Autumn offers a wide range of photographic opportunities, especially for those who love colors and moody days. With the quickly changing scenery, colorful landscapes and shorter days, it’s not hard to understand why it’s the favorite season of so many photographers.
But how do you capture the vibrancy of it? How do you walk home with beautiful images? A typical problem with autumn photography is the dull and flat images that aren’t able to convey the colors or atmosphere presented. That’s what I’ll help with, in this article; you’ll learn how to capture great images of the changing season and how to enhance the atmosphere.
#1 Photograph during the Golden Hour
Our first tip isn’t only applicable in autumn. In fact, it’s a valuable advice for landscape photography in general: take advantage of the Golden Hour.
The landscape lights up when the sun is at a low position during the hours around sunrise and sunset, which results in a picturesque soft glow. This often gives a beautiful ‘pop’ to the vibrant colors and can dramatically enhance the atmosphere.
There’s no doubt that a blue sky can be a good contrast to the yellow or orange trees but, unfortunately, the light quickly gets too harsh during daytime which leads to the image losing the soft glow you want to achieve.
In other words, getting up early or staying out late to photograph while the sun is at a low position in the sky is ideal for autumn photography.
#2 Fog and overcast days can be just as good
Here in Norway, similarly to many 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 a lot of rain, fog and gray days.
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 try to photograph 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.
#3 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.
#4 Use a Circular Polarizer
A Circular Polarizer is your best friend for autumn photography, regardless of whether you’re photographing in the woods or a scenic vista. There are several benefits of using one but here are the most important:
- It enhances the contrast & colors
- It enhances the blue sky on clear days
- It removes unwanted glare from rain and wet days
- … and it allows you to use a slightly slower 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
Make sure to choose 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.
#5 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 scenarios – though it’s more forgiving during sunrise or sunset.
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.
#6 Apply 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 not to overdo it; a too high Kelvin will lead to a global and unnatural looking color cast.
Alternatively, you can look through the different semi-automatic presets (such as cloudy and sunny) to see if there’s one that you prefer over the others.
#7 Look for details
My final tip for photographing the colors of autumn 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!
More Autumn Photography
Do you want to take autumn pictures that are as good as the ones featured above? Here are a few more articles and resources that will help you get started: