Beginner's Tips for Fall Shooting
by Chris Gampat -  10/6/2010

Now that summer is gone, it's time to put on sweaters, coats and that camera strap around your neck. Fall is the season when nature gives us a new palette of warm colors to experiment and play around with. Here are some tips for beginners on how to shoot great fall photos.

Fall Photo

Look for Interesting Shapes Made With Leaves
When a leaf falls from a tree, it makes it's own little journey. Perhaps the wind has picked up a bunch of them and placed them down in another location. The leaves sometimes create unique and interesting patterns to look at from the right angle and perspective. What may seem ordinary to one person on the ground may look much different to someone higher up in a tree or a tall building at work like an office tower. Whether you're getting a bird's eye view or even getting down low to the ground you'll eventually find an interesting way to photograph leaves carried around by natural events.

For some additional help, think of the same concept as looking for shapes in clouds applied to the fallen leaves. After some time and releasing your inner child, you'll begin to find that the two really are synonymous. This is best done in places where there are lots of trees and a generous amount of space for the leaves to gather. Immediately, a park comes to mind. If there are bodies of water around, pay attention to the reflections that the trees may project. In this case, meter for the shadows and fix the images in post production.

Fall Photo

In order to really get your mind thinking about composition, use a prime lens (or a couple of them). Primes typically deliver the best image quality as well as force the photographer to be extra careful about how the photo is taken due to the restricted fixed focal length. When I use a prime, I find myself experimenting a lot more with how to get the image as opposed to when I have a zoom lens on my camera. To be fair, many of the better quality modern zoom lenses can hold their own with some primes.

For the best results: shoot wide. Get high, get low, but shoot wide. You'll be able to get the most out of your images that way and will have less restrictions put on you that a telephoto lens will.

Because you're also essentially shooting landscapes the single focus setting would be most desired on your camera as opposed to continuous focus. You will also be best served by manual selection of your favorite auto focus point based on composition of the image. This is where CILCs (Compact Interchangeable Lens Cameras) come in handy as they allow faster selection of the focusing point due to the fully adjustable focusing bracket. Cameras like the Panasonic G2 have touch control that allows you to simply tap where you'd like to focus.

Take Notice of the Colors
Reds, oranges, browns, yellows: these are the colors that traditionally dominate the fall. If you can, use this tip cumulatively and combine this with the unique shape idea. For example, one tree may be many different colors. In New York City, there are usually oaks and elms with yellow, red and brown leaves often on the same branch. When the leaves fall, someone usually comes around and rakes them up. These piles contain a wealth of colors stacked up next to one another.

Besides the leaves though, fall is characterized by a plethora of colors elsewhere. Farmers markets may have decorations as fall is traditionally the season to celebrate the harvest. Restaurants, cafes and stores also tend to dress themselves appropriately for the season and put lots of thought into their decorations.

Fall Photo

To take full advantage of these colors, you'll perhaps want to carry around a DSLR rather than a point-and-shoot. The exception to this rule is something with a larger sensor like the Sigma DP2s that delivers extremely rich colors. So why choose a DSLR over a point-and-shoot? It's a given that DSLRs usually have a much broader dynamic range of colors. Because fall has so many of them, you'll want to capture each one the best you possibly can.

Further, you may also want to set your camera's shooting mode to Vivid unless you've got special custom settings. My 7D and 5D MK II have the contrast boosted up a healthy amount and the sharpness increased a bit as well.

And as always, shoot in RAW and process in your editing software of choice. For fun, if your camera has art filters, take a look at what the results will be like with a cross process or dramatic tonal mode.

Don't Forget the Holidays
Halloween, Thanksgiving, and loads of different religious holidays all take place during fall. Typically, they all involve lots of unique and interesting defining characteristics. For example, Halloween will have lots of jack-o-lanterns and Thanksgiving will have various types of corn displayed around. These little items come to remind us of the fall holidays.

Fall Photo

Documenting the holiday festivities can be done in many different ways. If you're a prime lens shooter, the standard 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses will be more than sufficient to cover the grounds. Similar zoom lenses will also suffice. In the case of documenting something like a Halloween parade, you may perhaps be better off shooting with a zoom lens.

These focal lengths can help the user to create tight and intimate photos or environmental portraits and landscapes. Faster apertures are also encouraged as many of these holidays do have festivities that traditionally take place during the nighttime. Additionally, a camera with great high ISO capabilities is also recommended. If you have an off-camera flash, bring that along with a diffuser and power the flash output down a bit. While shooting, try to go for a tiny bit of overexposure combined with the flash in order to allow more ambient light to balance the photo a bit better.

Take a Photo Of The Animals
This is fall - it is the season of squirrels storing food all around, dogs sporting the latest fashion trends in sweaters, and animals getting ready to hibernate. Domesticated animals also love to have fun with all the leaves that have fallen. Take any pile of raked leaves and introduce a dog to it; you'll see them perhaps go crashing into it simply for pure fun.

Fall Photo

This is where zooms may actually have a key advantage due to certain animals getting startled as humans get closer to them. With domesticated animals like dogs, get down on your knees and shoot wide. Additionally, get as close as you can and choose an angle that shows off that lovely fleece the pooch may be sporting.

Enjoy Yourself
While shooting fall photos, the most important factors to remember are to have fun and look for the natural beauty that we let pass us by each day. When you're having fun and your creative juices are flowing, your photos will show it. And one final tip - bundle up! That goes for your camera as well; make sure it can handle the unusually cold weather we're having this fall.