fall foliageThough fall foliage is usually the leading lady, don’t limit yourself. Magnificent colors, contrasts, and textures abound in the autumn landscape. The key is being there at the right time.

Light is the most critical element in photography. Luckily, in the autumn months, the sun is lower and gives a bigger window of opportunity. What does this mean? During late spring and through the summer, the sun is almost directly overhead as it traverses the sky. From about 11 a.m. until about 3 p.m., the sun casts brutal shadows and blows out even the brightest colors. Once the vernal or autumnal equinox passes in September, the sun is more gracious with her rays, giving photographers more flexible hours in which to work. A good rule to remember is to use the light to your best advantage: try to shoot your subjects when your own shadow is longer than you are. In other words, mornings and afternoons are the very best times and, during the fall, the amount of time available is longer. The most glorious color shows up around sunrise or sunset, for those who are serious.

Don’t be afraid to take photographs on cloudy or overcast days. Often, the colors you’re after will be more vibrant in the final product. Most consumer digital cameras have specific settings for taking pictures in almost any light situation; take advantage of the tools that come with your camera. If you’re advanced, skip the pre-sets and play with ISO, white balance, and exposure. Regardless of the level of skill, just get out there and take some awesome pictures of Nature’s wardrobe.
Autumn landscapes are beautiful, but get up close and take photos of some details; the subtle shading of a single leaf from yellow to orange to red, crimson Virginia creeper twining around a tree trunk, even the blemishes on a pumpkin. Whatever makes you think of fall, it’s fair game!

Not sure where to find the best opportunities? Check out The Foliage Network!

What to Photograph?
As stated before, look around and see the other signs of fall and include these in your photo shoots.

Visit public gardens decked out with seasonal materials and glorious chrysanthemums. Mums abound through November and provide many opportunities for great photos.

Farmers’ markets are a great place to take fall pictures with lots of color and contrast.

Look for contrast in textures, such as dried ornamental grasses against a backdrop of leafless maples and a bright blue sky.

And don’t forget our important pollinators as they race against the clock, diligently feeding and preparing for whatever routine awaits them. The cooler temperatures slow down their flight, making it easier to capture great shots.


When the nights turn really cold, the colors will be enhanced with frost. Put on your parka and get out early to catch the reflection of the morning sun on ice crystals.
When the outdoor part of your photo shoot is over, take some time to examine your photos carefully. There really is no such thing as the perfect photo! We can always find something that could have been better. But the beautiful thing about digital photography is that many minor imperfections can be corrected in photo editing programs such as Picasa(tm), iPhoto®, or PhotoShop®.

So, share! What is your favorite autumn photo?

All photos ©2010 Toni Leland

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 1, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)