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Fall Foliage, 3 of 3

Fall Photo Pointers: Part 3 of 4 by Russ Burden Fall Photo Pointers: Part 3 of 3 by Russ BurdenRuss Burden provides another round of tips and tricks for Fall photography

It’s autumn – gone are the mornings of hazy white skies. Sunrise now greets us with a crisp blue and a chill in the air. The air is fresh and clean, a sense of change permeates the environment, and all living forms seem to sense the transformation that’s about to take place. For the photographer who loves color, it’s a glorious time. From the grand landscape to a lonely fallen red leaf to a child romping in a pile of freshly raked leaves, there’s a plethora of subject matter. Whether your passion lies in photographing nature, people, photo journalism, sports, etc., adding a background of fall color will make your images pop. There are so many tips I can share about taking fall photos that I’m dedicating the entire month of September’s weekly Tips to the subject. In this third installment of four, I will take you on a journey showing you how to improve your autumn photographs. Save or bookmark them and when the final installment is complete, you’ll have many tips to help you with your fall image making. Better yet, join me on one of my autumn nature photography tours so I can show you first hand my tips, tricks, and techniques – see last paragraph for info.

Bring on the Backlight: Many photographers prefer a certain quality of light in which to photograph fall color. To me, whatever condition I’m bestowed on a particular day, I’ll exploit to its fullest. One of the conditions I’ll most certainly take advantage of is backlight. Autumn colored leaves take on a glow as if each has a built in spotlight that gets turned on to a varying intensity. Find a solitary tree in full fall color and do a 360 degree walk around. Watch what happens to the leaves as the quality of light changes from front light, to sidelight, to backlight. Front light is flat and dull while back light makes the tree come alive. Shield your lens to prevent flare and check your histogram to get the best exposure as shooting into the sun can cause the photo to be underexposed.

31_backlight russ burden fall foliage tips photography
© 2007 Russ Burden

Bring on the Morning Mist: A warm autumn day followed by a chilly autumn night motivates  me to get into the field early the next morning. The reason for this is these are the conditions that create ground fog and mist. Capturing this mood with fall color added in as a bonus is a nature photographer’s dream. Preserving the  moment is technically not difficult. Most of the exposures are pretty much straight forward unless the fog is backlit. If so, check your histogram to see how you need to compensate as shooting into the sun tends to produce underexposure. Compositionally, shoot it wide, shoot it tight, isolate a detail, shoot vertically and shoot horizontally. In other words, as I’ve often said so many times, “exhaust all possibilities.” These are magical conditions and you want to make sure you capture the moment.

32_morning_mist russ burden fall autumn photography tips techniques
© 2007 Russ Burden

Bring on the Overcast: If the weather deals me an overcast hand, I’ll take advantage of it and concentrate on just the leaves as the reds, yellows and oranges saturate well in this condition. The reason for this is glare from the sun that would otherwise rob the foliage of its saturation doesn’t factor into the equation. Depending on how gray it is, it will be necessary to add warmth to the photo in the form of a warming filter or setting the white balance to cloudy. The yellow imparted by the filter or the warmth imparted by the cloudy white balance setting helps negate the dull color of the gray sky that is cast over the landscape. If you encounter overcast skies, look for branches that are low growing and zero in on a single leaf or a clump that has a nice composition. Look toward the ground for the intimate landscape that may often go unnoticed. Red leaves nestled in pine needles, the veining of a single oak leaf, or a fallen log surrounded by an autumn mosaic are all wonderful subjects that deserve more than just a few pixels worth of capture.

33_overcast russ burden fall colors autumn photography tips
© 2007 Russ Burden

To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Photographic Nature Tours. Visit and click on the NATURE TOURS button for more information. Also, pick up a copy of my book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography. You can purchase a signed copy directly from me or visit your local book store or Amazon. Contact me at to order your signed copy.


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