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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