How to photograph beautiful autumn landscapes

How to photograph beautiful autumn landscapes

All photos by James Abbott

10 top tips to help you get the most out of the most eye-catching season on the landscape photography calendar

Every season brings with it unique conditions, opportunities and indeed challenges that make them a unique shooting experience. But the one that takes the crown for colour, atmospheric conditions, golden hour at favourable times and more shooting opportunities than you can shake a stick at has to be autumn.

Autumn is one of the most exciting seasons for landscape and nature photographers with such an abundance of possibilities presenting themselves during the season. Misty mornings, fungi and the turning colours of foliage are just a few of the photographic opportunities you can enjoy. So, to help you hit the ground running this year, here are 10 top tips to help you get the most out of the season that was made for photography...

1 Focus on woodlands

Woodland photography is a firm favourite for landscape photographers in autumn because the colour of foliage brings these often dark or muted scenes roaring to life. Throw in a touch of mist and you’re in landscape photography heaven. Mist not only adds a shot of atmosphere, but it also helps to calm the typically chaotic backgrounds you often find in woodland settings and makes compositions look their best with all attention directed to the focal point.

Head out pre-dawn to get to the forest for those early morning misty conditions - f/11 | 0.8s | ISO 100 captured at a focal length of 117mm

2 Get up close with a macro lens

"When shooting macro, always carry a black dustbin bag or a small tarpaulin with you so you can lay on wet and muddy ground without getting cold, wet and dirty."

Fungi is everywhere at this time of year and makes the perfect subject for more autumnal shots after you’ve captured sunrise.

When shooting macro, always carry a black dustbin bag or a small tarpaulin with you so you can lay on wet and muddy ground without getting cold, wet and dirty.

A tripod with an articulating centre column is also ideal for capturing low viewpoints, but if you don’t have one you can insert the centre column of a standard tripod into the legs upside down to get the camera low to the ground.

Fungi makes a fantastic photographic subject for autumnal macro photography
f/4 | 1/3s | ISO 100

3 Look out for abstract scenes

"Keep your eyes peeled for interesting abstract and detail shots that have the potential to provide an interesting and intimate shot."

With such an abundance of vivid red, yellow and orange hues of the season, it’s the wider scenic views that capture a photographer’s attention.

But slow down, and keep your eyes peeled for interesting abstract and detail shots that have the potential to provide an interesting and intimate shot. This swirl pool (image below) in a stream was moving slowly, but the leaf covered rock provided a solid visual anchor and all that was needed to slow the shutter speed and remove the sheen on the water’s surface was a polarising filter.

Slow down and look all around you on your autumn walks for unusual subjects and compositions to get that unique shot
f/16 | 5s | ISO 50

4 Use detailed and reliable weather apps

One of the biggest challenges of landscape photography, after dragging yourself out of bed in the middle of the night to shoot sunrise, is attempting to anticipate the weather.

Even with weather forecasts and weather apps, a detailed breakdown of potential conditions is often absent. Clear Outside breaks the mould by providing detailed and, most often reliable forecasts for locations around the world and is available in-browser with free Android and iOS apps also available.

Use comprehensive weather apps like Clear Outside to check conditions in advance to make sure it's not a wasted trip

5 Capture golden hour with the sun behind you

We all know that the most dramatic light at golden hour comes from shooting towards the sun when it’s close to the horizon, but in autumn we can use this warm light to our advantage by making the landscape appear to glow. How? Simply by shooting with the sun behind the camera rather than in front of it. With bracken in the landscape already an orange hue, the warm light accentuates this further and produces a stunning result only possible during autumn.

Autumnal hues make landscapes glow during the golden hour, but to get this beautiful light in your shots make sure the sun is behind you
f/13 | 6s | ISO 50

6 Shoot with a telephoto lens

Landscapes are most often shot with a wide-angle lens, which works perfectly when you can get close to subjects and want to exaggerate perspective to create more dramatic compositions.

But when you’re shooting more distant subjects, or in woodland where shooting further back to avoid perspective distortion you typically experience when shooting wide and tilting the camera back to fit everything in, a telephoto lens such as a 70-200mm is the perfect option.

Use a telephoto lens to avoid perspective distortion in your woodland shots, like the example in Tip 1 (see above)
f/6.3 | 1/125s | ISO 800

7 Find elevated locations on misty mornings

With the high chance of mist during autumn and brightly coloured foliage, shooting from elevated positions such as hills, fells and mountains gets you well above the landscape you’re shooting to provide an eye-catching viewpoint that never fails to impress.

For full cloud inversions, you’ll often need to get yourself up quite high above a valley, and to increase your chance of experiencing one always check the weather of a location within the valley rather than at the top of it.

Find a high vantage point and shoot from above to get an all-encompassing autumnal scene
f/13 | 1/10s | ISO 100

8 Embrace contrast

Autumn is very much a season of contrast being the stepping stone between summer and winter, and the abundance of reds, oranges and yellows provides the perfect opportunity to capture this contrast in an almost literal sense. Fallen leaves placed on rocks, bright trees against darker backgrounds, and backlit leaves shot with the aperture wide open to render the background a soft blur are just a few of the ways that you can capture contrast in the autumnal landscape.

Autumn is made for contrasts, search out striking scenes like this one to make the most of it
f/11 | 1/5s | ISO 100

9 Head out on frosty mornings

As autumn progresses, you’ll be rewarded with frost on the ground as well as mist and colourful foliage. If you’re lucky, a hoar frost will cover trees and other prominent features of the landscape to make them literally sparkle in the morning light.

So, whether you’re shooting wide-angle scenics, telephoto landscapes into valleys or getting closer to the minutiae with a macro lens, frost can add texture and detail to provide another layer of visual interest to your autumnal shots.

Late autumn onwards, you'll be greeted with a short layer of frost over foliage that makes beautiful conditions for macro and nature shots
f/4 | 0.5s | ISO 100

10 Wear suitable clothing 

It goes without saying that you should wear the right clothing for the season, but with typically mixed weather conditions, autumn is one season where you really do have to be prepared for every eventuality.

A warm jacket, raincoat, gloves and a hat are an absolute must, but don’t forget your wellies because they’re ideal for walking through dew covered grass and getting closer to streams and waterfalls. And for those really cold mornings, handwarmers can make the world of difference.

Make sure you pack clothing for all eventualities, being out in the field ill-equipped for the weather can quickly make your shoot a miserable experience
f/8 | 1/100s | ISO 800
Editor's tip:

There are thousands of places ideally suited to Autumn photography and with a bit of research, you'll be sure to find somewhere close to you. For some inspiration, here are just a few of the most well-known locations for seasonal shots:

- Lake District National Park, UK
- New Forest National Park, UK
- Vermont, USA
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA
- Bavaria, Germany
- Rocky Mountains, USA/ Canada
- Tokyo, Japan

Post-production Lightroom tips: 

Once you've gone out and captured your stunning autumnal scenes, learn how you can enhance them in Lightroom by bringing out more of the tones and colours already in the scene. See our video tutorial below:

Find more video tutorials covering a range of post-production techniques on Focus here.

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