Photographing Fall Colors

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Autumn is coming soon to a region near you! We wanted to pull together a few examples for inspiration – and some tips to help you make the most of your time in the field.

This image taken from top of Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga National Park. We arrived just before sunrise, and Varina used a wide angle lens to capture the color in the sky before it faded. She bracketed the shot in order to capture the entire dynamic range, and then used our manual iHDR Technique to combine three images.

Ohio, USA

Overcast skies are common this time of year, and they provide soft, even lighting – which is ideal for back-lighting fall leaves. Soft directional lighting lets the leaves glow without leaving them overexposed. Jay took this photograph off-trail at Liberty Park.

While enjoying the fall colors, don’t forget to notice the small details. Varina found these pretty leaves beside the trail. She stacked them to show the brilliant hues side by side.  If you are shooting small details in bright sun, use a diffuser to soften the light.

Choosing a Dress - Varina Patel

We try to make the most of reflections at any time of year, but in the fall, they can be particularly beautiful. In this photograph from last year, Jay used the calm waters of Maroon Lake in Colorado to capture the reflection of the fall colors on the mountains. Jay choose NOT to use his circular polarizer filter because it would have minimized the reflections of the mountains and clouds.

Maroon Bells, Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado (CO), USA


And finally, make the most of Autumn’s beautiful skies! Changing weather conditions can mean quickly-changing skies. When the clouds put on a show, make sure you are ready to capture breathtaking fall color juxtaposed with dramatic skies!

Under a Perfect Sky - Varina Patel

Tips for Photographing Falls Colors

  • Fall colors are easiest to photograph under a thin, even cloud cover. This provides soft overcast light that helps balance out the highlight and shadows. Soft, morning or evening light is beautiful as well – but controlling the dynamic range can be difficult.
  • Don’t forget to notice the details – pay attention to water droplets on leaves, and the texture of bark on the trees.
  • Use a circular polarizer to reduce scattered light and enhance Fall colors. This is especially effective when you are photographing wet leaves.
  • When necessary, use a GND filter to balance the light. This will bring out the details in every part of the image.
  • Look for reflections to enhance the colors of the fall images. Don’t use a circular polarizer when you are trying to capture reflections.

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.