Fall is upon us, and soon we’ll be surrounded by incredible photographic opportunities.
With the stunning colors that come with the fall season, you can create beautiful compositions that you’ll admire all year round.
To help you prepare, here are 20 photography tips on how to make beautiful pictures this fall season.
1. Research Your Location
To make the most of the fall season, you need to plan to capture color in its peak. This makes choosing your location and organizing the right arrival time. This will boost your odds of catching the most dazzling array of fall colors.
If you’re shooting within the United States, this Fall Foliage Prediction Map is an awesome tool to find the perfect place for your fall shoot.
It shows you the peak dates for fall foliage, then displays the best areas to view spectacular colors in the U.S.
Of course, a digital predictor of foliage can’t be entirely exact.
If you’re not sure where to go, I recommend these remarkable US national parks. These areas come to life in the fall, and you’ll have plenty of material to photograph.
- Zion National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Denali National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Acadia National Park
2. Watch the Weather
The weather has a huge impact on the quality of photographs that you come back with, and planning for it should not be overlooked.
One of the best weather to shoot fall colors is on overcast days. The clouds on overcast weather soften the light, perfect for photographing fall foliage.
Rainy days are also ideal for fall photography. Wet leaves are more saturated in color than dry ones, enhancing the vibrancy of fall scenery. Just make sure to bring a polarizer to help eliminate glare and increase color intensity.
To help you plan for weather, you check weather reports using digital tools and apps. I recommend using at least two of these weather apps. I like to use two that way I can compare the information that each is giving me.
A better idea, however, is to arrive and stay in your location for several days. This will give you ample time to gather information and determine the best area to go to, and when.
By arriving ahead of time, you can observe the local weather trends and decide what time of day provides the best setting for your composition. Then, you can set an exact time confident that you’re in the perfect conditions to do photography.
3. Bring a Tripod
Using a tripod will significantly improve the quality of your fall images. Tripods hold the camera securely in position, preventing any blur from camera shake. This is especially helpful for photographing moving water and scenes with limited light.
A tripod is also a crucial tool for when lighting isn’t ideal, or you need to adjust the elements in your composition. In particular, when you want to capture an identical scene multiple times, but using varying camera settings, a tripod will come in handy.
4. Telephoto Lenses
For fall photography, I prefer telephoto lenses. But, lenses with a long focal length will contribute simplicity and make aspects other than color more apparent. I recommend trying out a focal length of 70mm or longer.
I typically use a 70 – 200mm and 300mm and a 50mm prime.
A lens with a longer focal length can be used to capture remarkable details within a forest. Or to isolate small parts of a wide scene that stands out from the rest. Also, make use of negative space to draw attention to your main subject.
That said, I wouldn’t entirely ignore wide-angle lenses for fall photography. Wide-angle still has its place, especially when shooting sweeping landscapes and magnificent waterfalls.
For any landscape shot, whether it be a steep mountain or a rolling plain, you’ll always want to capture a shot with a wide-angle lens.
You can also try out a macro lens to see how it can expand artistic options in your photos.
5. Use A Polarizer
A polarizer is a valuable tool in autumn photography for a few main reasons.
For one, it minimizes glare that often appears on leaves. Some leaves may have a reflective, shiny quality that reduces the vividness of the colors.
A polarizer is also vital when photographing fall foliage in the rain.
Wet leaves reflect more light than dry leaves, and a polarizer can help effectively reduce this glare.
Polarizers also help in capturing objects beneath shallow pools of water created during rainy days. Polarizers eliminate reflection on the water, enabling you to photography objects underneath clearly.
Polarizers can also help intensify the color in a frame. You may be able to achieve this same effect by using post-processing software, but it’s ideal to achieve it during the shoot.
I especially like using circular polarizers because you can select an exact intensity level. You can change the color saturation by merely turning the lens filter.
Also, keep in mind that reflections and glare can’t be altered during post-processing – to do so, you need to use a polarizer.
