How To Take Great Fall Photographs

These tips will prepare you for the most colorful time of the year.

Whether you’re going out to shoot in a local park or taking a trip far from home, planning is the key to great autumn photography.

First, the basics: Don’t head out blind-check the internet for peak color in the area you’ll be photographing (www.fs.fed.us/news/fallcolors is a good resource), and check the weather forecast. Carry gear only for a single day, not the week. Arrive early and leave late. Keep your camera batteries charged, and carry extras.

Now, here are some of my favorite tips for this most colorful time of year.

1. Get The Classic Shot

Winding roads lined with flame-colored trees, old New England churches poised against azure skies, Colorado aspens glowing in late afternoon light. Sure, you could call them clichés, but these shots are classics for good reason: People love them. So don’t miss bagging the colorful scene right in front of you just because you’re obsessed with fi nding some new approach. The light early or late in the day is almost always best for timeless photos.

2. Just Add Water

At slow shutter speeds (1 sec or more) moving water blurs to silky smoothness. The foliage color reflected in it adds to the depth and richness of the photos. You’ll need a tripod to hold the camera steady, of course. In many instances, you may find the light too bright to set a slow shutter speed, even at your camera’s lowest ISO setting. A useful tool here is the Singh-Ray Vari-ND (neutral-density) filter, which lets you reduce exposure anywhere from 2 to 8 stops. These are expensive (starting at $340, street, depending on size), but you can economize by stacking a single-strength (3- or 4-stop) ND filter with a polarizing filter, which gives you 1 or 2 stops of increased density.

3. Use The Weather

If I had to wait for the weather to change, I’d never take any pictures. In the fall, use overcast days to shoot in deep woods-the cloud cover eliminates distracting shadows. If the sun is shining, use the early and late sun to backlight trees and create shadows for interesting effects. And never leave your polarizer at home-it works in any kind of weather.

4. Develop Tunnel Vision

Resist the urge to use wideangle focal lengths for all your autumn shots. I love shooting with supertelephotos of 400mm and 500mm to help isolate patterns, shapes, and colors in the forest. (If your DSLR has an APS-C sensor, focal lengths around 250 -350mm should work well.) For capturing wildlife set against the color of the trees, long lenses are indispensable. Tele zooms can be even more useful, allowing you to track an animal as it changes distance from the camera.

5. Look Down

This can be hard to do while walking around, taking in the glorious fall scenery, but you’ll be missing dozens of photo projects right at your feet. Most tripods today allow you to lower a camera to ground level to capture all sorts of still lifes. On an overcast morning, with the dew clinging to surfaces, your colors will really pop-set your white balance to Cloudy to avoid too-cool color casts.

6. Get Really Close

Now that you’re looking down, you may want to pack another piece of gear-a dedicated macro lens. Minitripods are great for getting to ground level, as are special accessories like the Kirk Low Pod ($150, street). Attach a ballhead to this neat device, grab the handle, a few kneepads, and a rightangle finder and go at it. Don’t have the funds for a macro lens, or just want to travel lighter? Canon makes frontmounting two-element close-up lenses that can turn your everyday zoom into an ad-hoc macro lens (starting from $75, street) . I use the Canon 500D Close-Up Lens on my 70-200mm f/2.8 AF Zoom-Nikkor with excellent results.

7. Make Abstracts

Here’s where you can really go beyond the classic fall shots. Look for bare trees against fuller backgrounds. Watch for reflections of sunlit trees in still waters. Try zooming during exposure, or making multiple exposures in the same frame, or using soft focus. Consider a slow exposure of leaves in circular motion in a pool of water. No matter what: Stay away from gaudy colors in postprocessing. I use Nikon Capture NX2 with Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 to adjust saturation, and when the reds get too intense I back off. The rest of the colors will follow.

With this being the peak time of the year for fall color we want to see what you’re photography skills have to offer. Send us a hi-rez image of your best Fall photo and we will pick the best to appear in this gallery and you will have the chance to be spotlighted in our Photo of the Day section of the website. Please send your photo (1) to popphotofallfoliage@gmail.com.

Lars-van-de-Goor

This photo was taken by Lars van de Goor. You can find more of his photos on his Flickr page here.

Brent-Danley

This photo was taken by Brent Danley and you can see more of his photos on his Flickr page here.

Darren-Ryan

This photo was taken by Darren Ryan and to see more of his photos check out his Flickr page here.

Frank-Ralph

The photo was taken at Fox Chase Farm in Philadelphia which is one of the oldest continuous working farms in Pennsylvania. Check out more photos from Frank Ralph on his Flickr page here.

Lei-Chen

This photo was taken at Meech Lake by Lei Chen and to see more photos from Lei check out Lei’s Flickr page here.

Stan

This photo was taken by Stan (stanzim on Flickr) and to see more photos check out his Flickr page here.

Stan2

This photo was taken by Stan (stanzim on Flickr) and to see more photos check out his Flickr page here.

Dave-Kent

This photo was taken by Dave Kent and you can see more of his photos on his Flickr page here.

Christopher-A.-Kierkus

This photo was taken by Christopher A. Kierkus and you can see more of his photos on his Flickr page here.

THE-ABSTRACT

THE ABSTRACT: To make this six-shot multiple exposure of trees in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Nikon D2X with 105mm f/2.8G AF-S Micro Nikkor VR was moved up on the tripod a little after each. Exposure, 1/15 sec at f/13 using Auto Gain, ISO 100.

THE-CLOSE-UP

THE CLOSE-UP: This milkweed on the Highland Scenic Highway, WV, had started to explode. Tripod-mounted Nikon D2X with 105mm f/2.8G AF-S Micro-Nikkor VR lens. Exposure, 1/80 sec at f/8, ISO 200.

MOVING-WATER

MOVING WATER: The colors of the rocks in this secluded stream in Ouray, CO, ware not boosted with software—they come from minerals running downstream. Tripod-mounted Nikon D2X with 17–55mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor and polarizer. Exposure, 2 sec at f/11, ISO 100.

Bad-Weather

THE-CLASSIC

THE CLASSIC: It’s easy to spot traditional photographs—like this one of Kent Pond, in Killington, VT—right from the road. Tripod-mounted Nikon D700 with 70–200mm f/2.8G AF-S Zoom-Nikkor VR. Exposure, 1/13 sec at f/13 through a polarizing filter, ISO 200.

John

This photo was taken by John (gghiker on Flickr) and to see more photos from him check out his Flickr page here.

Alberto-Kraier

This shot was taken this week in Nahal Amud natural reserve in Galilee, Israel. Camera: Canom 450D. Lens: Sigma 18-200mm.

Bert-E.-McConnell

Carolyn-Abell-Hodges

Taken in Dover, NH ©Carabell.

David-Fanelli

Janice-D-Huyvetter

Jimmy-Swanton

Joe-Brown

This picture was taken in New Hampshire Oct. 15, 2008 while traveling the back roads. Exp. 1/320, f 7.1, focal length 40, ISO 100.

Richard-Seeley

The Little White Church in Eaton, NH rises above the morning mist on Crystal Lake on a crisp fall foliage morning.

Ronald-Baker

Ron-Fischer

This image was captured in East Grand Forks Minnesota with my Canon 5D camera and Canon 17-40L lens.

Teresa-J.-Perdue

I took this photo of my two grandkids as they were enjoying a beautiful fall day @ Babcock State Park here in W.Va.