How to Take Stunning Autumn Photos

Walking through the autumn leaves, Lake Chuzenji, Japan.
Walking through the autumn leaves, Lake Chuzenji, Japan. | Source

Autumn is my favourite time of year, especially in a country where the majority of the trees are deciduous!

Fall has an almost mystical feel, with the bright colours, misty ambiance - the slowing and cooling of the world.

As the weather turns cooler, the trees turn into their photogenic fall hues. Fiery reds, goldens, rich browns, brilliant oranges and yellows appear before the leaves are swept away by winter. Crunching through the drying, colorful leaves, renews energy and calms stress.

Foggy mornings, dew-drenched fallen leaves and early colorful sunsets make this the most breathtaking season for photography!

Follow the tips below to take better photos this autumn!

Towards sunset along the Philosopher's Way, Kyoto Japan. The softer light brings out the red.
Towards sunset along the Philosopher's Way, Kyoto Japan. The softer light brings out the red. | Source
Soon after sunrise, Tamozawa Imperial Villa, Nikko, Japan.
Soon after sunrise, Tamozawa Imperial Villa, Nikko, Japan. | Source

1. Shoot in the golden hours

The light from the setting sun, when your shadow is longer than yourself, tinges everything with warm reds, oranges and gold.

The warmer and softer light, brings out the autumn leaf colors even more, and can provide lovely lighting effects.

As a lovely bonus, you don't have to wait long before you can shoot wonderful sunset photos, the perfect reflection of autumn hues in the skies!

Just after sunset, the landscape and leaves will be tinged with blue and purple in the fading dusk light.

Sunrises also provided warmer colors and a fantastic ambiance, especially when fog hugs the ground. But for me, that is far too early in the morning!

You can capture some lovely dew-covered and frosty photos as the sun appears. Lakes are ideal to photograph in the morning as the fog hugs the landscape, slowly lifting as the sun warms the air.

Tip: Use a tripod to steady your camera in the lower light levels.

Shooting away from the sun - the buildings and trees were brightly lit. Unfortunately I wasn't there at dusk, so the colours aren't as rich. Quedlinburg, Germany.
Shooting away from the sun - the buildings and trees were brightly lit. Unfortunately I wasn't there at dusk, so the colours aren't as rich. Quedlinburg, Germany. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Shooting into the sun gave an interesting flare, but washed the red out! Tamozawa Imperial Villa, Nikko, Japan.Autumn hues are starting to show. An overcast day and a green background helps boost the color in the leaves. Fukushima, Japan.The red maple leaves stand out against ones that are still green, and a darker background. Tasmania, Australia.
Shooting into the sun gave an interesting flare, but washed the red out! Tamozawa Imperial Villa, Nikko, Japan.
Shooting into the sun gave an interesting flare, but washed the red out! Tamozawa Imperial Villa, Nikko, Japan. | Source
Autumn hues are starting to show. An overcast day and a green background helps boost the color in the leaves. Fukushima, Japan.
Autumn hues are starting to show. An overcast day and a green background helps boost the color in the leaves. Fukushima, Japan. | Source
The red maple leaves stand out against ones that are still green, and a darker background. Tasmania, Australia.
The red maple leaves stand out against ones that are still green, and a darker background. Tasmania, Australia. | Source

2. Shoot away from the sun

Photographing into the sun will reduce the color saturation and can introduce bright flares.

With the sun behind you, or to one side, autumn foliage is well lit and not in shadow.

Use a lens hood or another form of shade over the lens to block direct light on the lens if you want to shoot towards the sun and avoid flare-effects.

Alternatively, hide the sun behind a thick tree branch to create atmospheric rays of light.

3. Contrast your colours

Shooting against a contrasting background will make the colors stand out.

  • red leaves on a background of bright green grass
  • evergreen trees, gold or orange leaves in front of a blue sky or lake
  • light brown or yellow foliage on black rocks

4. Use a polarising filter

If you have a DSLR or can attach a filter, a polarizer is a great investment.

