Fall is a time of transition—summer slowly transforming into winter, rain returning more regularly, and green leaves turning spectacular colors before going dormant. This being the case, it can be a wonderful season for photographers. However, it takes more than just some colorful leaves to make a striking Fall photo.
First, some basics. Sunrise and sunset are going to give you wonderful lighting that will make the rich Fall colors even more vibrant. Sunrise, especially, will provide you with a warmer tone that perfectly compliments the yellow, orange, and red of the changing leaves. The great thing about shooting fall scenes is that sunrise and sunset come at much better times of the day, so you don't have any excuses not to get out there when there is the very best light. It is always a good idea to head out with a tripod. If nothing else, this will allow you to shoot with a low ISO and make the most of the colors of the season. Also, you should try the shots with a polarizing filter that can help take glare off of the leaves and help the colors be a bit more vibrant.
That being said, there are some less obvious “secrets” that you can try that will make for some impressive Fall photos.
Secret #1 – Fallen Leaves
In Autumn, leaves are going to fall. This can add an incredibly colorful element to your composition. In the photo above, we have leading lines with the path and framing provided by the trees along the sides and their branches at the top. We also have the added visual impact of the path being covered in orange and red leaves. If it were not Autumn, the leaves on the path might be distracting or look better in black and white, but during Fall they fill the eye with warm colors.
Quick editor's note on this tip since it is all about how there are unique composition opportunities in the fall. If you are struggling with or looking for some new ideas about composition be sure to check out Jim's latest video course called Photography Start where he teaches you how to up your composition game. The course offers 22 HD videos you can stream or download plus other goodies, and is a huge value at only $90. If you use coupon code “TACO” at checkout through the end of September 2015 you can get $40 off!
Secret #2 – Get Close
With all of the varying colors happening in the Fall, it is easy to lose track of the details. Going close on leaves, for instance, can put the focus on a single color and draw attention to the simple lines of branches and the ribs of the leaves. Depending how close you want to go, you might consider a macro lens or, if you don’t have a macro lens, see if your camera has a macro setting. Whether shooting with a macro or tightly zoomed lens, you may also consider shooting with a shallow depth of field to blur the background and bring the viewer’s eye solely to the leaves.
Secret #3 – Include a Foreground
Autumn colors don’t just happen in remote locations. Often they can be found along the side of the road, so why not include some of that road in your shot? A road can anchor the shot and provide a sense of scale. You can decide if you want to include any traffic or not. If a road isn’t available, you could instead incorporate a fence or some wildlife to accomplish a similar effect.
Bonus Secret – Add Water
Adding water to an Autumn shot has two benefits: It provides an interesting foreground and it reflects the colorful trees. Still water will provide you the best reflection, so don’t try this on a windy day and since it is reflection you are after don't use a polarizing filter (although you should try the shot with one and see if you like that better!). The water will also reflect the sky, so this works best when there are some clouds. To make the most of the reflection, keep your horizon around the middle of the frame. You can also try this composition during various times of the day to see which results in the most impressive shot.
IP Roundtable Podcast Episode 139
If you liked these tips and would like to hear a few more from the Improve Photography team, check out the Improve Photography Roundtable Podcast episode 139 where Jeff Harmon, Nick Page, and Jim Harmer all share tips on how they get great fall photos.
About the Author
Jeremiah Gilbert is a full-time college professor, part-time photographer, and avid traveler. His travels have taken him to nearly sixty countries spread across five continents. His photography has been internationally published in both digital and print publications. His blog, photo portfolio, and travel tales can be found at www.jeremiahgilbert.com.