Tips for Taking Better Autumn Photographs

by Dr. Robert Berdan
October 14, 2013


Red maple leaves by Robert Berdan ©


Red maple leaves, bearberry and dwarf birch turn brilliant red in Autumn and no other color attracts our attention better.

Photo above shows red maple leaves photographed in October in Northern Ontario.



Sumac leaves in Northern turn Ontario turn brilliant red in Autumn (70-200 mm lens)



Colourful maple leaves from Ontario by Robert Berdan ©


Maple leaves in Ontario (70-200 mm lens) - I find the changing colour uplifting.


What's so special about Autumn? From a photographer point of view one word - Color. In many parts of North America the leaves turn red and gold and there is something uplifting about this change in color. As a photographer I get down right excited and no matter how busy I am I try to make time to get out and take some photographs even if its only in my neighbour hood. There are a few things you can do to improve your fall color photographs which I will share in this article. The good news is if you live south of Calgary you still have time to take photographs this year. This weekend while writing this short article I am celebrating Thanksgiving. In most years the leaves have either fallen or have been blown off by now - but this year we have an extended Fall for which I am grateful.


Colourful trees in Autumn in Silver Springs Calgary by Robert Berdan ©


The photo above is from the end of my driveway in Silver Springs, Calgary. The red and yellow leaves caught my eye as I drove into the driveway so I grabbed my camera and took this shot from my car window.


The past two weeks I have taken clients out to Kananaskis to photograph landscapes, wildlife and fall colours on Sunday mornings around sunrise. Usually it's the 3rd week in September that features the best fall colours, but not this year. One of my favorite locations is Wedge Pond in Kananaskis at sunrise. I visited Wedge Pond on Sunday Sept. 21 and 29 because I had clients schedule photo instruction. Unfortunately it was too early for fall colours this year and the weather was not very cooperative on the 21 or 29th, instead it rained and snowed. Even so we were able to capture a few interesting photos and the take home lesson is - even if conditions are not perfect get out and shoot anyway. Force yourself to really look for something to take a picture of - its good practice and you never what you might bring home. With digital photography if the image doesn't turn out you can delete it and the only cost is your time. Sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised at the images you captured. Sometimes small intimate scenes can make for some beautiful images.



Wedge pond in Kananaskis is one of my favorite locations for photographing in Autumn with the 3-4th week in September being the best time. The photo above was taken shortly after sunrise with a 12-24 mm lens - several shots stitched together to create a panorama.



Wedge Pond with Aspens reflection off the water. This photograph was taken in a previous season - 3rd week in September.




TIPS for taking Better Autumn Photographs


1. Leaves often look best in sidelight or backlighting

2. A dark cloudy sky can enhance the mood in the picture and add contrast to an autumn scene

3. Use a polarizer to reduce reflections off the leaves and boost colour saturation even on overcast days or after rainfall

4. If the light is overcast crop the sky out of the picture also overcast light can be very effective in some photos

5. Use a zoom lens to get closeup photos of colourful leaves - my favorite lens is a 70-200 mm lens.

6. Not all autumn scenes have to be full of colour - take some photos of scenes with shades of brown

7. Look for colours reflected in water such as streams and ponds

8. A fresh snowfall can make any Autumn scene more interesting

9. Use your telephoto lens to extract images and take closeup images

10. Seek out wildlife they often look their best in their autumn fur coats.



Yellow aspens by poind in autumn in Bearspaw region of Calgary, by Robert Berdan ©


Overcast day - aspens around a pond in Bearspaw north of Calgary (70-200 mm lens).



Aspens reflected in pond by Robert Berdan ©


Aspens reflected in a quiet pond near Water valley, AB (70-200 mm lens)


Abstract reflections of trees in pond, reversed image by Robert Berdan  


Abstract - this photo is upside down and consists of trees reflecting off a muskrat pond near Bottrel, Alberta. .



North of Cochrane there are many fields filled with shrubs and aspens - in this image I used a 70-200 mm lens to capture
the side lit trees.



