Autumn offers a wide range of photographic opportunities, especially for those who love colors and moody days. With the quicky changing scenery, colorful landscapes and shorter days, it’s not hard to understand why it’s so many photographer’s favorite season.
But how can you capture the vibrancy of it? A typical problem with autumn photography is the dull and flat images that don’t convey the colors or atmosphere presented. Through this article, you’ll learn how you can capture great images of the changing season and how to enhance the atmosphere.
1. Photograph during the Golden Hour
The Golden Hour is one of the most attractive times to photograph for landscape photographers in general, which means this isn’t only a good advice for autumn photography. However, during that time of year, the Golden Hour can play an even bigger role.
The landscape will light up when the sun is at a low position and gives a nice and soft glow. In this light, the already vibrant colors will shine and may really enhance the atmosphere of your scene.
A blue sky is a good contrast to the yellow or orange trees but the light quickly gets too hard during daytime and the image loses the soft glow you often want to achieve. This means that getting up early or staying out late to capture the sun in a low position is ideal for autumn photography.
Fog and overcast days can be just as good
In Norway, and most other places, autumn isn’t a season where you can expect sunshine every day. The days are getting shorter and the weather is changing quickly. This normally means quite a lot of rain, fog and gray days.
Typically, these are conditions in which many choose to stay home but I believe that’s a big mistake; it’s the changing weather that is special about this time of year, so why not make the best out of it?
Lakes, woods, rivers and streams are good subjects for photography during overcast or foggy days. The light is still ideal during the Golden Hours but these days are more forgiving and it’s easier to capture interesting images at other hours of the day as well.
Look for scenes that stick out from the surroundings. In the image above, the bright orange leaves and the red heather was a great contrast to the gray and dull background. The color separation makes the tree stick out even more and it’s no doubt that it’s the main subject of the image.
Take advantage of natural framing
Natural framing is one of the strongest compositional techniques and during autumn the opportunities are endless.
Look for branches, leaves, trees or other natural elements that can frame your main subject. Doing so will help emphasize the main subject of your image while you still have a beautiful and interesting frame around it.
I find it easier to implement this technique when using a telezoom or at least 50mm. Still, it does work with a wide-angle lens but it’s often harder to find efficient frames and the depth of field doesn’t have the same impact.
Use a Circular Polarizer
A Circular Polarizer filter is your best friend for autumn photography, regardless of whether you’re photographing in the woods or a scenic view. There are several benefits of using one during this time of year but here are the most important:
- The CPL will enhance contrast & colors
- Enhances the blue sky on clear days
- Removes unwanted glare from rain and wet days
- Lets you use a slightly longer shutter speed, which is ideal when photographing rivers and streams.
Note that the filter is dark (it typically darkens with approximately 1.5 stops) so you might need to either increase your ISO or use a tripod to get a correct exposure that remains sharp when there’s less available light.
Recommended Reading: The Exposure Triangle
Personally, I have a great experience with both the B+W CPL & NiSi CPL but there are many other good and more affordable brands on Amazon. I recommend finding a filter which is relatively color neutral, though, as you don’t want it to create a significant color cast; rather, you want it to enhance the actual colors in the scene.
Avoid direct sunlight
I’ll start by saying that this tip is more of a general guideline as there are many great images from autumn that are shot directly into the sun. However, due to the hard mid-day light, it’s recommended that you avoid shooting into the sun in most – though it’s more forgiving during sunrise or sunset when the sun is at a low position.
One of the main challenges with photographing directly towards the sun is that the foreground will be underexposed, meaning that you’ll need to capture multiple exposures and blend them together in post-processing. You’ll also notice that you get a lot of hard shadows, overall less saturation and lens flares which are hard to get rid off.
Take advantage of a warm White Balance
Another method of bringing out more colors is to add more warmth to the White Balance. Auto White Balance will attempt to neutralize colors, which we don’t necessarily want.
Recommended Reading: Master White Balance Like a Pro
Increase your White Balance by using a warmer Kelvin (such as 6000) but be careful so you don’t overdo it. You can also look through the different semi-automatic presets to see if there’s one that you prefer over the others.
Look for details
My last suggestion for autumn photography is to look for details. Take the time to carefully scout the scene you’re photographing and look for things that stick out. Perhaps it’s a red leaf in a small puddle, a branch that’s losing leaves, reflections of a colorful tree or a cluster of colorful trees.
Recommended Reading: 4 Tips for Photographing Nature’s Smaller Scenes
Leave the wide-angle lens in your camera bag and use a telezoom or macro lens instead. Zoom in on various objects and scenes and see if there’s anything that separates itself. The image above was captured at 200mm as I was zooming in on a hillside that had a few yellow trees standing out from the rest.
What’s your favorite tip for autumn photography? Let us know in a comment below!