• Sam Wilson

Autumn photography

10 Tips for capturing those rich warm colours

What’s not to love about autumn, photographer or not - weather is milder, sunrise is a bit later, sunset is getting earlier and so many trees turn into traffic lights of colour everywhere.

A benc seat on a path surrounded by trees with red and green leaves
A Quiet Place To Sit - Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens

Autumn is the favourite season for many photographers and it's easy to see why.

The colours are ever changing, weather is quite mild, the days are starting to get shorter so sunrise and sunsets are at more reasonable hours, and the light can be oh so soft and moody.

Sunset is earlier which means I may even go out before wine time, just maybe …

Glass of red wine being held up with ocean and sunset in the background
Wine pairing perfectly with an early sunset

Photographing autumn can be a bit tricky however - compositions can be difficult due to the mess, it’s not always easy to find great spots, and photos can be a bit drab as the camera can fail to capture the vibrant colours.

Did You Know?

Have you ever wondered why the leaves on some trees are changing colours to their brilliant shades of gold, red and brown?

I finally did some research and to simplify it, as there becomes less and less sun each day the trees prepare themselves by taking what they need from the leaves before they fall. They stop making chlorophyll which is what makes the leaves green and it's the absence of this that allows the other colours to come through.

The time that this happens is apparently more dependent on light rather than temperature which is why this happens at about the same time each year. Lower temperatures help to produce the bright red, but an early frost can weaken the colours, and drought can also cause the leaves to fall off before they get to change colour.

Now, if only we could predict when and where the colours change so we can photograph them at the perfect time - if anyone can shed light on this I'd love for you to let me know please.

These are my tips to help you get the most out of your photos during this beautiful time of year (read on through to the end to get my suggestions for camera settings).

1 - Planning Is Everything

2 - Best Time Of Day

3 - Reflections

4 - Try Different Perspectives - down low and look up

5 - Look For Leading Lines

6 - Get Up Close & Look Around You

7 - Chase That Fog

8 - Use That Circular Polarising Filter (read more HERE)

9 - Autumn Makes Lovely Backdrops For Portraits - People & Pets

10 - Experiment and Enjoy

Corridor of trees with red leaves in an orchard in New Zealand with the sun in the corner of a blue sky
Colourful Autumn Orchard in Cromwell, New Zealand

1 - Planning Is Everything

Make use of google, social media and apps to time your visit perfectly.

Instagram is a great tool to see current pictures using the search function, specifically searching by hashtags.

  • Start by searching the area you know there is usually autumn colour eg. #bluemountainsnsw

  • Select most recent so you know they are current and scroll away - this can lead you down a rabbit hole so be careful, but the time is usually well spent

  • Alternatively search photographers you know that also chase autumn. If you know them at all, don’t hesitate to send them a DM asking for ideas - the worst thing they can do is say no, but I’ve usually found fellow photographers very helpful

Instagram feed showing a hashtag search with most recent posts
The trick here is to make sure you select "Recent", then research from there

Contact local information centres - old school yes, but very effective, particularly as timing can change so much each year. The last few years have been all over the place, and very late this year even compared to last year.

2 - Best Time Of Day To Photograph Autumn Colours

Like most photography, early and late in the day is the best to get nice soft light, however during the day can work if it’s cloudy or in a shaded area.

Don’t discount the rainy days. Rain gives a nice sheen to everything, and can give the colours some extra pop.

Path framed by orange leaved trees leading to a hut with mountain and rainy sky in the background
A Rainy Autumn Sunrise In Arrowtown, New Zealand

3 - Reflections

The rich colours of autumn can really come into their own, with the tree colours showing beautifully reflected in still water.

Using a Neutral Density Filter can help smooth the water out by taking a longer exposure, so consider taking a tripod along to avoid any camera shake.

Earlier in the day is the best time for this before harsh sunlight, along with clouds that can also reflect nicely, providing more interest and contrast.

Lake with autumn coloured trees and cloud reflections
Bebeah Gardens, Mount Wilson, NSW

4 - Try Different Perspectives

As with every season, photos can be made more impactful just by trying a different perspective - get down low to capture as much colour as you can, or pointing up can give a great effect with the bright colours contrasting nicely with the sky.

Upward view of autumn leaves with sky and leaf bokeh in the background
Looking Up

Go beyond just dramatic colours - Autumn can be great for lovely soft light which can enhance any scene.

Tree in lake with autumn colours and mountain in the background. Soft light hitting the sides of trees on the side
Soft Afternoon Light - Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

5 - Look For Leading Lines

Lanes and roads lined with trees are a great example of this

6 - Get Up Close and Look Around You

Look around you for some smaller details that can make great close up shots. Fungi can be abundant during autumn due to the damp, cooler conditions.

A red and white mushroom on a leafy forest floor
Looking Down

A single orange/yellow leaf on a fence railing with a leaf covered ground in the background
Keeping It Simple

7 - Make The Most Of Any Fog

Fog and mist go hand in hand with autumn and can create a nice mysterious mood to your photos.

A white car driving down a lane surrounded by trees with fog in the background
Govett's Leap, Blue Mountains, NSW

Laneway framed by trees with fog lit by sunlight in the background
Same Location As Photo Above A Few Minutes After The Car Went Through - The Light Can Change So Quickly

8 - Use That Circular Polarising Filter

Autumn is a perfect time to master that Circular Polarising Filter to really make those autumn colours pop - read more Here

Final Image After Processing

9 - Autumn Makes Lovely Backdrops For Portraits - People & Pets

Dare I say it but the colours of autumn can make beautiful backdrops for portrait photography - there I’ve said it, but I’m not doing it!

Photographer squatting down taking photo of laneway surrounded by autumn coloured trees
Be Careful Of Sneaky Portrait Photographers Who Catch You When You're Not Watching!

Lady sitting crosslegged on a bed of autumn leaves
'Clearly Not My Image' - Example Courtesy Of Pixabay

10 - Experiment and Enjoy

Last but not least, enjoy this special season. Take the time at your locations to really enjoy the atmosphere - this can not only soothe the soul, but you may also hone in and see the smaller details around you, and not just focus on the bigger scenes.

Low angle shot of an autumn leaf lying on the road with more leaves and autumn trees in the background
I May Have Been Lying On The Ground For This One - But I Think It Was Worth It

A cropped in photo of trees with orange foliage

Camera Settings - Suggested Go To As A Starting Point

Autumn weather can be really fickle, so get out as soon as you know the colours are good - sometimes a good storm is all it takes to clear trees of that incredible foliage.

That’s it for now - Keep smiling and stay caffeinated

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