Camera adventure

How to make the most of your fall photography adventure –

Fall is my favorite time of year. The hills and mountain roads are ablaze with color, the cozy blankets and sweaters are reappearing after the summer hibernation, and my favorite… it’s pumpkin season that spice it all up! (I know…you can explain the error of my manners to me later.)

Fall is also one of the most magical times to be a photographer.

You got up and walked out, most likely at 12:30 a.m. (very good!) and headed for your favorite view. You’ve created the panoramic landscape photos you know will wow your friends and family, and now you’re dying to go download your map…

But wait! Don’t go home just yet! There are many other ways to capture the beauty of fall that go beyond (or below!) the panoramic view of the landscape.

Intimate scenes

Use paths to draw your viewer into your image.

As impressive as large landscapes are, small fall scenes can create a sense of intimacy and ambiance that can be just as captivating.

Look for smaller areas that feature the colors of fall, but also make your viewer feel immersed in the scene with you. Find paths that serve as guidelines and give your audience a visual invitation to go deeper into the photo. Filming from a lower angle can also be an effective way to invite your audience to experience the scene alongside you.

Areas where light is concentrated on a single small piece of a scene can also create intimacy by providing a private glimpse into a “secret” world. Partly cloudy days or dense forests are perfect for this, as the sunlight can filter in a much more targeted way. Or look for areas where dense stands of trees give way to glades, creating a contrast between forest shadows and brighter open spaces.

Isolate fall details

Focus on details with shallow depth of field.

So many beautiful details can easily go unnoticed by the casual observer, so just show them what they’re missing! Dewdrops on a fallen leaf or a small burst of color at the edge of a path can be the stars of a unique composition. Experiment with using wider aperture settings (lower f-stop numbers) to give you shallow depth of field. This allows you to keep your main subject sharp while minimizing distracting background or foreground elements by defocusing them.

Backlighting can bring out detail, increase brightness, and deepen contrast.

By positioning yourself so that the sunlight hits your subject from behind, you can really bring out hidden structures and details. This is called backlighting, and it’s a technique you can use to get that bright, “shiny” look on your sheets. You don’t even need to show a whole tree – you can focus on the contrast between the round, bright shapes of the leaves and the dark, straight lines of the branches and trunk.

A macro lens is great for detailed shots because it will get you closer to your subject, but you can create detailed shots with any lens you have. Just make sure you’re not so close to your subject that your camera can’t focus properly. Don’t worry – If you need to save to get everything sharp and it creates a wider field of view than you want, you can always crop later in image editing software.

Look for …

autumn yellow leaves
Don’t forget to look up!

Is your natural instinct to point the camera at whatever is right in front of you, at least to start with? Me too.

But, when it comes to trees, don’t forget to look up! Capture a feeling of towering height as you shoot directly through a grove of trees from the ground. Showcase bright leaves against a clear blue sky.

if you’re like me and aren’t super excited about lying on the muddy, buggy (ick!) ground, hold your camera close to the ground and point it through the branches. Use an articulating rear LCD screen and Live View to frame the image the way you want, then take the shot.

…and look down

autumn leaves
Fill your frame with a cornucopia of color.

Often we focus so much on the colorful leaves that we forget to check out what’s going on under those beautiful trees. Especially here in Colorado where the majority of our fall color is yellow, the bushes and brush beneath these elegant aspens can often produce fantastic contrasting reds and oranges that complement and highlight the golden canopy.

Look for small collections of various colors and leaf types, and see what kind of “still life” style compositions you can create. Fill your frame with small thumbnails of interestingly shaped leaves or find a single bright leaf highlighted by the sun against a dark background. Use a shallow depth of field to isolate a sharp, textured leaf among a jumble of colors.

Do the Hokey Pokey!

autumn color abstract
Move your camera body while the shutter is open to create colorful abstracts.

OK, maybe not exactly, but experiment with movement!

Set your camera to a longer shutter speed than usual, and when you press the shutter button, move the camera while recording the exposure. The resulting “blurred” image transforms a static subject into something abstract and unique.

Fall is a great time to play with this kind of intentional camera movement, as bright colors make for vivid and interesting images. Try moving up and down, side to side, and for a really different effect, try zooming your lens in or out during your exposure. Stabilize your camera on a tripod if you want to reduce or eliminate the “shake” you can get when trying this handheld technique, or if you want straighter lines.

You may have to play around with different shutter speeds to get the amount of blur you want, but experimentation is half the fun. Remember that increasing the time your shutter is open means you’re letting more light into your camera, so you’ll need to adjust your other settings accordingly.

Morne? Drizzle? Spectacular!

autumn leaves
Rainy weather can increase color saturation and contrast.

While we all love to feel the warmth of the sun on our faces and the abundant light of a beautiful fall day, cloudy and stormy days can mean unique and dramatic images.

Cloudy light means colors are more saturated, bringing out the best in colorful fall foliage. It also creates a lot more contrast which can add drama and intrigue to a composition.

Look for areas where the background turns almost black and highlights a branch of shiny leaves. Stormy skies can provide a turbulent backdrop above tranquil foliage. And the darker scenes add an air of mystery and moodiness that can put a whole new spin on a classic fall shot. The softness of mist and fog in particular not only adds a spooky touch, but can also create a fabulous textural contrast between the much more well-defined lines of trees and leaves.

Whatever the weather and wherever you are, I hope this will fuel your creativity for the next time you go on an adventure. Observe, explore, experiment, don’t be afraid to make mistakes (I make a ton of them!) – you never know when a mistake might turn out to be a masterpiece. And most importantly, have fun!

Editor’s note: We welcome this post from Michelle Fox. Michelle accidentally started a portrait photography business 18 years ago, and the rest, as they say, is history. After many years chasing children with cameras and nurturing a lifelong love affair with high school photography, his passion took a distinctive turn to the world of landscapes and wildlife. Fueled by her favorite chai lattes, she also enthusiastically teaches photography and editing classes through the Denver Photography Group. His images can be found in a gallery in Frisco, CO, as well as (coming soon!) on his websitee.