12 Tips for Autumn Photography

It’s autumn again, and I thought I’d share some tips (and possibly inspiration) for your autumn photography.

I love autumn as a season when the trees turn gold. It just gives that magic atmosphere. Here in The Netherlands autumn is usually quite late, around the beginning or mid-November. But I already see the first signs of autumn happening. The colors in the forest change the latest usually, but the trees in between the houses that catch the most light are already turning yellow now.

But enough about the yellow leaves, here are some tips to photograph them.

1. Use a Longer Lens

Photographing trees and forests can be chaotic. Use a longer lens and focus on smaller parts to avoid a messy photo. It takes practice photographing the forest. Look for the ‘clean’ pieces in a forest and just casually and slowly move around looking through the viewfinder until you find your ‘little’ scenes.

Trees photographed with a longer lens to remove the chaos.

2. Paths and Lanes

Paths and lanes are great for autumn shots. The pavement makes an automatic leading line through the forest, and also adds great contrast between the monotone road and the very colorful trees on the sides.

A curvy bike lane through the forest.
A simple road making its way through the forest with lots of different autumn colours on an early morning.

3. Fog

Fog! I love photographing forests with fog. Shooting the autumn forests with a bit of a misty atmosphere can be surreal. As I said: forests can be chaotic and there is just so much going on in terms of composition. But fog separates all the different layers of trees and makes your life much easier. And it adds a mysterious dimension to your photo. For me, there are 2 kinds of fog in the forest: thick fog, and:

Thick fog in the forest with great colour contrast of popping orange autumn colours. I enhanced the color difference even more in post to make the orange colors really pop.

4. Light Rays

Light rays occur with clear skies and high humidity. So if you get these predictions during autumn, it’s party time. It usually happens in the early mornings but it can happen anytime. Keep a good eye on the weather. In my opinion, they’re most beautiful about 1-2 hours after sunrise, when the sun is still low on the horizon and the beams of light blast their way through the trees

Strong light beams making their way through the forest. By underexposing a little bit they became even more apparent.

5. Look at Smaller Scenes

Look at smaller scenes. This can be macro, or just a small scene very far away that can be captured with a 400mm lens for example. Think of a dark forest where just 1 beam of light is hitting 1 tree.

A little tree in a dark part of the forest, with just 1 ray of light perfectly hitting the tree. Shot at 400mm
Small scenes like this new life on a (sadly) burned tree can be beautiful.

6. Follow the Light

Autumn forests are incredible with their golden trees and golden light peaking through it. But the sun moves, so the light constantly changes. Every time new compositions pop up because of the changing of light, you have to act fast to get the shot, or it might be gone. Sometimes its almost like ‘dancing with the light.’ You come into a rhythm and move with the light through the forest. Forest photography is quite difficult that way, but extremely rewarding! On a beautiful morning in the forest, you can sometimes ‘harvest’ so many good portfolio shots.

Different parts and branches in the forest constantly light up creating new photo opportunities.

7. Get Creative with Sunstars

If you like sunstars, you can do some very cool stuff in the forest. By positioning the sun right next to a branch or a tree, you get these beautiful little stars by using a closed down aperture (f/14-f/22). You can get very creative with it. Note that the shape of your sunstar greatly depends on the lens. Kit lenses often don’t have ‘pretty’ sunstars, but other lenses really have beautiful sunstars. The shot above was taken with the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 lens for Sony E-mount.

By positioning the sun right in between these 2 trees, I shot a perfect sunstar at f/14.

8. Experiment with Wide Angle

While I love using mostly the telephoto in the forest, I sometimes experiment with extreme wide angles. By using a branch very close to the foreground, or even a mushroom, you can create a very creative effect.

Fetting extremely close to my foreground with a 12mm lens I create this ‘3d effect’ with a lot of depth in the image.

9. Try Looking Up

Sometimes shooting with a wide-angle lens and looking up to the sky and seeing the orange leaves making a frame with all of their interestingly shaped branches can create really creative results.

Sometimes looking up can create interesting creative results.

10. Create a Frame

By photographing through frames of leaves in the foreground, you can create very creative images with depth in them. Simply put your lens close to orange leaves in the foreground and focus on the backdrop. Experiment with it

By going very close to foreground branches and leave and shooting through it, you can create a nice autumn frame. Try it with different apertures to change depth of field.

11. Try Underexposing

When you get strong light in the forest, it’s often difficult to photograph. Try underexposing and focusing on interesting leaves or trees in the forest with a long lens. This way it almost looks like you’re using a flash. Most of your frame will be dark, but only the light hitting the part of the photo will be properly exposed.

A greatly underexposed image where almost everything of the image is dark, except where the light hits. It almost looks like I am using a flash, but its just natural light of the sun hitting parts of the forest.

12. Enjoy the Moment

Last but not least: Enjoy the moment. A beautiful moment in the forest can be overwhelming as a photographer. There are so many opportunities to completely lose yourself in. Take a moment of rest, breathe in the fresh air, and realize the beautiful moment you’re in!

Beautiful autumn colours in the forest.

Bonus Tip

In post-processing, I always add quite some local glow in parts of the picture. This creates the dreamy atmosphere I am often looking for in forest images.

I hope you enjoyed these tips. Feel free to check out more of my work and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

If you are interested in how Albert post-processes his photos, check out the new course he just released.

About the author: Albert Dros is an award-winning Dutch photographer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. His work has been published by some of the world’s biggest media channels, including TIME, The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, and National Geographic. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram.