A Beginner's Guide to Autumn Photography

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We are in the midst of Autumn season and that means there are lots of glorious colors to capture around the states. Today we will run through some quick ideas and tips to get out there with your camera and photograph fall time nature and all the colors that come with it.

Research and Timing 

Obviously, things happen fast when the leaves change, so you will need to be on your game to make sure you can witness color changes with your camera. Watching social media can big a big help. Use hashtags for locations you want to visit and search by locations to watch. One thing I do is watch peoples stories on Instagram. If I see someone hiking on a trail in Flagstaff, Arizona (my home state), and see them talking and walking through the colorful trails, then it’s safe to assume I need to get up there asap with my camera in hand! 

Watch for the colors and leaves falling as well. More bare trees mean its close to ending you have already missed peak time. Look for green leaves transitioning. Different elevations mean different leaf changing sessions.

If you are not into social media, local news outlets also usually cover when fall colors are peaking. You can even google “leaf meters” for certain areas to see shades at some locations. Realize it happens fast too, once it begins. You can see abrupt changes, and when those changes begin, it’s common to have about 2 or 3 weeks tops for prime time. A lot of park areas have live cameras you can look up as well, so take advantage.

Go Wide and Get Close 

You probably won’t forget your wide angle lens, but you should also remember to bring a telephoto and macro lens if you have one! The colors look just as spectacular up close as they do when viewing the vast open landscapes. If you have a telephoto lens don’t hesitate to capture a burst of color that might seem far otherwise. You can also use the telephoto to create a tighter shot out in the field.

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Let the Creativity Flow 

Experiment with your camera. Long exposures can help add some mood, especially in the early hour of light, but you can do some great things with your camera in your hands as well. While I was surrounded by aspens last month, I moved my camera from up to down and a somewhat slow shutter speed of 1/15th of a second to get the shot below. I let my camera fire off several shots at once continuously and moved the camera modestly up and down, back and forth. Sure I had to weed through the shots, but I hadseveral I liked and threw the rest out. But with digital shooting these days, why not try some fun shots like this as well! 

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If you are standing amongst tall trees and you miss the sunrise, not to worry! You can try some sunbursts to add some flavor to your shots. Several hours after sunrise you can set a really high f-stop and capture a burst by positioning your camera just behind a tree, barely peaking out. The easiest way to compose these shots is to use your live view. Then once you see the burst on screen, you can dial your camera position in and fine turn on a tripod if you have one with you.

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The shot at the top of the page fun one to create. It’s about having fun, and it’s about making picture aside from taking pictures. In that shot, while standing behind the tripod, I gathered some foliage on the ground and simply threw a handful of leaves in front of my composed scene and let the shutter fly as the leaves fell in front of me.

As Always, Chase the Light

There are so many possibilities with the light and these landscapes. Sunrises and sunsets are a gimme time to shoot, but be aware of your surroundings. Check weather forecast. A small rain can make a landscape filled with dew drops everywhere for macro lovers. Incorporate clouds if you have them. Watch for reflections with calm weather and shoot those reflections from different angles.

Switch your angles and pay attention to where you are standing in the scene. Backlit shots can create some wonderful scenes and the sun helps enhance the colors when the day begins and ends.

Helpful Gear and Settings

Consider bringing a tripod along with you so you can experiment with shutter speeds, especially if you have water in the area or even fog. A well-focused shot is imperative for your landscapes along with sharpness, so this is where lugging your tripod really helps. And because we are shooting for an entirely focused image, using a small aperture helps too. A tripod also allows you to use the lowest possible ISO without having to worry about a jittery shot. A polarizer is handy to have around for rich fall tones and colors and they will help with reflection issues should any arise.

There’s one last setting I want to talk about, but it’s not on your camera. It’s within yourself! And that is your patience setting. Make sure its dialed high! There is a lot of variables when shooting. And now we’re are introducing a very particular time of year to add to it. Weather, hikes, time of day, sharing the trails, mapping, researching an area, and more go into planning. So be patient, explore, and have a good time. The great shots will come with some alertness, preparation and patience. Happy trails out there and enjoy nature’s show this autumn and each year!

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About Mike Ince

Mike Ince resides in the sun-filled desert of Mesa, Arizona. Arizona's dark skies provide plenty of opportunities for him to chase the stars amongst many other nighttime shots in the state. During the monsoon and winter seasons you will find him enjoying the weather and the many off-road trails in the area with a camera in hand. He also enjoys soaking up nature and traveling for a variety of landscape, macro, and wildlife photos.

Mike is currently writing a few eBooks and developing other photography projects that will provide valuable learning tools for aspiring photographers. Visit his website for updates and to subscribe to his blog for helpful tips.

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Mike Ince