A photographer's guide to capturing the passing beauty of autumn and fall

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Of all the seasons, fall is perhaps the most visually poetic. After their moment in the sun, the leaves surrender to their natural life cycle, recoiling into glorious shades of translucent brown and yellow as the monochrome palette of winter sets in.

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Photo by Dan Freeman

What follows is your fall photography cheat-sheet, with a range of expert tips and tricks for capturing the dramatic colours and textures of this stunning time of the year.

01. Stay golden

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Photo by Johannes Plenio

Golden hour for photographers—those elusive moments of sunlight at dawn and dusk—is talked about to the point of cliché. But it’s a stereotype for a reason. Unlike the harsh midday sun, sunrise and sunset render everything in a translucent, soft glow, giving way to texture, shadows and enhanced colours.

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Photo by Matthias Heil

This kind of light lends itself well to fall photography. When the sun is at a low position, it casts flattering sideways light on your subject: be that close ups of falling leaves, early morning mist, or a panorama of London plane trees framing the sunset.

02. Get creative with your subject matter

Perhaps the most common shot in fall photography is of a family, rugged up in scarfs and beanies, gleefully playing with fallen leaves. While this shot is great for editorial purposes, remember that stock photography sites require all kinds of fall shots, so don’t be afraid to veer away from the status quo with your subject matter.  

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Photo by AJ Gallagher

Look for striking details within a scene: the fine patterns of a single red leaf, a bare branch that’s losing its foliage, or even a misty river or lake with a wonderfully eerie atmosphere. 

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Photo by Sebastian Unrau

Similarly, panoramas or long shots can reveal dramatic, sweeping colors in the landscape all at once, contrasted as a stark blue sky.

03. Use natural framing and leading lines

Natural framing and leading lines are two of photography’s strongest compositional techniques. They are both simply about finding something in the shot which provides an existing frame for your subject, drawing the viewers’ eyes inwards, toward the central focus of the shot, and adding a layer of complexity beyond a static landscape shot.

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Photo by Hanson Lu

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Photo by David Kovalenko

Fall provides a plethora of natural framing options—the most obvious being branches tree trunks and leaves, but this could also extend to a doorway, train tracks or a winding road.

04. Use a circular polarizer

Polarization filters are essentially a piece of specially adapted glass that, when turned at an angle to a light source, will reduce glare from reflected surfaces. Whether you are shooting close up shots in the woods or wide angles of a scenic vista, a circular polarizer can be your best friend when it comes to fall photography.

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Photo by Dawid Zawila

Among its many benefits, the filter will enhance contrast and colors (including the brightness of the blue sky on clear days) and remove unwanted glare from rain and wet days. In addition, it allows you to use a slightly slower shutter speed, which is ideal when photographing rivers and streams.

05. Add some motion

Without doubt, one of the most spectacular things about fall is the leaves reaching maturity and gently tumbling southwards, making way for new growth. If you can capture subtle movement as a photographer, your pictures take on a living, breathing quality that make them far more evocative for the viewer.

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Photo by Jakob Owens

The best way to do this is to use a slower shutter speed. Heading to a local park or hiking trail on a windy day, find a tree with some pretty foliage, set up your gear and wait for the right moment to capture the natural motion of the outdoors.

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Photo by Erico Marcelino

Fall is often heralded in magazines and catalogues, offering a visual cue to stock up on winter woollies and cosy household items. Naturally, this transitional season provides a wellspring of great content for stock and commercial photographers.