Fall is one of my favorite times of the year for photography. The weather gets cooler, the coffee turns pumpkin flavored, and the leaves change to vibrant colors. Autumn is the season of change, perhaps more than any other season. Autumn begins almost summer-like, yet ends wintry cold. The trees begin green, but quickly turn yellow, orange and red, before becoming bare and dormant. It’s a vibrant season, that is until winter begins to grab hold. You can’t let time slip away from you or else you’ll miss the annual autumn show, as it never seems to last long enough.
If you don’t have much experience photographing fall foliage, you might not know how to get the most out of it. Since autumn officially began a couple of days ago, and I’ve already seen a few leaves begin to colorfully transform, I thought this would be a good time to share with you some tips for photographing the season of change with your Fujifilm X camera. Below you’ll find five tips for fall foliage photography.
You need quality light to capture good autumn pictures. All great photographs begin with great light, because, after all, without light there is no photograph. Fall foliage pictures feature trees, so you’ll often find that a certain type of light situation works especially well: back-lit. I think, generally speaking, the best light to capture dramatic tree photographs is when the sun is behind the tree. This is even more true in the autumn, as the sunlight illuminates the colorful leaves, displaying them in their most vibrant fashion.
I find that early morning or late evening, when the sun is low to the horizon, provides the best light for fall foliage photographs. Sometimes when the weather is changing, you might find low clouds or fog, which could provide a softer quality of light that can be especially beautiful. While I highly recommend seeking back-lit opportunities, don’t limit yourself strictly to that, but also try to find those fleeting moments of diffused sun.
Not everyone has a brilliant autumn display near where they live. Those colorful fall landscapes aren’t found everywhere. When I lived in California, I had to drive several hours to find a good show, but I would still try to capture the small amount of colorful leaves that were nearby. There would be a tree at the park, or in someone’s front yard, and even at my own house, that would have a less-than-spectacular display, but nevertheless the leaves would change colors. There were times that by really isolating the subject with a tight crop, I could create a decent picture with what was there. Don’t overlook the small opportunities that are nearby.
Oftentimes, unless you happen to live in the heart of fall leaves, such as one of the New England states, you’ll have to travel to photograph a grand display. Do a little research and plan your trip wisely. You’ll want to find out where a good location is, when the leaves are at their colorful peak, and what the weather will be, so that you can make the most of your photographic adventure. Pre-planning goes a long ways, and as the saying goes, “Location, location, location!”
Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” That’s not always true, but often it is, and you might find it to be helpful advice for your autumn pictures. Get close to the leaves, capturing their shapes and patterns. Don’t be afraid to use a macro lens and get super close. Make the leaves the main subject, and don’t even show the rest of the scene in your composition.
Some of the best autumn pictures that I’ve seen have a narrow focus. Isolate the scene with a tight crop. Make the scene a bit abstract. Oftentimes less is more. The vibrant leaves are what make this season so colorful, so don’t hesitate to make that the clear subject of your pictures.
You can use any lens to photograph fall foliage, but I find that telephoto lenses are especially useful. The Fujinon 90mm f/2 is a good one for creating tight compositions. The Fujinon 60mm f/2.4 Macro is another good one for this, plus it’s a macro lens, so you can focus close to the leaves. Another strategy is to go wide-angle, and showcase the larger scene. It’s a little trickier, but the results can be very rewarding. The more wide-angle, the more dramatic, but also the more difficult. The Fujinon 16mm f/2.8 might be a good option for this.
My recommendation is to have a few lenses in your bag, if you can. If you’re only going to have one, consider a telephoto lens instead of a wide-angle. Best case is that you have a telephoto, a wide-angle and a “standard” prime. A zoom lens, like the Fujinon 16-55mm f/2.8, would be a very good alternative, especially if you don’t want to carry a bunch of gear around.
