June 13, 2024

Autumn Photography: 19 Tips for Success


The season for autumn photography is short. We have a couple of months and just a week or two for the peak of the season to capture the beautiful, warm fall colors.

It’s a favorite time of year for many landscape photographers. The falling leaves, crisp air, and changing colors make a compelling case to load up your camera gear and get out there.

Autumn colors provide an especially striking subject against blue skies or golden sunsets. Whether you’re looking to capture the fall foliage, get some close-ups of autumn vegetables, or use it as a background for portraits, the fall season is rewarding. Also, it challenges your skills and creativity as a photographer.

In this article, we’ll outline some fall photography tips on what and where to shoot, using light to your advantage, camera settings, lenses, filters, and post processing. In the end, you’ll be ready to bring home stunning images of the autumn season.

fall leaves and blue sky.
Fall brings deep blue skies that contrast with the season’s red and gold colors.

1. Plan Ahead for Autumn Photography

Before you head out to a location, map out the shots that you want to take. Make sure they’re doable in terms of time, equipment, and lighting conditions.

Select a location with good light, interesting scenery, and a variety of subjects to photograph. Consider whether there are any potential hazards that could ruin your shoot.

Be prepared for bad weather. Dress for the season and sudden changes in the weather, and bring a rain cover for your gear.

Choosing the Best Time of Day for Aumtum Pictures

Choose a time of day according to the mood you want to convey in your photos. For example, midday shots can yield a great contrast of autumn colors against a blue sky, while mornings or afternoons can produce long shadows and warmer tones.

In addition, try shooting the same scene at various times of the day; notice how the changes in light affect the different shades of autumn colors.

2. Go for the Golden Hour

Actually, there are two golden hours: the hour or so after sunrise and the hour before sunset. The sun is low in the sky, giving your photos a warm glow with a combination of vibrant colors and crisp detail. When it comes to autumn photography tips, this is at the top: get out there during the golden hour.

The light of the golden hour accentuates the orange, gold, and red leaves. You can capture autumn landscapes, close-ups, and portraits that are breathtaking during these hours.

With the sun low in the sky creating beautiful, warm light, it’s an excellent time to shoot fall pictures that have a magazine cover quality.

fall colors golden hour.
The golden hour enhances the gorgeous colors that inspire autumn images.

3. Look for Cool Colors in the Blue Hour

In direct contrast with the golden hour, the blue hour cools the colors of fall.

The blue hour occurs right before sunrise and right after sunset. And again, there are two blue hours each day.

The indirect sunlight means the sky has a blue hue. However, it’s brighter than the dead of night, with sufficient light for photography. Fall foliage contrasts with the blue sky but with a different mood. This can be a great opportunity for capturing fall landscapes or trees against a soft blue sky.

mountain lake and red leaves.
The colors of the blue hour create a sharp contrast with autumn foliage.

4. Foggy Weather Conditions

Autumn forests with a misty atmosphere create surreal, mysterious, and moody images. Fog or mist separates the different layers of trees and creates depth that approaches three dimensionality.

A combination of cool nights and warm days brings out the mist and fog. The cloud cover of overcast days keeps those conditions around later in the morning.

Fog and mist may require a slower shutter speed, so you may want to use a tripod to avoid camera shake and ensure that you get sharp photos with those longer exposures. But these conditions bring out detail, create depth, add atmosphere, and saturate the fall colors.

autumn photography bench tree pier.
Fog and mist add moodiness and depth to fall photography.

5. Use a Telephoto Lens to Capture the Details

A telephoto lens brings you closer to the main subject, creating an intimate portrait that draws viewers into your photo. It also allows you to capture images from farther away, giving you greater flexibility. In addition, the shallow depth of field creates a nice bokeh, or soft background, when a telephoto lens is set at a wide aperture.

autumn leaf closeup.
A maple leaf in full fall color.

6. Use a Wide Angle Lens for Autumn Landscapes

A wide angle lens is great for landscape photography and scenic shots. The short focal length allows you to capture more of a scene with a natural perspective on your subject. It also captures more of the foreground, creating depth and adding context to your image by including more elements of the scene.

