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Tips for Photographing Autumn Foliage

Posted on October 01, 2015 by David Stork

Late September and October means the season is changing and autumn is looking you straight in the face.  What better time to get outside with your camera?  The ever-changing colors of the autumn foliage can make some of the most dramatic and vivid photos you'll ever take.  From the subtle reflection of golden maple leaves in a tranquil pond to a colored hillside framed with a vibrant blue sky, photo opportunities are abundant. Let's take a look at a few tips you should remember when you're shooting fall colors:

  1. Planning - After all, being in the right place at the right time has a lot to do with your success.  Take some time to scope out the areas you think might provide the best shots.  Watch the weather forecasts and do some research online.  Many websites provide updates on the progression of fall foliage.  And remember, rainy overcast days don't necessarily mean bad photos.  Some of the best fall images are captured when the light is filtered by mist, fog or overcast skies, adding contrast, vibrance and softer shadows.  Eliminate the sky from your composition and focus more on framing your shot with trees, rocks or water. Plan to shoot during the "golden hours" of the morning or early evening.  Direct afternoon sun can often be harsh and produce high-contrast images.
  2. Reflections and Water - Use water to add drama and enhance the leaf colors in your photo.  Look for a bank of colorful trees that are reflected on the mirror-like surface of a lake or on a slow-moving stream.  Shoot down at the forest floor and capture wet leaves after a rainstorm.  The water will bring out their vivid colors and add an additional dimension to your photos.
  3. Filters - Use a polarizing filter.  This filter will help deepen the color of blue skies and reduces the glare on bright, hazy days.  It also eliminates the reflections and glare on dampened leaves and helps to brings out their true saturated colors. Neutral Density and Graduated Neutral Density filters are helpful in balancing exposure and the high contrast of skies during sunrises and sunsets.  They are also good for reducing the light, allowing for longer shutter speeds when you want to add a soft blur to a flowing stream or waterfall.
  4. Use a tripod - When shutter speeds become slower and low-light situations are prevalent, a tripod will ensure you get the sharpest image, along with your aperture selection and focusing.  Also, choosing the time of day, like early morning may be the calmest with the least amount of wind.
  5. Try a variety of lenses - Use a telephoto zoom lens to get close-ups or for isolating details.  Use a wide-angle lens when you have a large area of color.  Try getting down low and focusing on a nearby subject while filling the frame with an abundance of background leaves.  Choose a macro lens for getting up-close and personal with your subject. Early morning is a great time to shoot dewdrops on leaves or spider webs made overnight.
  6. White Balance - Now might be the time to experiment with your white balance.  Don't be afraid to turn off your auto white balance and try a manual setting.  A "Cloudy" setting, for instance, may add some warmth to your shot.
  7. Be creative - Try something you haven't tried before.  Back lighting of leaves can make the colors pop and allows you to see the intricate detail of their make-up.  Look down.  The forest floor can provide a plethora of unique photo opportunities.Shoot straight up through the trees to create and interesting perspective.  Initiate an artsy blur by moving the lens up and down while the shutter is released. Most of all, have fun doing it.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you get the most out of your fall foliage excursion creating images and memories that will last a lifetime.

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