6. Explore Your Area to Find The Best Trees
In the fall, a go-to subject in photography are the trees. At this time of the year, the trees go through a sensational transformation and display a full range of colors in their leaves.
This makes your job as a photographer far easier, as eye-catching scenes are right at your fingertips.
If you live in a location that experiences fall season, you can capture fall colored trees just about anywhere. You can access extraordinary colors, whether it be right outside your doorstep or in a local park.
To make the best use of this wonderful time, block out time to scope out your area. Find the places with the most striking, colorful trees and leaves.
Once you scope out the perfect location to shoot, try out different angles to achieve the most pleasing composition.
If you can try to visit the location multiple times throughout the fall season. You’ll capture the progression of the trees, starting when they first start to transition from orange to red, to when the leaves begin to fall to the ground, leaving the branches empty.
Near the end of the fall season, you’ll find that most of the leaves have already hit the ground. In this case, shift your focus to the fallen leaves. You’ll find that these leaves still exhibit plenty of vibrant colors for a gorgeous image.
7. Make Use of Leading Lines and S-curves
Both the S-curves and leading lines are great tools in creating engaging compositions.
Leading lines are parallel lines photographers use to guide their viewers towards the focal point of the image.
Our eyes naturally follow these lines until they converge and vanish on the horizon. This tendency makes leading lines an effective tool in emphasizing your subject’s visual importance.
Leading lines can be both physical and implied. That is, they can be physical objects such as bridges, paths, and the like. Or, they can be suggested, such as light and wake in the water.
For example, a road lined with leafy trees is practically begging to be photographed. The road will act as a leading line while emphasizing the beautiful trees on either side.
S-curves, on the other hand, uses the shape of a curve to create engaging compositions. In particular, photographers use to induce a sense of movement in images.
The S-curves’ shape encourages viewers’ to navigate the photo in a back and forth sweeping movement. As a result, objects placed along the curve are highlighted within the frame.
By adding an s-curve or leading line in your composition, you can direct the viewers’ attention to the critical parts of your image. These compositional tools also help induce a sense of depth in an image, making your composition more engaging.
8. Look for Patterns and Textures
Patterns and textures are two of the most popular visual elements in photography but are often ignored in the fall when color is the star.
However, for more effective compositions, pay attention to patterns and textures as you explore possible compositions.
Textures are important in creating depth in a two-dimensional image. Objects that demonstrate more texture will appear closer to the viewer than those that are lacking in texture. Finding compositions with varying degrees of texture is one of the best ways to convey three-dimensionality in your image.
Similar to texture, skillful use of pattern helps create engaging images.
Patterns are an effective tool to guide your viewer’s eye to your focal point. Alternatively, you can use patterns to create a sense of consistency and harmony in your composition. You can find patterns anywhere from a row of trees, flowers of a single color to coastal waves.
When out scouting for interesting fall colored trees, remember to look for patterns and textures in your scene and utilize them to achieve more arresting images.
9. Make Fall Colors the Secondary Subject
When you look at a fall scene, look beyond the colorful trees and consider what else could be an interesting subject. For more variety and depth in your work, seek out other interesting subjects to use as your main focus.
While trees are obviously changing rapidly in the fall, other aspects of nature are changing, too.
Moving bodies of water such as streams, rivers, and waterfalls is a fantastic option in the fall. Try using a river as a leading line in your composition, just as you would with a street or road.
The calmer and cooler weather during fall leads to tranquil mornings and frosted grass that can create a lovely image.
You can also photograph early morning fog or mist over water. When you couple this effect with the vibrant fall foliage, you can create a truly remarkable fall image.
Further, on autumn mornings, you may see frost from cold temperatures reached during the night. You can use this in your sunrise composition to reflect light and color.
You may also want to photograph clear reflections in the water’s surface. For a simple yet highly effective composition, seek out a calm, clear blue lake surrounded by fall colors. The contrast in this scene will catch the viewer’s eye and reflect the beauty of nature in the fall.
