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Follow these Simple Tips to Elevate Your Fall Photography

Are you a self-proclaimed leaf-peeper?

Me, too!

A collage of fall foliage photos.
Fall is my favorite time to take photos

Autumn is my favorite time to explore New England with my camera or even my iPhone. The change from summer to autumn brings drama to the natural world—days are shorter and cooler, and green leaves take on warm tones of orange, red, and yellow.

It’s no wonder fall is such a popular season for photography. Today, I’m sharing fall photography tips and ideas for finding autumn colors, taking fall portraits, and capturing the essence of fall with your camera.

I am not a professional photographer, and I believe that the best way to start learning is to get out and experiment with your camera. The tips below will not mention polarized filters, editing techniques, or manual camera settings.

Instead, they will focus on locations, composition, lighting, and perspective — tips that will be useful for beginners with any type of camera who want to take better photos in the fall.

Is fall photography different from photography in other seasons?

From a technical standpoint, no. Your settings won’t be much different when you take photos in the fall.

The fall foliage season is short, though, so you may find yourself wandering around with your camera more than you do in other seasons. Or is that just me?

What month is best for fall photography?

The Green Mountains in the fall - Bennington, Vermont.
Mid-October in Bennington, Vermont.

The best month for taking fall photos depends on where you live.

In much of the northern hemisphere, fall colors start to appear toward the end of September and last until late October. In the southern hemisphere, fall colors start appearing in March and last through April.

You’ll see the best fall colors with cold winters and where deciduous trees — those that lose their leaves in the winter — are most prominent. Nothing can quite compare to a hardwood forest of maple, oak, birch, and aspen in the fall.

I live in Vermont and have been photographing fall landscapes for the past 12 years or so. Most of the photos you see here were taken during the first two weeks of October, which is the best time for leaf-peeping around here.

Beautiful Fall Foliage Destinations Around the United States

The gondola in Lake Placid at the Olympic Jumping Complex.
Lake Placid, NY in the Adirondacks.

I live in Vermont, and yes, I’m biased. I think it’s one of the best states for leaf peeping and fall foliage photography.

Because I live in a state with such gorgeous fall colors, I rarely travel outside of Vermont in October, but there are so many other gorgeous spots to capture fall colors in the US.

Here are a few of my favorite spots for leaf peeping in the US. If possible, I’ve linked out to fall travel guides for each destination.

Fall Foliage in New England:

Fall Foliage in the Mid-Atlantic Region:

Fall Foliage in the Appalachians:

Fall foliage in the Midwest:

  • The Upper Peninsula in Michigan: Scenic byways, waterfalls, national forests, and mountain views.
  • Minnesota’s North Shore: Small towns, historic sites, lake views, and waterfalls.
  • Wisconsin Dells: The state parks around Wisconsin Dells offer many opportunities for fall photography. Go rock climbing, hiking, or taking a boat tour to experience fall in all its glory.

Fall Foliage in the West:

Where Should You Go for Fall Photography?

Hogback Mountain in Marlboro, VT.
Hogback Mountain in Marlboro, VT.

One of the most exciting parts of fall photography is scouting the perfect location for your next photoshoot. I’m a sucker for photographing old buildings, cemeteries, and lake reflections in the fall, but my favorite thing to do is to take back roads and just get lost for a few hours with my camera.

Here are some ideas for fall photo locations:

  • A local pumpkin patch: Nothing says fall like a pile of bright orange pumpkins. Pumpkin patches are especially great for portraits and even pet photography.
  • Your favorite lake: Visit early in the morning when the water is still for great fall reflection shots. Early morning is also great for capturing fog over the lake, which happens when cold autumn air passes over a warm lake.
  • A graveyard: I love wandering around old cemeteries in the fall. As a bonus, there are often very old tree specimens with beautiful fall colors.
  • An apple orchard: Apple orchards are especially great for portraits. You will leave with great photos, and you can purchase apples to make pies!
  • Parks and conservation areas: For the best fall colors, you’ve got to get into the hardwood forest. Search for state parks, wildlife management areas, or local trails. It helps to scope these out in the summer, but you can also browse photos on Instagram to see what the park looks like in different seasons.
  • Small historic towns: Many small towns go all-out decorating for fall. Not only are the trees changing colors, but there are colorful mums, corn stalks on every lamp post, and pumpkins everywhere.
  • Back roads: Find a dirt road with little traffic and take photos of the road with foliage on either side. I have more photos of back roads in the fall than I care to admit, so I guess the name of this blog is appropriate.

Capture the Essence of Fall in Your Photos

The Old First Church in Bennington, Vermont.
The Old First Church in Bennington, Vermont.

Fall provides the backdrop for so many photography ideas! If you find yourself in a photography rut, here are some ideas for capturing the essence of fall in your photos.

  • Take close-ups of autumn leaves: Just like snowflakes, every leaf is different! Try some macro shots of your favorites.
  • Capture fall reflections: Capture fall colors reflected in lakes, rivers, or even puddles.
  • Take fall photos of historic buildings, churches, and downtowns: Whether a building is made of stone and brick or steel and glass, fall foliage frames architectural details and makes them stand out.
  • Capture fun Halloween decorations: If you live in the northern hemisphere, Halloween occurs about midway through fall, so it’s the perfect time to capture the jack-o’-lanterns and other season decorations that symbolize the holiday.
  • Fall pet photography: I love taking photos of my dogs in the fall!
  • Fall portraits and selfies: I use a small tripod and remote trigger to capture photos of myself and the fall landscape. Sometimes, I can even get my husband to pose with me.

