Tips for Shooting Autumn Foliage


If you’re thinking of focusing a photography vacation around the colours of autumn, or just want to spend a day or two in pursuit of the season’s hues, we have some great tips from nature photographer Rod Planck. Read on…


Not all things need be, or should be, photographed in bright sun. In autumn, sunlight is desirable only early and late, when it’s essentially sidelighting. “An overcast day is best—first, because you can shoot all day long, and second because the light is soft and even.” Why is this preferable? This season’s colours are saturated colours, and they contrast nicely with a grey day. But remember to avoid expanses of uninteresting white sky. What’s often best is cloud cover illuminated by sunlight.

Image ©Rod Planck
D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
1/250 second, f/16, ISO 560, aperture priority, Matrix metering


Rod uses matrix metering for everything, regardless of sunshine or clouds, then checks the histogram to make sure no highlights are being clipped. “I’ll check the LCD to see what I’m getting and dial in some exposure compensation if I need to increase or decrease saturation.” Another exposure setting tip: “Cloud cover will give you less light, and because you’re photographing landscapes, generally you won’t want to sacrifice depth of field by opening up the aperture, so I suggest pushing the ISO to keep your depth of field at a good setting while maintaining a high shutter speed if you’re hand-holding the camera.”


Rod recommends using a tripod. “I use a tripod for everything, so shutter speed isn’t usually an issue. If it’s calm weather, I’ll shoot at the lowest ISO setting and not really care how long the exposure is.”


Height will give you a sense of the expanse of an area and the colour. Rod often seeks elevations that give him a straight-on view of the colour array, as in the photo below, for which he was up high enough to look straight into central portions of the trees. “I take advantage of anything I can—a stump, rocks, hills. I’ve stood in the back of a pickup truck.” Don’t forget to look down too. “Late in autumn, the forest floor is as colourful as the treetops were,” Rod says.


Streams, creeks, ponds and rivers can become magical in the fall. When the leaves are turning, the spot you’d just pass by at any other time of the year becomes a great photo location as water gives you reflections, contrast and, with long exposures, texture.

Images ©Rod Planck Images ©Rod Planck
Images ©Rod Planck
Left image: D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED
1/10 second, f/16, ISO 400, aperture priority, Matrix metering.
Right image: D300, PC-E Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D
0.8 seconds, f/16, ISO 200, aperture priority, Matrix metering.


Rod’s an advocate of the “power of longer lenses”. All the photos here were taken with PC-E Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II and AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED.

Fog and Mist

They can soften and mute colours, but they add mood, atmosphere, even mystery. In the below image: “The trees were just starting to get some sunlight, and I focused the camera on the foreground reflections, which are still in the shade, so the mist is a different colour temperature, and the bottoms of the trees are still in shadow.”

Image ©Rod Planck
Image ©Rod Planck
D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
1/6 second, f/16, ISO 400, aperture priority, Matrix metering.


Consider some close-ups that are related to autumn, but not to the season’s bright colours, like the image of mushrooms growing on the side of a tree, or the photo of a milkweed seed pod with seeds being dispersed by the wind.

Images ©Rod Planck Images ©Rod Planck
Images ©Rod Planck
Left image: D3S, PC-E Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D
1/2 second, f/22, ISO 280, aperture priority, Matrix metering.

Right image: D300, AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED
1/5 second, f/16, ISO 400, aperture priority, Matrix metering.

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  1. Adrian Coman

    Great,great photos !

  2. Jack

    These images are simply amazing. The control implemented on the exposure created some impressive effects. The first images in the series shows an amount of depth that I really strive for in photographs. Plus the colors are just stunning. Thanks for sharing. One day I hope to create just as wonderful images with my digital cameras.