10. Shoot During The Golden Hour
The sunrise and the sunset provide incomparable lighting for fall scenes. With the warm light of the golden hour, orange, red, and yellow foliage become even more vibrant.
The golden hour also provides a soft and delicate natural light that can make the distinction between an image that’s average and one that’s outstanding.
The superb quality of light during the golden hour is certainly worth the difficulty of waking up early and staying out late on photo locations.
11. Make use of the Atmosphere
Photographing around lakes, rivers, streams, and other bodies of water typically involve mist or fog. This is especially true in the fall when the nights are colder, and they lead to relatively warm daytime hours. This creates optimal circumstances for mist and fog to occur.
You can’t always accurately anticipate when fog occurs or its thickness. But, when the night is cold and the morning is warm, it’s safe to assume that fog will form.
Mist and fog cast a soft, gauzy film over the colors in photography. This lessens color saturation and blurs out details, creating a mysterious, ethereal mood that you can use for compelling compositions.
12. Use Backlight to Your Advantage
One of my favorite ways to photograph autumn trees is with backlighting. Backlighting is a term used to describe a scene where the source of light is in front of the camera.
This type of lighting, when coupled with trees has an ethereal effect. The slivers of light that pass onto the leaves transform s the autumn scenes into dramatic and visually stunning composition.
Trees also allow you to point your camera directly at the sun without having to worry about harsh lighting and lens flares.
The tree leaves soften direct light as it passes through them, ideal for photography. This softening effect enables you to photograph backlit images throughout the day.
Whereas you’ll usually have to wait till the sun is low on the horizon for gentler lighting, you can just as easily get an ideal light around midday with backlit trees.
13. Add Sun-Star to Your Composition
Adding a sun star in your fall composition is a great way to make it come alive and stand out.
To do this, you’ll need to point your camera at the sun and choose a narrow aperture such as f/18 or f/22. The narrow aperture will cause the light to diffract or bend around the edges of your lens aperture blades as it goes through the lens. This is what creates the “star” look.
To enhance the sun star effect, find different ways to block your light source partially. This will exaggerate the effect of the sun star by diffracting the sunlight before it enters your lens.
For example, you can shoot sunlight through trees leaves or at the border of a tree to exaggerate the sun star in your composition.
When looking for ways to create a sun star, make sure to experiment with different angles. A slight change in your perspective can have a significant impact on the appearance of your Sunstar.
14. Experiment with Motion Blur
Motion blur has an enrapturing effect on images.
One of the ways you can create this effect is by setting your camera to a slow shutter speed. Then, hone in on some vibrant leaves on a tree, moving your camera side to side or up and down, while the shutter is still open. This makes for a blurred image with an abstract effect on color, pattern, texture, and line.
Try using a variety of shutter speeds to experiment with different compositional effects. You can also alter the speed at which you move the camera to adjust the level of blurring.
15. Look for Contrasting Color
You can add drama to an image by offsetting the vivid, textured fall tones with dark elements. The dark subject can be anything, from rocks to shadows to the walls of a canyon. Having this contrast in your frame creates tension and variety, which draws your viewer in.
You can also emphasize the intensity of fall tones by pairing them with a complementary color. Think of colors to complement the blue sky or the color of the earth.
16. Play With Perspective
Fall locations have a lot of potential for playing with perspective. Instead of shooting from a flat plain or a steep hill, seek out unique perspectives to shoot from.
Aim to walk away from a location with shots from a variety of perspectives; eye level, from above, from below, and everything in between.
Don’t forget to look up at a scene with your camera, too. This perspective creates a contrast between the leaves and the sky, creating a striking image. To better capture this perspective, I recommend using a wide-angle lens.
Also, be sure to use smaller apertures, between f/8-f/16, to ensure you capture most of the scene in great detail.
I love using the inside of a fall colored forest as my subject.
