Fall is probably my favorite time of year. I love the cool, crisp weather, and the thought of bundling up, drinking bourbon, and eating apples and comfort food. I also love the fall because of the colors, smells, and of course photography. Some people say fall colors happen fast, you typically only get a couple of really great weeks for capturing all of those great fall scenes. However, for the last two years I’ve been squeezing everything I can get out of fall; and making it last 2 months instead of 2 weeks – because I love it that much!
How to Make Fall Last
It’s pretty simple, you go north – as far as you can and then start to work your way south slowly. For the last two years my tactic has been to start in Alaska – where fall is normally in full swing and color changes as early as August up in the Arctic and in Anchorage the colors change in September.
My journey through fall this year started in Talkeetna Alaska (near Denali). I took the Alaska Railroad north on one of the best train routes I’ve ever been on – the Hurricane Turn Train. It’s unique because it’s a flagstop train for the locals/homesteaders. It’s only a few cars long and will stop anywhere you want/need it to. It even backs up for wildlife sightings! The focus is fall and a slow moving train is a perfect place to enjoy and photograph the fall colors.
Next I started moving south to Knik Glacier and did some ATV touring to see the fall colors pop against the blue glacier ice. Then I made my way down to Anchorage and watched the days get shorter and mountainsides start to turn golden. Finally, I went even further south to Lake Clark National Park, one of the least visited National Parks. There I experienced one of my best adventures all year camping, hiking, and kayaking for 6 days in the remote wilderness of Twin Lakes. In early September, the weather was chilly and many mornings we woke up, got out of the tents, and were greeted to snow dusted mountaintops. The brilliant blue glacial lakes seemed to intensify in color each day as the landscapes turned red, orange and yellow. We even found the occasional blue – it was blueberry season on the tundra!
I bade Alaska goodbye and went further south to BC Canada to an unlikely place…Likely BC. Yes, there’s a town named Likely (about 6 hours north of Vancouver) along the Quesnel River in the Cariboo region. I was in the the Cariboo Region for bear watching, and the salmon, but instead was mesmerized by the Cariboo palette of fall colors! The morning fog hanging in the forest made it even more spectacular for photography.
And one more jaunt south to Denver, Colorado this October where I stuck to the city and enjoyed the urban parks change over to its winter wardrobe.
And that’s how you make fall last…just keep moving south!
And how do you capture Fall as you move south? Here’s a few photography tips as you take in the colors from north to south.
Quick and Simple Fall Photography Tips
Wildlife in Motion
This is a great time of year to see wildlife! The deer and moose are rutting, bears are protein loading for the winter, and you’ll find lots of beautiful ducks and birds getting ready to head south. Take a long lens with you to be able to capture wildlife from a distance and be patient.
Go Low and Look For Details
Remember, photography is about telling a story, and stories need details. The big landscape shots are beautiful, but be sure to focus on the details too. Get down low, put your camera on the ground, pay attention to your focus point and practice depth of field shots to get a new perspective on fall. There are lots of great things to get details of – the leaves, mushrooms, and berries to name a few!
You’ll likely be taking many landscape shots in the fall. Try to avoid putting your horizon in the middle of the photo, and follow the rule of thirds. The horizon should be in the top or bottom third of the picture to create the best composition.
Reflections are even better in the fall with the colors popping in the water too. Once again, the dusk and dawn hours are best to capture reflections as the light is at a lower angle and creates more contrast. You can also consider using a polarizing filter to make the image in the reflection even stronger.
This is the time to ditch the autumn leaf peeping crowds and go for that remote hike or camping trip! It allows you to go into places where the brush is thick and the people are few. My camping trip in Lake Clark National Park allowed me to get one of a kind shots because so few people go there.
Wake Up for Fog
Whenever you are near water, make sure you set your alarm early to capture the misty/foggy conditions that often happen in the autumn.
Overcast Days Are Your Friend
Don’t lament about overcast days! Overcast or gray days make the greens pop – in fact, all colors become more saturated and contrast nicely with a gray day. However, you want to avoid images with too much uninteresting sky if it’s really flat. If the sky is really overcast, compose the picture to have more foreground and less sky.
Autumn is a great time to find waterfalls that are surrounded by fall foliage. The most effective way to capture a waterfall is to slow down your shutter and use a tripod to create the ethereal water effect.
Don’t Forget the People
Yes autumn is about leaves, but people help you tell a story. Make sure you take a few shots with people in the frame (remember the rule of thirds and try not to place them in the middle) to enhance the shot and bring the landscape some perspective.
Compose and Crop Unexpectedly
You always see the big landscape shots in the fall which are stunning, but don’t forget to also hone in on different views and compose and crop your images to highlight details of this beautiful season instead of the expected big wide landscape scenes. It’s useful to have a telephoto lens in this situation to zoom in forests or trees. If you don’t have a telephoto lens then you can also crop into these types of images after the fact.
And if you want ideas on more unusual places to go to photograph fall colors check out this post from last year!