15 EXPERT Fall Photography Tips for Capturing Spellbinding Images
15 EXPERT Fall Photography Tips for Capturing Spellbinding Images
1. Check fall color reports
The perfect fall photo is all about TIMING. Google or sign up for your state’s fall foliage report, and be sure to check it often. Keep an eye on the weather too – a cold snap, storm, or strong winds can change fall foliage conditions quickly. Also keep in mind that fall color changes dramatically depending on elevation levels, so fall color in the mountains will often occur much earlier than at lower elevations. If in doubt, arriving before “peak” color is often a good bet as there will be a range of colors and trees turning, and a lower risk of one stormy night completely knocking down all the leaves.
2. Research and prepare
Start with researching the area you are photographing – what types of trees does it have? Are these trees that change color? What colors do you expect to find there? Are there other features of the area that you could photograph as well – a waterfall, wildlife, etc? Then compile a list of places saved from social media, Pinterest, blogs, and more to get ideas of good locations and how to capture them. Next prepare everything you’ll need – layers and possibly packing a rain jacket, charging your batteries, clearing memory cards, selecting the lens(es) you think will capture the images best, and so on.
3. Shoot on an overcast day
Cloudy and overcast days have a soft, diffuse light that is ideal for fall photography. Sunny days may seem nicer to explore on, but sunny conditions often result in high contrast, difficult to edit images. When you shoot on a cloudy day, you’ll have more ability to play with the colors, create a soft, moody feel, and have much more flexibility in to edit the image the way you want it. An extra bonus of cloudy days is the ability to shoot for longer, as the lighting remains more or less the same throughout the day.
4. Use a polarizing filter
5. Take photos at golden hour
Arguably the most beautiful lighting of the day is during golden hour, which is the hour during sunrise and sunset. Fall colors and everything else in frame takes on a soft, golden hue, unifying the image and emphasizing the bright fall foliage. Golden hour is a softer and more diffuse light than other times of day, so similar to shooting during cloudy days, you won’t struggle with high contrast images that have too much difference between highlights and shadows.
6. Play with long exposure shots
Water is a fantastic element to include in fall photographs. Rivers, waterfalls, and more can create dreamy, compelling images. Any water motion will render as white in a long exposure, creating a beautiful contrast for the fall foliage colors. Use a tripod, a polarizing filter to cut glare (and help you get a longer exposure), and a shutter delay or remote for sharp images.
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7. Capture wider scenes
Using a wide-angle lens to capture an entire scene of fall color results in a dramatic and vivid shot. Shooting wide allows you to include a variety of colors, showcase the overall landscape, and include other subjects or elements that help strengthen the overall image.
8. Don’t overlook detail shots
Don’t forget to look down and capture the small details of fall as well. Taking macro fall photographs are a fantastic way to focus in on one specific detail of fall color, showcase a single subject, or simplify a scene to make it more powerful. Mushrooms, single fall leaves, water droplets on foliage, and more are all great subjects for this.
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9. Create a compressed shot
Leaving your zoom lens at home in favor of wide-angle and macro lenses might be the right choice depending on what you intend to capture, but I would highly encourage you to experiment with your biggest zoom lens during fall. A zoom lens allows you to compress layers, make mountains appear larger, and create other unique effects that are perfect for fall photography.
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10. Play with backlighting
Shooting against the sun or another light source allows the light to filter through the leaves, which have become more translucent as they change color. Backlit shots have a beautiful glowing effect, and this can be emphasized even more when shooting backlit during sunrise or sunset. Try combining backlit shots with a macro shot to capture intricate detail of the leaf veins.
11. Look for patterns
Fall foliage photos can often look busy or unstructured, so finding a pattern can help focus the image and create a compelling composition. Patterns are visually appealing, and fall color lends itself so well to patterns.
12. Utilize fog & mist for a moody image
If you are a fan of fog, autumn is the best time to capture it. Fog occurs in the morning after cool or cold nights, when the longer fall nights result in higher levels of humidity. After the sun warms the ground and the air, the fog starts to dissipate, so make sure to photograph just after sunrise for the best result. Set your alarm early, check the weather reports, and research which areas near you are likely to have foggy conditions.
13. Capture reflections
Double the amount of vivid colors in your image by capturing autumn reflections. The symmetry of the scene makes for a compelling image. Look for fall foliage around lakes, and shoot on a rain-free day. Try shooting early in the day as well, when the water is more likely to be still. As the day goes on, oftentimes the wind picks up and disturbs the water surface, thus ruining the reflection.
14. Shoot from the sky
If you are looking for unique or dramatic fall photos, try changing up your perspective by shooting with a drone. Drone photos allow you to shoot top-down, an angle not often achievable in other types of photography. Drone photos also let you get unique angles or shots that are otherwise difficult to capture.
Not every photographer has a drone in their toolkit – so if you do not have one, play instead with changing up your perspective and angle by shooting high up, low down, shoot directly down on foliage, and more. Move around the scene and challenge yourself to capture a shot differently than your first instinct.
15. Simplify your image
The biggest challenge of capturing stunning fall photos is creating an image that isn’t too busy or complex, while also showcasing the beautiful fall foliage. One helpful tip is to try instead to simplify your image; instead of capturing everything and all of the colors at once, try focusing instead on one single patch of color, or one single subject. Using a macro or zoom lens can greatly help with this. Simplified images are often more powerful as there are less distracting elements taking away from the shot.
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Hey I’m Rebecca!
I’m a travel & outdoors photographer, blogger, and content greator living in the US but you can find me adventuring around the globe! On this blog I share tips to help you improve your photography, inspiration and advice to explore the outdoors, destination guides, travel tips, and more to plan your own adventures!
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