The weather is beginning to cool, offering relief from the oppressive heat of summer. The days begin to shorten, and we put away our swim trunks and flip-flops and, for those living up North, start reaching for our hoodies and sweaters and scarves.
Fall is upon us, and we are greeted with one of nature’s most incredible displays of colors as the trees turn deep shades of brown, and gold, and red, before they will eventually give way to the stark, barrenness of Winter—beautiful in its own way, though less majestic than the show of colors and shades and hues that presents itself in the Fall.
As a photographer, Autumn is one of my favorite times to get out into nature and capture the beautiful changing colors that are the hallmark of the season, but creating the perfect Fall photograph isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
Capturing the colors of the Fall requires a bit of preparation, a good eye for color (and maybe a thermos of hot coffee, too), but it’s worth every minute.
Here are a few of my favorite tips on how to capture the beautiful Fall landscapes and create unique images with colors so spectacular you can almost smell the pumpkin spice and fireplaces just from looking at them.
Do Your Research
I spend much of my time behind a camera shooting Product Photography and Events for work or out in the city shooting Street Photography for fun. Much of what I do requires me to be quick on my feet and make the best of the moment… I can’t exactly wait for the perfect lighting to take the perfect photo at an event.
But I love getting out into nature and shooting Fall landscapes because it makes me think in different ways about my photography.
You may think that since the trees aren’t going anywhere, you don’t have to do much planning to get great landscape photographs, but if you really want to create images that stand out, you need to slow things down and start researching. The most important tool isn’t a camera; it’s a web browser.
Scout the Best Locations
Spending some time looking for great locations will really help you take your Fall photography to the next level. You may have some beautiful wooded areas or forests near you, you may already know of some fantastic locations you want to photograph, but taking some time to see what else is around can open you up to options you hadn’t considered before or give you new ideas of how you want to photograph the locations you already had on your list (and if you already know the best locations, maybe you can share some of your secrets with other aspiring photographers to help them create something beautiful, too).
Don’t Get Caught in the Rain (or Bad Light)
Once you have decided on where you want to visit, there is still plenty of research you can do to ensure you get the perfect shot. The worst feeling in the world is getting everything ready the night before, waking up early to get to your location of choice before it fills up with hikers and dog-walkers, only to have the sky open up and start pouring rain just as you arrive.
Make sure to check weather forecasts and sun-tracking information regularly. Fall can be a time of somewhat erratic weather, and as the days get shorter and shorter, what might have been the perfect time to catch a sunrise or sunset on a Monday can change dramatically by the following weekend.
Select Your Equipment & Settings
As with most subject matter in Landscape Photography, trying to capture the scale and splendor of the Fall colors can be a challenge. But with the right equipment and settings, you can easily capture fantastic images.
The Gear to Get the Job Done
You don’t need a lot of professional equipment for this, but there are a few essential items that can really help make capturing the Autumn scenery much easier.
One of the first things you should toss in your gear bag is a sturdy tripod. This will help you take steadier photographs with crisp edges and can also allow you to take multiple exposures to combine later in your favorite editing software.
Apart from this, you may want to include filters depending on the conditions and the types of images you plan on capturing.
As far as lenses go, it’s hard to go wrong with a wide-angle lens, which are great for conveying the grandiosity of nature (especially if you can set up extra low to the ground and let the stretched perspective towards the edges of the lens elongate the foreground, creating a sense of distance). If you are looking for something a bit different, I personally enjoy shooting Landscape/Nature Photography with longer focal lengths and wide aperture lenses because it lets me isolate the bold colors of individual leaves or trees against a creamy, bokeh-filled background.
Setting Up Your Camera
One of the things I like about Landscape Photography is that you have time to test a few shots and get several different exposures using various settings.
The most important thing is to make sure you are capturing the details and contrasts between the colors without blowing out the highlights.
Don’t Be Afraid of Editing,
But Don’t Go Overboard
When I first started working with digital photo editing software, I had the hardest time editing the colors in portraits. I kept ending up with photos that had extreme, unnatural tones in the skin. My problem was that I was trying to make the colors ‘pop’ and ended up over-editing to such a degree that I had colors that were so off they made the whole image look fake.
This is a lesson that has served me well in Landscape Photography as well, and especially when working with the bold, deep colors of the Fall.
Don’t be afraid to edit your images and add your artistic touches to them, but learn from my mistake and use it when editing. People can tell when you go overboard with the editing software.
Fall photography is a great way to explore both photography and nature. It gives you the chance to work with some of the most striking colors and contrasts in nature and can be a fantastic opportunity to learn about the beautiful landscapes near you—just don’t forget to step back from the camera from time to time and enjoy the views first-hand.