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11 Tips to Improve your Autumn Photos

Introduction

Autumn is considered by many photographers the best season to go out and take pictures. It doesn’t take a genius to understand why: the “foliage” (term to express the beauty of the typical autumn palette) colors, the mild climate and the abundance of subjects makes autumn a valid contendant for the title of “Best Season of the Year”, if ever there was such a contest.
The risk of falling (pun intended) into some of most classic and popular fall cliches is high, and consequently it is the risk of killing your creativity by doing the same shots over and over again.
The goal of this article is to give you the best advices to capture some beautiful autumn photos, hopefully by sparking up some original ideas in your mind!

San Gimignano photography tour in autumn

1. Hunt the Fog

tuscany spring photo workshop

No, I’m not crazy. Autumn shots with fog fit together like chocolate with cream, like peanut butter with jelly, like.. Well, I think you got the drill.
It doesn’t matter what type of photography you like to practice, fog will help you enhancing the autumnal mood whatever photo you are after on that day. Fog will soften the contrasts of the scene and will give a nice depth of field to the image; in case you are shooting portraits or wildlife, it will help you separate the main subject from the rest of the scene.
But it’s not just a matter of separation between subject and background: it’s the specific feeling the you can transmit by using the fog to your advantage, a mix of restlessness and unknown which will attract the viewer and make him observe your photo more scrupolously.
Next time you go outside shooting during the fall season, try to search for foggy, spooky conditions instead of the classic sunny days. Try, for example, to imagine the shot here without that thick low fog; do you really think I would have been able to achieve a result as good as this during a sunny day? I don’t think so.

2. Use the Right Lenses

As a landscape photographer, I continuously find myself using wide-angle lenses a lot during my shooting sessions; during autumn though, I noticed in the years that I barely take out of my bag any of the aforementioned lenses. Most of the times, I end up shooting with a medium telephoto lens, generally with a 70-200mm.
Now, I’m not saying that you should use just a telephoto zoom and leave all the other lenses at home: I’m just saying that according to my experience, using a longer focal length will help you isolate better your subject and enhance the wonderful autumn colors.

autumn tuscany photo tour

3. Let Your Artistic Side Go Wild

Motion blur, artistic bokeh, in-camera double exposures, in autumn you can really express your creative vision as you wish, as the only limit is your immagination.
Take the photo below, as an example: my aim was to give the feeling of scratches on a prison wall, like trees that are trying to escape from the forest “jungle”: by using the technique of the motion blur (applicable both on the field by using a long exposure time or in post production with Adobe Photoshop under the Filter → Blur → Motion Blur section) I recreated this abstract shot where your eyes can’t stop on a single subject as it’s all too messy, but at the same time you still understand that those are trees.
These techniques as the motion blur works perfectly with foliage colors, so the fall season is for sure the best one to try these techniques out!

4. Look for Water

It doesn’t matter if it’s a tiny water stream or a river, a small pond or a lake: water can always offer photographic opportunities such as reflections or long exposures, and most of all can help you finding a meaningful composition, which in the “autumn mess” sometimes can be quite stressful and discouraging.
A small tip: if you are looking for reflections, try to be on the spot early in the morning. Generally it’s one of the less windy moments of the day, and it will help you have some calm waters where your subject will perfectly reflect. Also, the soft pre-sunrise light will give a more subtle contrast to the shot, and it may help you capturing the atmosphere you want.

Perfect autumn reflection in the Dolomites during a fall photography tour
Did You Know?

Dolomites are beautiful in autumn. Take a look at this seven-days tour where we’ll explore the wonders of autumn between golden larches and rugged peaks!

5. Take a Walk in.. Your Garden!

Garden photography can be much more rewarding during this season: the colorful backgrounds and the subjects typical of the season will help you creating some stunning shot literally from your house’s backyard!
Think about macro photography, with mushrooms and insects; think about bird (or wildlife, if you live in a place where there is some) photography, with robins and titmouses flying around. These are just a few of the subject that you can find in your garden, you just need a bit of patience.
Oh, and in case you’d like to do some macro photos, a dedicated lens with a magnification factor of (at least) 1:1 is highly recommended too! Instead, if you prefer to shoot wildlife, a telephoto lens will do the job.

6. Textures are an Easy Win

Whether we are talking about leaves, trees or fruits, textures are always interesting, and in autumn, with the vibrant warm colors, they are even more beautiful.
Try to shoot from up-close a falling leaf: you’ll manage to see all the details of it with all the shades of colors. It is just one of many nature’s marvels. A considerable option is to make it dry at home and then exploit the light you want, in order to obtain the result you imagined.

