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A Photography Guide to Autumn

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

It's finally here, that wonderful time of year that photographers the world over look forward too.

Why is autumn so special to a photographer ? Well, it brings so much with it, beautiful changing colours on the leaves of trees, unpredictable conditions, chances of mist, rainbows etc....

Autumn forest dream, landscape photography
F16, ISO 50, 1/2 a second 24mm

Why Photograph Autumn ?

On the flip side autumn can be a total wash out and ruin all chances of decent images so it's a tricky time.

For me however, with a bit of careful planning and a little bit of luck with the elements it's the chance to get some really special images.

I for one put so much faith in the autumn months that I actually save most of my years holiday for these months so I can make the most of the wonderful colours and mood that nature has to offer.

In fact i have trips booked to Wales, Scotland & of course England over the next two months.

So what should you shoot in autumn and where ?

For me the main lure is the colours of the trees, these striking shades of gold & crimson are enough to set any pulse racing and even for non photographers they can instantly relate to an image of autumn.

The great thing about this is the fact that it's pretty much available to everyone no matter where you live in the UK.

Everywhere has areas of trees, even in the largest of cities so theres a very strong chance that you will be able to find nice colours right on your door step, you don't need to travel miles and miles for this.

That said certain areas are more spectacular than others.

autumn pictures, light
F16, ISO 50, 0.5 Seconds, 105 mm

Just simply shooting a handful of colourful trees though isn't enough, how can you combine other elements to make these especially effective ?

Light, ok so your tired of me banging on about light but it's amazing how many people don't use this to their advantage and incorporate it into a shot.

Trees with golden leaves look lovely as they are, but when they are bathed in the warm golden glow of the golden hour then they become magical and pop for want of a better word and it's well worth waiting it out for that right moment for the trees to be at their best and glowing.

Getting up high and looking down on trees is a great way to capture their beauty as the light sweeps across them and an otherwise dull landscape can come alive due to colours and light and once again is instantly identified with your viewer.

corfe castle mist, autumn corfe castle
F18, ISO 50, 0.5 Seconds, 237 mm

So what else is available in autumn, with the constantly changing temperatures and potential wet weather there is a good chance of some early morning mist.

So what actually causes mist and what should you look out for to give you the best chance ? Where does it form and when ?

Mist is essentially small droplets of water suspended a short distance from the ground and its caused by warm moist air reaching rapidly cooling air.

Mist in Autumn

When you have an area that has a water source then mist is most likely to form, a river for example or lake running through a valley is almost a dead cert for mist when conditions are right.

Fields that hold a lot of moisture also have tremendous potential to produce the goods and give us the conditions we all crave.

So should you go by the weather forecast ? Or trust your own decision ?

The weather forecast really doesn't do to well with mist I've found, it hardly ever lists it and when it does it usually means fog which just isn't the same thing.

Dorset Mist, Autumn Mist, Mist
F16, ISO 50, 1 Second, 400 mm

I tend to look out for recent rain followed by a clear evening and morning and a large drop in temperature, and a wind speed of 3 or less. This for me has been a far more accurate way of getting it right rather than the forecast.

It does however depend on the location, Mist can be in a small pocket or spread over a wide are and only effort and time will tell you these places, but if you ever see it in an area when nothing else around you has any then you can be sure it's a fairly good bet for the future and worth knowing.

Mist is best shot from up high in my opinion as you can look down and show it as a blanket that covers a wide area but with any luck there will be a few trees or hills or even buildings poking through it to give you some really interesting features to go at.

If you can find yourself a valley that you can get to the top of and look down then this will give you a great chance of an epic shot as the valley itself will hold mist.

Not only will a valley act as a natural pocket for the mist but it will also offer some cover from mist's arch enemy, the wind.

Dorset Mist
F16, ISO 50, 1/8 Second, 70 mm

The sun will burn mist off quickly so you will need to work fast and have your shot ideas ready to go before you start shooting.

Once the sun comes up it can kill light mist very fast and even fairly dense thick mist can go within 10-30 minutes.