With a wide angle lens, you can create an interesting contrast between sky and land and water, emphasizing certain parts of the landscape over others by placing them closer or farther away.

A body of water also allows you to use reflections, adding more color and symmetry to the image.

autumn photography lake with tree reflection.
Autumn tones and the sky are reflected in the lake in this image.

7. Add a Polarizing or Neutral Density Filter

For richer colors and to enhance contrast, add a polarizing filter to your lens. This increases the color saturation, reduces reflections from wet surfaces, and deepens the shade of blue in the sky, adding contrast with the clouds. Also, highlights that might get overexposed are dialed down with a polarizer.

A circular polarizer is most useful in bright daytime light. We have a full article on polarizing filters if you’d like to learn more.

trees and mountain autumn landscape.
A polarizing filter enhances the contrast of fall colors, clouds, and blue sky.

A neutral density filter reduces the amount of light that enters the camera, enabling long exposures during the day. This can create a silky smooth effect on moving water. The ND filter also allows some of the more subtle colors to emerge.

In addition, if you’re shooting on a breezy day, a long exposure creates an impressionistic scene with blurry leaves, an artistic variation for your autumn photography.

We also published a previous article on neutral density filters.

long exposure stream and fall colors.
Long exposures in bright conditions are possible with a neutral density filter.

8. Change Your Elevation for Close-Ups

Don’t shy away from getting low for close-ups. Acorns, fallen leaves, and mushrooms make compelling up-close images, especially when you capture a nice bokeh of autumn colors. Pay strict attention to the depth of field as you get closer. A narrow aperture brings the main subject into sharp focus.

mushrooms closeup low angle.
A worms-eye view of mushrooms shot from a low angle.

9. Take a Birds-Eye View for Fall Photography

An aerial perspective of a forest in full autumn glory is a beautiful image. Of course, a drone makes this easy. As a harder-working alternative, hike up a hill or find a high vantage point, such as a lookout tower, to take in more of the landscape.

Afterward, you’ll find that the extra effort makes your autumn landscape photography compelling and out of the ordinary.

autumn landscape aerial view.
An aerial view gives autumn photos a dynamic perspective.

10. Get Close with Macro Photography

With acorns, pinecones, and leaves all around, you can find a wide assortment of motifs for macro photography. Use a lens with a longer focal length, around 100 mm, that magnifies the subject.

That lens will have a short focus range, so getting the entire subject sharp is more difficult in macro photography. Dial in a small aperture setting to get the preferred depth of field, and use a tripod or monopod to keep the camera steady.

Or, you may want to employ focus stack. Take a series of shots at different focus points and combine them in post processing for sharp detail across the entire image.

If you would like to dig deeper, we have a detailed article on camera settings to use for macro photos.

autumn macro photo acorn.
An acorn is just one of many subjects for fall macro photography.

11. Look for Natural Framing in Autumn Photos

Natural framing is an effective compositional technique, and autumn gives us plenty of opportunities.

Trees, branches, or other natural features can form a frame around a main subject. This emphasizes the subject within an engaging and colorful frame.

framing with fall foliage.
Fall colors frame a person in the distance in this example of an autumn photo.

12. Take in an Autumn Event

It’s the season for fall festivals, farmers markets, and Oktoberfest. Take advantage of these events for great autumn photography.

Many events happen in the evening hours, so be prepared to shoot in low light. Therefore, boost the ISO on your camera. And shoot in RAW format so you can recover details in the shadows during post production.

autumn truck pumpkins.
Autumn events bring opportunities for fascinating images.

13. Fall is Perfect for Outdoor Portraits

Autumn hues make a wonderful setting for outdoor portraits. Coordinate the props and wardrobe to match the colorful background. Yellow, shades of brown, and muted tones in clothing match nicely with the color palette of the season.

Advise your models to dress comfortably and interact with the surroundings. Also, check the weather conditions and dress appropriately.

