A fall photography how-to guide

Photo by Evgeny Bakharev/Shutterstock

The end of summer might be a sad time for most people, but for photographers, it’s the best time of the year. Once the leaves start changing colour, it’s no longer difficult to find photography subjects. In fact, they surround you at all times. The beautiful, colourful leaves and the hazy autumnal sun make for vibrant, evocative photos.

But not every photo in the fall is a guaranteed winner. Making good choices and using the proper techniques helps make sure your photos turn out the best they possibly can. So before you go out shooting, study up. It will make a difference to the final product.

To get you started, here are our tips for taking beautiful fall photos.

Choose the right time of day

Autumn at sunset

Photo by Grisha Bruev/Shutterstock

The light has a warm yellow hue at sunrise and sunset, which makes this a great time to get some snaps. The colour of the light helps bring out the colours of the leaves, and your photos will probably just absorb some of the warm, nostalgic quality of the day. There’s a brief window just before sunset that some call “the golden hour,” which is when light is particularly beautiful for photography. If you’re not sure when that happens, there’s a “golden hour” website that will calculate when this magical time starts where you are.

Don’t worry if it’s overcast

Overcast on an Autumn day

Photo by elen_studio/Shutterstock

Overcast days might seem like they don’t offer the best light, but in reality, they make for great, uniform shooting conditions all day. The less harsh light will mean that the colours in your photos will be more saturated, and instead of pronounced highs and lows throughout the day, the light will be fairly consistent. If you’re hoping to do a day-long photography outing without having to readjust your camera every twenty minutes, an overcast day is your friend.

Look up

Autumn leaves against the sky.

Photo by RugliG/Shutterstock

Photographers get lots of great shots of leaves carpeting forest floors, or straight-on shots of trees, but if you want to create amazing contrast, look up. The blue of the sky contrasts beautifully with the warm colours of the leaves. If the sky looks too washed out, use a polarizing filter to increase the contrast and limit glare.

Head to a body of water

Fall trees and a lake.

Photo by oriontrail/Shutterstock

If you live near a river or lake, fall is the ideal time to head out there for a photo op. There are lots of opportunities to get creative with reflections and take advantage of the haze that often rises from the water. A reflective surface means twice the colours, so if you want a photo completely packed with autumn leaves, head to a still lake.

Go macro

Macro close-up of leaf.

Photo by logoboom/Shutterstock

A macro lens, or the macro setting on your camera, will let you get up close and personal with autumn. Use this setting to get shots of the season’s more intimate details: the veins of the leaves, the bark of the trees, the bugs and small creatures you may never have even known were there. Going small will give you a whole new perspective on a familiar scene. Try the EF-S 60mm f/2.8 macro lens for impressively detailed close-ups. Check out Canon’s e-store here for more macro lens options.

Use a tripod

If you want to get as much colour saturation as possible, decreasing your shutter speed can help. However, in order to prevent a blurry photo, you’ll need things to be still—very still. The first step is to choose a subject that won’t move around—think a forest on one of those still days without a whisper of breeze. Next, you have to ensure your camera doesn’t move around. A tripod will let you take long exposures with no movement whatsoever. Choose your placement, mount your camera, and get snapping. You’ll never take a steadier photo. Don’t have a tripod? Grab one here.

Take a portrait

Sometimes, photographers get so wrapped up in taking photos of the leaves that they forget all about the human element. Not all photos need to have people as their subjects, but if you do take portraits, fall is a great time to do it. Kids can’t help but have fun in the leaves, which will automatically make it more fun for you to photograph them. It’s also a great season to take wedding or engagement photos—the beautiful colour and light make for automatic romance.

Remember composition

Fall foliage in a park.

Photo by S.Borisov/Shutterstock

The beautiful colours of fall can have an unintended negative consequence. They make photographers forget one of the cardinal rules of photography. Getting the best possible photograph requires making good choices about what goes where in the frame. You can’t just point anywhere at a colourful tree canopy and expect to get a next-level photograph. You have to make careful choices about what you want to capture and where it will appear. Having a good sense of composition is more important than having all the fancy technique in the world. So when you go out to capture fall photographs, don’t forget to rely on your most important photographic tool: your eye.

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