How To Photograph Mist

Up high offers great chances for big sweeping views covered in a blanket of mist but inside the forest under the canopy offers the chance of light rays from the sun streaking through the moist air and making beautiful atmospheric shots which happen to be a favourite and something I will actively chase more this year.

The forest areas tend to hold a lot of moisture and of course are very well shielded from the wind but try and stay away from dense canopies where the light can't get through, instead stay near the edge of the forest where cover is slightly less and light has a better chance of coming through.

The added bonus of the sunlight giving the tree trunks a Golden glow can be really breath taking but again don't be afraid to shoot into the light as it will give you a real moody shot full of atmosphere, essentially what autumn is all about.

Mist, Autumn Forest, Autumn Photography
F16, ISO 50, 1/2 a second 35mm

Best Trees for Autumn Colour

It really helps to know your trees as well as going to a forest full of evergreens and expecting colour is borderline suicide ! So think first, where has trees that have good changing colour, variety etc...

Great trees for autumn are Japanese Maples, Japanese Mahonia (Don't worry, plenty in the UK), Beech Trees, Maidenhair, Poplar, Cherry & Oak.

These can all be found in the UK, and with a small bit of Googling you will quickly be able to identify all of them (yes,you actually have to look, I'm not going to give it to you for free today !)

Being a total nature geek has its plus points and fortunately I know a lot of areas where these trees happen to grow although some of them are more of an ornamental type tree (big hint there for those that know !) But they can all be found along the whole of the UK, so keep a look out on your daily travels as you might find some good hot spots for the coming fall.

Autumn pictures, Autumn photography blog
F16, ISO 50, 1 Second, 200 mm

Although I'm VERY guilty of this don't ignore the leaves on the ground, they can make some fantastic foregrounds and its something I want to try and do more of this year having neglected it for many years and without doubt I have missed some good shot potential as I stuck too much to the tried and tested methods that had worked for me.

I took great delight in using these leaves as foreground on several waterfall shoots last year and they really helped give depth to the images.

Amazing waterfall, welsh waterfall
F16, ISO 50, 20 Seconds, 16 mm

Waterfalls in Autumn

Speaking of waterfalls, they are about to get flowing again, couple this with beautiful golden colours all around and a real treat of a shot will await you.

Dorset doesn't have that many waterfalls but there are some, especially a well suited autumn location that you will no doubt see hundreds of pictures of as soon as someone puts it up this year.

Trips a little further can yield big results though, for example a trip to Neath in Wales will see around 20 waterfalls in a very close space, and all of them pretty spectacular and you can see a few in my blog guide to Waterfall County

The chance of a really special sunrise or sunset is a huge possibility in autumn as the clouds tend to be on a constant battle between going clear and big think heavy clouds allowing light to poke through and really punch up those colours. It also gives the surrounding foliage a lovely tone as it bounces off it so don't ignore old ferns and bracken that have changed to a red brown colour as the light looks great on them.

Amazing sunset, autumn sunrise
F11, ISO 50, 1 Second, 16 mm

Autumn Picture Post Processing

Processing can take on a few changes in autumn too, backing off the clarity slider and leaving more shadows in the image can really pay dividends. It provides a much more dreamy image and captures a mood far better than these awful shots that have had the life thrashed out of them and lost all contrast, so treat your autumn images with care and remember less is more in this case.

Be prepared to be out in some pretty changeable weather, take good waterproofs with you as changeable weather can give you the best shots.

Don't always head back to the car at the first drop of rain, a weather front can pass just as quickly as it started and waiting it out might just give you that dramatic rainbow shot or breaking light that makes your entire trip.

Another reason autumn is such a favourite is that the tourism has started to die off giving you a much more peaceful shoot which lets face it, is always a good thing !

Autumn will be having my full attention this year and I hope to be able to bring you some nice images for future blogs and I hope you all have a fantastic autumn too, I look forward to seeing your shots.

As always, Happy shooting.

Daniel Wretham

Snowdonia mist, snowdonia Autumn
F16, ISO 50, 2 Seconds 138 mm

F16, ISO 50, 1 Second, 24 mm

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