Tips on Photographing Fall Foliage

There is one season in particular that offers the most picturesque moments of the year—Fall. When Fall comes around each year, there's always a window of opportunity to capture the autumn foliage at its peak. Sometimes that window varies in length depending on the season. It's our job as a photographer to do the research and capture the foliage before it's gone.

Fall colors taken in utah

This Fall season, we want you to be more prepared than ever. We've compiled a list of tips to help your next Fall foliage photo be more than just your average snapshot. There's a reason why autumn is so sought after as a landscape photographer, and it's now our chance to prove why. So, what makes a great Fall foliage landscape image? Let's take an in-depth look below.

Great Light

The first tip is one that can really make or break a photograph—capturing great light. Afterall, isn't that what photography is all about? Light can be unpredictable, but for optimal chances, you'll want to shoot around dawn or dusk. These two opposite times of day provide not only ideal light opportunities for autumn color, but they also bring more potential for interesting subjects; like morning dew on leaves or potential wildlife sightings. Not to mention, at these times, you are less likely to run into other people who might crowd your shot, especially in the early morning.

Interesting Light

In addition to working with great light, capturing interesting light can help create uniqueness to your image. For example, a rogue beam of light, multiple streaks of light, or even moody light amidst fall leaves. Interesting light can create emphasis on your subject and provide eye-catching views. Autumn is a great time to incorporate the night sky or artificial light, like window light from a home or cabin. Train your eye to notice these happenstances and use it to your advantage.

fall foliage image by forest barkdoll-weil

Credit: Forest Barkdoll-Weil | Camera: Nikon D850 & Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 

Timelessness

This next tip is all about creating an image that is everlasting. Something that can't be dated or traced back to a certain time period, other than the fact it was taken in Fall of course. In order to achieve this, make sure to eliminate any distractions. If necessary, remove buildings, people or signs that just get in the way.

Simplicity

Speaking of eliminating distractions, something that will no doubt enhance your image is simplicity. Instead of asking, "what can I add to this image to make it better,” ask "what can I take away?" Hold fast to the phrase, "less is more." Having a clean background, one main subject, clean lines, and a clean foreground can really make a difference in your Fall photo. Only show what you want to show and if that means removing something from the image after the fact, do it.

Tells a Story

Any image that engages the viewer enough to ask questions, tells a story. Your goal is to capture the viewer's imagination. Most likely this can be achieved by what we've already talked about above, but try to incorporate some mystery in your Fall image. It is spooky season anyhow, right?

Captures Color

This photo tip kind of goes without saying, especially for autumn photography. The whole purpose of photographing Fall foliage is to capture the vibrant colors of fall leaves, so why not reap the benefits from the most colorful time of year? Look to capture contrasting color within the mixture of fall foliage. Use the sunset or color of the sky to your advantage.

Fall colors taken by Jonny Hill

Credit: Jonny Hill | Camera: Canon R5 & Tamron 24-70mm F2.8

Post-Processing

As photographers, it's natural for us to compare our images to other's work. When we do this, it's easy to look at our own images straight from the camera and ask ourselves, "why do my photos look so flat?" Well, we shoot RAW. Jpegs look way better out of the camera. Why? It adds contrast, sharpening, color saturation, blacks and brightness right in camera. It processes it for you. When we shoot in RAW, it's our job to make our own creative adjustments. We suggest using Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, or Capture One.

Interesting Locations

Location matters. If you want to take more interesting photos, stand in front of interesting places. If you want to capture Fall color, make an effort to find locations with the best subject matter. Prepare to travel or hike to your destination. Most of the time, these places aren't in your neighborhood, so plan to take a trip up to the mountains. Try to find angles or views that haven't been seen before. If permitted, use a drone to get a bird's eye view.

Fall photo taken by Mike Thueson

Credit: Mike Thueson | Camera: DJI Mavic Pro

Choosing the Right Gear

When looking into what camera gear is best for fall photography, of course start with what you have. If you're planning to upgrade in the near future, consider these camera features: resolution, sensor size, design, and image stabilization. Or like we've mentioned above, do some research and invest in a drone.

Camera 

If you are a landscape photographer, you already know the more resolution the better. In terms of the sensor size, go for full-frame, that way you have more real estate to work with. Since you will be traveling to find fall foliage, get a camera that's compact and easy to carry. You'll also want to make sure it has weather-sealing, after all, Autumn weather can be unpredictable and cloudy skies could lead to potential moisture. Lastly, image stabilization is crucial for a sharp image, especially for days you forget a tripod. 

To list our top camera recommendations, we'll start with the Canon EOS R5. Now, keep in mind, there are quite a few options from Canon and other brands that would additionally be amazing. These are just our TOP choices. From Nikon, we would recommend the Nikon Z7 II and Sony, the A7 IV or A7R IV. Even though Fujifilm has mainly crop-sensor options, the new high-megapixel X-H2 would be a phenomenal choice. 

Lenses

When taking expansive landscape photographs or trying to capture the sweeping Fall colors, use a wide-angle lens. Most common zoom focal lengths include: 14-24mm, 16-35mm, and 12-24mm. A good prime lens would be a 14mm or 20mm. Both Sigma and Tamron have great 3rd-party options in these focal ranges for more affordable prices. 

Accessories

When it comes to accessories, try to keep it simple. To help with contrast and eliminating glare, keep a circular polarizer on hand. We've briefly mentioned this next item above, but having a tripod is crucial for landscape photography. Lastly, you might consider a shutter remote. This can help if you plan on taking longer exposures or for extra stability.

With everything said and done, we hope you have fun capturing the beautiful autumn color this season. Photographing Fall color is something we look forward to and love seeing your images of here at the store. We hope these fall foliage photography tips help enable you to take your best Fall photos yet.

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