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How to Photograph Fall Foliage

Autumn is my favorite season in which to photograph. A refreshing and invigorating chill permeates the air, and the warm colors of the season, combined with the low angle of the sun, make for extraordinary photographic opportunities. Although the best light occurs at sunrise and sunset, good pictures can be made during mid day hours by concentrating on close ups and backlit leaf studies.

As with any photographic journey, the first step is to research the location. You need to know when the foliage usually reaches peak color. Just because peak color occurs in the beginning of October where you live, it doesn’t dictate this is the norm elsewhere. Factors such as altitude, latitude, and micro climates all impact when the leaves in a given area turn. The Chamber of Commerce and the internet are excellent resources. Additionally, foliage hotlines are set up during the season.

Russ Burden Tip10

Many photographers think of the grand landscape when it comes to taking pictures of fall foliage. They are glorious and make gorgeous post card type shots, but don’t overlook the smaller aspects of autumn. A single tree in peak color is a wonderful autumn subject. Move in closer to isolate a colorful branch juxtaposed against a polarized blue sky to create an abstract. Getting even closer, photograph a few leaves or even a single leaf showing its vein patterns. Additionally, while many photographers concentrate on looking up at the color on the trees, I want you to look down on the ground for interesting patterns of fallen leaves mixed in with pine needles and cones. Quite often the “intimate landscape” can net an image with greater impact than the grand one.

Russ Burden Tip 10b

Backlit leaves take on a glow making them pop right out of your photographs. Try to look for this as much as possible. Take a 360 degree walk around an isolated tree and notice the difference between the leaves when they′re frontlit vs. backlit and you’ll see what I mean. Metering a backlit scene can be a bit tricky so I suggest bracketing your exposures. Also, lens flare will occur more readily so make sure you shade the front element. For information about fall foliage nature photography tours, visit my website at


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