When the leaves start turning those beautiful autumn colors, it’s prime time to get the camera out and make some photographs.
I love the autumn season; the crisp mornings and cool evenings are perfect for sitting around a bonfire. There are few times throughout the year when nature is perfectly primed for photographing, and autumn is one of them. If you’re at all like me, the change of the season brings a renewed desire to get outside with your camera and attempt to capture the beauty of the season. The best part of photographing the autumn season is that compared with the summer season, there really are only minor differences in approach or gear that are needed to get your best work. While I will cover here some of the things that work for me, I would suggest that as you get set for the season, think of the things that make your area unique and how you can leverage them.
The first and most important factor in photographing the quick transitions of autumn is the location. If you’re not planning to get out of town for any photographing, it would benefit you to seek out ahead of time where in your area you’re most likely to have the most fruitful excursion. As with many things, advance preparation will likely lead to the best outcomes. If you’re at all able to travel within your region or anywhere else within the United States, I would highly suggest looking at the Fall Foliage Prediction Map produced and freely available through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website. As with any other prediction, it can serve as a good guide, but it is not without error. Even if it were completely correct for the area in question, the weather may disrupt your plans, and in the event of a storm, it may bring down most of the leaves early.
Much like photographing in the summer, a lot of direct light will likely result in a washed-out, less inspired photograph. Landscape photography in autumn is even more extreme. Indirect light is necessary to make the most of the beautiful autumn colors. Personally, I prefer the early morning, as you’re more likely to get fog and/or mist along with soft light. In fact, shooting in heavy fog or even right after it rains can result in some particularly striking images.
As you may or may not know from some of my previous articles on landscape photography, I’m a big fan of using telephoto lenses. Fall is the perfect time to practice getting tighter framings that focus on colors and more pleasing framing. Another suggestion for gear would be a Hoya red intensifier lens filter. I used one last year for the first time in photographing autumn foliage, and I really love the difference it made. You may have heard of this particular filter in the context of astrophotography, which is why I bought my filters in the first place. If you already have said filter, you should try letting it pull double duty. If you don’t have one but astrophotography interests you, now is as good a time as any to pick one up.
For those who are attempting to photograph the season on film, I highly suggest using slide film or Ektar. Should you be willing to try slide film, it is as important as ever to try to shoot in indirect light. As you may remember from an earlier article, slide film has a very limited dynamic range, but the colors are absolutely gorgeous. If slide film isn’t your thing, I would also highly suggest Ektar, but if 100 ASA isn’t your thing, Kodak Portra 400 or 800 would also work quite well.