©Jack Graham

Let’s face it, we as photographers….pro’s, amateurs’ or just casual shooters all look forward to the fall color display to get out and capture all that nature has to offer.  Once that cool air come in for the 1st time, increasing rain beging and fall color starts, we get that rejuvenated feeling and grab our camera bags and get out to make the most of what can sometimes be a short period of vibrant color. Paying attention to the weather and being prepared can go a long way in succeeding when it comes to fall photography.

Fall photography to me,  is all about color, and how to make the most of it. Here are some pointers that can help you come home with the best images possible during this magical season of color.LAORHRV12_0810_0043

Pear trees in the fall…. Hood River Valley, Oregon

  • Overcast and even rainy weather provides the best lighting for both landscapes as well as for close-ups of fall leaves, ferns, mushrooms, berries, and other fall details. Bright sunny weather creates harsh highlights, blocked shadow details, and even a blue cast due to reflected light from the blue sky.  A cloudy sky minimizes the blue cast, reduces contrast, and increases color saturation.  Rain and wet conditions serve to even increase the color saturation. A credo of nature photography is that “Bad weather makes for great photography”. Streams, rivers, waterfalls and forests are great subjects to photograph when it rains. In fact when tree trunks get wet they become darker, sometimes even black. This only enhances the color in the leaves. Take care to keep your equipment dry as well as yourself and get out and shoot in these conditions.LANPCV_TINKERS5


This is Tinkers Creek, Bedford Reservation, just south of Cleveland Ohio. This image was taken in the pouring rain.The rain enhanced the colors dramatically.






  • You can use a circular diffuser, such as a Photo flex, to soften direct sunlight, simulate an overcast sky, and thus improve the lighting for your fall close-ups.





The use of a diffuser made this images possible







  • Early morning and late afternoon lighting on sunny or partly cloudy days can provide dramatic lighting for scenic fall vistas taken in the open.  Weather fronts, which often occur in fall, can also provide sensational light, especially when areas of fall color are sunlit against a dark storm sky.


  • Let’s talk about sky. John Shaw’s sky rule: “If the sky adds nothing to your image… LEAVE IT OUT”!!!  White or overcast, less than dramatic sky is like poison to an image.LACAES_CONWAY5_0710




This is Conway Summit off HWY 395 about 10 miles north of Lee Vining and Mono Lake in California.

Note the lack of sky in this image. The color is the subject NOT the sky



  • Sunny weather is also the best lighting for photographing reflections of fall foliage in lakes, rivers, and streams.  The reflections are most dramatic when the fall color is sunlit and the water is in shade.  LACAES_LUNDY3Try using slow shutter speeds to create abstracts from fall foliage reflected in the moving water of rivers and streams. Be careful if you are using a polarizer. This can detract from the reflections that you really want, of the color in the water.


  • Misty, damp days can provide wonderful, moody lighting for fall color and waterfall photography.  The air is usually still, eliminating the problem of wind movement, and the moisture on leaves and rocks intensifies their color.


  • Look for different subject matter.. think out of the box. For example, my good friend Mike Moats pointed pout to me that is you look closely around still water where decaying leaves are present, there is often a color effect in the water that looks like a sheen of oil around the leaves and the water itselfPHART-WATERABSTRACT_0910_9702

Bacteria in the water , caused by decaying leaves is a very common phenomena. The bacteria can often have a rainbow color, a color that is commonly associated with oil sheen that is seen in a parking lot afer rainfall.

This image was taken with my Nikon D700 and a 200mm F4 Nikon Macro lens. Very little saturation in Photoshop was added.


As with snow scenes where you must open up 1 1/2 stops or more to make the snow white you must do the same in foggy conditions. Relying on your camera’s meter may result in misty scenes that are most times too dark,  so you may need to open up by  1 f-stop to retain the foggy light and luminosity that permeate these foggy fall days.


  • A polarizing filter can be used to intensify colors and reduce reflections on wet rocks and leaves.  An exposure increase of 1 to 2 f-stops will be needed( remember to always check your histograms and expose for the right), depending on the amount of polarization.  Your camera meter will adjust the exposure automatically when you attach a polarizing filter.  With most modern digital cameras, a “circular” polarizing filter is needed to ensure an accurate exposure reading. Don’t forget your graduated ND’s as well.


  • Use color to your advantage. Complimentary colors add to impact images. Green foliage combined with the reds and oranges work well. So does yellow aspens against blue skies in autumn.


  • Keep your compositions as simple as possible. Remember, don’t try and write a novel in your photographic composition, write the sentence that tells the story. Always remember  the rule of thirds, graphic lines and make your image using a key element as the anchor ( basic good compositional technique).  Keep it simple!

The internet is filled with sites to monitor fall color in all areas of the country ( great information on California’s fall color)     LACAES_LUNDY9_07-2564

For  serious photographers is a site I frequent. There are regional groups that are informative with updated color information from members in specific areas.






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