Fall colors are a favorite subject of photographers everywhere.  Depending on where you live, this week might be experiencing peak colors as I type this.  Here in Door County, it’s prime time for fall color photos and it’s one of my favorite times of the year to get outside with my camera.  The opportunities are abound for some really fun photographs.  If you are looking for ideas or inspirations, I put together a list of photo ideas and tips for you to remember on your next photoshoot.

But first, lets get in to the fall mood with Jim Gaffigan.  🙂



Fall Colors Photography Tips and Ideas


1. Shoot All Day

The great thing about fall is that you can shoot any time of day.  During the summer months, the sun gets so high in the sky that it really doesn’t pay to photograph landscapes because the harsh shadows you get just aren’t pleasing.  In October, the sun doesn’t get as high in the sky so you don’t get the harsh sunlight so you can shoot all day long.


Autumn in Ephraim


2. Use the Blue Sky

I don’t know what it is but the sky during October always will be a deep blue on sunny days.  This makes for a great backdrop for fall colors. 



3. Use a Polarizing Filter

Probably the most useful accessory is a polarizing filter.  A polarizer is very useful the the fall because it increases contrast of the scene and make the colors really pop.  The filter will make the blue sky much darker and bluer, which creates great contrast with the colorful leaves.

Sugar Creek


4. Get a Closeup

Landscape photography doesn’t always have to be wide angle images of large vistas.  It also can pay attention to the small things that make up a landscape.  In fall, I like to zoom in on leaves.  Sometimes the subtle color changes on single leaves can be really beautiful and worth capturing.

Changing Leaves


5. Go Out During The Rain

A rainy day is a great time to photograph fall colors, especially in a forest.  The wetness really does a great job to bring out the color in the forest.  Another advantage is you don’t get hotspots or sunspots to deal with and your images will all have soft, even lighting.  A polarizing filter is also helpful in the rain because it will reduce glare from the wet leaves.



6. Compose with Trails and Roads

When I’m out in a forest I like to include trails in my images.  A trail can be good converging lines for your composition that will lead the viewers eye in to the forest.

Up The Stairs

Through the Woods


7. Find a Creek or River

I like to find small rivers or creeks that flow through colorful forests.  Sometimes you’ll see leaves floating on top of the water or even sitting in the bottom that makes the scene extra colorful.  It is important to use a polarizing filter here as well because it will eliminate most glare off the water.

Colorful Rapids


8. Find Reflections

Reflections are a favorite subject of mine any time of the year but in the fall they can be extra stunning.  All you need to so is find a calm lake or river and there should be some good reflections.  You get the best reflections when the subject is in direct light while the water is in the shade.  You can see below in this image from Yosemite National Park that the trees are getting good sunlight while the Merced River is in the shade.  

Down the River


9. Use a Crystal Ball

An inexpensive crystal ball is really fun to play around with.  You can place it in the scene and set your focus on it and get some really interesting images.  A crystal ball will flip the image upside down so if you want you can rotate the scene upright in post to make the landscape right side up again.  Just be careful on a sunny day because the glass will act as a magnifying glass and ruin your camera if the sin is shining right in to it.



10. Use Backlighting

Back lighting is when the light source is behind the subject.  This works wonders in the fall as it will create a scene of beautiful, bright, almost glowing leaves.  In this image I positioned myself so the sun if shining right through this group of birch trees.  If you set your camera’s aperture to F/16-F/22 you will get this sunstar effect as the light passes through the trees.

Autumn Forest


11. Look Up

When you are in a forest, use a wide angle lens and point it directly up.  You can usually find some cool compositions using the trees and back lit leaves.




12. Use a Slow Shutter

Using a slow shutter is a cool way to make more abstract and painterly images.  Set your camera to shutter priority mode (I’d probably suggest auto ISO as well) and set the shutter to 1/4 sec.  Then point your camera towards some trees and, as you press the shutter, move the camera in an upward motion.  You can play around with the shutter speed to get more or less blue in the images.





13. Elevate Yourself

Fall colors look great from the ground, but they are also beautiful from up in the air.  Some parks have a tower you can climb for a bird’s eye view, airplanes are another choice (maybe hire an air tour), and drones are an increasingly popular tool.

Sawyer harbor at Potawatomi Park


14. Find the Popular Spot

When you are out of ideas, go with what works.  Head to the popular photo spots that look great with fall colors.  🙂



Bonus Tip: Plan Ahead

Many states might have tourism bureaus that track fall colors and predict when they will peak.  In Wisconsin we have the Travel Wisconsin Fall Colors Report.  Websites like this will really help if you are planning to travel to see fall colors.

Check out my galleries page for more examples of fall colors images.