Photographing Autumn Colours in Georgian Bay & Muskoka

by Dr. Robert Berdan
October 18, 2016

Oxtongue river Ontario in autumn by Robert Berdan ©

Oxtongue River next to Algonquin Park, Ontario in Autumn

There are several challenges when photographing fall colours 1) you need to be in the right place a the right time for the best colours and 2) the light needs to be good. The best leaf colours can vary with the weather and may be one or two weeks early or late so if possible its best to check before you head out, but if you need to fly and make reservations that is not always the most economical option. I went to vis my parents in Ontario between October 5 and 13 this year. They live about 100 km north of Toronto in Penetanguishene. The colours had just begun when I arrived there were small coloured tree patches here and there. Even when I left the peak had not yet arrived in Penetang, but a short drive north to Muskoka on Thanksgiving and there the colours were nearing the peak. The other thing I like to photograph in October is at Farmers markets where they often display pumpkins and a wide variety of other vegetables.

vegetable display in Perkinsfield, Ontario by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Paul Desroches vegetable display in Perkinsfield, Ontario.

vegetable display in Perkinsfield, Ontario by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Paul Desroches vegetable display in Perkinsfield, Ontario.

Unusual vegetable by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Unusual vegetable - looks like a weird pumpkin

Timing is something you can check on some web sites e.g. the Fall colour progression report on Ontario - Download PDF for 2016.

Bright red sumac leaves - Midland Point by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Bright red sumac leaves - Midland Point

Some things you should bring with you when photographing fall colours are: 1) tripod 2) wide angle lens 3) short telephoto lens e.g. 70-200 mm 4) a polarizer for the wide angle lens and 5) for closeups a macro lens. Note the polarizer works really well to increase colour saturation on overcast days. While its possible to take good photos on both sunny and overcast days, I prefer to photograph in the forest when it's overcast to avoid harsh shadows.

Fall colours in Georgian Bay by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Along the road going to camp Simpresca on Midland Point - there were wild grapes and sumac trees with bright red leaves.

Close to home in Penetang, I would go out for short drives with my father around Midland Point, and I particularly liked to go up the road to Camp Simpresca. I was a camp counsellor here once for two weeks and I remember sleeping in a tent and at about 5 am in the morning I remember hearing a a weird bird call, I now know was a wood cock. I believe the camp is only open in summer, but you can head up the road until you get to the gate. There is some beautiful forest on this road and apparently someone also has a deer pen with Red Deer from New Zealand I am told. I took some pictures of the deer which clearly isn't a white tail or mule deer.

Red Deer by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

New Zealand Red Deer in fenced area on the road to camp Simpresca - Midland Point. 70-200 mm lens.

Red leaves of the sumac in autumn by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Red leaves of the Sumac tree with back-light

While I was visiting on Saturday, October 8 I gave a presentation at the Midland Wye Marsh Wildlife centre and had a small group turn out. Afterwards we walked out on the board to take some photos. I was attracted to a small green bush that was growing on the walls. I pulled out my macro and took a few shots (see below). We walked in the marsh around noon so the light was bright and high in contrast, but I got to meet some nice folks from the Orillia camera club and others that came out. Also photographed a few birds that hang out around the centre.

Wye marsh - seedlings by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Wye marsh - seedlings of some crawling plant I have yet to identify.

On Thanks giving Oct 17, 2016 my father and I headed up to Muskoka at 6 am in hopes of getting some better fall colours. It was below freezing that morning and we could see frost on the grass. We drove up highway 400 and turned right on highway 141. Most of the drive up the 400 was in the dark. We drove to Huntsville, had a quick breakfast at Tim Horton's and headed down highway 60 to the Oxtongue River Ragged Falls Provincial Park. Along the way we stopped several times to photograph the mist coming off the lakes.

Fall colours in Muskoka by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Next to Algonquin Outfitters road off highway 60 - early morning. Note frost on the trees and a slight amount of fog. I used a wide angle 20-35 mm lens for this shot with a polarizer and a very high ISO speed (800).

Fall coloours in Muskoka by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

In the photo above I used a 70-200 mm lens at 200 to extract a portion of the picture from that shown above this one to bring in the trees for a tighter framing.

Oxtongue River Provincial Park by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Oxtongue River Provincial Park - note the photographer on the right side of the picture.

When we reached the Oxtongue River in the early morning and there were already about a dozen photographers in place. This river was also a favourite place to visit for the Group of Seven painters. I had been to the Oxtongue river several times before and new what to expect, but each time I have been there the light has been different.

Oxtongue river Ontario by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Oxtongue River in autumn

Maple leaves Oxtongue River by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Maple leaves in front of Oxtongue river - photographed with a 70-200 mm lens.

Because I had photographed here before I really tried to look for some different photos, so I often used the my longer 70-200 mm lens to isolate and photograph closeups. I also used my macro lens to photograph the many colour leaves and fungi.

Red maple leaves along road sixe by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Maple leaves along side the Oxtongue river road

Oxtongue River in Autumn by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Oxtongue River

Oxtongue River with autumn colours by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Oxtongue River with autumn colours - 70-200 mm lens.

Autumn colours next the Oxtongue River in Ontario by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Autumn colours next the Oxtongue River in Ontario - 70-200 mm lens.

On the drive back we saw an otter run across the road in front of us and of course I had my camera ready, but I was still too slow to capture it. A little further down the road we encountered about a dozen wild turkeys - and this time I was out of the car in seconds and captured these "Thanks giving birds".

Wild Turkeys along the road in Muskoka photographed on Thanksgiving Day by Dr. Robert Berdan ©

Wild Turkeys along the road in Muskoka photographed on Thanksgiving Day.

My main purpose for visiting Ontario was to visit my parents, but I had a few opportunities to get out with my father to take some photos. I grew up in the area so I know it intimately, but there is always something new to see and discover if you bring your camera along. RB


Authors Biography & Contact Information

Portrait of Robert BerdanRobert Berdan is a professional nature photographer living in Calgary, AB specializing in nature, wildlife and science photography. Robert offers photo guiding and private instruction in all aspects of nature photography and Adobe Photoshop training.




Email at:
Web site:
Phone: MST 9am -7 pm (403) 247-2457.

Click on the buttons below and share this site with your friends