Lens Guides

The Call of Fall Foliage

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.

I love the old fence lines found in Colorado’s cattle country. Here I wet my tripod in a low position and looked up to the aspens and sun. I used two stops split ND filter to help blend the light of the sky and trees with the shadow of the fence.
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art – 1/160, F10, ISO 400

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.

A Plan

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.

Dramatic light is key for fall photos. This aspen grove had yet to go full yellow but the dark skies and rainbow bring a little life to the scene. I used a polarizing filter to help make the rainbow pop.
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art – 1/200, F9, ISO 400, tripod mounted.
This is the same stand of trees as the shot with the rainbow but with a completely different look. A sharp band of light had broken through the clouds behind me and lit a small section of this impressive cliff face.


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.

Cloudless skies might make for easy camping but they also make for boring sunsets. Luckily a few clouds drifted in just in time to light things up a bit. I used both a polarizing filer and a two-stop split ND filter to enhance the color and bring balance to the sky and foreground.
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art – 1/3, F7.1, ISO 400

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!

Getting off the main path and exploring the backroads almost makes for fun discoveries like this sinuous path through the aspens.
SIGMA 100-400mm DG OS HSM Contemporary – 1/400, F8, ISO 400 with polarizing filter.
Detail of stand of aspens shot at 51mm.
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art – 1/160, F7.1, ISO 400

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.

With the wind blowing and leaves flying I wanted to make an image with a strong connection to the details of fall. I used a Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art to help me achieve my goal. I shot about 20 of these images but chose this one as my favorite because of the single sharp leaf against the cloud.
SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG HSM Art – 1/4000, F2, ISO 250 with polarizing filter.

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.

Overcast days are a great time to shoot fall colors as shadows recede and leaves seem to luminesce on their own. I found this singe orange aspen in some mine tailings just begging to be photographed.
SIGMA 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Sports – 1/1000, F3.2, ISO 400

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.

Later in the season fall colors will take hold in the desert southwest. If your schedule keeps you from shooting now don’t fret. Head to places like Zion, Grand Staircase Escalante, or Capitol Reef in late October or early November for a unique twist to the season.
SIGMA 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM Art – 1/160, F8, ISO 400

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.

IF you can time a trip to coincide with some weather all the better. Snow on the peaks makes for far more impactful images than a straight blue sky. Six-shot stitched panorama.
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art – 1/320, F7.1, ISO 400
Remnants of an agrarian past are found all along our countries backroads and make for great subjects. SIGMA 70-200mm F2.8 EX – 1/600, F7.1, ISO 640
The last light of day reflects off the rocks into the forest below. I would prefer clouds at sunset and snow on the peaks but on this nigh it was not to be. In lieu of those elements I zoomed in to concentrate on the color.
SIGMA 100-400mm DG OS HSM Contemporary – 1/6, F8, ISO 200
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art – 70mm, 1/30, F8, ISO 200

Comments (1)
  1. 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/

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