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6 tips for shooting fall color

6 tips for shooting fall color

6 tips for shooting fall color 1

The leaves are already starting to turn and the pumpkin beer is already flowing up here in the Pacific Northwest. Fall is just around the corner and photographing fall color is one of our favorite things to do when that autumn chill starts to take hold. Here are some fun and helpful tips to make shooting fall color that much more enjoyable!

Check the fall color reports

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One of the first things that I always do prior to planning a trip to photograph fall color is to check the trip reports and the fall color or fall foliage reports.

  • The Weather Channel is a great place to get a broad feel for how the fall color season is shaping up. They have a variety of useful maps and tools to give users a good sense of when their region will have peak color.
  • The Smoky Mountain parks guide also has a unique predictive map that offers a bit of insight into how the current years foliage is developing and what it looks like two months out.
  • I also consult local hiking forums and other photographers through social media to get a good sense of how things are coming along. 

Visit your local Japanese Garden

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One trip that I seem to make on an annual basis is to one of our local Japanese Gardens up here in Seattle. Here are a few tips for catching and shooting the gardens in their prime.

  • Call ahead to get a fall color report and to see if tripods are allowed. A number of the gardens in Seattle (and other cities) don’t allow tripods inside of their gates. 
  • Look for the Japanese Maples! Shooting up ‘inside’ of these gorgeous trees can give them a whole new perspective and can offer up some amazing possibilities in terms of composition.
  • Include the architecture- don’t be afraid to photograph the bridges, pagodas and other structures in the garden- let the fall color become a gorgeous backdrop to the architecture.
  • Go early or late- these gardens tend to get very crowded, so go around sunset or sunrise (depending upon the garden’s hours) to avoid the people and other photographers.
  • Look for abstract and macro possibilities in the garden- colors, patterns and structures can offer a seemingly endless amount of compositional choices.
  • Bring a wide selection of lenses and your circular polarizer- a CPL can really increase the vibrancy of the foliage and having a good selection of focal lengths can help you to expand your creativity.

Use fall color to add layers

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Fall color can also add layers to a already interesting composition. Finding a way to incorporate fall color into a forest scene or a mountainous landscape can really add depth, character and interesting colors to your image.

  • Use a telephoto lens to minimize the scene and add depth through layers.
  • Look for patterns and textures – a mixture of fall foliage and evergreen trees can offer a nice variety of colors and textures to the scene.
  • Shoot panoramic images – scenes with fall foliage and layers tend to lend themselves very well to a panoramic treatment.
  • Utilize light at different times during the day to emphasize the fall color – the colors in the scene will change drastically throughout the day depending upon the direction and amount of light present in scene, so experiment and take lots of images throughout the day.

Shoot falling leaves

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Fall foliage doesn’t last forever, but even the falling leaves can add interest and color to your images.

  • One of my favorite things to shoot just after the fall color has peaked are the leaf-covered driveways, streams and trails that seem to be everywhere after the leaves have begun to fall.
  • The fallen leaves can not only add texture and color to your images, but they can also convey motion and help to form leading lines in your composition.
  • If the colors have already peaked in your area, fear not! There are still a number of great shooting opportunities at your fingertips.    

Go abstract

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Fall foliage offers a unique opportunity to try techniques such as motion blur while your out in the field:

  • Mount your camera on a tripod and adjust your settings to enable your camera to shoot for around 0.5″ to 2″ seconds with proper exposure.
  • You may need to use an ND filter to achieve the longer exposure depending upon the lighting conditions.
  • Press the shutter and while the camera is taking the longer exposure pan the camera vertically to achieve a vertical motion blur in your photo.
  • Experiment with different shutter speeds and varying amounts of movement to achieve your desired result.
  • Blend your motion blur shot with a tack sharp shot in your favorite photo editing program to give your abstract a nice sense of depth and a varying amount of texture.
  • If you’re shooting in windy conditions try taking a longer exposure to blur the leaves while leaving the tree trunks tack sharp.

Shoot in all types of weather

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One of my biggest pet peeves in photography is the idea that you absolutely have to shoot in specific lighting and weather conditions and at specific times of day. Sure, sunrise and sunset are ideal but I honestly love shooting in anything from blue bird to adverse and frankly bad weather conditions at any time of day. 

  • Don’t get discouraged by the forecasts- fall color offers up some unique opportunities to photograph brilliant colors in snow, rain, sleet and wind. I often find those types of images even more appealing because they tell a story and are very unique.
  • Before you head out to shoot always check your local weather forecasts- fall is a time of year that tends to catch many people off guard, especially while venturing into the mountains, so it’s best to look ahead and plan accordingly.
  • Be prepared for anything – fall is one of the those seasons that can throw rain, sun and snow at you all on the same day.


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