Photographing fall colors is so satisfying. Every year I can’t wait for the vivid colors of autumn. I just love them.
Though, they are short-lived, even in areas with the brightest foliage. This means that you need to make the most of the fall photography opportunities when they’re available.
When photographing fall colors, no matter where you travel and how beautiful is the foliage, it’s important to be aware of some techniques that will improve your photographs. The following tips I put together for you will help you maximize the fall colors this season. If you apply all of them, you’ll end up with some awe-inspiring images!
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Shoot Fall Colors on Overcast Days
There’s nothing wrong with shooting in bright sun, but you shouldn’t feel limited to this option. Strong sunlight can actually compromise the colors in a fall shoot, producing not enough contrast and overexposed images.
If you’re shooting on a sunny day, get outside early in the day or wait until evening when the sun won’t be directly overhead. Overcast days are ideal because you can shoot through the entire day with soft, even light.
Since I love shooting during sunrise and sunset, I put together a guide for you to learn how to take stunning photos during those hours of the day. Read the Best Guide to Sunrise Photography here.
The colors will appear more saturated and contrast beautifully against a gray sky.
Overcast fall days also present ideal conditions for fog and mist. Both of these elements further soften and mute colors while adding to the mood and even the mystery of a scene.
You’ll have the best luck capturing fog and mist early in the morning before the sun is fully up and the day becomes clearer.
Best Gear for Photographing Fall Colors
According to my research, these are the best and most affordable Nikon and Canon lenses you can use for photographing fall colors.
Choose the focal length according to the type of composition you want to create.
Best Canon Lenses for fall Photography
Check these Canon prime and zoom lenses for fall photography on Amazon (affiliate links).
- Wide angle lens for Canon APS C cameras (equivalent to 38 millimeter on a full frame camera)
- Focal Length & Maximum Aperture: 24 millimeter 1:2.8, maximum magnification of x0.27
- Slimmest and lightest lens of the EF S series
- Circular aperture (7 blades) delivers beautiful, soft backgrounds
- Full time manual focus allows manual focus adjustment while in One Shot AF mode
- 50 millimeter focal length and maximum aperture of f/1.8
- Great for portraits, action, and nighttime photography; Angle of view (horizontal, vertical, diagonal): 40º, 27º,46º
- Minimum focusing distance of 1.15 feet (0.35 meter) and a maximum magnification of 0.21x
- Stepping motor (STM) delivers near silent, continous Move Servo AF for movies and smooth AF for stills
- 80 millimeter effective focal length on APS C cameras, 50 millimeter on full frame cameras.Lens Construction: 6 elements in 5 groups
- 85mm standard lens with f/1.8 maximum aperture for Canon SLR cameras,Lens Type:Telephoto Zoom Lens
- Ring-type ultra-sonic monitor (USM) brings subject quickly into focus, Focal length: 85mm, Closest focusing distance: 2.8 feet
- Natural angle of view and perspective is ideal for portraits and natural images
- Designed to produce beautiful background blur; weighs 15 ounces; 85cm closest focusing distance
- Measures 3 inches in diameter and 2.8 inches long; 1-year warranty. Refer User manual for troubleshooting steps.
- Maximum aperture: f/4.0-f/5.6
- Optics: 12 elements in 10 groups, UD glass element
- Canon EF-S Mount (not compatible with full sensor DSLRs)
Best Nikon Lenses for fall Photography
Check these Nikon prime and zoom lenses for fall photography on Amazon (affiliate links).
- F Mount Lens/DX Format. Picture Angle with Nikon DX Format 44 degree
- 52.5 millimeter (35 millimeter Equivalent). Rear Focusing; Manual Focus Override
- Aperture Range: f/1.8 to 22 ; Dimensions(approx.):Approx. 70 x 52.5 millimeter
- Silent Wave Motor AF System. Accepts filter type is screw on
- Compatible formats is dx and fx in dx crop mode.Maximum Reproduction Ratio:0.16x
- Fast, upgraded f/1.8, compact FX format prime lens. The picture angle with 35 millimeter (135) format is 47 degree and the maximum reproduction ratio is 0.15X
- Focal Length 50 millimeter, Minimum Focus Distance 1.48 feet (0.45 meter)
- Newly developed optical system with Aspherical lens element, Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
- M/A Focus Mode Switch,Filter Thread 58 millimeter, Autofocus: Yes. Dimensions (approx.) (from the camera lens mounting flange): Approximately 2.83 inches diameter x 2.01 inches
- Optimized for edge to edge sharpness on both FX and DX format D SLRs
- Fast aperture medium telephoto lens
- Internal Focus, Focal Length: 85 mm, Minimum Focus Range: 0.80 m
- Silent Wave Motor (SWM). Number of diaphragm blades:7 (rounded diaphragm opening)
- M/A focus mode switch. Filter-attachment size is 67 mm (P=0.75 mm)
- Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC)
- Versatile 107x zoom lens with ED glass and VR II image stabilization
- Optimized for edge to edge sharpness on both FX and DX-format
- Covers a wide range of focal lengths to get the best out of every subject. Minimum Focus Distance- 1.6 ft. (0.5m) throughout entire zoom range
- 2 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) Elements; 3 Aspherical Lens Elements
- Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) Weight : 282 oz
Use a Circular Polarizer
A circular polarizing filter (affiliate link) is like sunglasses for your DSLR or mirrorless camera lens.
