I just got back from Michigan earlier this week and I could tell that the fall season of colors was working it’s way in. Some trees had already turned some bright colors, some tree tops had just started turning, and some trees were still green. But it got me thinking that it’s time to share some fall photography tips to help you make the most out of photographing during one of my favorite times of the year to shoot.
First… A Word From the Sponsor 🙂
Before we get started on the tips, I wanted to let you know I have a class on Fall Photography on KelbyOne.com. It’s called the Fall Photography Field Guide. It goes over all the gear, camera settings, composition, lens choice, weather, and lots of other things around Fall Photography. So make sure you check it out. Also, you’ll find lots of waterfalls and streams around while you’re out shooting so don’t forget to check out my Long Exposure Photography class. Finally, Moose Peterson has some Fall Photography classes up on KelbyOne that you’ll want to see as well.
Okay, now that we’ve got that outta the way, on to the tips!
1. Backlit Trees
Sunlight behind the leaves of a tree looks awesome. It makes the trees look like they’re glowing! And the best part of shooting backlit trees is that you can do it at nearly any time of day. Of course, the colors look great when the sun is just coming up and going down (not as harsh). But they also look great when the sun is higher up in the sky and the leaves and trees are backlit.
Mini TIP: And if you can compose the photo so that whatever is backlit, is up against a darker tree (or whatever) in the background, even better. Now those backlit trees and leaves will look even brighter and more interesting because they’ll stand out more.
2. Keep Your Polarizer On Most of the Time
I always have my polarizer with me when I’m out shooting. But it’s probably only on half the time – except when I’m shooting fall color and leaves/trees. Then it’s almost-always on my lens. The polarizer does two things for fall colors. 1) It helps reduce glare on the leaves. Try it. Put your polarizer on and turn it one way and then back. You’ll see how it changes the amount of glare that appears on leaves and everything else around. 2) It helps make the color pop a little more than normal. Sure you could do this in Lightroom/Photoshop later, but it is nice to have it done in camera already. But really, the big lesson here is #1. There’s no removing glare in post-processing. Once it’s there, it’s there and a polarizer really helps reduce it.
Mini TIP: Oh, and in addition to helping with glare and colors (especially on overcast days), it serves as a bit of neutral density filter to help slow down water.
3. Use the Sun
If you’ve seen any of my photos before then you know I love shooting in to the sun and trying to get that sunstar effect. Try to position yourself so the sun is at the edge of a tree or visible through the leaves you’re looking at. Again, this opens up more times of the day to shoot because you can still get some great photos when the sun is higher in the sky. It even goes great with the first tip above (the one on Backlit trees), because you can use shoot backlit trees, along with the sun behind them for some great photos.
4. Shoot Tight
Fall color is a great time to put on the long lens and get creative and shoot tight. There’s so many great looking things with fall photography that you miss with a wide angle lens. Shoot tighter. Use wider apertures for some depth of field. Look for patterns. Capture backlit trees even closer. There’s lots of possibilities here.
5. Shoot on Cloudy Days
Cloudy days work really well for photographing the fall colors too. Everything tends to be more flat and evenly lit on cloudy or overcast days. So the colors in the leaves stand out even more. Plus, if you’re shooting anything with moving water, those cloudy days help you get a slower shutter speed to make the water smooth. Oh, and don’t forget the polarizer. Even if the sun isn’t out, the polarizer still helps remove glare and boost the colors.
Mini TIP: Oh and cloudy days are great to shoot portraits too!
6. Raise Your ISO
If you’re shooting in tighter and closer on trees on a windy day, then don’t forget to raise your ISO. Generally you don’t want to see movement in the leaves, but on a windy day you might. In that case, as a landscape photographer, this is one of the only times I ever raise my ISO above 100 (or 200 on certain cameras). So how high do you raise it? Until the leaves are sharp. Just keep looking at your LCD and when the leaves aren’t blurry anymore, your ISO is at the right spot 🙂
7. The “Leaves are Raining on Me” Photo
This is a great one to do right after you make the kids rake the leaves 🙂 Grab your camera and throw some leaves in the air and get the photo as they’re coming down. No big tip there though right? Well, the biggest tip I can tell you if you’re looking to do this is have some one else throw the leaves. If you try to have the subject do it, they’ll almost always be blurry since they were moving. It’s really awkward to have them throw something in the air and then they’re dead still right after. So try to have some one else around to toss a bunch of leaves in the air over the person so you can get a sharp photo.
This time of year is really one of the nicest to get out there and shoot. So hopefully these tips (and the classes I mentioned above) help you make the most of it. And here’s a quick list of those training classes I mentioned earlier:
• Matt’s Fall Photography Field Guide
• Matt’s Long Exposure Photography Class
• Moose Peterson’s Classes
And if you get any great shots, make sure you post a link here in the comments or on one of my social pages. Have a good one!
I noticed on another site I could get your ‘fall’ preset , the link for it did not work. Is it still available? I absolutely love it! the link was on http://lightroomkillertips.com/lightroom-5-presets-fallautumn-color-boost/
Please let me know , thanks a ton!! Love your work!!
Hi Terry – I don’t work with that site anymore. Here’s a post where I talk a little about it: https://mattk.com/2014/11/10/5755/
Great photos and tips Matt. I know some people are down on using a polarizing filter but I totally agree with you. I hadn’t thought about the composition tips for backlit trees or having a helpful hand toss the leaves for a fun portrait. Much appreciated.
Hello Matt. Like your article. I always use my polorizer when shooting fall colours. However, as a suggestion, you could have listed some techniques on the use of specific lens, F#s, ranges of S #s based on conditions ( current SLRs can handle higher S#s without displaying noise.), WB strategies-Cloudy/Sunny…, impact on using an ND filter over the polorizer while shooting?
As a community of photegraphy enthusias knowledge transfer from the pros would be much appreciated
Hey Doc. Two things.
1) I don’t consider those things tips for getting great Fall photos so it’s not something I’d include. Plus, I do talk a little about that stuff in my class (lenses, f-stops) and my hopes are that from reading this, some one would consider watching my class for more info.
2) Your other questions about White balance Strategies and stacking filters, etc… are more general photography questions. Again, not something I would cover in a 7 quick tips article, but something we have covered in our photography basics classes online.