Don’t Forget Your Pet

Autumn is a great time for a photo session with your pets. The autumn leaves give you a nice setting for a dog playing or just resting. Set your camera for burst mode and take multiple shots to ensure you capture just the right image.

dog and fall leaves.
You can’t go wrong with pets as subjects for an autumn photo.

14. Capture Still Life Images

A versatile genre, still life images capture the various subjects of autumn photography. Choose from almost any object – food, clothing, foliage, and harvest items are fall traditions.

Arrange the shapes, colors, and textures to achieve balance and follow some basic composition rules. Use the rule of thirds or golden ratio to get just the right compositional layout.

fall still life pumpkins.
Fall harvest offers many items to arrange for still-life shots.

15. Shoot Autumn Textures and Backgrounds

The vibrant colors of leaves and fruit are good subjects for autumn photography. The rich, warm colors make for great screen savers or backgrounds for graphic projects.

Mind the shutter speed and catch all the details, which pop with all the various shades.

fall leaves background.
A wide range of colors in autumn leaves makes a charming background.

Reap a Harvest of Autumn

Fall is harvest time. Pumpkins, corn, apples, and other fruits and vegetables of the fall harvest are fine subjects for capturing the colors of the season.

Farmers markets offer an abundance of photography ideas. Of course, it’s a good idea to ask permission before you shoot.

multi colored corn.
Ears of multi-colored corn are common at fall farmers’ markets.

16. Cruise the Neighborhood

If you’re lucky enough to live near wooded areas and parks, you’ll find plenty of subjects for autumn photography.

Landscapes and close-ups, house decorations, and fall events may be right around the corner. Indeed, you can catch the essence of autumn just by stepping outside your door.

autumn wreath of leaves.
House decorations are nearby themes for autumn photographs.

17. Autumn Means Halloween Photos

Ghostly images, abandoned houses, jack-o-lanterns, and costumes are standard Halloween photos. So spice things up with unusual angles, long-exposure blur, and desaturated colors to create spooky effects for fall photography on our scariest holiday.

Halloween photography covers a wide spectrum, ranging from terrifying to adorable, depending on how you employ lighting, props, and post-production choices. Let your imagination run wild and create a wonderful collection of Halloween images.

halloween decorated pumpkins.
Halloween inspires photographers with spooky scenes and bizarre costumes.

18. Post Processing

Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop are the go-to editing platforms for many of us. Other photographers opt for a free one, such as GIMP.

If you use a smartphone for your fall photos, check the App Store on your phone for editing apps.

Enhance your autumn photos by making the colors pop and increasing depth. Adjust shadows and highlights to bring out lost detail. Customize the saturation for color separation and mood. You can also check out our presets for autumn photos for a quick fix.

Go easy on the editing. The software can add punch, but you shouldn’t have to fix your images. Just strive for better photos.

19. Warm Up with White Balance

If one camera setting is built for autumn photography, it’s white balance. A simple tweak brings out the warmer colors of fall. Simply increase the color temperature to a higher value, around 6000, for example. But don’t overdo it. Setting the color temperature too high leads to unnatural looking color contrast.

While setting your camera on auto white balance yields good results most of the time, many photographers set it manually for fall photos. Some cameras feature white balance presets that may work well for you.

Also, you have the option to make adjustments to the White Balance in the camera or in your editing software. Or set it for the shoot and make minor adjustments in post.

warm white balance setting in photo.
A warm white balance setting enhances the colors of autumn.

Final Words on Autumn Photography

Fall is a beautiful time of year, and it’s also a great time to get outdoors with your camera. But if you want your pictures to look professional, then it’s important that you take the time to plan ahead and set up your camera correctly. And you’ll be glad when the extra efforts pay off with gorgeous shots that capture all the beauty of autumn.

Gratifying, inspiring, and challenging, fall photography can take you in many directions. From macro to landscape photography, portraiture or still life, foggy morning or golden hour, fall photography challenges your creativity.

With these autumn photography tips, we hope that you will be able to create some stunning images of autumn and share them with the world.

If you have questions or comments, please submit them in the space below.

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