The transition from summer to winter can be brutal, but in many parts of the world, nature puts on a colorful and spectacular show to hold our attention. These tips for taking fall photos will help you make the most of shooting the transitional season’s colors and themes no matter what kind of camera (or phone) you are using.
Where to Shoot
As a San Diegan who suffers season-deprivation, I recently had the great pleasure to travel to Vermont, where I magically experienced not only the fall colors in their prime, but all four seasons in a day!
If you live in New England, the Midwest, or any climate where the leaves change, you’re already ahead of the game. Spend a day or a weekend driving scenic byways, and get out and walk a few trails. If, like me, you live in a mild climate, or if you’re a big city-dweller, then you can still find great autumn subjects to photograph at farmer’s markets and Halloween pumpkin patches. Even in southern California, there are nearby mountains, trees that change color, and sunflowers growing high into the fall.
”When it’s blue, take in the view. When it’s gray, focus and stay.”
I made up that rhyme so you could remember it easily, but here’s the full context:
When skies are blue, hit the road. A blue and sunny sky contrasts well against colorful autumn landscapes and scenic views. It’s also great to shoot up into the trees so that the colorful sunlit leaves pop against the blue sky.
When the skies are gray, hit the trails. When it’s overcast, cloudy, or drizzly, that’s the time to explore on foot and focus on close-ups, macros, and scenes that would otherwise present harsh shadows – for example, a forest trail.
Of course, remember that the golden hours of light are best – early morning and late afternoon. Direct overhead sun is no fun as it’s harsh and flattens the color spectrum. Mid-day is when you hope for clouds to diffuse the light.
While there are many colors associated with the fall season, orange takes center stage. Seasonal vegetables, the changing leaves, and even the sunset skies seem to glow in orange tones. Orange contrasts best against a green or blue background, but don’t hesitate to fill the entire frame with orange.
This is a general photography tip that is critical when photographing scenic landscapes any time of year. Before pressing the shutter, make sure that the horizon line is straight. If the sky has puffy clouds and elements of interest, set the horizon low. If the sky is white or uninteresting, set the horizon high, sometimes going so far as to crop out the sky entirely. Look for interesting elements in the foreground when you compose with a high horizon line.
Look for Reflections
Finally, when the light is good, find a body of water – a lake, or even a puddle, to capture the reflections of the colors. This is a circumstance when centering that horizon line can be fantastic!
Point & Shoot: If you rarely venture “out of the green box” on your point & shoot, you can skip the next paragraph. But I encourage you to poke around your camera pre-settings. If nothing more, just switch the dial to the mountain icon setting for scenic landscapes, and the little flower icon for close-ups.
DSLR: If you work with a DSLR, you have much more control and room to play with settings so that the photo you take will be perfect right out of the camera. A few quick adjustments to your camera’s shooting mode can make a big difference in capturing optimal vibrant tones and contrasts. Try experimenting with:
– ISO: Ideally, work with a tripod for sharpest detail in landscape images. Without a tripod, ISO 400 is a good sweet spot for outdoor hand-held shooting, but if you have bright light and can go lower, do it. Don’t use flash, it will wash out colors and look artificial. When shooting in darker, shaded environments, use a higher ISO number.
-Exposure: Set your camera to underexpose by a half or full stop – this will bring out more vivid color and contrast.
-Contrast: If you sharpen the contrast setting in the camera, it’s great for scenics and blue sky. But be sure to adjust back when you are looking at a scene with shadows or on a trail with tree-filtered light.
Camera Phones: Depending on your phone model you may be able to adjust things like ISO before you take the picture. But in most cases, you’ll simply take a shot and then work with the phone’s built-in editing tools. TIP: Forget the filters, even, and especially, the ones named for seasons. Instead, explore adjustments using Light (exposure, highlights, shadows) and Color (saturation, contrast) menus.
Remember that the best camera is the one you have with you! Be sure to check my Tips for Taking Better Flower Photos, and plan ahead with Tips for Taking Winter Photos. Show us your best Fall shots on twitter or instagram using the hashtag #TMOM, and we’ll share our favorites!