Polarizing filters make all colours much richer - blue skies become incredibly blue and much less washed out!

An rainy day makes the colours in the maple stand out. Tasmania, Australia.
An rainy day makes the colours in the maple stand out. Tasmania, Australia. | Source

5. Shoot on overcast and rainy days

Harsh shadows and over-blown highlights are avoided by shooting on cloudy days, which actually makes colors more vibrant in photos.

Wet leaves have deeper colors than dry sun-drenched leaves, but make sure your camera is protected against the rain!

What's your favourite season to photograph?

  • Autumn / Fall - jewel-like rich colours and a warm, comforting light.
  • Winter - cold, quiet and pristine landscape covered in snow.
  • Spring - frisky and baby animals, new flowers and bright green growth.
  • Summer - flowers in full bloom, people enjoying the warmth and sun.
See results without voting

6. Underexpose a little

Slightly underexposing photos makes colors deeper, although you don't want to pull the exposure too far back because you will lose the details in shadow.

7. Play with the white balance

Some cameras allow you to alter the white balance, making photos warmer when you snap.

If your camera has a 'cloudy' setting, it will increase the color temperature a little, bringing out more color in fall foliage.

Alternatively, you can shift the white balance in most photo processing programs.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Shooting against a bright sky, I chose to under-expose and make the white balance warmer to capture the golds and red of the church roof. Quedlinburg, Germany.Lake Yuno near Nikko in Japan. I hid the sun behind the right mountain to pull the colors up, although it was difficult with the bright sky!A temple roof in Nikko, Japan surrounded by autumn foliage. The colors in the top right are much more washed out as they are in bright sunlight.
Shooting against a bright sky, I chose to under-expose and make the white balance warmer to capture the golds and red of the church roof. Quedlinburg, Germany.
Shooting against a bright sky, I chose to under-expose and make the white balance warmer to capture the golds and red of the church roof. Quedlinburg, Germany. | Source
Lake Yuno near Nikko in Japan. I hid the sun behind the right mountain to pull the colors up, although it was difficult with the bright sky!
Lake Yuno near Nikko in Japan. I hid the sun behind the right mountain to pull the colors up, although it was difficult with the bright sky! | Source
A temple roof in Nikko, Japan surrounded by autumn foliage. The colors in the top right are much more washed out as they are in bright sunlight.
A temple roof in Nikko, Japan surrounded by autumn foliage. The colors in the top right are much more washed out as they are in bright sunlight. | Source

9. Change your camera settings

Aperture Priority mode (AV or A)

A wide aperture (low f-stop numbers) gives a lovely background blur in photos, important when taking close-up macro shots of single leaves. The colors of the background will blend and blur together, making the focused leaf pop out of the photo.

To capture all the details of a landscape shot, use a small aperture (higher f-stop numbers).

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Near the Kanmangafuchi abyss in Nikko, Japan. Post processed to bring up the colors.Fall foliage lining the path to a cemetery in Nikko, Japan.A dried seed head at Quedlinburg castle in autumn with great background blur.A slow shutter speed (and a tripod) is used to capture a waterfall at sunset, surrounded by fantastic fall foliage.
Near the Kanmangafuchi abyss in Nikko, Japan. Post processed to bring up the colors.
Near the Kanmangafuchi abyss in Nikko, Japan. Post processed to bring up the colors. | Source
Fall foliage lining the path to a cemetery in Nikko, Japan.
Fall foliage lining the path to a cemetery in Nikko, Japan. | Source
A dried seed head at Quedlinburg castle in autumn with great background blur.
A dried seed head at Quedlinburg castle in autumn with great background blur. | Source
A slow shutter speed (and a tripod) is used to capture a waterfall at sunset, surrounded by fantastic fall foliage.
A slow shutter speed (and a tripod) is used to capture a waterfall at sunset, surrounded by fantastic fall foliage. | Source

ISO

Use an ISO of around 100 to minimize noise in the lower light and capture crisp details.

You may need a tripod or to rest your camera on a solid surface and use the timer with low ISO levels.

