Fall Foliage Photography Tips

FallPhoto3868.BissettParkRadford.CharlieWhitescarverFrom downtown Blacksburg, lift your eyes and look in nearly any direction for a mini-view of surrounding mountains. Bigger vistas are within a few minutes’ drive, and the trees are beginning to flaunt fall colors.

According to the WDBJ7 Fall Foliage Report, this year’s leaves are turning on schedule and promise a good show. Chief meteorologist Brent Watts writes in the report that the typical “peak” of color for western Virginia is between Oct. 10 and Oct. 20.

Before you raise your camera or cell phone to capture the colors, check out these tips from professional photographer Charlie Whitescarver on getting your best shots.

Shoot horizontally. “People using cell phones tend to shoot vertically, but most good landscape photos are horizontal,” says Charlie. “It’s called ‘landscape orientation’ for a reason.”

Shoot early in the morning or late in the day. Start 30-40 minutes past sunrise or an hour and a half before sunset. “When the sun is low in the sky, the light has a warmer tone,” Charlie explains, and side-lit trees provide vivid colors, which don’t show as well when the sun is overhead. Charlie adds that some photographers prefer to shoot on cloudy days to avoid the sun’s glare altogether.

Train yourself to hold the camera or phone steady. “We have hundreds of muscles, and they’re all twitching,” says Charlie.

Use a tripod if you can. A clip for attaching a cell phone to a tripod is useful. Just Google it – clips start at around $9, and some come with small tabletop tripods.

Water in the foreground of your photograph adds an element of beauty. If the water is still, you’ll get leaf color twice – once in the trees and once in their reflection.

Another lovely element is blue sky. But you might have to choose between a spectacular sky and spectacular foliage, says Charlie. “Sky color appears most intense when the sun is perpendicular to where you are.” However, he adds, using a polarizing filter ($30-$40) on your camera can give you the best of both leaves and sky. The filter will deepen the blue sky, take away the glare from the leaves’ waxy surface, and saturate the color.


For photos with the sun behind the leaves, overexpose the shot. Some cameras have an “exposure compensation setting” to achieve this.

Use a small lens aperture. If you can change your lens aperture (lens opening), use a high F/number. The higher the F/number, the smaller the aperture. The smaller the aperture, the more things can be in focus at the same time.

FallPhoto3870.PandapasPond.CharlieWhitescarverTake lots of photos. Try different angles, light and settings. “With digital cameras,” says Charlie, “it doesn’t cost anything to shoot more than you need, and chances are you’ll end up with something good.”

Scout the site if you can. Charlie says really good landscape photographers scout out sites well in advance and keep notes, such as “good place to be at 4 p.m. to shoot leaves.”

Next post: Great Places to View Fall Foliage in the New River Valley.

Photos courtesy of Whitescarver Photography, LLC