Tips for Getting Better Landscape Photos in Autumn

Tips for Getting Better Landscape Photos in Autumn

When the leaves start turning those beautiful autumn colors, it’s prime time to get the camera out and make some photographs.  

I love the autumn season; the crisp mornings and cool evenings are perfect for sitting around a bonfire. There are few times throughout the year when nature is perfectly primed for photographing, and autumn is one of them. If you’re at all like me, the change of the season brings a renewed desire to get outside with your camera and attempt to capture the beauty of the season. The best part of photographing the autumn season is that compared with the summer season, there really are only minor differences in approach or gear that are needed to get your best work. While I will cover here some of the things that work for me, I would suggest that as you get set for the season, think of the things that make your area unique and how you can leverage them. 

Location

The first and most important factor in photographing the quick transitions of autumn is the location. If you’re not planning to get out of town for any photographing, it would benefit you to seek out ahead of time where in your area you’re most likely to have the most fruitful excursion. As with many things, advance preparation will likely lead to the best outcomes. If you’re at all able to travel within your region or anywhere else within the United States, I would highly suggest looking at the Fall Foliage Prediction Map produced and freely available through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website. As with any other prediction, it can serve as a good guide, but it is not without error. Even if it were completely correct for the area in question, the weather may disrupt your plans, and in the event of a storm, it may bring down most of the leaves early. 

Lighting

Much like photographing in the summer, a lot of direct light will likely result in a washed-out, less inspired photograph. Landscape photography in autumn is even more extreme. Indirect light is necessary to make the most of the beautiful autumn colors. Personally, I prefer the early morning, as you’re more likely to get fog and/or mist along with soft light. In fact, shooting in heavy fog or even right after it rains can result in some particularly striking images. 

Gear

As you may or may not know from some of my previous articles on landscape photography, I’m a big fan of using telephoto lenses. Fall is the perfect time to practice getting tighter framings that focus on colors and more pleasing framing. Another suggestion for gear would be a Hoya red intensifier lens filter. I used one last year for the first time in photographing autumn foliage, and I really love the difference it made. You may have heard of this particular filter in the context of astrophotography, which is why I bought my filters in the first place. If you already have said filter, you should try letting it pull double duty. If you don’t have one but astrophotography interests you, now is as good a time as any to pick one up. 

Film

For those who are attempting to photograph the season on film, I highly suggest using slide film or Ektar. Should you be willing to try slide film, it is as important as ever to try to shoot in indirect light. As you may remember from an earlier article, slide film has a very limited dynamic range, but the colors are absolutely gorgeous. If slide film isn’t your thing, I would also highly suggest Ektar, but if 100 ASA isn’t your thing, Kodak Portra 400 or 800 would also work quite well. 

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6 Comments

James Michael's picture

James Madison I'm new to the Columbus, Ohio area. Any suggestions? I'm thinking Mohican SP.

James Madison's picture

Welcome! I've actually not been there but in a recent YT video by Mat Marrash he went there and shot some 8x10. It was impressively beautiful and definitely a place I intend to check out myself.

If you've not been yet, I *highly* recommend Hocking Hills. The trail between Old Man's Cave and Cedar Falls is gorgeous but you have to get there early in the morning or else it turns into a bit of an amusement park. This past weekend I went to Airplane Rock to Chapel Cave and around that area for a few hours. It was significantly less traveled (only passed one other person) than the main trails. Conkle's Hollow rim trail is also nice if you can get there early. There are just so many trails there and most all of them are really worth it.

James Michael's picture

Thanks for replying. I'm been to Hocking Hills but discounted it due to the crowds but I'll revisit it and head out earlier. :-)

James Madison's picture

For sure! Some of the trails are Hocking Hills get really crazy as the day goes on. Early in the AM, though, it's typically good. And the less traveled paths are usually always good.

lisa Willis's picture

Very educational article. I really wish it was longer. Gonna save this.

James Madison's picture

I'm glad you like it! Truth be told, I didn't spend as much time as I typically do thinking through the article because I'm typically writing them months in advance and update them as I go along. When I thought to do this article, I made haste in writing it up for publishing.

If you get out there and get some good shots, feel free to circle back around and share them here.