Higher ISO levels can introduce more noise, but require less stability.

Shutter speed

Set a long shutter speed to make the world blur around still, fallen leaves - wonderful when shooting around water.

10. Post-process fall photos

There are a number of changes that you can apply in image processing software to bring warm colours to life.

  • Make the color temperature warmer (yellow).
  • Add a slight red tin (warmer).
  • Increase the contrast a little to deepen the colors.
  • Increase the saturation of colors - this can change the sky's color in odd ways!
  • Decrease the exposure a little to deepen colors.
  • Decrease the highlights or deepen shadows a little to make colors more vibrant.

A rooftop in the World Heritage listed town of Quedlinburg, Germany, surrounded by autumn foliage.
A rooftop in the World Heritage listed town of Quedlinburg, Germany, surrounded by autumn foliage. | Source

A note on camera gear and software

You have more room to play with colors and settings if you have a DSLR and Photoshop.

But don't let that stop you from taking fall photos with your point and shoot, and using free photo software!

My trusty point and shoot

My old Canon Powershot S3 IS took all but a few of the photos on this page. It's a great camera for travel, just light and flexible enough, with great built-in image stabilization, useful for close up, zoom and landscape shots.

Down the garden path - taken with my Canon 650D DSLR camera and the 24-70mm wide angle lens.
Down the garden path - taken with my Canon 650D DSLR camera and the 24-70mm wide angle lens. | Source

More advanced gear

I've since upgraded to a Canon DSLR, with a few professional lenses.

A wide-angle lens is perfect for capturing the colourful landscape, while a portrait or macro lens is perfect for getting in close to the beautiful leaves.

Guide to choosing the right lenses

A tripod for more stability

Occasionally I'll use a tripod or GorillaPod to increase the stability for lower light shots, but generally I travel without.

For my heavier camera, I have purchased a carbon tripod - light enough to take on day hikes, and yet perfectly stable to capture the sharpest of wide angle shots.

Software for post-processing

As the Powershot does not shoot in RAW format (it only takes JPGs), I did not invest in expensive photo processing software until I upgraded. Instead used to use iPhoto (came with my computer) or Gimp (free) for more difficult work.

Gimp, Flickr, and other online site also provide filters to turn your autumn photos into a work of art.

I have recently fallen in love with Lightroom 5.

The photo library organisation and tagging tools are so much better than those in iPhoto, and it can deal with a much larger number of photos. iPhoto quickly became unstable when my library size grew after purchasing the DSLR.

The image processing and touch-up tools are not as comprehensive as those in Photoshop or the Gimp, but they suit my needs well.

They do have profiles to correct the lenses that I use on my DSLR - especially good when you are using non-professional lenses and cameras!

Four part tutorial on fall photography

Did you know?

The red and orange colors in autumn leaves is from carotene, and are normally hidden by the green chlorophyll molecules.

As the chlorophyll molecules break down in cooler weather, the red and orange colors can be seen.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A beautiful red vine framing the statue on the old town hall in Quedlinburg, Germany.Close up of a maple leaf against a bright sky, showing the color patches and veins.Apples are in season in autumn - for me that means cake baking!An autumn leaf on tatami.
A beautiful red vine framing the statue on the old town hall in Quedlinburg, Germany.
A beautiful red vine framing the statue on the old town hall in Quedlinburg, Germany. | Source
Close up of a maple leaf against a bright sky, showing the color patches and veins.
Close up of a maple leaf against a bright sky, showing the color patches and veins. | Source
Apples are in season in autumn - for me that means cake baking!
Apples are in season in autumn - for me that means cake baking! | Source
An autumn leaf on tatami.
An autumn leaf on tatami. | Source

Places to shoot in fall

Parks and gardens full of deciduous trees and plants - perfect camera fodder.

Old buildings covered in deciduous golden or red vines.

Deep in forests, leaves lying thick on the ground - perfect for capturing photos of wildlife like deer, birds or squirrels.

