How to Photograph Autumn

I’m not sure about you but for me, autumn is the most amazing magical times of the year from a photography perspective. There are a combination of things happening at the same time that creates the perfect storm of marvelous photography.

  • First you generally have the year becoming dryer which means you will have more blue skies richly deeply blue skies.
  • Second the days are getting shorter so that means Sun rises are later sunsets are earlier so you can get to them without getting up at 3 a.m. Or staying up til after 10 or whatever. So you get to play with the incredible light of sunrises and sunsets much easier.
  • Third the angle of the Sun is lower in the sky so that produces a much richer light in the mornings and evenings. What I mean by this is in the evening the light is off and more yellow or orange and you have such amazing shadows to play with.
  • And forth you have the changing of the colors which produces eye candy that’s seldom available in the rest of the year.

So with all this going on how do you capture this with great images??

Two Types of Autumn Photography

I generally think in two categories of fall images: I ask myself do I want to capture a huge landscape or do I want to capture details of a particular scene. Autumn is great for both types of scenes.

Autumn Landscapes

Let’s go through capturing a landscape first.

How to photograph Autumn Colors in Beautiful and interesting ways

Take a look at this scene, it combines a combination of great framing a wonderful reflection on a still lake wonderful colors of the early morning light and of course a Anais palette of colors from the changing leaves.

So I had been watching the scene for several weeks before I actually captured the picture. I had to wait until there were enough colors on display and I had to wait until the light was interesting.

I knew I would be able to capture a great reflection in the scene in the morning on a relatively cloudless day. You need the sun behind you shining brightly on the trees to give you the reflection on the water. I watched the weather report the evening before and I could tell it was going to be a clear morning with very light winds so it would be ideal for a beautiful reflection shot.

I had this general seen in mind but I didn’t know the exact location. Once I got here I had to stake out a place on the lake shore that would give me a nice framing of something interesting in the foreground both below and above. In this particular location we have the leaves above and the lake grasses below, just perfect for our needs.  But of course I wanted the magic of that bridge in the scene also so I had to move to get everything in.

Scene Note:  There was an ugly log in the water in the foreground.  I actually got in the water and removed it before taking this final shot.  I had taken several test shots and was completely annoyed by the log.

Capturing and Merging the Images

The most difficult part of this scene in reality is the huge amount of contrast in the scene.  The human eye can capture up to 11 f stop settings of light while your camera can only capture 3 to 4. How are we going to capture this huge amount of contrast and make the scene interesting. Of course what that means is I/we will need to use some sort of image merging or HDR to gather all the light from the dark areas and make sure the bright areas are not all blown out.

So let me show you the example of the three images that I have taken so that I had the content available to actually build this image at the end.

How to photograph Autumn Colors in Beautiful and interesting waysExample of the three images needed to create final image 

The first correctly exposed image is set at:

  • Shooting in Aperture priority so that I can control the ISO and f stop and the camera controls everything else.
  • ISO of 100 so I don’t have anything grainy.
  • f14 to try to get everything in focus
  • Shutter speed of 1/13
  • 24 mm focal length

Then the other two images are simply two exposures brighter and two exposures darker to capture more of the detail that I was actually seeing.

Those images are then merged in Photomatix HDRSoft, into either simply a merged image or an HDR image.  (Get a free trial of HDR Soft here. )  Image merging is what allows you to capture more of the detail that your eye can actually see.

Be sure to check out the blog post or video on how to create realistic HDR images for more detail on how to do that.

Autumn Macro Photography

The second type of images that you may want to capture in the autumn are more detailed macro type images.

How to Photograph Autumn Colors in Interesting and Beautiful Ways


In my case I have a terrible cheap long lens, the Quantaray 70 – 300mm.
This lens can be used as a long telephoto lens, but for that purpose its slow there’s no image stabilization and it barely focuses, it really is a terrible lens. But, it also has a macro switch which allows me to create magic and you could do the same.


In macro mode you are basically shooting with the lens set at 300 millimeter but it allows you to focus up close using that 300 millimeter so it creates a magic milky bokeh or that blurred background.
You can Create that same effect with many different kinds of lenses but I just want to show you some examples of what macro photography can do for you.

Again this effect is caused by using a long lens focusing as closely as possible and shooting with a smaller f stop to get that narrow depth of field.

How to photograph Autumn Colors in Beautiful and interesting ways Example of the brilliantly red sumac with a background of bright yellow ash

  • Shot with aperture priority
  • ISO of 400
  • f-stop of 5.6
  • shutter speed of 1 / 1600
  • focal length of 300 millimeters with the macro switch turned on.

The reason why I so is bumped up the ISO a bit here is because with this longer lens and a relatively large f stop very little light is getting into this lens, so I needed more light or more light sensitivity to be sure the images is as crisp as possible.  Otherwise I would have been risking the image being blurry.

How to photograph Autumn Colors in Beautiful and interesting ways

Example with the purple flowers and the muted green background

  • Shot in Aperture priority
  • ISO of 400
  • F-stop of 5.6 this is actually the minimum for this lens
  • Shutter speed of 1 / 2000
  • Focal length 238 mm


How to photograph Autumn Colors in Beautiful and interesting ways

Example of the fantastic  orange red leaves against the deep blue sky

  • Again is shot in Aperture priority
  • ISO 400
  • f stop 5.6
  • Shutter speed 1 / 1250
  • Focal length: 300 mm

How to photograph Autumn Colors in Beautiful and interesting ways

 Magical Majestic Maple

  • Again is shot in Aperture priority
  • ISO 400
  • f stop 5.6
  • Shutter speed 1 / 1250
  • Focal length: 300 mm


So I hope this article has given you some great examples of how to capture autumn colors in unique beautiful ways.  Once you understand the basics of the settings you will quickly be able to start capturing images that are stunning like this.  Be sure to get out during the interesting times of light and always watch for those great reflections.

If you have any questions just post them here or feel free to send me an email.

If you are local feel free to join our Facebook “Shutter to Think” photography group so you can get out with us and asked some questions and learn along the way.

Remember your first 1 million pictures are your worst so get out and shoot so that you can learn by experimenting. There is no way to make mistakes or do it wrong, this is all learning by experimenting so have fun and shot.

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Until next time, get out and capture the adventure!!


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Written by Wayne Moran - Visit Website