Photography sometimes means finding the beauty where others see nothing, but there’s certainly no shortage of beautiful things to photograph during the peak of fall. Once the trees begin to go from a predictable green to vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows, there are plenty of photographic opportunities.
But with plenty of opportunities come plenty of photos, and the threat of taking a photo that just blends in with all the other images out there. So how do you take fall foliage photos that really pop? We’ve rounded up 20 tips to help you perfect your shots this season.
Time it right.****
Timing is big when it comes to capturing fall foliage. Too soon, and you’ll still be capturing quite a bit of green. Too late, and the wind will empty the trees of all their leaves. To complicate things further, different areas will have different peaks of their colour seasons. Plan ahead with a tool like the Peak Fall Foliage Map, or shoot near where you live so you can watch the colours change.
Try for sidelight.
Light coming in from the side often creates an excellent effect, as well as making techniques like backlighting possible. To get the sunshine coming in from the side, shoot early in the morning or a few hours before sunset. Just after sunrise and just before sunset offers a nice warm hue as well.
Shoot on an overcast day, or bring a polarising filter.****
If you can’t go out at the start or the end of the day, wait for an overcast sky if you can. A high noon sun with no clouds will leave you with harsh shadows and make capturing a great shot difficult. If you want to shoot when the sun is shining, at least bring a polarising filter with you. Then you can adjust the intensity of the blue in the sky and incorporate that into your shots.
Bring a tripod.
Landscape shots often benefit from a tripod, and fall foliage is no exception. To keep the scene sharp, a narrow aperture is necessary, but when you use a narrow aperture, you also need a slower shutter speed. To keep blur out of the shot, keep the camera steady with a tripod. It also helps to use a remote or the self-timer so don’t introduce any movement while pressing the shutter release. Tripods are also necessary to take a long exposure shot and smooth out moving water in an autumn scene.
High perspectives are often breathtaking in the autumn, showing just how much colour there is. If you can, search for a lookout point, like a hill or tall building. Sometimes even climbing a ladder, chair or standing on top of whatever’s available helps too.
Try getting in close.
Autumn offers a lot of beautiful scenes—but don’t get so caught up in the big picture that you miss the little details. Close-ups often work well for fall foliage. If you have a macro lens, be sure to bring it along. Snap close-ups of the texture on a leaf, look for a leaf that is halfway through its colour change, or look at lesser-used subjects like mushrooms and acorns.
Shoot in RAW.
To really make that colour pop, shoot in RAW so you have more possibilities in post processing. RAW editors allow you to adjust the saturation and vibrance, as well as options like white balance and exposure. Be sure to try to get it right as you shoot, but use RAW to make those little tweaks afterwards.
Look for reflections.
Reflections mean twice the colour. Lakes make an excellent natural mirror, just wait for a day when there’s very little wind. Even moving water can reflect colours though. Try shooting a long exposure (don’t forget a neutral density filter and a tripod). The blurred water won’t mirror the trees exactly, but it will capture their colour, so that rush of water isn’t white, but yellow, orange or red.
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