Fall Photography Series – Shooting Tips Part 1

Fall portrait, object or abstract photography.

Fall Photography Tips

Ayn Lexi   September 13, 2019

Autumn is my favourite photography season for obvious reasons. The fall foliage colours produce the ideal setting for landscape photography! An added benefit is that you have to be outdoors to capture these images. Having worked as a photographer in the past, I thought I would share some tips that will help you create beautiful, frame-able prints.

As it happens, I ended up with a lot more tips than I originally thought I would share, so I’m breaking this down into two parts for you. Happy shooting!

Composition Basics

  • Leading lines – If you want to create interest and direct where the eye goes, try using leading lines. Any line, straight or otherwise, that moves into or up through the photo will direct the viewers eye to that space. This can be used to effect with fence lines, roadways, trails, bridges, etc.

Saturated fall colours in autumn photos showing leading lines.

  • Rule of thirds – The rule of thirds in photography states that things set on a thirds line are more interesting to the eye. So, the five best places to position subjects would be the 4 areas where thirds lines bisect each other, plus the very center of the photo as the fifth favoured position.
  • Perspective – look up, look down, move around and adjust your height (lay down, kneel or stand on a stump). When you find an interesting subject, view it from all angles as lighting and backgrounds change whenever you move. E.g., you’ve spotted a beautiful tree, full of blooms or fall leaves and you know that you want to capture it. If you have a lot of memory on your phone, shoot it from all angles, then try using the two rules above. Add a dark tree trunk for contrast and as a leading line. Then place it on a thirds line. How does it look?

Contrast – can create drama and tension. Place lighter colors against darker, or vice versa. Even a cloud can make an interesting background, especially when you use black and white photography, (but that’s another post)! Try positioning yourself so that the sun is shining on the front subject while the background remains dark.

Dramatic autumn photography with contrast and shafts of light.Backgrounds, pick up clutter, move branches, adjust a leaf – it’s not cheating!

When you want a wide-angle sweeping landscape photo, try to shoot from a height. Drive up, hike, stand on things, climb a tree, use whatever you have available to you. One of the favourite shots I took as a 10 year-old with my first camera was when I climbed a tree and shot outwards, using leaves as a frame.

Don’t forget to look down too as the forest floor can be just as colorful as the standing foliage; even more so as the season progresses. In addition you can get some contrast there too with darker ground, rain, rocks etc.

Mirror images – Get out and watch for those mirror surfaces on bodies of water, because if you can pair that with an awesome background you’ve just doubled the beauty of your image.

Watch for stunning fall foliage beside lakes and rivers for the mirror effect.

Atmosphere – often the very worst weather days can result in the best photos, so don’t be afraid to get out here and get a little uncomfortable. Thunderstorms, a shaft of light shining through the clouds, rain, fog, or even smoke (that acts like fog), can make very dreamy or very dramatic images!

Lighting – this is such a big topic that one or two tips cannot hope to cover everything. Some things to keep in mind however include the following.

  • No doubt you’ve heard of, and probably used, the golden hours of sunlight; the hour directly after sunrise and directly before sunset. The colour temperature at this time is very warm and makes yellows and reds more saturated. Add this effect to shadows and silhouettes, it can make for very warm and inviting images.

Fall sunrise during the golden hour.

  • Really watch for shadows in your photography as they can immediately add interest, drama and contrast; or if you don’t use them to your advantage, they can lead to visual distractions. (I’ve even seen pros miss errant shadows running across a subject’s face when they were focusing on other things.) Watch when you lean over something too, or have your back to the sun so your own shadow doesn’t encroach on what otherwise might be the perfect photo.
  • Display fall leaves to their full advantage with the use of sunlight. When the sun is behind the leaves they glow, giving them a surreal quality, while also making them stand out. Get the sun shining through trees as well. (Pro tip – you can use petroleum jelly on an extra lens, adjusting the angle to enhance and elongate existing light shafts. Don’t have an extra lens? Just hold a clean piece of glass over your lens instead.)
  • Shooting into the sun – fall is a great time to practice what you’ve been told not to do- shoot into the sun! You can use it strategically as well with side lighting to create interest and later in the day or earlier in the morning to make use of the shadows created. You can have the sun just out of the frame, only having a small slice showing, or position it directly behind the subjects to create rim lighting. In this case you may need to up the ISO or use flash fill (see above), or skip that step and go for a silhouette effect.
  • Sunrise or Sunset photos – if you are using a lot of natural light from the sun, as in the above example, or when shooting sunrises and sunsets, another way to ensure both the sun and the rest of your image are correctly exposed is to take a couple of photos. For this you really should use a tripod and take the second shot immediately following the first. The first image can be set to correctly expose the sunrise or sunset. The second image can be shot to correctly expose the remainder of the image. You then just combine the two images using post processing software, like Photoshop.  (This is how HDR started, or “high dynamic range imaging”.) If you can create bracket exposures, with a DSLR, you can combine these as well with even a better result.

Fall photography tips to create great landscape images.

  • Want to know how people get that starburst effect in their photos for bright lights, like water reflections, sunlight, Christmas lights or chrome reflections? It’s easy, just make your aperture as small as it can go (adjusting your shutter speed of course so the exposure stays correct).

Sunny vs Cloudy days – Most people think that sunny days are best to capture fall foliage because you get those bright colours and blue skies; however cloudy days actually work to your advantage because the light is soft and even and leaves the colours more saturated. (Just don’t leave a lot of boring grey sky in your photo). Remember though that there is less ambient light on a cloudy day, and since you don’t want to slow your shutter speed unless you’re on a tripod, or open up the aperture because you’ll lose depth of field, instead bump up your ISO to compensate.

Cloudy overcast days in fall photography create saturated colours.Quick Tips & Tricks

Tip – Use a polarizing filter on your lens if you can. It not only saturates colours and adds some contrast, it also gets rid of glare on the water and glass.

Tip – I write a lot on here of the benefits of saturating colour, but do not over-saturate. Pinterest and Instagram are full of fake looking over-saturated photos. So unless you’re going for fake, please use a light touch.

Tip – Practice telling a story. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to inspire a story rather than just a beautiful shot.  An example would be a very pretty photo of a dirt trail leading into the forest surrounded by the fall foliage.  Now, imagine that same shot with a clear set of footprints heading down the trail (aka a leading line). See how that could get you wondering who, why, when and what’s the story here? It just makes your very pretty photo that much more interesting.

Tip – Don’t keep driving by that same old wooden barn that’s starting to collapse, thinking how it would make an awesome photo. Fall is the time to take advantage of that perfect background, so make a point of getting out there and capturing that image that you’ve been carrying around in your mind, before it’s too late.

If you enjoyed Part 1 of this Fall Photography series watch for Part 2 coming out next week. If you’d like to see more in the future, just let me know too by contacting me here.

So get outside and enjoy the brilliant fall colors while they last and visit GiftGator.ca for all your Okanagan adventures and experiences, to book directly or to gift to others!

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