How to Take Stunning Autumn Photos
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!
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.
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!
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?
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!