Fall is a great time for photography, but it’s difficult to make images that haven’t been made a million times before. Leaves turning red and gold are great, but let’s be honest: that’s a cliché that’s been shot a million times before. Here are 8 photography tips to more creative images this fall.
These photography tips fall into two categories: artistic and technical. As photographers, we operate gizmos with lots of buttons so it’s really easy to focus on things like exposure, white balance, and depth of field. But photographs should tell stories and stories mean creativity, meaning, and art. We’ll handle the artistic ideas first, and then the technical tricks.
1. Know Your Region
The classic fall images of maples turning red in next to a lake were probably shot on the Eastern seaboard or upper Midwest. In my home, the evergreen-filled Pacific Northwest the leaves aren’t that spectacular, but something else is: massive Chinook salmon spawning and dying in the streams where they were born. Sometimes it’s great gangs of geese. In Alaska it’s “termination dust”—the snow that shows up on the hills with no warning, jumping straight from late summer to winter. Every region has its fall highlights. What are yours?
2. Tell Transition Stories
Fall is about transition: accepting that the days are getting shorter fast, the last gasp of summer camping, the kids going back to school, or the mountains suddenly being empty and quiet. It could be about the mad dash to finish summer projects, or looking forward to ski season just around the corner, or brown hills turning back to green when the rain finally provides some drought relief. Maybe it’s the sad realization that the season is over. Figure out what the story is before you plan photographs.
Put people in your stories and your images. Most of the transitions I mentioned in the past paragraph aren’t just about pretty scenery: they’re about how we interact with the natural world. Show people. Show them cold with the sudden crisp air or the onset of the rainy season, as well as enjoying fall. It’s all part of the outdoor story.
Now we go from the artistic topics to the technical ones.
Fall images call for polarizing filters. What’s a polarizing filter? It’s a circular gray filter composed of two rings. Like polarized sunglasses, they increase contrast. They also cut glare, darken the sky, and increase saturation slightly. The inner ring screws into the lens; the outer one adjusts the effect, which is strongest at 90 degrees to the sun. It’s great for darkening skies, making fall colors pop, and cutting the glare reflected off water. They’re designed to screw into DLSR lenses, but can also be held carefully in front of the lenses of point and shoots and phone cameras.
5. Use Colors Wisely
Fall color is spectacular—but to be truly spectacular, it has to be paired with something else. Think red leaves against the green needles of evergreens, or the yellow-blue contrast between leaves and water or sky. If you remember your art classes from middle school, these are complementary colors that make each other look more saturated when they’re next to each other.
6. Move the Camera
When you’re wandering around on your two feet, it’s easy to always put the camera at eye level. This can be ok if you’re shooting grand vistas, but it doesn’t generally work in fall when you’re likely either shooting up or down. Get close to the edge of leaves, the color of water at the earlier sunset, and kneel down or climb high to get a perspective other than the usual.
7. Get Stable
In the days of film, serious photographers always used tripods because the only way to get a decent image was to use slow-speed film. In the digital world, we have more flexibility. But tripods—even small tabletop ones —help make sure your images are sharp. They let you shoot at low ISO, which means less pixelation. They also help you control focus when shooting close-up. Less camera movement ensures that things close to the camera are sharp. And more importantly, they make you slow down—which make you think more about your images.
8. Control Depth of Field
Depth of field controls what—and how—much of your image is in sharp focus. Learn how to adjust the f‑stop on your camera. Many point and shoots allow this or have picture modes that have different pre-set depths of field. F‑stop controls depth of field: the smaller the opening, the more of the field of view is in focus—but the harder it is to hold the camera still since the shutter has to be open to let more light in. Shallow depths of field are great when you want a soft background free of distracting elements. Deep depth of field is great when you want everything to be sharp, both near and far elements. Since fall photography involves lots of leaf edges, you want depth of field under your control, not the camera’s automatic settings.
Use these fall photography tips and say goodbye to the end of summer, but hello to one of the richest photographic seasons we’ve got.