The Ultimate Guide to Fall Foliage Photography

One of the most special seasons for photographers is almost here. Around the United States and across the Northern Hemisphere, signs of fall foliage are already showing. Chillier temperatures and patches of color are already present in higher elevations. It’s a telltale sign that colorful times are ahead and peak fall foliage photography is almost upon us. 

For many, fall is the most exciting time of the year for photography. The short but dramatic display of colors before the winter yields endless opportunities for all types of photography. 

Before the season starts in full swing, we created the ultimate fall foliage photography guide to get you ready for the beautiful season ahead. 

This guide will cover:

  • Essential fall foliage gear
  • Top fall foliage destinations in the United States, Canada, and Europe
  • Helpful fall foliage tips 

So pack your bags, grab your camera gear, and let’s get started.

Essential Fall Foliage Camera Gear

Let’s talk gear. When it comes to fall photography, the biggest goal is to create and capture images that show the dramatic colors and contrast that fall provides. You also want to bring lenses that show different perspectives, from specific colorful details to grand fall landscapes. So here are five essential pieces of gear you need when shooting fall foliage this season. 

Circular Polarizer filters

A Circular Polarizer filter or CP filter is one of the most essential and valuable pieces of gear you need in your kit this fall season. Not only does it provide control over reflections, which is a crucial element to fall photography, but it can eliminate the glare from wet surfaces. This is incredibly important because the fall season can bring a lot of rain in most parts of the world. This can leave landscapes glistening with distracting glares, from the trees to the backroads. With a quick twist of a CP filter, you can eliminate unwanted glare and make the scene much softer and less harsh.

But the most important benefit of a CP filter is the increased amount of color and contrast it provides, which is so important when capturing vibrant fall images. It may be a small piece of kit, but shooting with a CP filter this upcoming fall season will dramatically change your images and offer better control, color, and contrast. 

Variable Neutral Density filters

Another important filter you need in your fall foliage kit is a Variable Neutral Density filter or VND. Combining several filters in one, a VND allows a photographer to stop down several stops and shoot throughout the day at slower shutter speeds. Whether it’s capturing a fast-moving waterfall or a creek surrounded by vibrant foliage, combining movement with color is hard to beat. 

Make some room beside your CP Filter and add a VND to your filter family this fall. It’ll allow you to shoot throughout the day and create more complex and dynamic shots. 

A wide-angle lens

Now, let’s talk lenses. There are two essential lenses you should have with you in your fall season kit. The first is a wide-angle lens. If you want slightly better sharpness, take a wide-angle prime. Although, if you prefer versatility and speed, go for a wide-angle zoom lens like a 15-35mm or 16-35mm. 

Wide-angle lenses allow you to capture vast, dramatic landscapes. It also allows the viewer to capture as much of a fall scene as possible. They’re especially effective for lifestyle shots, including a human subject in the frame. 

A telephoto lens

The second lens you need in your fall kit is a telephoto lens, preferably a 70-200mm or something similar. This focal range is fantastic for capturing details like rows of trees or compressing a back road surrounded by foliage. 

If you combine a wide-angle with a telephoto lens, you have the two lenses you need to create brilliant fall images this season. 

Tripod

Finally, always bring a tripod with you when shooting fall photography. It not only provides stability and control when shooting in challenging lighting situations, but it allows for more complex, multi-composites that capture the layers of colors and detail in the fall landscapes.

A tripod is typically thought of as an essential piece of kit throughout the year. In fall, it’s a necessity. 

Interested in more helpful gear for fall photography? Check out the 42West article “The Best Lenses & Accessories for Fall Foliage Photography.”

Top Fall Foliage Destinations in the U.S., Canada, and Europe

It’s time to take your gear and go somewhere amazing for fall foliage photography. While there is fall foliage in most of the Northern Hemisphere, there are certain locations that stand above the rest. Here are the top fall foliage destinations in the United States, Canada, and Europe, to help get your planning off to a great start.

The United States: 

  • Maine:
    • Acadia National Park/Bar Harbor
    • Baxter State Park
  • New Hampshire: 
    • The White Mountains/North Conway/Lincoln/North Woodstock
    • The Lake Region
  • Vermont:
    • The Green Mountains
    • Smugglers Notch/Stowe
    • Killington Region 
  • New York:
    • The Adirondacks
    • The Catskills
    • Letchworth State Park
    • The Finger Lakes/Watkins Glen State Park
    • Central Park, NYC
  • Massachusetts: 
    • The Berkshires
    • Cape Cod
    • Lenox
  • Pennsylvania: 
    • The Poconos
  • Michigan: 
    • The Upper Peninsula/Copper Harbor/Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
  • