Autumn offers a wide range of photographic opportunities for those who love colorful but 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 come back home with beautiful images that you can’t wait to share?
A typical problem with autumn photography is that the days are either 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
My first tip isn’t only applicable in autumn. In fact, it’s 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 autumn 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 the daytime. This makes it nearly impossible to get the soft glow you want to achieve.
Photographing autumn during Golden Hour is less important during dull and gray days. When the clouds are thick and the fog is rolling in, you’re often able to avoid the harsh light and get a soft and nice result all day long.
That being said, getting up early or staying out late to photograph while the sun is at a low position in the sky is going to help achieve that nice soft glow and little extra ‘pop’ in the autumn colors.
#2 Fog and overcast days can be just as good
Autumn isn’t a season where you can expect sunshine every day. At least not here in Northern Norway. Days are getting shorter and the weather is changing quickly, which normally means a lot of rain, fog and gray days.
These conditions may make you want to curl up in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate but I urge you to get out of your comfort zone and head outside; this changing weather can lead to some amazing moments behind the camera. It’s also part of what’s special about this time of year, so why not photograph it?
Lakes, woods, rivers and streams are good subjects for photography during overcast or foggy days. As mentioned above, 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 were 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 typically darkens the image 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.
Make sure to choose a filter that 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 midday light, I recommend 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
Many of you might use the Auto White Balance function in the camera but, unfortunately, it attempts to neutralize colors, which is something we don’t necessarily want when photographing autumn. A better option is to manually adjust the White Balance in order to bring out more of that warm color.
Recommended Reading: Master White Balance Like a Pro
This is done by increasing the Kelvin to a higher value (such as 6000). Be careful not to overdo it, though; a too-high value leads to a global and unnatural-looking color cast.
If you’re not yet comfortable manually adjusting the White Balance, you can look through the different semi-automatic presets to see if there’s one that works for the scene you’re shooting.
#7 Look for details
My final tip for photographing 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 bag and challenge yourself to use a telezoom or macro lens instead. Zoom in on various objects and scenes to see if there’s anything that stands out. You might be surprised by what you find!
Autumn photography is a highlight for many landscape photographers and it’s a time when there are endless of opportunities. However, the quickly changing light and conditions lead to many challenges and it doesn’t take more than a few mistakes before you have to wait an entire year to the next attempt.
But, as we all know, a little challenge can result in great rewards. By taking your time when setting up the shot and experimenting with the composition and perspective, you’re going to capture images that you can’t wait to share with the world.