I adore the fall season. The temperatures begin to cool. The trees begin to change their pigments for a breathtaking reveal of color. Apples and begin to ripen into warm vibrant hues. And the smell of pumpkin spice lattes fill the air!
Living in the northern Midwest region of the United States, I am lucky enough to view the vibrant fall foliage that blankets my area each season. I find myself prowling the back roads every late September and early October.
However, even with plenty of opportunities to see the leaves put on their colorful display, photographing autumn color takes some practice. Today I am sharing some of the lessons I have learned in my pursuit of capturing the hues of the season so that you can capture them in your part of the world.
Chase the color
Fall color doesn’t all happen in the same place at the same time. Instead, it spreads in waves over the course of days and weeks. To capture it at its best, you might need to travel and chase it a bit.
Many publications in different regions will put out fall foliage forecasts. These anticipate what areas will be at peak color and at what time. Often, a state’s department of natural resources website will provide accurate and up-to-date information on the foliage color within the varying state parks. There are also apps that you can download to keep a watchful eye on color and plan your excursions.
With that said, it is important to see that these sources of information are updated regularly. Weather can be very unpredictable and alter the leaf color. Leaf color can go from not being quite at peak to past peak in under a week with the lightest frost!
Keep a close eye on your local weather forecasts as they will inform you on how the color is spreading and if any unpredictable weather is going to impact the foliage.
The best time to photograph fall color
Now that you found where to photograph that fall color, It’s time to get your camera ready! After all of that planning, you will want to maximize your time.
If you are like me, you will want to shoot for as many hours a day as you can. However, I find that early morning and late evening are my favorite times to capture the season.
The golden hour sunlight will enhance the colors of the trees. Many mornings misty fog will greet you, adding a layer of texture and mystery to your photos.
I also find that these times are somewhat quieter allowing for me to photograph the color without too many people to clone out of my final shots! I find these first and last moments of sunlight to be so peaceful and enjoy the relative solitude when photographing at these times.
Prepare for the weather
While the best fall days are cool and crisp and lovely, the weather during peak leaf color is highly unpredictable. It’s best to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way so that you aren’t too uncomfortable as you work to capture her with your camera.
If it is raining, use that opportunity to grab that macro lens and capture rain drops on leaves. If an unexpected storm comes through and knocks most of the leaves off the trees, capture the leaves blowing in the wind.
My favorite weather to shoot in is overcast conditions or even a slight mist. It gives the color a rich saturation without glare.
If you are lucky to have beautiful golden hour light, wait until the light is fiery orange and pair it with the golden foliage for a more intense show of color.
Bring layers of clothing so that you can bundle-up if necessary. having a simple rain cover for your camera can prevent major disasters for your gear. Boots, good socks, hats, and fingerless gloves are all good items to keep close by if the weather takes a turn.
Allow yourself to be creative
One of the reasons why I love fall so much is because it is so unique. It happens once a year for a short window and in only certain locations.
Allow this novelty to inspire your shooting! Instead of choosing your go-to lens for every shot, switch it up with something you rarely reach for. Even just using your everyday lenses in a new way can create fantastic results. Try changing your standard shutter speed and aperture settings to create something new.
This is a great opportunity to try some experimental techniques. Maybe you see one standing tree with color that still remains but all the other trees that surround it have lost their leaves. Use long exposure and try to pan your camera for a more impressionist feel to your imagery.
Try different perspectives and angles. I love to shoot from above with my son as he holds his collected nature treasures or that basket of apples that was just picked. Get down low to capture the majesty of the trees in front of you.
You also don’t have to depend on nature to give you all the color. Incorporate fall tones through clothing and other environmental elements.
Being creative during this time of year breaks you of your usual habits and puts you into a more creative space for your fall photos and beyond.
Focus on the details
If you just missed peak season for color or most of the leaves are on the ground, focus on interesting compositions, textures and patterns that surround you. Beautiful details can be found in your own backyard!
Find fall treasures like acorns, leaves, and produce and zoom in on the textures that make them special. Seeing these items in a new way can reveal an extra layer of magic of the season.
In the photos above, I captured flowers with the added element of light from my garden bed to illustrate color of fall. You do not need to be in a prime location to capture the fall color.
So whatever nature has in store for you this season, work to capture it in a way that embodies your unique experience of this time of year. Tell me in the comments about your favorite parts of fall and how you plan to photograph them!