October is one of the best times for a photowalk. October offers a window of opportunity for photographing fall colors at their peak. The window for capturing dramatic and dynamic fall images is short. Don’t put off taking that photo because fall is a time of change, and you think things will look the same tomorrow, but they won't. Here are some basic tips for photographing in the fall.
Shoot early and late in the day. Try to shoot a half-hour before and after sunrise or sunset. The colors will be noticeably richer, the shadows deeper, textures and forms stronger. Early morning is one of the best times to capture the color of fall reflected in a pond or lake as the water is usually still and the light is coming in at a low angle.
Shoot right after a rainstorm. The light is usually more dramatic, and wet leaves, structures, and even roads take on more vibrant intense color tones.
Shoot from all angles. Move around to find the most dramatic composition. A few steps can make a difference. Experiment.
Look for contrasting colors. Include visually opposing colors in your photo for dramatic contrasts and more intense color. A bright orange tree will look even brighter when photographed next to a green evergreen.
Try using a warm polarizer filter when you’re shooting colorful red and orange trees. Another option is to increase your cameras saturation settings to produce vivid punchy colors, consult your camera’s manual to see if you have the ability to boost the saturation settings. You'll be sure to be pleased with the results.
October is a wonderful time of the year for photographs. Be sure and get out and shoot.
Some photography tips to consider
Depth of Field: Decide how much of the picture you want to be in focus, and use your aperture to control the depth of field.
Underexpose: To deepen the tones and make the colours stand out more, underexpose your image slightly. The easiest way to do this is to locate your exposure compensation (+/-) button and dial it down somewhere between -0.5EV and -1.0EV.
White balance: If you’re photographing during the golden hours (just before sunset or just after sunrise), you probably don’t want your camera’s auto white balance to eliminate the light’s yellow-orange tone, which is exactly what it will try to do. However, if you set your white balance to “daylight”, your pictures will retain the sun’s warm glow. Try different settings in any given lighting situation to find the best colour balance. It is particularly important to get this right if you’re shooting JPEG files, but if you use RAW format, the white balance can be perfected in post-production.
Backlight For Foliage That Pops
Light is the medium we use to paint our photographic masterpieces and is a critical component to their success. While sidelight is great for revealing texture and definition in the landscape, my favorite light for autumn foliage is often backlight. Since the red, orange and yellow leaves of autumn are translucent and light passes through them when backlit, the result is often an explosion of luminance and color.
All too often, people shy away from shooting backlit subjects. Yes, the light can be intense and contrasty, but the payoff of bold vibrant color that pops is well worth the attempt. When shooting backlit scenes, it's important to watch for lens flare, taking care to shade the front element of the lens with a lens hood, your hand or perhaps the bill of your cap. Watch your exposures, as often you'll need to open up a bit using exposure compensation if shooting in aperture priority.
Long Lenses To Isolate Color
Use longer focal-length lenses to isolate patterns, shapes, textures and areas of particularly intense autumn color. I love to use focal lengths of 200–400mm to "optically focus" interesting compositional elements and really direct the viewer's eye to exciting things that would otherwise be lost in the chaos of the grand landscape. I also like to use a visual element such as a collection of tree trunks to anchor the composition around a strong graphic shape.
Use Exposure Compensation
One of the biggest hang-ups new photographers have is getting the "right" exposure. In our digital world, getting a good exposure is simple. My preferred method is to use aperture-priority mode combined with the exposure compensation feature to tweak the results to my liking or preferred aesthetic. Once I've dialed in the appropriate aperture needed for depth of field, I use the histogram to evaluate whether there is good information in the critically important highlight and shadow portions of the frame. I can also tell quickly if the dynamic range of the scene requires using a grad ND filter or perhaps bracketing for a manual blend in post-processing.
By contrast, try reducing the exposure significantly to allow portions of the frame to go into deep shadow, helping to isolate the available light and fall color for a more mysterious, dark and moody image. Just remember, viewers of your work will never marvel at what a great histogram you've made, just how fantastic the resulting image is.
For many fall shooters, a still pond or lake with a colorful reflection during the golden hour is the holy grail of early October. While these wide-angle landscapes are not to be missed, there's also something to be said for getting in tighter and isolating portions of the reflections for more abstract presentations.
Additionally, on a bright sunny day is to head to a river or stream and look for reflections in the shaded portions of the landscape. Position yourself in the shade immediately opposite a hillside of fall color in bright sun and you'll be amazed how good the reflected color can be. Look for still pools of water for sharp, mirror-like reflections, or use a long lens to isolate rocks and sections of current that are picking up the reflected color from above. Aside from creating wonderful abstracts and vignettes, the combination of warm tones coming from the reflected color and the cooler tones in the shade make for a dynamic contrast and images with a lot of energy.
Get Down Low And Go Wide
If you want your images to look different, then you've got to photograph differently! If you're most comfortable shooting fall landscapes using your 70-200mm zoom lens, then make this the year you get low and go wide. There are lots of opportunities to shoot fall color with your 16-35mm. Some of my favorites include shooting straight up through a colorful canopy against a blue sky while the tree trunks radiate out to the corners of the frame. Once the color change has migrated down to the forest floor from the upper reaches of the canopy, look for colorful saplings, ferns and fallen leaves to anchor a wide-angle composition with a foreground filled by vibrant color.
My favorite time to shoot wide-angle stream shots is when autumn has passed its peak and the majority of leaves have dropped, coating stream banks in vibrant color. My advice to anyone new to the exciting world of wide-angle lenses is to get really, really close to your subject for compositions that put the viewer there, in the scene.
Great Places to Shoot
There are three major regions to consider: the New England states; the Colorado Rockies; and the upper Midwest of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota to capture great fall color.
Green Mountains, VT: This pleasant mix of quaint rolling farmland and hillsides covered with brilliant red maples always makes the top of everyone’s fall color list.
White Mountains, NH: Don’t miss the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, which cuts
through some of the most dramatic autumn scenery in the mountains.
Adirondack Mountains, NY: The Lake Placid region has stunning mountain scenery, and countless alpine lakes and brooks make for perfect reflection photos.
Acadia National Park, ME: Famous for its rocky coast, this is leaf-peeping paradise, with red blueberry heath atop Cadillac Mountain and maple forests below.
Lake Superior, MN: The north shore has thundering waterfalls and towering cliffs. The fall color under Superior’s stormy weather often yields dramatic images.
West Virginia: Blueberry bushes on the Dolly Sods plateau blaze red in early Oct. Canaan Valley peaks a week or two later. Blackwater Canyon’s mix can’t miss.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC and TN: Some of the finest fall color in the southern U.S., with a dramatic range of elevations for a variety of tree species and peak foliage times.
Blue Ridge Parkway, NC and VA: With 469 miles of mountains, waterfalls, and rolling hills, there’s no end to the photographic possibilities.
Shenandoah National Park, VA: D.C.-area residents are just two hours away from sweeping mountain vistas and bold autumn foliage.
Upper Peninsula, MI: Hot spots include the Porcupine Mountains, Tahquamenon Falls, and south shore of Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.