Digital SLR Photography

5 Great Ways To Photograph Autumn

By Caroline Schmidt. Posted

The leaves have started to change colour and mist is gracing the mornings ever more frequently as we enter the most photogenic season of the year. Autumn brings with it a wealth of opportunities for photography, not least incredible light and golden colours. Here we've expert advice and techniques to help you make the most of the upcoming weeks, whether you’re on the search for wildlife, landscapes or portraits.

1. Mood and magic

Let’s start with one of the best benefits for autumn landscapes – mist. Autumn and spring are when mist is most likely to appear. You’ll be watching the weather forecast for a warm day followed by a cool, clear night and, when you have it, prepare to head out early to capture the phenomenal lakeside views or layered valleys backlit by golden-hour light. Find a high viewpoint overlooking the valley and use a telephoto focal length to compress the depth; a church, castle or lone tree can add a focal point too. When by a body of water, pull out your wide-angle lens or use a telephoto to isolate swans amongst the mist. Woodlands are also a great place to come across fog and mist; you can capture eerie, almost monochromatic landscapes with trees shrouded in white mist, or capture the sun piercing through for incredible atmosphere. You may find that exposures need help though as cameras can be fooled by mist so overexpose your scenes by up to a stop, if necessary.

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2. Foray for fungi

The onset of autumn brings with it the chance to find fungi in ever greater numbers. Fungi thrive in cool, damp conditions, so head to your local woodland and explore dark, damp areas of undergrowth for suitable subjects. Due to their small size, you’ll need some form of close-up aid. A short telephoto macro lens delivering life-size (1:1) reproduction is an ideal choice, allowing you to capture the delicacy of the fungi’s structure in crisp detail. The lack of light means a reflector and/or small LED light panel is incredibly useful to illuminate the scene and add some interesting highlights to the fungi’s texture. You may find using a tripod for stability works best, but alternatively set a high ISO rating (ISO 800-1600) and/or use image stabilisation to minimise the risk of camera shake. Get down low for the best viewpoint and try exposures at the widest to mid-aperture settings to determine the extent of depth-of-field that works best for the scene.

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3. Autumn wildlife

It's the season when many types of wildlife, big and small, start preparing for the onset of winter. Many species of birds begin their migration to warmer climates, while others start collecting food in preparation for the months of hardship or hibernation ahead. You don’t have to look far either, parks and nature reserves buzz with busy wildlife – hedgehogs, squirrels, birds, muntjac deer and foxes can be found early morning when it's quietest. Keep your distance and use a long telephoto lens (300mm as minimum), perhaps with a teleconverter if you need more distance. Try to capture animals amongst golden bracken or framed by autumn colour for seasonal context. Lie on the ground to be eye-level with your subject, stay very still and use a beanbag to support your long lens. If you want to witness a wildlife spectacle, head to a deer park for the rutting, when stags looking to mate bellow in the mist, wave their antlers and strut their stuff in acts of showmanship.

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4. Have fun with fallen leaves

It’s an autumnal rite of passage to spend days crunching leaves under foot and throwing them high in the air as you take long walks among colourful woodlands with friends and family. While it’s fun to do, even for the biggest kids among us, autumn walks and leaf throwing make for great photo opportunities. The deluge of golden leaves on the woodland floor is the perfect excuse to coax children to play for photographs. You’ll need to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, which if it’s an overcast day could mean high ISOs or very precise focusing with wide apertures. For an ample flurry of falling leaves, don’t leave it to the little ones to do – parents should get involved too. If not to get in on the photo (set your camera’s self-timer) then standing just out of frame and throwing leaves above the children can create a much fuller-looking image.

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5. Water movement

It's a favoured technique year-round, but is arguably best done during the autumn months – especially when it comes to woodland streams and waterfalls – but why? Not only are water levels usually higher due to rainfall, but the surrounding woodland is vibrant. Boulders populating streams tend to have fallen leaves on, which make for ideal foreground interest, too. And as light levels are lower, longer exposures are more accessible.

Overcast days are best for shooting waterfalls and rivers as the lighting and contrast is soft. Getting very near to the water often proves to be the best viewpoint, so have a lens cloth handy to wipe away any splashes on the glass. If it’s fast-moving water, take extra care of yourself and kit as rocks by the water’s edge will be slippery and your tripod may not be as secure as you think it is.

Once you’ve found your stream or waterfall, all you need to decide is how you’re going to photograph it. Are you going to capture it authentically at 1/250sec or use filters to blur the movement, and by how much? Remember undercover, light levels will already be lower and a polarising filter reduces exposures by up to two stops, so you may find you don’t need an ND, or that a one/two-stop ND is sufficient for a half-second exposure and milky-looking water.

_For more advice and techniques to use this autumn, pick up the latest issue of Digital SLR Photography magazine – in stores now. _