10 Tips for Colorful Fall Captures

Fall provides shutterbugs of all levels the chance to enjoy the outdoors with their passion of photography and for many it is the favorite season for shooting.

Colorful fall foliage is a spectacular sight and the opportunity to capture it can be found everywhere, from just outside your door, to a short drive down the road or a day trip out to the country.

Take advantage of it to shoot colorful autumn landscapes and seasonal portrait shots of family and friends.

Here are 10 tips to get the most out of photographing the colors of fall.

1. When shooting portraits (formal or informal) frame your subject against a colorful background and use a large aperture such as f4 or 5.6 for a shallow depth of field. This will keep the background from distracting from your subject.

Conversely, when shooting large vistas or panoramas, use a small aperture such as f11 or f16 to capture as much detail as possible, especially if you have interesting subjects in the foreground. A wide-angle lens is a must have if you want those expansive shots full of ranging colors and an extended depth of field.

2. Shoot from a lower angle for a more unique effect than shots held at normal height. It is a lot easier when using a tripod with your camera on Live View (if you have it) since it saves having to have your eye to the viewfinder at such a low position. Looking upward, frame yellow or orange leaves against a bright blue sky.


3. It’s a great time to use a macro lens for extreme close ups showing the tiny details in leaves on the forest floor or floating in puddles. If you don’t have a dedicated macro lens, try close up filters. Although these are not as sharp as a macro lens, they offer a much more affordable way to get super close to your subject.

4. Early mornings in Fall provides some of the best opportunities to find mist around rivers, ponds and streams as the water may still be warmer than the air temperature. As the day warms, the mist disappears so take advantage of this and get out early to capture it. Also look for leaves still wet with dew and zoom in tight to accentuate it.

5. A circular polarizing filter will help to remove glare on the leaves and add saturation and contrast… even without direct sun. If shooting near water, it can allow you to see through the water by removing the glare and reflection. Don’t leave home without it.

6. It’s fun to think outside of the box and purposely take photos that aren’t sharp or in focus. Give a dreamy effect to a winding forest path with the correct use of soft focus. A special effects lens, a soft filter, even a little breath on the lens can produce this effect. Obviously using a special effects lens like a Lensbaby or a filter is preferable to breathing on your lens or filter but it’s a trick that can work. The selective soft focus from a Lensbaby lets you control sharpness very precisely and the effects can be stunning.

7. For a playful effect, try turning your zoom lens while shooting close ups of colorful leaves. You’ll find an abstract frame of reds, yellows and oranges, and, you’ll have a lot fun doing it.

8. The light will change throughout the day so a little planning can help you capture stronger images. For example, plan to shoot a west facing scene rich with color in the morning when the sun is lighting it and an east facing scene in the afternoon when it is lit from the west. The golden light of early morning and late afternoon will add richness to an already beautifully warm scene.

9. Try setting your camera White Balance to Cloudy to warm up the color of the leaves, the WB setting of Shade will warm it up even further exaggerating the reds, yellows and oranges.

10. Work an entire scene and capture all that the season offers; from a wide shot capturing an expanse of vibrant colors, to a single tree on a hillside slowly dropping it’s leaves for the winter, to the intricate detail of a single leaf itself. 

There’s still another 2 weeks of great color right here in DC as well as many other nearby locations, grab your gear, a few friends and and head out to your favorite spots to capture it.

To learn more and to build your skills, consider attending the Faces Not Places Photo Safari at the beautiful setting of the National Sculpture Garden or the Hillwood Gardens in Fall Photo Safari.

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