As a mom, I consider the first day of fall to directly coincide with the debut of Starbucks’s PSL (that’s Pumpkin Spice Latte, for my uncaffeinated friends).

But as a photographer, I rely on the changing of the leaves into vibrant reds, oranges and yellows as my indicator that it’s time to document my family and clients during my favorite season.

Of course the first day of autumn is the same for everyone (September 22, 2016), but fall color emerges at different times across the country. I like referring to this interactive fall foliage map which visually shows the progression of peak color across the country. In Dallas we don’t see this change until early November, but the long wait is well worth capturing my son building a leaf fort or a client snuggling in a blanket with his momma.

mom cuddling baby in a plaid blanket outdoors by Missy Mayo

As a lover of bold colors in my images, fall is my very favorite season to photograph. I’d like to share three reasons why it may become your favorite time of year to capture, too!

Fall can turn the drab into fab

When location scouting, I value light and safety as my primary considerations, with visual interest being a close third. But a unique feature of fall is that a bland location can progress to sensational as the leaves change colors. The bottom right image demonstrates the summertime view of one of my favorite fall locations. As you can see, the overwhelming amount of green is not nearly as dynamic as the golden yellows and oranges that are on display in November.

how a location looks different in the summer and fall by Missy Mayo

In a location that offers beautiful fall color but limited visual interest, I tend to choose a telephoto lens and shoot with a wide aperture (such as f2.8 or larger) to help blur the background. One trick when capturing children is to shoot from slightly below, so that you are angling your camera up to the trees. This not only helps to eliminate any distractions, but will provide beautiful sparkly bokeh.

If I am fortunate to have both a beautiful setting and vibrant fall color, I generally choose a wide angle lens to showcase the beauty of the location. My Sigma 35mm Art f/1.4 lens is almost always my preference.

dad laughing with son at a creek during the fall by Missy Mayo

It’s easier than ever to get playful portraits

Do you want to know the secret to capturing images with energy? As a photographer, you often can’t wait around for something photogenic to happen – instead you must create the opportunity for emotion and movement. With both my own children and clients, I rely on games and questions to achieve this. For instance, in the image below I piled a bunch of leaves on my head and then shook them off onto her.

baby in a leaf pile by Missy Mayo

Leaves are a natural prop to encourage fun in front of the lens. Here are a few ideas for games to play that will guarantee your subject’s personality to shine through.

Babies and Toddlers:

  • put leaves on your head and then “sneeze” so they fall off
  • use a big leaf to play peek-a-boo
  • gently tickle their feet or neck
  • pretend to show them a leaf but “accidentally” continue to drop it

Older Children:

  • Build a leaf mountain and then run through it
  • have a leaf fight
  • start a scavenger hunt (can you find a yellow leaf bigger than your hand?)
  • find the buried “treasure” in the leaves (a small object or toy)
  • play Simon Says (Simon says to balance a leaf on your head)

Authentic props

Admittedly, I am a lifestyle shooter that often yearns to be a styled one. I adore genuine props that add a sense of time and place to an image. In addition, a non-portrait detail shot adds interest to photo albums, blog posts, and client galleries.

I am not talented at putting styled sessions together, but lucky for me autumn literally drops authentic props right at my feet. Aside from the obvious choice of leaves, some other favorite natural items that establish setting are pumpkins, apples, haystacks, mums, gourds, acorns, pine cones and scarecrows.

baby sitting in a pile of pumpkins by Missy Mayo

This fall, I plan to savor every bit of the seasonal change (with a latte in hand, of course). What aspects of fall do you love to photograph?

As a lover of bold colors in my pictures, fall is my favorite season to photograph. I’d like to share three reasons why it may become your favorite, too!

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