How to photograph fall color

How to photograph fall colorIt's happened again -- somehow, the long summer days have passed, the air is getting cooler, and the smell of pumpkin spice lattes fills the air. Autumn has arrived! Across a large part of America, that also means gorgeous fall colors, which in turn means excellent photographic opportunities. Whether you're planning a leaf-peeping trip to New England (or are lucky enough to live there year round!) or you'll just be admiring the trees in your own backyard, here are some tips to make sure your photos are as gorgeous as the views around you.

kmg 300 fall colors flickr gailsUse the best light
Light can be your best friend or your worst enemy when shooting fall colors. The clear, bright sunlight of some fall days can make photography very difficult, as it also causes deep shadows and strong highlights. By contrast, thin, even cloud cover is actually great for photographing colors. The slight overcast balances light and shadows and makes it easier to capture the full tonal range.

Bright blue autumn skies are hard to resist, though, especially when contrasted with bright gold or red leaves. There are several tricks to shooting in bright sunlight. First, try to avoid shooting at noon, when the sun is at its highest. Keep the sun at your back as much as possible, so you're not shooting into shadows. If you can, shoot in the early morning and late afternoon, when the light is already golden and will bring out the warmth of the fall colors. It also tends to be less windy in the morning and evening, which makes it a great time to look for reflections to enhance your photos.

kmg 630 fall colors fog
All kinds of weather
Great pictures aren't limited to days of bright blue skies or color-friendly overcast. Beautiful fall colors can be even more lovely when contrasted with gray, foggy weather. Look for bright yellow trees in a mist-filled forest or leaves made shiny with rain. The air is also frequently clearest after rain, so the hour after the clouds have moved on can be a great time to get some less hazy photos of color in the distance.

kmg 300 fall colors detail flickr alexCheck your filter
If you're using a DSLR, this is a great time to experiment with using a polarizing filter. It will enhance the color saturation and bring out the blue of the sky. You can also try adjusting your camera's white balance settings to give your photos a slightly warmer feel. Some cameras have a "cloudy" setting that do this automatically. Canon cameras have a setting called "vivid"; other brands call it "saturated." Nikon has an "autumn colors" setting, as well as one called "high-key" -- both enhance colors. You can also do a lot of color enhancement in post-processing.

Don't forget composition
Don't get lazy and just take a hundred boring pictures of trees centered in the frame -- even gorgeous scenery can get boring. There are a lot of interesting ways to compose photographs of autumn leaves. Use contrast to highlight the color -- yellow aspen leaves against a bright blue sky, or red maple leaves against a field of green grass, or even a brightly colored leaf against the dark gray of pavement. 

kmg 630 fall colors reflection flickr monikmarkus
It can also be fun to play with negative space in fall foliage compositions. Pay attention to the shapes made by branches and leaves, and break up patterns with splashes of color. Don't forget the rule of thirds, but also experiment with breaking it. A calm lake can provide beautiful reflections-- you can get double the color!

kmg 300 fall colors kid flickr jophielsmilesBeauty in the details
Sometimes the beautiful details of fall color get lost in the sea of trees. Take some time to look around and capture the little things. Focus on individual leaves. Keep an eye out for mushrooms and acorns. Capture the texture of tree bark, or highlight the glistening of dew on the leaves. It's also a good idea to include objects other than trees in your photos, to help give a sense of perspective. Look for a comfy bench, an interesting rock, or even a cooperative child -- giving a kid an excuse to play in piles of leaves can result in some great photos!

Enjoy the excuse to play outside
Summer may be over, but it's not quite winter yet. The clear skies and crisp air can be inspiring on their own, but when you add the stunning colors of the fall foliage, who can resist? Take advantage of this fleeting time of year to get out and take some beautiful pictures of nature's fashion show!

[Writing credit: Katherine Gray.  Image credits: Don HankinsGail SK. GrayAlexMonik MarkusJOPHIELsmiles]

Thanks to our friends over at Tecca for submitting this post.  Find more How-to tech articles & Gadget news at  And, as always, if you have an amazing, fall photo, post it up on Steve's Facebook Wall, or hit up the Steve's Forums to talk about this article, ask questions, or anything photography related.