With Summer coming to a close, days getting shorter and the cool, crisper air of Fall beginning to draw in, many people think it’s time to pack away their photography gear. However, this could not be further from the truth. The months of September and October provide some, if not the best, conditions for creating great photographs.
The vast array of oranges, yellows, browns and greens produced as leaves begin to change provide ample photographic opportunities that aren’t available to shoot at any other time of the year. Taking advantage of these rich shades of colour is incredibly evocative, helps your pictures to tell a story and makes them really pop off the page or screen.
If possible, I would advise photographing foliage colour early in the morning or later at night when the light is a little softer and more golden.
This helps colours appear deeper and more vivid rather than shooting in the bright, midday sun. A slightly cloudy day is also advantageous as it diffuses the sun’s harshness. The subsequent soft light helps saturate the colours of leaves and creates beautiful, moody Fall photographs that can really evoke the feeling that the seasons have begun to change.
I tend to keep a circular polarizing filter on my camera pretty much all the time when photographing Fall foliage. This is because it reduces unwanted reflections, cuts glare (especially useful if photographing in bright sunlight) and therefore adds further saturation to the already intense colour of the foliage.
Further, positioning yourself so the vivid colours of the leaves are backlit by the sun will also give your images an extra dimension. Indeed, having the leaves illuminated by the sun from behind, means you can see additional details such as their veins and ensures the colours are bolder and brighter. For example, in this photograph I used this technique coupled with a large aperture and shallow depth of field to ensure that all attention was focused on the intense red colours of the closest leaves.
If photographed up against a clear blue sky, using this backlit technique also means you can achieve a great contrast between the rich colour of the leaves and the sky.
You can see this in the example below.
Fall is a great time to explore different locations and the intensity of colours will vary from place to place; the type, intensity and duration of how long this colour lasts will change depending on where you are and the amount and type of foliage.
This is why many people travel to particular locations in search of the best fall colour. For example, the famous Fall colour found in New England on the East Coast of the US attracts photographers from all over the world. However, wherever you are there should be some type of colour to shoot.
Therefore, use Fall as an opportunity to take a drive somewhere new, hike in the woods or re-visit a previous location to see the difference that the seasonal change has made; discover back roads or paths less trodden to find the best spots to make the most of the unique colours and textures that this season offers. Often you will be really surprised by what you discover and the best photographs will come when you least expect them.
I discovered this back road unexpectedly on a drive to a pre-planned location. I ended up pulling over and used the curve of the road as a leading line to achieve my best shot of the day!
Composition is obviously important whatever season you are photographing in.
However, with all the intensity of colour around during Fall, it can easy to forget the basic compositional rules. Therefore, remember Autumn offers great opportunities to take advantage of strong leading lines, balance and natural frames to draw a viewer’s attention to where you want it to go within the photo. For example, the leading lines of this bridge work perfectly to form a frame and therefore draw attention to the prominent, autumnal tree.
Also, try to experiment with shooting from different angles and perspectives to bring heightened drama and creativity to your photographs. One way of doing this is to remember to always look up and down; you never know what you may be missing!
I particularly like this shot where I adopting a different perspective by shooting straight down at the ground to achieve a photograph with some lovely fall colour and a contrast of texture between the fallen leaves and rocks.
Look for Details
Don’t be afraid to look for details in the autumnal landscape as well as just focusing on wider landscape shots.
These images can often just be as powerful, whether it’s water droplets hanging off the branches of a tree or just a solitary fallen leaf sitting on the ground as with this shot. By shooting close ups and focusing on a particular detail, such as with this example, you can create a minimalist photograph that can be just as strong as a more complex landscape.
You can also focus on details through photographing reflections especially on windier days when it can be tricky to capture specific leafs.
In these instances, abstract photographs of autumnal colours reflected in water can create really unique and interesting photographs. You can also use the stillness of puddles, ponds and lakes to reflect Fall colours. This adds extra balance and visual impact to your photographs as with this example.