Autumn landscape (Shutterstock)
Article 20 October

Photography tips: How to capture the magic of autumn

With its vibrant colours and atmospheric sunlight, autumn is a splendid season for photography – here's how to ensure your photos do it justice

1. Colours of autumn

In temperate climates, nature has a final flourish of colour as summer draws to a close. Autumn weather can be changeable, bringing a variety of photographic results. Overcast skies provide soft light, while bright sunlight infuses leaves with a translucent, dappled glow. For the most vibrant colour, head out just before sunset or after sunrise when the lighting is at its warmest.

Settings for capturing autumnal colours:

Camera mode: Select Landscape mode or Aperture Priority and an aperture of f/11
Sensor/film speed: Use a low ISO setting (eg ISO 100)
Lens setting: Zoom to moderate wide angle
Flash: Try shots with and without fill-in flash

Autumn forest (Shutterstock)
Autumn forest (Shutterstock)

Alternative approaches

From wide-angle landscape images to close-up shots of a leaf-covered forest floor, autumnal tones can be photographed in many different ways. Broad views place the colours in context and contrast them with the stark forms of the trees while images of leaves reflected in water result in more abstract compositions.

The autumn colour palette consists of an astonishing range of vibrant hues. Look for the appearance of coloured bands as foliage from tall shrubs and undergrowth turn their own distinctive colours.

Reflected in ponds or lakes, and shot through a fine rain or mist, autumnal colours take on an abstract look. Catch the moment when a breeze shivers across the water or create your own ripples by skimming a pebble.

Try this:

Use backlighting to enhance the luminance of autumn leaves. For the most brilliant colours, shoot towards the canopy into a bright sky, or even into the sun. The light will cause your camera to underexpose the shot, so increase your exposure by 1 stop.

2. In the forest

From thick vegetation to sudden clearings in the undergrowth, the forest is a place of contrasts. Lighting varies dramatically too, not only with changes in the weather but also according to the height and density of the canopy above. Explore the forest with your camera looking for interesting patterns and compositions created by the trees, plants, and fungi that flourish on the autumnal forest floor.

Settings for capturing life on the forest floor:

Camera mode: Select Landscape mode or Aperture Priority and an aperture of f/16
Lens setting: Zoom to moderate wide angle
Sensor/film speed: Use a low ISO setting (e.g. ISO 100)
Flash: Shoot without flash

Forest bridge (Shutterstock)
Forest bridge (Shutterstock)

Alternative approaches

Where the overhead cover is less dense, shafts of sunlight can pick out individual plants and fungi. Get in close to shoot some of the details of the forest landscape, and always
be on the look out for interesting shapes and textures.

Mushrooms and toadstools have a magical, fairytale quality when in their natural environment. Get down to their level, and move in close with your lens at a wide-angle setting – but do tread very carefully. Try to find a subject that’s backlit, as this will highlight the delicate structure and colours.

Fallen trees can make fascinating photographic subjects, their massive exposed and decaying roots radiating outwards, creating a dramatic starburst effect. Explore them in close-up, or go for a wider view to show them in the context of the forest.

Try this:

Even some ostensibly natural forests need to be managed to stop them becoming too dense. Look out for felled trees and harvested timber, and use the patterns and textures created by the sawn surfaces to make graphically interesting images.

3. Autumn wildlife

Autumn is a busy time of year for many animals, as they prepare for winter. This creates an opportunity for shots that are not only portraits of the animals themselves, but also show their relationship with their environment. From morning mist to low afternoon sun, autumn provides an abundance of natural effects that can be used to add texture and atmosphere.

Settings for capturing autumnal animals on camera:

Camera mode: Select Landscape mode or Aperture Priority and an aperture of f/11
Sensor/film speed: Zoom to maximise telephoto
Lens setting: Use a low ISO setting (eg ISO 100)
Flash: Shoot without flash

Squirrel (Shutterstock)
Squirrel (Shutterstock)

Alternative approaches:

Of course wildlife doesn’t appear on demand or pose on cue. However, if you spend a little time studying animals’ habits – favoured habitats and feeding times – you’ll increase your chances of success. You won’t always have to venture far from home, either – gardens and parks are host to many types of wildlife.

As many birds migrate for the winter, lakes and rivers can seem lifeless. Turn this into an opportunity to create ethereal images in the early morning, such as a solitary bird set against a pastel-tinted landscape. Overexpose by around 2/3 stop to preserve brightness.

Take advantage of animals rummaging for scarce food supplies to get in closer than you otherwise might. For an eye-to-eye shot like this you’ll need to get down on the damp ground, so you might want to take something with you to lie on.

Try this:

After a warm summer, autumn often brings a profusion of insects. The speed of movement of most insects makes a tripod redundant, so shoot hand-held, setting your camera to Macro mode with a high ISO setting. Pick a still day, to avoid wind disturbance.

Digital Photography Month by MonthTips taken from Digital Photography Month by Month (published by DK; £20) by Tom Ang, which explains how to capture the moods and moments of every season. Order your copy on Amazon now.

Main image: Autumn landscape (Shutterstock)