Unfortunately, it can be tricky to hone in on your subject with everything else going on in the background in a forest. In these cases, look upward to the forest canopy.
If you have access to a lake or other body of water, use reflections to capture double the vibrant fall colors.
When shooting reflections, you’ll ideally want to head out on a day with low winds. This enables the surface of the water to be calm and still, perfect for reflecting the scene above it.
Also, photograph with the sun behind you. This lights up the scene and allows for the highest amount of color reflected.
If you must go on a windy day, level out water ripples by using a long exposure. In such cases, remember to bring a tripod to avoid camera shake. You may also find an ND filter a useful tool, especially if you’re shooting under bright lighting.
If the sky is particularly beautiful, you can use a wide-angle lens to get some of your background in the shot.
But, if it’s a gray, overcast day, eliminate the sky from the frame by zooming in to focus on fall foliage and the landscape itself. Having a dull, grey sky at the edge of your frame will only serve to distract your viewers away from your subject.
If you’re photographing the water from a sizable distance, you can achieve adequate depth of field with a mid-range aperture of about f/8.
18. Include People in Your Scenes
Another great way to make your fall photographs more compelling is by including a person in your scene.
Including a person in your frame is a great way to effectively demonstrate the scale of vast landscape scenes such as waterfalls and lakes.
Including a person in your image also helps create a deeper connection between your image and your viewers.
Seeing a human form engrossed in a landscape compels viewers to place themselves in the person’s shoes and to experience what they’re experiencing. This effect helps make your images more memorable to your viewers, as they relate to the scene on a deeper level.
To make your shot more engaging, try to capture the person while they are moving. This position will make your composition more fluid and natural to the viewer.
If you can’t capture your subjects in motion, try capturing them in positioning the dynamic poses.
You can do this by emphasizing the shape of their bodies. Position your subject’s arms and legs in a way that there is space between and other body parts. This will help give the illusion of movement when there is none.
If you can’t find anyone to photograph, consider doing self-portraits. You can do this easily by using a timer and a tripod.
Finally, when including a person in your landscape image, remember the experiment with positioning the figure off-center in the shot. While placing the person in the center of your frame can work, having your subject off-center works better in most situations.
19. Photograph Falling Leaves
Photographing falling leaves can add a great aesthetic value to your fall photos. Before you begin capturing falling leaves, pay attention to how the leaves are falling. Are they falling calmly or quickly due to the wind?
If these leaves are falling slowly or tumbling across the ground, you can start with a shutter speed of 1/150. On the other hand, if your leaves are falling quickly, start with a shutter speed of 1/250 and increase if necessary.
If you want to place your entire scene in focus, you will want to use a wide aperture. Start with f/8 or f/16; this will give you a great level of detail.
If you’re going to use a shallow depth of field to blur the background and emphasize the falling leaves, start with an aperture of f/5.6 and reduce until you reach your desired effect.
Focusing on the falling leaves can be one of the most challenging aspects of this type of photography. I suggest using continuous autofocus; this will allow you to continue focusing on the leaves even as they fall.
If the leaves are not falling naturally, don’t be afraid to create your own composition. Try grabbing some leaves and throwing them into the sky. Also, if the day is windy try taking photos going against and toward the wind for some interesting photographs.
20. Make Use of Photo-editing Software
Make your fall images stand out by spending some time working on it in post-processing.
Photo-editing software like Aperture and Lightroom enables you to enhance the vibrancy and saturation of fall images. Other than making the colors pop, these adjustments can help you bring back some lost details due to environmental elements such as fog and haze.
Your image may also benefit from other adjustments such as boosting shadows, sharpness, and contrast using editing software.
The beautiful colors that occur in autumn are incredible on camera, especially at the hands of an informed photographer.
When you go out to shoot, remember to use the tips mentioned above to help you make your autumn photography stand out.
Don’t let these precious fall months slip out of your grasp- head out with your camera and make extraordinary images this fall season.