It will help you cut through the morning fog and lens glare.
On a bright sunny day, a circular polarizer makes colors appear more vivid and darkens blue skies and water surfaces to retain their true colors.
When your goal is to photograph rich fall colors, you don’t want to compromise their color, due to your current shooting conditions.
A circular polarizer will make a big difference. But make sure it doesn’t compromise the vividness of the yellow and red tones of your photos.
Don’t miss out on one of the cheapest and most popular CPL filters on Amazon according to my research!
- The effect can be seen through the viewfinder and changed by rotating the filter
- Filter factor varies between 2.3 and 2.8, according to how the filter is rotated and its orientation to the sun
- Best results with SLR cameras
- Designed for lenses specifying a 58mm filter thread size
- Rotating mount
Avoid Large Expanses of White Sky
When you’re shooting on both bright sunny days and overcast days, the sky often appears white in photos.
A washed-out sky is okay for certain types of photos but not ideal for fall photos. If you choose to include the white sky in an autumn scene, make sure it fits the composition.
A narrow strip or a large stretch of white sky against beautiful fall trees will be distracting. Correct your exposure, so the sky photographs blue or arrange the composition to leave out the sky. In my article Photography Composition for Beginners, you’ll find all the best tips to dramatically improve your images by learning the most fundamental rules of composition in photography.
Including Landscape Elements in your Fall Captures
The leaves are not everything when photographing fall colors. They are important for sure, but you can try and create something different by using a wider lens and including more landscape elements in the field of view.
Include elements like a lake or snowy mountains on the background and play with the orange/teal contrast of the autumn colors on the foreground, the lake in the midground and the sky and mountains as background.
Adding those layers will make your image more interesting, by creating more depth and creating a very pleasurable experience for the viewer.
Experiment With Different Techniques
Autumn presents numerous opportunities for creative photography. When you’re in a location with water, go for the reflection photo. Even a small puddle can create a beautiful reflection.
On a brilliantly sunny day or at golden hour, play around with backlighting. Position yourself so your light source is behind your subject. You’ll be able to create genuine sun flare or creamy bokeh.
Try shooting fall subjects from different perspectives as well. Getting down on the ground or shooting directly overhead will create a very different composition than what you will create shooting straight on or at eye level.
Capture Fall Color Combinations
One of the most fun aspects of photographing fall colors is pairing different colors in your compositions. With leaves in vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows, there are lots of fun possibilities for color combinations.
Consider contrasting turning leaves against leaves that are still bright green or against the brilliant blue sky.
Over time, you’ll find color combinations you really like and will start to seek them out naturally during fall photoshoots.
Take a few Macro Shots
Many photographers approach a stunning fall scene, thinking about how they can best capture the entire view at once.
While it’s great taking wide-angle shots of beautiful views, you can create compositions that are just as interesting, if not more so, when you focus on the smaller details.
When you’re photographing fall colors, try with some macro shots. Isolate a single leaf against a clear blue sky or textured wooden deck for a completely different perspective. You can also find The Best Tips for Macro Photography here.
Track the Peak Colors in Your Area
Many state tourism websites post peak fall foliage information online. There are also apps for keeping track of the best times and places for autumn colors.
- Aperture: for landscape photos stay in the f/8 to f/13 range, for close up and shallow depth-of-field f/2.8 to f/4.
- Shutter speed: unless you’re shooting a long exposure, you’ll want a fast shutter speed. Try to stay above 1/250th of a second or your image won’t be as sharp.
- ISO: from 100 (or 200) to 400. In overcast conditions or early hours of the day, you might need to increase your ISO.
- Shoot RAW: I can’t stress it enough, by shooting in RAW format you’ll be able to correct your image in post-production and take it to the next level. You can’t do it if you shoot in JPEG.
Doing a little research will help you plan ahead, so you’re able to get out and shoot during the height of the season. If the time frame doesn’t work well or there aren’t going to be a lot of good colors where you live, consider going further afield.
Plan a weekend or even week-long excursion to New England, the Colorado Rockies, or an upper region of Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Michigan.
Do you have any additional tips for photographing fall colors?
Share your best tips for making the most of the autumn season with your photography!
Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.