementary colors on the opposite side of the circle. For example, orange complements blue. Green complements red.
How does that help in foliage photos? The complementary colors give the photo contrast, creating energy in the picture. In this photo, the blue of the sky and the orange colors of the aspens stimulate the viewer’s senses.
Use a Polarizing Filter
A polarizing filter helps with the reflective nature of leaves. A waxy coating called the cuticle covers the surface of most leaves. The coating helps plants retain water and protects it from infections. But when sunlight hits the leaves, the wax creates a reflection. Photographers see one of two things, sometimes both: glare or dulled color.
Polarizing filters cut through the glare, allowing the true colors of the leaves to really pop. They also remove glare from water, another element you might be dealing with on your fall photo adventure.
Dad and I love the Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer. Not only does it remove the glare, it adds a punch of warm color to the scene.
Use a Tripod
Most of the time shooting during the day doesn’t require a tripod. But every once in a while it does.
Using a filter, any filter, cuts the light reaching your camera. That affects the exposure, often slowing down the shutter speed. If you’re shooting water with your fall foliage, that slower exposure can look fantastic. Depending on the water’s rate of movement and the length of the time the shutter stays open, the water can look silky to foamy.
In any case, a tripod and camera pared with a cable release help make sure you don’t ruin a great photo because of human error like camera shake.
So there you have it, our 10 best tips for capturing fall color. We hope you enjoy your fall foliage adventure. Let us know what you learn along the way.