Wide landscapes of mountains and tree-lined lakes and rivers.

Farmers markets, apple orchards and pumpkin patches to capture seasonal produce.

Don't forget to bring some fallen leaves home for taking macro shots at your leisure.

Autumn leaves on a cobblestone path, near Shiraito falls, Nikko, Japan.
Autumn leaves on a cobblestone path, near Shiraito falls, Nikko, Japan. | Source

Where do you shoot fall photos?

Where are your favorite places, and what are your favorite subjects to photograph in fall?

Let us know in the comments below!

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Comments 19 comments

carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

Photos are absolutely gorgeous. thanks for taking the time to share all this beauty. Voted UP and share.


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Thanks Carol! Autumn is my favourite time of year, just wish I had a bit more time and energy to spare this year to get out with my camera and enjoy it more!


innerspin profile image

innerspin 4 years ago from uk

Love your photographs. Maybe, with your helpful tips, this will be the year I finally learn how to take better pictures. Thanks!


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

Beautiful pictures! I was actually out this morning taking fall pictures. It had rained last night, so there was fog and it was getting ready to rain again. I love your tips and tricks. Voted up/tweeted and pinned. :)


christin53 profile image

christin53 4 years ago from UK

Lovely photos and lots of useful information for beginners like me. I'm looking forward to taking some Autumn photos but it seems to be a bit late arriving here in England the trees still have their green leaves.


melbel profile image

melbel 4 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

Wow! I'm actually a bit jealous of all these photos. You have a real skill with taking pictures (not me, I'm not very artistic.)

These are some awesome tips. I'm going to have to keep these in mind next time I'm out with a camera. I'll definitely post what I take on Flickr and share them with you. Such an awesome and colorful hub! I'm a sucker for fall colors!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Thank you for the suggestions on how best to capture the beauty if the fall season. I learned something new today: white balance.


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Kim - I'm happy the tips are useful! My main rule (with digital cameras) is to take lots and lots and lots of photos, and some have to look good Have fun this season!

Cyndi - The colours here are only just starting (was a late summer). Fog, rain, overcast sky and autumn colours - sounds perfect! Thank you!

Ann-Christin - It's late coming to Germany too, I thought the heat would never end! Enjoy the fall colours, and I'd love to see some of your photos - the photos you took of the meerkats are absolutely fabulous!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Mel - My skill is in taking hundreds and thousands of photos - I'd be lost without digital! Fall colours are the best, am impatient for them to arrive here, although the weather is much cooler now. I'll look forward to your Flickr posts!

Teaches - Glad there was a tip in here that you could use! White balance is important in autumn, but also when taking photos of food (for some reason, warmer photos of food seem more appealing!)


livingsta profile image

livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Beautiful photos! Thank you for sharing. Voted up :)


TrahnTheMan profile image

TrahnTheMan 4 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

A seriously helpful hub by a genuine photographer- thank you! Beautiful photos Kymberly, thanks for sharing.


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

Once again! Awesome hub! I have now linked yours to mine. Beautiful pictures. Photography is such a fun journey and it's great to see the different things that people photograph, as per their style. You're awesome!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Thanks so much Cyndi! Looking forward to getting out this weekend and snapping some autumn photos!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

Beautful and informative hub. You have excellent advise here and your photography is wonderful! I love taking pictures in fall. I like to catch all the contrasting colors. This is an excellent hub! Voted up and morel! :)


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

sgbrown - Thank you so much! I'm honoured by your comments, because your wildlife photos are stunning!


By Lori profile image

By Lori 3 years ago from USA

Really nice Hub. Just beautiful. My favorite season is Fall.


caseymel profile image

caseymel 2 years ago from Indiana

Thanks for the tips! I would love to take a few good ones with my kids!


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 17 months ago

Love the brilliant photos of the fall foliage.


Snakesmum profile image

Snakesmum 16 months ago from Victoria, Australia

Enjoyed your photos, and wish I could take them as well. My camera is a point and shoot, and I'm not that good with it. Do enjoy photography though.

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