Fall Foliage photography tips

Fall foliage photography tips

It is the spectacular time and colorful season of the year, with breathtaking foliage all around. If you are looking for fall foliage photography tips to capture the sights of the season, this post has some great suggestions. To capture nature in so many vibrant colors is a photographer’s delight. There’s nothing more satisfying than capturing a perfect picture with the reds, yellows, oranges, and greens with contrasting blue skies and grey trees. I had captured some shots and posted it a couple of years ago and looking forward to capturing this time as well.

The foliage season usually starts in late September and lasts up to early November. It may be a little different and may change from state to state. Did you know the color changes in the leaves are due to chlorophyll aka green pigment breakdown? This breakdown happens as the climate gets colder and daylight is reduced. So the anthocyanins, carotenoids, and xanthophyll namely reds, oranges, and yellows become visible without the greens. It seems so well orchestrated and one can only be awed by nature. Let’s dive right into the tips to better fall foliage photography.

Plan ahead the date and time of your visit

For those lucky folks who stay close to neighborhoods and parks with fall foliage, this may not be entirely necessary, they can just walk to their backyard and capture the shots. But if you had a certain distance to drive to, you definitely do not want to miss this breathtaking and extraordinary annual show by mother nature.

Thanks to an interactive map by SmokyMountains we can now know the date when the foliage is at its peak. It uses historical data to predict when exactly the peak fall happens all over the country. Sliding on the slider shows how much the colors have peaked or will peak in each area. This is a good indicator to plan your visit. It is better than just heading out and feeling disappointed not finding anything much to capture.

What time of the day is better to capture fall foliage photography?

  • Early morning or late afternoons are perfect, with the golden light as it warms up the shot. This light is also great for backlight or sidelight shots.
  • A bright and sunny day is not a great time to capture as the colors of the leaves and foliage is already heavy. You may end up with pictures too bright and bleached out. You can still go ahead and capture but is not recommended.
  • An overcast and cloudy sky are the best as always for any captures. It brings out the tones and colors. The overcast light also helps with even and soft light. The harsh shadows and highlights with bright sunlight can be avoided. Sunlight sometimes tends to reflect and washes out the colors. If you get raindrops or dewdrops which is common this time of year, the wet leaves can be beautiful subjects for photography when compared to the dried ones.
  • The time just before sunset is also fantastic to capture beautiful shots as the sun is low in the sky. You can get a pleasant blue or purple hue to fall foliage along with the overcast light.

Camera Settings to keep in mind for fall foliage photography

  • Use Aperture priority mode when possible, so the shutter speed is automatically set by the camera. You can either use wide or narrow aperture values depending on what you want to capture. For example, you may want a blurry yellow or orange background then you go with f/1.5, and so on. If you want all the colors in focus you go with f/8 and higher.
  • If shooting in semi-automatic or manual modes, and the auto white balance is set to auto, it can neutralize colors. Change it to cloudy so you see warm colors.
  • Slightly underexpose without clipping shadows, so the overall tones can be deepened and you get deep colors. The histogram shifts to the left in this case. This helps bring up colors easily in post-processing without compromising contrast. In case you want lighter colors, then do the opposite overexpose without clipping highlights, and this shifts the histogram to the right.
  • Always shoot in the RAW mode so you can recover any detail in post-processing. In this case, auto white balance can be set to auto as well, as you can adjust in post-processing, and quality is not compromised.
  • Don’t be disheartened if you get a bleached photo, that is due to the camera sensor recording all the colors that it sees. This also has to do with how the white balance is set. You can nearly always correct these in post-processing. By using calibration in Lightroom and in detail using Photoshop.

I found a great video on tips to improve fall foliage in post processing .Do check it out if interested .

Polarizer Filters

This is your camera’s best friend for capturing beautiful fall foliage. It is a circular gray filter that attaches in front of your lens. It helps reduce the unwanted glare reflected from the bright color of the leaves or any wet surfaces. The glare could give a washed-out color, but thanks to the polarizer it appears vibrant. It also helps darken the sky and increase contrast and saturation. It can be screwed into DLSR lenses, and also be held carefully in front of the lenses of point and shoots and phone cameras.

Best subjects and compositions to capture in Fall

Falling or fallen leaves, windy roads with trees, branches of trees, scenic landscapes, benches in a park with curved paths, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. Halloween themed decorations, pumpkins, backlit and front-lit photos of trees also make beautiful shots. Last but not least, people, animals and pets with props like falling leaves, warm clothes, sipping hot drinks

Post -Processing Tips

Always remember to use Vibrance and Saturation found in most post-processing software the right way. Both of them add intensity to the existing colors.

The difference is increasing saturation makes changes to colors throughout the image, uniformly even if the colors are already intense. This can make it look almost unnatural, It is best to use it very sparingly or not use it at all if possible.

Vibrance works on mid-tones of an image, it is more natural when detecting which colors are already intense, and only increases the intensity of muted colors and saturates them. However, this should also be used sparingly if you want to get a natural look.

In Adobe Lightroom, there is a Calibration option where you can increase the saturation of the reds, greens, and blues. This is a great way to recover the washed-out colors in an image.

Last but not least it is wonderful to get that perfect shot of fall foliage, but do not forget to enjoy the experience of the beautiful foliage colors in the midst of getting that perfect shot. Enjoy nature and the creators’ masterpiece all around.

Signing off with a beautiful quote that comes to mind when seeing all the beauty around.“Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.”

Fall foliage photography tips

Photo credits : Pexels.com, pixabay , Modified using Adobe Photoshop CC 2020 (InspiresN)

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  • Reply
    October 24, 2020 at 12:55 am

    Great tips! I love how much the colors change this time of year. We recently made a quick leaf peeping trip and were in awe of the landscape. Great pics as always, Nisha.

    • Reply
      October 24, 2020 at 9:49 pm

      Thank you so much, Lynn! I’m pretty sure New York and places up North must be really awesome this time of year. Enjoy! We were able to see some good landscapes nearby as well.

  • Reply
    Joy Walker
    October 28, 2020 at 6:50 pm

    Thanks for share these tips and the beautiful photos.

    • Reply
      October 28, 2020 at 10:13 pm

      It’s my pleasure to share. Thank you for stopping by and the feedback.

  • Reply
    October 29, 2020 at 4:13 am

    Beautiful pictures and excellent advice again!!!! Thank you for your expertise. ❤️

    • Reply
      October 29, 2020 at 2:20 pm

      Thank you so much, Diane, so glad to hear that!

  • Reply
    November 6, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    Beautiful pics and tips Nisha !! 💙

    • Reply
      November 6, 2020 at 3:17 pm

      Many Thanks dear glad you liked them !

  • Reply
    November 11, 2020 at 5:58 am

    Very informative! And the shots are absolutely gorgeous! <3

    • Reply
      November 11, 2020 at 3:45 pm

      Thank you so much , appreciate your feedback.

      • Reply
        November 11, 2020 at 4:25 pm

        You’re very welcome! 🙂

  • Reply
    December 3, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    Such a comprehensive guide. Thank you.

    • Reply
      December 3, 2020 at 3:26 pm

      Thank you for stopping by and the comments Sarah!

  • Reply
    Christy B
    January 6, 2021 at 8:50 pm

    Wow, these images from fall are spectacular! You share great tips to capture the season.

    • Reply
      January 6, 2021 at 9:03 pm

      So glad to hear that Christy! Thank you so much.

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