Fall Photography Tips

While fall technically lasts a full three months, the period between the leaves changing color and falling from the trees is much shorter — three weeks or less.

Here are some tips for photographing fall leaves while they’re at their very best.

1. Get out early in the day

Adams Reservoir, Woodford State Park.
Adams Reservoir, Woodford State Park

Early morning is a great time to for autumn photography. If you are photographing reflections of fall leaves, early morning means the water will be calm and easier to photograph.

If you are photographing fall leaves at popular tourist destinations (that’s all over Vermont), getting out early means you won’t have to share the best photo spots with crowds of people.

You may discover lake fog when cool air settles over lakes and ponds that are still warm from sunny fall days. This type of fog is very common on early fall mornings, and it’s one of my favorite phenomenons to capture in fall. The fog amplifies the bright colors of the forest, making for stunning compositions.

A note on Golden Hour: The hour just after sunrise and just before sunset, with its soft, warm light, is perfect for photography, but shooting fall foliage during the golden hour may wash out the fall colors. Just something to be aware of.

3. Get off the beaten path

Kelly Stand Road in Manchester, Vermont
Kelly Stand Road in Manchester, Vermont

Have you ever scrolled through Instagram only to see the same locations being photographed over and over? These popular spots are overdone and unoriginal, and here in Vermont, many of those Instagram-famous locations are now off-limits to photographers.

Use Instagram for inspiration, but when it comes to scouting locations, don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled. The images I love most in my collection are often from places that I happened upon by chance. Exploring new places is one of my favorite things about photography.

4. Overcast vs. sunny days for fall photography

An overcast day at Lake Shaftsbury in Vermont.
An overcast day at Lake Shaftsbury in Vermont.

Honestly, I love capturing the fall season in both clouds and sun. On overcast days, the leaves take center stage, appearing brighter against a dark and dreary sky. On sunny days, the leaves compete with a bright blue sky, but the overall image can be vibrant and cheerful—sometimes too vibrant and cheerful.

Don’t be afraid to get outside with your camera in all types of weather. Even rainy days will provide endless opportunities for composing fall images. On the rare occasion that it snows when the leaves change, you can capture what Vermonters like to call ‘snowliage’.

5. Photograph falling leaves

For something different, try photographing the leaves as they’re falling from the trees. For this to work, you either need a helper or you need to head outside with your camera after a good frost or on a windy day.

If you use a smartphone camera, use burst mode to take a series of consecutive photos as the leaves fall. If you use a manual camera, be sure to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the moment.

6. Change your perspective for unique compositions

trail march cataract falls 1
Fall leaves on the trail.

Looking for a new perspective for fall leaf photos?

Try shooting up toward the sky. Colorful leaves against a bright blue background can create stunning compositions. As the leaves begin to fall from the trees, turn your eyes and your camera toward the ground, which will be covered with a fresh blanket of color.

7. Shoot up close for leaf details

Oak leaves against a blue sky in the fall.
Oak leaves against a blue sky in the fall.

Even in the summer months, leaves make great subjects for close-up photography.

In the fall, all those cool textures and patterns are accentuated, and the leaves slowly change from green to orange, yellow, and red.

iPhone photographer? The secret to great close-ups is to hold your iPhone steady and use the AE/AF lock by pressing down on your screen over the area you want to be in focus.

Fill the frame with the leaf you are capturing or get even closer for a more abstract image.

8. Include a human element in your photos

An Appalachian Trail footbridge in Vermont.
An Appalachian Trail footbridge in Vermont.

This could be actual people or structures made by people like buildings, fences, or roads. Including a human element in your photo helps tell the story of the place you are photographing, and it adds a sense of scale to your composition.

9. Look for layers in the landscape

Fall foliage in the Berkshires in Massachusetts.
The Berkshires in Massachusetts.

Include elements in the foreground, middle ground, and background to add interest and depth to your autumn photos. When framing your shot, look for ways to incorporate different textures and patterns into your composition.

Fall photography ideas for portraits

Portraits are a lot of fun to shoot in autumn. The most boring landscapes come alive in the fall, making the perfect backdrop for your fall portraits. So grab your kids, your dogs, and your friends, and head outside for a fall photo shoot.

Here are some ideas for fall portrait photography:

1. Ask your model to throw some leaves in the air

taylor fall

This is a classic fall portrait photo that works anywhere, as long as you have some leaves to toss around.

Ask your model to pick up a handful of leaves. Count to three and use Burst mode (on a smartphone) or a fast shutter speed on your camera to capture the action while the leaves fall to the ground.

3. Take a hike

Savannah Vest Tara Schatz
A tripod selfie in the woods.

The autumn forest is the perfect spot for a photoshoot. Look for trails through hardwood forests so you get the most color.

Find a great tree to use as a backdrop and get to work. As a bonus, you’ll be treated to crisp fall air, a bit of exercise, and a better outlook on life.

4. Visit a farm, orchard, or pumpkin patch for a fall photoshoot

Rowan, Gabe, and yellow lab Nacho pose on top of a hay bale.
A fall photoshoot at a local farm.

Autumn coincides with the harvest season, and it’s a great time to visit your local orchard, pumpkin patch, or corn maze.

Indulge in cider and donuts before seeking out the perfect pumpkin or basket of apples to use as a prop for your harvest-themed portraits.

Fall is a special time for photographers, offering great lighting and incredible natural backdrops for all kinds of photos. You need only step outside to be inspired by the beauty of the season for fall photography.

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A collage of fall images with text overlay: Fall Photography Tips - Elevate your autumn images
Tara Schatz sits with her two dogs, Gatsby and Flynn.

Tara is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She is the co-author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont and currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers and Vermont Explored, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone.