Every year it feels like Fall comes upon us faster than the year before. We wrap up the holiday season, we photograph the new growth of spring, we hunt for wild flowers in the summer, and before we know it we’re planning and scouting our Fall foliage trips.
We’ve gathered 10 tips we have learned over the years that we hope are fresh pieces of advice to help you as you prepare for the coming color.
1) Hold Your Plans & Maps Loosely
It never fails: You plan for months, you pack the gear, arrive at the planned location only to find that the color is delayed. I can’t tell you how often this has happened to us.
As much as you’re able, hold your plans loosely and be willing to drive towards the color.
A great tool to reference is the Fall Foliage Prediction Map. Tuck this link away for reference in the coming weeks and for next year. This map will forecast the changing color and approach of peak in the area you’re hoping to capture.
2) Not Seeing Color? Get High!
Made your plans and not seeing color at your point of arrival? Get High! The leaves at higher elevations change sooner than lower elevations. Try heading to the tops of mountains, or start driving north. Either way, don’t write off your trip too soon. Just get out and explore. Ask a local, make a couple calls to towns further north of you and you’ll usually always find someone who is willing and able to help. Contacting the local park service is a great resource and they will be able to inform you on their color progression.
3) Get Out Of Your Car!
You’ve found it! The golden honey pot of autumn color. For many, the allure of staying in your car and driving until you see something off the side of the road to capture is a real threat. And by threat, we do mean threat. Perhaps one of the simplest pieces of advice we can give you is to venture out of your car and onto a trail. Depending on your physical abilities, you don’t have to hike even 5 miles to find hidden gems, locations and compositions that will be unique to you. Enjoy the crunch of the leaves under your feet. Breathe in the crisp autumn air. Go for a stroll and let nature show you her beauty.
4) Get Wet!
Apart from our camera bags, the first item that gets packed in the car is our water boots. Whether that means Wellingtons, hip waders, or neoprene socks like these, keeping your feet dry will be half the battle for staying warm, comfortable and protected from the elements while photographing fall photos all day.
What we consider to be the primary benefit to getting in the water and wet is the ability to position yourself in the middle of the creeks, waterfalls, rivers and other rushing water to maximize your compositions.
Compare a composition captured from the side of the river against another composition created from the center of the river with the water coming towards you, providing a strong sense of movement and interesting foreground. Water coming into your frame and filling your foreground can increase the drama of your composition and lead the eye into the scene, increasing the depth of your image.
Give it a try and let us know what you create! We’d love to see your images!
5) Big Compositions In Small Places
While we’re all on the hunt for incredible waterfalls, rushing rivers lined and covered in golden splendor, sometimes the most magical and breathtaking compositions can be found in the small places. While you’re trekking towards that next big location, be sure to notice what’s around you, at your feet, and tucked quietly away at the side. You’ll never know what magic will await you.
Capturing the details of the forest, or what we fondly call intimate landscapes, can be challenging to create compelling compositions, but oh so rewarding. To locate these tiny landscapes, take your time, walk slowly, stop and look at what’s around your feet. This leads us to tip number 6.
6) Don’t Get Stuck At f/11
We all know that with the big landscapes you want maximum sharpness from front to back. But don’t limit or cap your creativity by fixing yourself at f/11 and staying there. By switching your aperture to f/2.8 or f/5.6 you’ll find depth of field will become your friend. It will help you highlight and establish the mood, the features and enhance perceived color by adding bokeh to your background. This is especially true when you’re capturing tiny landscapes or intimate scenes.
7) Calling for Rain? Get Out There!
We are like kids in candy stores when we hear that there might be overcast skies and drizzle. While wind is not the friend to the Fall foliage photographer (we don’t want the precious leaves knocked off the trees) and full blown rain can be miserable and detrimental to our gear, a light drizzle with overcast skies is music to our ears.
A light drizzle will not only saturate rocks in the stream you’re capturing and make the image so much more appealing, but it will also saturate the colors of your leaves both at your feet and those that remain in the trees. That being said, photographing in overcast, drizzling conditions is great for your big naturescapes and your tiny landscapes.
The point? Get out there. Grab your rain jacket and don’t hold back.
8) Did You Pack Your Polarizer?
If you’re just starting your photographic journey and you’re not sure where to start or what you need, the number one friend of the nature photographer capturing fall foliage is the circular polarizer. There’s a million options waiting for you on Amazon, but we happen to love the Hoya HD3 Circular Polarizer. Be sure to check the millimeter size of your most used lens and order the polarizer size that fits your lens.
What does the polarizer do? The circular polarizer will help you with color saturation and remove the glare of light from your leaves and water. The key is to rotate the front element of your circular polarizer once it’s attached to your lens. If you look closely, you’ll notice your shadows getting deeper as it cuts through the light, and the sheen on your leaves will deepen into a lovely saturated color.
9) Perfect Patterns:
Whether you realize it or not, identifying and making sense of patterns in art is not only a baseline skill of humans, but it can also provide a soothing psychological effect on the viewer of your image. This can be a strong visual tool in your tool belt as you create your compositions this Autumn.
Don’t limit yourself to leading lines, but look for subtle angles, shapes, and textures that are intriguing. These may not pop out instantly to you, so be intentional and set a personal assignment for yourself to create at least one Pattern image during your fall creativity.
10) Give Your Eye Some Credit!
This is perhaps the best advice we can give you as you venture out. Give your eye the credit that it’s due. Pay attention to what catches your eye. Although the subject may not be instantly visible to you, listen to your eye by stopping and assessing what’s caught your attention. By giving yourself the time to stop and look around you, you may find a stunning composition that wasn’t immediately obvious.
Break down in your mind what you’re seeing, and ask yourself this important question: If this scene was a play, who would be the star of the show? By identifying the main character in your compositional play, you can then build your scene with your supporting cast around the star of the show.
We absolutely love helping those new to nature photography and love trading inspiration with seasoned shooters as well. If this article was helpful to you in anyway, please comment below or shoot us an email and let us know what your Fall foliage plans are. We would also love to hear if you have a personal assignment you’re working towards, or if you learned something from this post.
See you out there!