5 Tips for photographing fall color beautifully

French philosopher Albert Camus once said, “Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower.” For photographers, this sentiment means a season full of beautiful colors and moods to capture.

Autumn officially begins in late September. It is around this time that we begin to see a seasonal change that has long inspired photographers from all over the northern hemisphere. What was perhaps a simple tree all summer has suddenly transformed into a colorful beauty. Now it can stand on its own as the subject of your photographs. Even a tree that lost all its leaves can be special! Give that tree some beautiful dramatic light or add a special compositional component and you can create a frame with an emotional pull and powerful narrative.

Location, Location, Location!

Most nature photographers will tell you that location is everything. And it’s true! I have been known to plan my trips in the fall around locations where I know foliage will be at its peak. I live in Manhattan, New York and while Central Park is a great location, I need more! This is when I plan a weekend getaway family trip to the Catskill Mountains. It is a short drive away and gives us an opportunity to reconnect with each other.

If you are unsure when color will be at its peak, there are many useful apps that can help you. My personal favorite is Leaf Peepr. You can also visit your state’s tourism website or do a simple Google search and easily find peak fall color information for your area.

Are you unable to travel in the fall and don’t have the rich leaf color you are yearning for in your area? You can still create colorful foliage and by simply changing your perspective!

My son and I will often go for walks in the city and collect artifacts of fall. By positioning a few leaves in a unique way or by changing your own perspective, you can create golden backlit foliage or play-up the textures and shapes of the leaves you have access to.

Do not be afraid to get low to the ground. Feel free to move some leaves to a better location. Don’t hesitate to make a pretty arrangement for your photo! By letting your creativity take over you can provide a fun and unexpected perspective on fall!

Capture the details

The temptation of wide landscape images is hard to resist as you stare out on those vast seas of glorious fall color. However, do not forget to capture the beauty of fall in the details.

Autumn is a great time to explore macro photography! Not only do the fall leaves have incredible color, but their texture and the details of the variations in color can be incredible up close. You may not think that macro photography can be emotive and have sensory components, but it truly can. During this time when everything living is slowly fading and making way for a cold season to come, the details can really hone in on that narrative.

Know Your Light

Ask any photographer what the most important component of photography is and she will undoubtedly answer, “Light!” It is no different when capturing fall color and is arguably especially so. You need ideal light to capture the colors and textures of the trees during this magical time. Having a firm understanding of how to use light can ensure that the hues you see in front of your camera are just as rich and vibrant in your photographs.

One of my favorite times to photograph fall foliage is during golden hour or ‘magic’ hour. This is the hour after the sun rises or before the sun falls. During this time the angle and color of the light is universally flattering.

By contrast, cloudy days can provide an equally desirable light source to use as they bring out those rich tones and hues that aren’t always visible under the sun. And here’s a secret: while many people do not favor flat light, it is my absolute favorite for capturing fall colors!

Without having to contend with harsh highlights, I am able to capture the saturated colors of fall foliage and retain every last detail of those leaves. Even more, overcast days allow leaves to retain their natural moisture. This results in more vibrant colors than those leaves that the sun has dried.

Related: 6 Things you probably didn’t know about the golden hour

In the fall, golden hour light becomes especially warm, rich, and golden. Almost orange, this light can further enhance the autumn landscape. The angle of the light is lower than it is in the summer. This more directional light provides increased depth.

Color Play

After you have searched for and scouted the perfect fall foliage scene, consider how you are going to use and capture that magnificent color. Personally, I love to photograph my son amongst the fall foliage.

Before setting-out, I try to have an idea of the colors of the leaves where we will be going. If there are a lot of warm yellows, reds, and oranges in the leaves I will dress him in cooler or more neutral tones. If there are more greens, grays, or undersaturated colors, then I will dress my subject in warmer tones to compliment the scene. By choosing clothing and accessories that compliment the colors of the leaves, you add balance to the scene and allow your subject to stand out from the background.

Use the weather

Fall happens in such a short window. It seems that the temperatures can change from sweltering summer heat to wintry cold in an instant. The weather can be unstable with rain, fog, wind and even frost…and all in the same day!

Don’t let the elements stop you from exploring outside during this time. In fact, the elements ca  add another layer of authenticity, texture, or mystery to your photography that should be welcomed.

My absolute favorite time during the fall is when you have those cool nights and wake up to a thick layer of mist and fog. Fog can soften and mute colors, add mood, atmosphere and beautiful compositions. I don’t hesitate to wake up my son a little earlier than normal and we run outside with the dogs before breakfast to go exploring.

Fall is a wonderful opportunity for photographers of all genres to be inspired and create photo magic. Look at subjects that you shoot often with a new eye. Photograph them up-close, down low, in different weather and light. You will open your eyes to new scenes and will be sure to capture the beauty of the season.

About the Author:

Sarah is a natural light photographer that lives in Manhattan, NY with her husband, four year old son and a few furry babies. Sarah specializes in emotive portraiture and environmental lifestyle photography with an artistic and fine art style. She tries to find emotion in all of her images and seeks out dramatic light when available.

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