Fall is a refreshing time of year and I am certainly ready for it to get here. The air turns cooler after months of stifling heat and the whole world seems to wake up from a groggy, heat-induced, trance for a time before winter comes. Leaves quickly turn bright colors from their uniform green. Red, orange, gold, and so many other shades appear as every tree seems to compete with each other for attention.
Get ready to take advantage of the better weather and the bright colors to get some great photos!
Top Fall Photo Tips
Finding the Color
Every region gets Fall colors at different times. And even within a specific region, some areas will get color faster than others. The vast majority of the United States gets its peak Fall color in October but Fall color begins as early as September and ends in November for some areas. Your local State Park group will likely track the changing of the leaves in your state and places such as The Weather Channel also post frequent Fall Foliage reports.
When to Shoot
Once you find great Fall color you need to know when to shoot it.
Be early or be late. Bright and direct sunlight brings out the color in the leaves. For Fall leaves you want them to be brightly lit. Early morning or late afternoon gives you wonderful directly angled sunlight that works like a spotlight on the sides of the trees to give highlights and contrast.
Don’t forget to try backlighting your shot as well. Sun streaming through bright leaves can create a wonderful glow and sense of place. Just be sure to take your time and try several different exposures to make sure you get the right shot.
Become a storm chaser. I’m not talking about dangerous storms. Fall rains and small thunderstorms often leave perfect lighting and conditions for Fall photography behind. The rain washes pollution out of the air, rinses off the leaves, and darkens tree trunks for wonderful contrast. And if you’re lucky, you can get directional afternoon light illuminating the trees with dark rain clouds behind the trees.
Capture the Color
Don’t forget that Fall leaves often reflect more light than fresh green leaves. That can create blown out highlights in your photos. Consider underexposing by about 1/2 stop based on the camera’s built in meter. This not only reduces blown out highlights but intensifies color as well. Remember though, the accuracy of your meter will depend greatly on the metering mode you are using. Center weighted will give a different result than multipoint or single point. Try several different metering modes to get a better feel for the true lighting situation of your scene.
Filters are a great tool for helping make your Fall photos really pop. A color intensifier filter (I know, completely unimaginative name but that’s what it really is called) brings out the colors in a scene nicely. The common UV filter can help clarify an image by cutting through haze in the air (if you aren’t shooting right after a rain). A polarizing filter removes reflections from water surfaces if you are trying to capture fallen leaves in ponds or rivers.
Don’t forget about framing your shot. Yeah, that foliage is gorgeous but you need to think about your composition to do it justice in a photo. The rule of thirds, natural framing, point of view, centering, leading lines, and more must be considered. If you have the opportunity, shoot several different compositions of the same scene. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Clean it Up
Just like film photography needs touch up in the darkroom (yes, all good labs made minor edits to your shots when printing them), digital photography needs touch up. For digital though, you do the editing in the computer rather than with your arms up to the elbows in chemicals.
Check the Color
If you neglected your white balance before the shot, be sure to clean up the color in post processing. Red should be red, not purple.
Take a moment to tweak your exposure via levels. Face it, most photographers are control freaks and being able to play with highlights/midtones/shadows just makes us happy.
Got so excited you didn’t think about composure? Now’s your chance to fix it. Crop if you need to. I’m not suggesting you crop out 75% of your original frame but minor cropping to adjust composure or remove an overlooked bit of trash on the ground is a good option.