Photography of New England Fall Foliage Tours & Other Scenes

Tips and Techniques for Photographing Colorful Trees and Leaves

by Kerry Drager

Maine Reflections
Maine Reflections
© Alan L. Borror
All Rights Reserved

Working in Beautiful Sunlight

Whenever possible, dedicated outdoor photographers stay away from sunny middays - due to the sunlight-vs.-shadow contrast. At the beginning and end of the day, warm light is the attraction - which can really make warm autumn colors glow. Here's more:

Late afternoon: The stirring up of particles and pollutants in the air throughout the day can add a natural "filter" to boost the colors.

Early morning: During and just after daybreak, the atmosphere can be crisp, clear and calm, the latter offering possibilities for mirror-smooth water reflections. In early morning, you'll also find fewer tourists walking into your scene.


Angles of sunlight: Whenever the sun sits low in the sky, a subject will be either frontlit (sun at your back and hitting the scene straight-on), sidelit (sun coming from your right or left, and striking the scene at the side), or backlit (you're facing the sun, with the light hitting the back of the subject). Fall leaves in particular often turn translucent - thus, really popping with color - when backlit.

Fall in Vermont
Fall in Vermont
© Marsha S. Smith
All Rights Reserved

Beautiful Natural Light Also Means Overcast

A solid overcast sky produces wonderfully soft and even light. It’s just the thing for making autumn colors and details come alive. Despite the benefits, though, there also can be drawbacks.

A featureless white sky often poses an exposure - and compositional -challenge: Quite simply, the glaring brightness can overwhelm all the other elements in a scene. The best solution when dealing with an empty white canopy:

Avoid grand landscapes and, instead, narrow your focus to smaller scenes and detail shots that aren't dependent on a strong sky. Then try one of the following options:

  • Minimize the amount of the blank sky - say, by obscuring much of it with trees.

  • Leave that sky out of the frame entirely.


New Hampshire Color
New Hampshire Color
© Paula Lechten
All Rights Reserved

For More Saturated Colors, Try a Polarizer

The polarizing filter is best known for its ability to deepen a pale blue sky. But just as important, this filter also can beef up colors on many surfaces ... by removing unwanted glare or distracting reflections from foliage, water, windows, painted objects, wet rocks, etc.

And the polarizer works its visual magic on overcast days, too! (Note: It will not affect an all-gray or an all-white sky.) With an SLR camera, you can preview the polarizer's effects – if any – in the viewfinder. Simply turn the filter in its rotating mount and see for yourself.

Such previewing helps you determine how much – or how little – polarization you might want. In fact, you may decide you don't want any polarization at all.

Here's a "rule": If you aren't absolutely positive whether the polarizer will help your picture, then shoot the exact same scene (with the same composition) both with and without the extra glass. After all, there's nothing like comparison!


Photography Resources for New England Fall Foliage Tours

BetterPhoto Gallery:
- New England Fall Foliage Tours and Other Autumn Pictures

How-To Articles:
- Photographing Details: Developing Your Close-up Vision
- Developing Your Photography: Find Your Focus!

BetterPhoto Online Courses:
- The Digital Landscape
- Mastering Macro Photography
- The Four Essential Filters for Film and Digital Cameras
- The Business of Outdoor and Nature Photography
- Photographing Details and Close-ups



About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
The content manager and course advisor for BetterPhoto.com, Kerry Drager is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography (2011) and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (2012). In addition, he teaches photography online at BetterPhoto's digital photography school.

Be sure to check out Kerry's Pro BetterPholio website - www.kerrydrager.com.

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.