It isn’t easy to choose a favorite season but when it comes to autumn photography, it is very hard to beat. Autumn photography offers incredible colors, a unique atmosphere, and artful aesthetics. Also, autumn scenery comes by default with meaning. We automatically associate fall colors with nostalgia, romanticism, melancholy, kindness, sadness, loss, and warmth. It is a season that invites meditation, reminiscence, and connection with nature. In autumn photography, you don’t need a subject per se. The beauty of nature is enough to fill the frame and create a story.
However, because autumn photography is such a popular genre, many photographers include autumn photos in their portfolios. And it has slowly become a cliché. To create unique compositions and impress your public, you need more than beautiful autumn scenery. You need to infuse your work with personal perspectives and experiences. Instead of a beautiful tableau, you have to deliver meaningful stories. Here are the best tips to make the most of autumn.
There is no Such Thing as Bad Weather
To paraphrase Alfred Wainwright, there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. In our case, only unprepared photographers use bad weather as a pretext not to take autumn photos. Autumn is an incredible offering season in terms of weather. You have sunny days with glowing, soft light and intense blue skies. You also have mist and fog, especially in the morning, moody rain, and even frost. Nature looks different after each rainy or sunny day, providing endless subjects for photography.
Therefore, take measures to protect your camera and yourself, and try autumn photography on rainy days. You’ll find dramatic scenes that fill the frame with atmosphere and meaning. You’ll also find wet leaves and plants, droplets, puddles, and a bleak, heavy gray sky. All these elements come together wonderfully, especially in landscape and nature photography. They work very well as background for other types of photography too. Furthermore, they are impossible to reproduce, which translates into unique compositions for your portfolio.
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Find the Best Natural Light for Autumn Photography
The three characteristics of light (i.e. direction, intensity, and color) help you add meaning to your autumn photos. Especially for landscape photography, natural light is an essential element of the composition. And autumn provides good natural light all day long. Low temperatures and increased humidity increase color saturation. As a result, autumn light is softer and more colorful even at midday. Furthermore, the weather produces many cloudy or overcast days, which create drama and contrast.
Probably the best lighting for autumn photography is side lighting or backlighting. Side lighting is frequently used for landscape autumn photographs because it enhances shadows and adds depth. Backlighting does wonders with subjects such as forests, trees, or grass. Allow sun rays to get through branches or grass and add some magic to your photos. Autumn is a good time to use this effect because of the low intensity of the light. You can also use backlighting for sunset or sunrise photos. When the days become shorter, it’s easier to take pictures at sunrise and sunset. The golden and blue hours combined with fall colors create an outstanding natural light.
Explore a Wide Range of Subjects
Autumn photography is famous for pictures of trees, leaves, and foliage. However, these aren’t the only subject matters available. Autumn colors cover the entire nature, from forests and trees to mountains, hills, and fields. Vegetation is changing colors. Use this time of the year to explore the entire ecosystem, and capture not only individual subjects but also the transforming process.
For example, you can use long exposures to photograph waterfalls, flowing water, fog, or moving clouds. The smooth, bright white area will contrast with the surrounding fall colors and create an appealing negative space. You can also focus on the autumn behavior of wild animals and birds and their winter preparations (e.g. birds’ migration). Interesting things happen in agriculture life too. Focus on fields, crops, and vegetable markets. Explore the unseen world of mushrooms. Autumn is a season of change, and there are plenty of subjects that add value to your visual story.
If you struggle to find unique subjects, try macro photography. Most of us usually overlook the life of tiny plants and insects. We pass by beautiful wildflowers and mushrooms and don’t notice their existence. We forget how colorful and interesting insects can be. During autumn, they reach a new stage of their life cycle. Some of them change colors; others blossom. Some of them prepare for the winter; others die. Regardless of their actions, a lot is happening in their life.
And interesting and unknown life experiences aren’t the only benefits of macro autumn photography. The background is also appealing. Instead of photographing insects on green leaves, you’ll have the golden colors of autumn as background. The aesthetics are different. The contrast is different. For example, rainy days provide droplets and puddles you can use to create reflections. Overcast days offer enough natural light and reduce the risk of shadowing your subject. Getting very close to an autumn leaf can reveal a network of ribs, spots, and textures.
Focus on Multiple Types of Contrast
An intense blue sky and autumn’s shades of yellow and orange produce a powerful color contrast. However, there are many other types of contrast you can explore. For example, there is a texture contrast between the detailed foliage and the smooth sky. There is also a texture contrast between the carpet of fallen leaves and the sleekness of a brand new mushroom. You can find a contrast between colorful autumn vegetation and bleak human-made objects (e.g. roads, buildings, etc.).
Autumn photography works very well with concept contrast too. People associate autumn with lots of feelings and emotions. Some see it as a sad transition towards the winter. Others see it as a rich conclusion of the summer. Therefore, using opposite concepts can enhance the message you want to convey and create a strong focal point. For example, you can use the contrast between richness and poorness, old age and youth, happiness and sadness, beginning and ending of life, and many more.
Create Artful Autumn Photography Compositions using Analogous Colors
Contrast isn’t the only compositional element that enriches your photos. Analogous colors are something to consider too. Autumn provides a wide range of yellows, oranges, reds, and purples. Fill the frame with similar colors and enhance their vibration by placing them next to each other. Imagine an Impressionist picture where colors blend in smoothly. Even if you don’t have a distinctive focal point, the combination of colors will make the entire frame stand out. Choose an overcast day for shooting or avoid framing the sky.
Day by day, nature gets new clothes, and following the chromatic changes is a great subject for autumn photography. If you find a beautiful scene with easy access, try to recreate the same photo on different days. It may be a single leaf or an entire mountain. Limit the number of colors you include in the frame and allow analogous colors to take over.
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Don’t Over-Process Your Photos
Probably the most frequent mistake in autumn photography is over-processing. Due to the popularity of the genre, many photo editors offer dedicated filters, presets, and styles to enhance autumn photographs. Thus, it is very easy to increase color saturation and contrast too much and produce artificial-looking colors.
Fall colors are beautiful without the help of technology. And even if people expect to see bright colors, you don’t have to compromise the quality of your photographs for the sake of good feedback. All you have to do is capture the accurate colors of the fall and share them as they are. Nature knows best. If there is one rule you must always follow in autumn photography, it is to deliver natural-looking images regardless of the photography genre you use. Even commercial photos should look natural. So use photo editing wisely and fine-tune the adjustments until you reach the perfection of nature.
Want to learn more?
Autumn photography is your chance to develop an artistic style and work with colors and contrast like a painter. You have access to amazing subject matters and unique backgrounds. Furthermore, the landscape and weather are continuously changing and allow you to document the transition of the environment and take pictures in a wide range of conditions. Autumn is good photography practice and works equally well for all types of photography.
However, landscape and nature photography has more advantages during the fall. From good lighting conditions all day long to the opportunity to capture nature in slow motion, autumn offers endless stories. Moreover, it is loaded with meaning and connects with the viewer at a deeper level. Whether it reminds you of childhood and the beginning of school, the departure of loved ones, or to slow down and breathe, autumn finds its way to our hearts. And this is how your autumn photos should be: warm and heartfelt.
Have you ever consider autumn as a subject for your photographs? Let us talk about autumn and its meaning to you in the comment section.
I’m a creative writer and photographer. For me, photography is a state of mind. It’s a way of living in the moment and transform it into memories. I photograph landscapes, wildflowers, and nature with my eyes and my heart. Through the viewfinder, I see the world free of any misconceptions.