I recently returned from a few days on the road chasing fall colors around Colorado. One of the great aspects about mini adventures like this is the panoply of people I meet out there. Of course, there are the requisite landscape shooters to be found at every overlook, but somewhat surprising were all the other photographers. Wedding, architectural, food, portrait, action sports (yours truly) and everyone that wields a camera was to be found extending tripods on cold mornings or late afternoons looking for autumn magic.
What is it that we adore so much about fall? And for my part, what else can be written about the love affair that so many outdoor photographers have with this vibrant season. Well, I’ll take a shot at it. But first let’s talk about what you’ll need!
When it hits you you’ll know it! The desire to get outside for a few days and make some images can be overwhelming this time of year. And once inspired, nothing can stop you.
Where are you going to go? Be sure to check the fall color map and then back up that info with on the ground reports. There are plenty of blogs and social media resources that provide updates on how the foliage is coming along. Be sure to have a plan B too. This year in Colorado, for example, some areas have completely turned and leaves have hit the ground while other areas have only just started their march to golden glory.
Capturing the beauty is made easier, sharper and more colorful using the best gear you can. My kit served me incredibly well and looked like this:
24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art I bet half my fall landscapes are taken with this amazing lens. Its ability to go from wide angle to short tele make it incredibly pragmatic and for this reason is practically welded to my camera.
100-400mm DG OS HSM Contemporary Pulling in distant peaks or singling out compelling bits of the landscape is what this lens is all about. Be sure to keep this light, sharp powerful telephoto zoom in your pack at all times as its guaranteed to give you some superb shots.
For sheer versatility, those two lenses alone handle almost anything I run into.
I also have with me one or two prime lenses which yield stunning results. I often use primes to shoot in a more whimsical way capturing the feeling, tone or mood of a place. But of course, they are rock solid for more typical landscapes as well. I also shoot heavily with the 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM Art and 70-200mm F2.8 EX (now upgraded to the Sports version). And my 150-600mm DG OS HSM Sports isn’t in the truck with me just for catching wildlife!
A few other vital pieces of gear include a tripod, polarizing filter and a split ND Filter. Polarizing filters are a huge boon to fall photographers for their ability to cut through the haze and bring out the blue sky with sharp contrast. I keep this on most of the day but remove the polarizer when shooting into the sun or with the sun at my back.
A two-stop slit ND filter is great for balancing sunlit peaks with forests gone to shade. You can also shoot multiple exposures for later processing but I prefer to get it right in camera.
Using these filters means slowing down your exposure. To compensate be sure to use your tripod. This way you can use your camera’s lower ISO settings giving you the ultimate image quality. If you are using a DSLR be sure to use your mirror lockup function to keep mirror slap out of the equation. A good quality tripod can be a joy to use and will undoubtedly lead to stronger compositions and sharper images.
At the beginning of this I told you I would give you my take on what makes fall such an enticing time to shoot. I believe the brevity of the season encapsulates life in general… it’s gone before you know it.
SIGMA Ambassador Liam Doran is an outdoor sports and adventure travel photographer based in Colorado. Liam's work covers all aspects of outdoor mountain life including skiing, biking, trail running, fly fishing as well as travel and lifestyle. His images appear regularly in commercial advertising and in today’s top outdoor magazines including Powder, Outside, Ski, Skiing, Trail Runner, Mountain Magazine and more.
Much of the US is already past the fall color peak, but for those of us in the South, the best is still to come
Check out https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/