Larches in the Dolomites during an autumn photography workshop

7. Use the Right Camera Settings

tuscany autumn photo workshop

A lot of photographers get discouraged when they see the photos in their camera display and they don’t look at all like the real situation. If this has happened to you too, have you wondered why? I’ll tell you.
First of all, check the white balance of your camera: be sure to set it on “Shade” (or “Cloudy”), which is the setting that will warm up the scene the most. In this way, colors will look warmer and more similar to the typical autumnal foliage.
Secondly, (even if I highly recommend to shoot in RAW) in case you are shooting in JPEG, try to play a bit with the editing settings of your camera, like slightly add some contrast and saturation.
These two small changes should help you achieve much better colors directly from the moment you capture the frame and see it in the camera display!

8. Take a Polarizer Filter with You at All Times

It took me a while before I understood the importance of a polirizer filter when shooting autumn colors. That’s because I tried the polarizer in other situations without great results, actually without seeing any improvement from the use of that filter. But then I decided to give it one last try during a fall shooting: in that exact momen, I regretted not to have used it in the previous years!
The way it enhance the colors and give just the right amount of contrast to the image will make your start your editing with a much better base photo; in case you don’t use any editing software, the importance of the polarizer is even greater, since you’ll get a much better JPEG right from your camera.

autumn tuscany photography tour
This is for you!

If you love to take foliage pictures, you should follow us in this two-nights autumn workshop in Tuscany!

9. Choose the Best Colors

tuscany hills in photo workshop

Have you ever heard of complementary colors? They are basically two colors that when are found close together they create a strong visual contrast. In this specific case, red-dish tones should be complementary to blue tones, so if (for example) you include a bit of blue sky into your autumn foliage shots, you’d create an high-contrast image. Instead, if you want to create a more subtle, delicate picture you should exclude every color that it’s not a variant of red, orange or yellow.

10. All is Great but.. When?

One of the main reason many photographers are not getting the shots they wanted, even if they are at the best possible spot for the foliage, is the bad timing.
And I totally get it; just as an example, for people who have a main job and photography is just a passion, it’s hard to explain that they can’t go to work because the foliage is at its peak. And sometimes it doesn’t last long, so it’s easy to loose it for good, if for example a major storm comes in and drops all the leaves to the ground.
Be sure to use all the webcams and weather forecasts websites available for your area to be sure you are not missing out the best colors and plan in advance your shootings!

tuscany hills in autumn landscape

11. Stand at the Right Elevation

autumn photo tour in tuscany

Sometimes, between standing on your feet or at ground level can make all the difference in the world (or well, at least the difference between a bad and a great shot). Sometimes it’s all about getting at an elevated point to get the bigger picture, other times it’s more about getting as low as possible to exclude some elements or getting a nice foreground.
When you arrive at a spot where you think there’s potential, don’t stop on just one point of view, but try a few perspectives to see which one of them works best for that scene

BONUS: How do You Take Pictures in the Fall?

Well, the most logical answer would be.. In the exact same way as the other seasons: by clicking the shutter button of your camera!
Jokes apart, taking fall pictures will require you to pay special attention on a couple of crucial factors.
First one is planning: be sure to always check when is the peak of foliage colors at your location and go out consequently. Getting the right colors in the shot is a good 75% of the process of capturing a great autumn photo, so visit websites and learn about when generally is happening at your place.
I also use webcams and social medias a lot for this purpose: by checking other’s people shots made in the area, you can see how the colors are with just a few hours delay. Webcam are even more immediate, since they generally update every 15 minutes.
Second factor is the gear: you won’t need super expensive stuff to shoot autumn colors, but some pieces of equipment are fundamental: a good tripod for example, is necessary if you want to use techniques as long exposures, HDRs, etc. Filters can be important too, in case you want to shoot water streams, lakes, etc.
Oh, and don’t forget to protect your gear: rainstorms are not rare during autumn, as the cold season is coming in, so be sure to have some kind of rain cover for your equipment. A weather-sealed camera will save you from having troubles if you get caught in a storm!

Something for You

You might also be interested in this article about tips on monochrome photography.

Conclusion

Before the end of the article, there’s still one more tip that I want to give you: go out there as much as you possibly can. This not autumn-related, so I couldn’t mention it in the aforementioned list; this is also what I consider one of the most important tip I can give you. Good photos generally come from perseverance and careful planning; by being outside as much as you can, you’ll increase your chances to capture some beautiful sceneries with the light you want and the best colors of the foliage.
That’s my secret: I just try to stay out whenever I have time. You should try to do the same!

Leonardo Papèra

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