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Autumn color

Shooting fall colors with flair


Nature in Fall provides a colorful backdrop. It's a great time for family pictures. A medium telephoto lens with a wide aperture caused the background to become slightly out of focus.
Nature in Fall provides a colorful backdrop. It's a great time for family pictures. A medium telephoto lens with a wide aperture caused the background to become slightly out of focus.

Shooting fall color is no different in terms of technique than shooting landscapes (or portraits or close-ups, depending on your subject), except of course that your objective is to capture the color of the season on film.

SUNSHINE IS GOOD, BUT DON'T WAIT FOR IT

Brilliant sunshine is not a necessity; an autumn scene is sometimes best captured beneath an overcast sky. However, if the sun is brightly shining on the scene, a polarizing filter at right angles to the rays of the sun can eliminate reflective glare from the leaves while intensifying the saturation of their colors. An enhancing or intensifying filter is another accessory that will help you get bold colors, particularly when shooting the warm-toned colors - the oranges, yellows and reds for which Fall is known.

MAKE AUTUMN COLOR ITSELF YOUR SUBJECT

Color itself can be your subject in autumn. An assembly of multi-toned leaves can produce a fine abstract when photographed close-in, and it is perfectly correct to take a picture of just a single beautiful leaf if you wish.


NATURE'S AUTUMN COLORS MAKE A GREAT BACKDROP FOR PORTRAITS

Colorful leaves do not have to be the only subject of your Fall photographs. Autumn colors make a fabulous backdrop for portraits. Shoot a close-up portrait of your favorite person or pet with your lens open wide against a brightly-lit background of colorful trees. The trees will be out of focus because of the shallow depth of field. You may be surprised at how pleasant and warm the picture turns out.

EVEN DRIED, FALLEN LEAVES CAN ENHANCE A PICTURE

Don’t overlook the leaves that have already fallen from the trees. By themselves, they may look drab and brown, but when included in a scene that has your subject surrounded by color, they make a nice change from green grass.

 Autumn colors, out of focus in the background, add warmth to a portrait. Use a medium telephoto lens (80 to 120 mm) and a wide aperture.
Autumn colors, out of focus in the background, add warmth to a portrait. Use a medium telephoto lens (80 to 120 mm) and a wide aperture.

 Dry autumn leaves frame a happy kid's face
Dry autumn leaves frame a happy kid's face

CAPTURE THE FUN KIDS HAVE IN AUTUMN

Fallen leaves can also bring out playfulness in kids that leads to memorable pictures. What kids don’t like to pile leaves and play in them? Get out your camera if that is what they are doing, and create memories of the good time they are having.

DON'T LET BLUSTERY AUTUMN WEATHER KEEP YOU INSIDE

Don’t stay indoors just because the wind is blowing or there is drizzle in the air. Changing weather is part of the season, and can be part of your making great pictures. Leaves swirling in the wind can add vitality to a picture. Wet leaves or a light rain can add mood to your fall images.

NOT BLUSTERY? MAKE IT SO

Even if it is not windy, you can make it look like it is. Have someone who is standing off to the side, out of the frame, throw a bunch of leaves into the air to create the illusion of wind or fallen leaves. You will be amazed at how effective this simple technique is in creating an interesting picture.


TIME MARCHES ON. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TODAY'S FALL BEAUTY

Don’t wait too long to get out in the Fall, especially if you are already in the middle of Indian Summer when the days are warm and the nights are cold. Conditions can change quickly at this time of year, and you don’t want to put off picture-taking too long, or you’ll miss the best shots.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

A polarizing filter is very useful in Autumn if you want to obtain saturated colors - not just in the leaves, but also in the sky - and to eliminate reflections.

An enhancing filter (also known as a didymium filter) is also a very useful accessory. It makes magic out of autumn colors, translating reds into ultra-reds. See our section on filters for color film for more information on this filter that seems to have been created just for Fall color.

 Bright autumn color enhances any scene. A polarizing filter was used to remove reflection and enhance the colors.
Bright autumn color enhances any scene. A polarizing filter was used to remove reflection and enhance the colors.

 Autumn leaves themselves, with their bright array of color, can be the subject
Autumn leaves themselves, with their bright array of color, can be the subject

Lens choice is unlimited in autumn, and depends solely on what you wish to photograph. A medium telephoto lens (in the 80mm to 120mm range for a 35mm camera) will bring you close to your subject and, when set at a fairly-wide aperture, provide enough background blur to blend a colorful backdrop into a pleasing mass of colorful confusion. Similar effects can be achieved with longer lenses. A wide-angle lens will capture the surroundings, and is excellent for landscapes. You shouldn't be inhibited from using your camera's normal lens, either, one that is in the range of 50 to 55 mm for your 35 mm camera, or 75 to 80 mm for your medium format camera.

Dave Edwards of Wisconsin used his camera's normal lens to capture a couple of delightful Autumn pictures, which he had the kindness to submit for our viewers' enjoyment. You can see his photographs by clicking here or on the link at the bottom.


Since many autumn days are overcast, a high sensitivity setting in your digital camera or a fast film speed may be called for. ISO 100 will be fine for sunny or brightly-overcast days, and ISO 400 will usually suffice for darker conditions. If you use very slow shutter speeds, use a tripod to avoid blur, but watch for windy conditions that will cause blur because of subject movement. Switch to a faster film or a higher digital sensitivity setting if the wind comes up, unless of course you wish to show movement in your image.

 Kids can't resist piling fallen leaves, only to jump in and mess them all up after
Kids can't resist piling fallen leaves, only to jump in and mess them all up after
Further information...

Autumn by Dave Edwards
Related topics...

Tips on photographing trees