Go bold when capturing the vivid colors of the season. My favorite film simulation recipes for autumn pictures are ones that use Velvia, either my original Velvia recipe, the new Velvia, or my Ektachrome 100SW recipe. Astia can work well, too, and my Ektar recipe, which utilizes Astia, is a good option. I’ve even had good luck with my Vintage Kodachrome recipe, so don’t be afraid to try different settings, but, generally speaking, the lively colors of Velvia deliver the best results for fall foliage pictures.
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Hi Ritchie, this is excellent advice for capturing the fall colours. I especially liked your advice on which film simulations to use.
I live in New Jersey, just south of the “New England” states, and we do get some beautiful colours. New Jersey is considered a Mid-Atlantic state.
But even being in a “New England” state at the right time doesn’t guarantee fall colour. Last year, in late September, my wife and I did a balloon ride over a weekend stay in Seneca Lake, New York near Watkins Glenn State Park and Buttermilk Falls State Park. The fall foliage was “meh”.
I have a number of fall foliage images taken in various locations around New Jersey over the years, but I haven’t explored New Jersey enough. Also, over the last few years, it seems that fall colour is coming later in the year and last just a few weeks.
As for lenses, I have only the Fujinon 16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR but even looking back at my Nikon images, I shot my fall images mostly between 12-18mm focal lengths. The locations available close to my home are in a valley. Most of my fall images are captured from river beds or the edge of lakes. Perhaps the best light is “..is when the sun is behind the tree”, but that may be possible, because even “when the sun is low to the horizon”, it is blocked by a mountain range.
I don’t do macro photography often enough to justify the cost of a macro lens. Do you have any suggestions for extension tubes for the Fujinon?
Except for Hacklebarney State Park, the best locations in New Jersey are either at the far north-west (2-hour drive) of far north-east (3-4 hours drive) sections of the state and require extensive hiking to get to the views. Someday I’ll get there.
One new thing I want to try is a new Hoya 77mm Red Intensifier Glass Filter that I bought last year. It’s a ‘didymium’ filter that claims to enhance red, orange and brown subjects to give more colour saturation and contrast. I think it would probably pop fall colours when used with the Velvia film simulation.
I can tell you about that filter. It changes the color balance. I don’t know that it necessarily intensifies anything, it just changes the color cast to appear to make reds intensified. I need to make a quick article about that. It can be a good filter.
As far as extension tubes, I have made one once by using a Contax to M42 mount adapter, then using an M42 to Fuji X mount adapter. It worked! It was completely by accident, though. Thank you for commenting!
A little late to the party here, but having just come off one of the best foliage seasons we’ve had in several years here in New Hampshire, these are all excellent tips!. My last workshop had my clients smiling from ear to ear at every location we went to. I can’t remember the last time the foliage was as over the top, or lasting as long as it did this year.
Awesome! It started out well here but ended rather quickly. Next time I will have to visit New Hampshire!
You should! It doesn’t get much better than autumn in the White Mountains.
When is the best time in your opinion? Early-to-mid October?
Generally speaking peak color in the White Mountain region runs from late September thru mid October, with Columbus Day weekend a safe bet for good color. The downside to that is the holiday weekend is insane with crowds, with tourists coming from all over the world to take in the show. I should also mention that lodging prices are usually high at this time as well.
Let me know if you’re ever planning to be in the area and I’ll be happy to give you some lodging recommendations and perhaps a tour of some of my favorite places.
Awesome, I appreciate it! There’s a remote chance of it happening in 2020, but more realistically, probably 2021. It’s high on my bucket list (as I am sure it is for many people). Thanks!
OMG! How lovely! I appreciate and love the shots
You are welcome and good luck with your upcoming season
Hi Ritchie! I’ve been shooting foliage recently, and I used the Fujicolor Pro 400H recipe (the 7 in one) changing the film to Velvia. I’m really satisfied of the result! On some pictures I changed the WB shift to R+3 B-5 or so, to boost the reds of the leaves, as the day turned cloudy…