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Tips for Photographing Fall Colors

Tips for Photographing Fall Colors

As the days come to end quicker by the beautiful sun that sets sooner, you can almost feel Autumn beckoning its earthly essence and grace.  Calling to embrace its cozy yet vibrant tones, its woodsy aroma permeates your senses with sentimental tastes of cider and pumpkin.

Fall is one of every photographer’s (and mostly everyone else too) favorite time of year.  From wearing your favorite long sleeve sweaters and outfits along with the simply wonderful aesthetics of nature, fall presents the best photography opportunities.

Plan your Fall Photoshoot
Like everything in life, the more you invest into something, the better return you will receive.  Plan your Autumn photoshoot.  Have travel plans?  Think about the sites and parts of your trip would you like to capture on camera.  For very serious photographers, you may plan a trip around the color peak of fall, which is usually around mid Oct.  Sunlight plays a major role in adding flavor to your fall photography, so surely you should be thinking of what time of day you want to shoot.

A basic checklist will help prepare you physically and mentally.

  • Location – Consider hot spots and don’t limit yourself to a specific amount of time before moving on. Take your time to get the shots you want.
  • Time of day – Fog, rain, and sunlight. Check the weather and plan accordingly.  Autumn is a great season to capture photographs of all nature’s elements.
  • Theme – Nature photography / Fall family photos / Fall themed photoshoots
  • Outfits for Photography – Choose colors for your outfits that won’t clash or blend in with fall backgrounds.
  • Outfits for Photographers – Definitely a very important aspect that is often overlooked. Taking pictures during fall can mean you may need to battle with dirt, puddles, ponds, rain, wind, and cold.  Know where you’re going and be prepared.  Getting to the right vantage point for the perfect shot sometimes can take you off course.  Will you need a pair of boots?
  • Photography Gear – Camera, lenses of choice, ND & polarizer filters, memory cards, extra battery, a tripod, and perhaps even a drone for incredible aerial shots.

Focusing on Fall Colors
Fall is all about nature and its color.  From the gold and scarlet, you see in fall leaf photos, to the earthly orange and brown undertones of a pumpkin patch photoshoot, color brings the autumn vibe to life.

Achieving lively images of soft earthly warm colors that looks natural and not overproduced is about technique as much as it is about your gear.  Getting your camera’s exposure just right can be tricky.  The goal is to brighten your image, maintaining its true color and not oversaturate it.  The key is to find the perfect balance of camera exposure settings that match your style and environment.  If your shooting mid-day on a clear sunny day, you may need a filter to help give your surroundings colors a pop or to reduce harsh light. 

Wear neutral colors for family or couple photographs.  Choose colors and patterns that highlight you and compliment the colors around you.  You don’t want to blend in, and you don’t want to clash either.  Know your location, the amount of environmental detail within your location, and its colors.  This will help you decide what outfits you should choose.

Exposure & Focus
Light is color.  Surely you have seen a prism or a rainbow in your time.  Everything we see is light reflected and bent in a way that appears in different colors.  Getting the lighting exposure just right so your photos illuminate the colors in their true form can be accomplished in two ways.  Let the camera do it for you, or do it yourself. 

For beginners, most DSLR and Mirrorless cameras have very strong automatic features that can help with things such as exposure to light and lens focusing.  If you’re using a camera made by a great brands like Nikon, Sony, or Canon, your camera will most likely have all the auto features you would need for balancing exposure, tracking and focusing your subject, color effects, blurring the background, and more. 

For more advanced photographers, or those looking to gain experience, manually controlling your exposure settings (ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed) will give you more control over your shot and increase your photography skills.  Your settings will depend on your environment and the type of shot you’re looking for.  ISO, Aperture, and Shutter speed all have a factor in balancing your exposure, so when you tweak one, it will have an affect on the other two.  Finding the right balance can be tricky, but it does not have to be.

  • ISO – 100 to 200 ISO will usually work well for outdoor daylight environments. You can always start at its lowest number and work your way up incrementally until you find the right balance.
  • Aperture – Will affect your depth of field and the amount of light that is exposed to the camera lens. The larger the aperture, the smaller the F-stop number is which also creates a shallow depth of field and blurs the background while keeping the foreground in focus.  Start low and work your way up until you have the desired focus of your frame’s composition.
  • Shutter Speed – The faster your shutter speed, the sharper your image may be but also determines the amount of time light has to travel to your camera’s sensors.

Finding the exact balance between these 3 components will help you from underexposing (darkens) and overexposing (brightens) your images.  It takes time and practice to master this and achieve a color spectrum that is truer to the naked eye.  Be patient and open minded.

Color Grading
Editing your photos postproduction broadens the possibilities of your final product.  Popular cameras, such as the Canon EOS R for example, can shoot in RAW mode and supports C-Log with a 10-bit HDMI out.  These are essential features to allow custom detail and color grading when you’re back at your computer, post photoshoot.

Although the type of your lens may not have a direct effect on the color aside from the aperture, your subject, and your desire of composition for your frame will determine what type of lenses you should use. 

Every photographer should have at least 2 prime lenses with their favorite depth of field, a wide angle zoom lens, and a telephoto lens.  There are others, but those are the most essential across all forms of photography.  Use your wide-angle lenses to capture epically moody fall landscapes of mountain ranges surrounded by fog, or gorgeous waterfalls with its mist rising from below.  Grab your telephoto lens to zoom into nature and wildlife, bringing its definition and color to life focusing on the foreground for a truly breathtaking photograph.

Using an ND (neutral Density), UV protective or polarizing filter can make the world of a difference when you find yourself in an environment where the lighting and shading are not playing nice.  They don’t cost much but can bring a ton of benefits when trying to enhance color or deflect sunlight from drowning out colors.

Fall from Above
While on the subject of scenery, there is nothing more immersive than an amazing panorama shot of an autumn landscape taken from a drone.  These little personal flying machines have made it to the mainstream.  Featuring amazing optical components and durable chassis, you can pilot your way to the perfect vantage point giving your stunning imagery that you would otherwise never be able to achieve.

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