October 27, 2022

Capturing the colors of autumn

Over the last month, the above-average temperatures have provided plenty of opportunity to get out and see the beauty of the autumn colors in Minnesota. Shots from the North Shore in mid-October showed the vibrant, vivid hues. Among other spots, Lutsen Mountains gleamed with reds, oranges, and yellows, and views from the gondolas had to have been breathtaking.

It’s right out your own back door.

Even if you couldn’t get “up north,” the Twin Cities displayed a similar seasonal palette. While most of the metro was expected to peak later during the week of October 10th, the chilled overnights and sunshine-filled days have provided an additional opportunity to enjoy the sights autumn has to offer. It’s also provided more opportunities to get out and capture those colors of autumn.

One of the great things about photography in the autumn is there usually are plenty of opportunities to get out and get some shots in. Whether finding a nearby park, taking a walk in the woods, or exploring your own neighborhood, you’re almost guaranteed to garner a few “keepers.” Over the past month, I’ve visited several locations close by that provided some great scenes for capturing photos without even having to drive too far!

Tips for capturing the colors

Here are some things to consider when heading out to capture the colors.

Watch the light

It’s convenient and easy to grab your camera and head out in the middle of the day, but it can also be some of the harshest and most challenging light to control. Go early or go late. Check out the sunrise and sunset times in your area. My favorite time to catch the fall colors starts about 30-45 minutes before “golden hour” until the sun has set. You can get a great variety of shots during this period of time; you need to be patient. There is a great app for iOS called Lumy that has pertinent info for photographers like sunrise, sunset, the golden hour (both morning and evening), last night, and more. And it can be installed on the Apple Watch, so the info is right where you need it.

This image was shot about 75 minutes before sunset and with the sun behind me.

Shoot in RAW for more flexibility

I don’t always shoot in RAW, but when I do, it’s for things like capturing landscapes or autumn colors. When I am shooting sports, I usually shoot in JPG since I could be shooting 1,000 pictures or more during a game. JPG generates smaller files, and I also spend less time during post-processing, but this also means trying to get it right “in camera” the first time. When I’m out shooting landscapes and have more time, I can spend more time getting it right, but shooting RAW also provides me the flexibility to make changes in post, particularly around the white balance of a scene. Since RAW captures more detail around the image, it can also afford you some creative latitude regarding how you process your final images. Keep in mind this comes at the cost of larger files, sometimes 2-3 times larger.

White balance variation in the skies gives you control over the mood you want to portray in your photo.

Shoot wide, but bring the telephoto

Capturing the autumn colors means capturing the scene and the associated landscape, usually in the 10 or 12-24mm range. But this scene doesn’t always have to be right before you. Strap on your telephoto lens (a 70-200 or 100-400 work great for this) and check out the colorful trees in the distance, perhaps on a hillside. Look for the layers. The compression that a telephoto lens provides will accentuate those different layers or elevations and give the perception that they are larger and closer together than they really are. It’s just a different way to see what might as well have been another landscape photo.

Sony 24-105/f4 lens, shot at 82mm (f/11).

Stabilize and Bracket-ize

Is that even a word? Hauling a tripod isn’t always fun, but if you have a travel tripod or maybe if you don’t mind strapping it onto your bag, bring it with you. This is especially important if you need to shoot at a slower shutter speed to let more light in. You want that stabilization to prevent any opportunity for blur. I also like to use bracketing when taking my landscape photos. Bracketing is how a camera can capture the same scene using different settings. For example, I could set up my camera to take a five-shot bracket where the exposure is captured with the metering at 0, but also at +0.3, +0.7, -0.3, and -0.7. That gives me five different photos, and then I can use Photoshop or Lightroom to bring them together. If you’re bracketing, you want that scene to be exactly the same to make the stitching process more seamless; that’s where a tripod comes in handy with bracket photography.

Take a moment to enjoy it.

It’s easy to get caught up in taking pictures and worrying about all the technical aspects of getting the right shot. But remember to take the time and enjoy where you’re at and what you’re doing – you’re outside! Maybe you’re enjoying “alone time”! Slow down, look around, listen to the sounds of everything around you, and take it all in. Most of all, have fun.