A hornet nest against a backdrop of golden aspen leaves in Bearspaw. (70-200 mm lens).



View of the Rocky mountains from highway 1A in Bearspaw. Not all autumn photos have to have brilliant colours.



Colours can be subtle. Look for mirror reflections in the calm waters of shallow ponds and lakes.



Cone mountain in Kananaskis after a fresh snowfall in September.



Fresh snow covering some of the shrubs and trees near Engadine lodge in Kananaskis.



Aspens growing along a cliff near the Widow maker, a popular spot to launch kayaks and rubber rafts from in Kananaskis.




Dwarf birch and old fence photographed in Bearspaw, north of Calgary about 15 minutes from my home. (70-200 mm lens)



Pure chaos of colour and texture. This image was taken with my Nikon D800 camera and the image needs to be big to appreciate all the fine detail. One thing I like about the D800 is that it captures so much detail it reminds me of when I used to photograph with a 4 x 5 camera. Each blade of grass and leaf is clearly visible. Unfortunately the small images on the web just don't do these type of images justice.



white-tailed deer in Kananaskis alongside the road lit up by a patch of light coming through the forest.



Pika gathering food for winter - The Rock slide in Kananaskis near the highwood pass. 300 mm lens.



Mallards on pond in Bearspaw (70-200 mm lens).




A single aspen tree along shore of Upper Kananaskis lake (14-24 mm lens on tripod, f/11 and polarizer)



Spillway lake in the morning, September 21 - colours were just starting to appear along the shoreline.



Aspens in the foothills off Grande Valley Road north west of Calgary. In this low resolution photo you can't really see the details in the grass, but in an enlargement each blade of grass reflects the backlight.



Field of Aspens off Grande Valley road (70-200 mm lens.



Kananaskis from highway 22 - using a 70-200 mm lens. Velvia slide film ISO 50.




Branches covered in rain drops with colourful leaves in the background. Bowness Park, 70-200 mm lens.



Fresh snow on mountain side in Kananaskis by Robert Berdan


Fresh snowfall on aspens in Kananaskis


Aspens in autumn near Boundry Ranch in Kananaskis by Robert Berdan


Aspens near Boundry Ranch in Kananaskis.



In Summary


Autumn is the most colourful time of year and for this reason its my favorite time to take nature photographs. In the north Autumn colours can last from 1-6 weeks depending on the weather. One way you can prolong shooting in Autumn is to travel north and then slowly drive south and follow the changing colours. In Alaska and parts of Northern Canada the tundra starts to turn color around mid August and travels about 100 km south each day. Of course there is variability from year to year. For the past few years I have been driving north to Yellowknife at the end of August and when I arrive the leaves are just beginning to change colour. About a week later fly north to a remote lodge on Point Lake to lead a photo workshop every fall (see previous article) and there is often a rapid transition in colour visible on the tundra about 100 km north of Yellowknife we can see from our plane. After a week on the tundra I return to Yellowknife where autumn colours are usually in full swing and then I drive 1800 km south to Calgary where colours are just begging to change around mid September. If I had the time, it would be nice to follow the wave of colour even further south into the US. But whereever you live, if you love to take pictures do take advantage of the colour changes while you can. If you plan on visiting a particular region of the country to take fall pictures you can check out some of the fall foliage web sites or contact someone living in the area and ask them. I would be happy to answer anyone's e-mail questions if you plan on coming to Alberta in regard to the changes in fall foliage for next year. Generally the best time for fall colours in Alberta and the Canadian Rockies is from the 2nd week in September to 2nd week in October, but the weather can be unpredictable as is the intensity of the colours that appear from year to year. Still if you can take out your cameras before you miss this brief opportunity. RB





LInks to Additional Resources

Pick up your free copy of BRAGG about the Creek Magazine or visit their web site

The cover photo is my image of Wedge Pond and I have two photo-articles in the Autumn Issue.



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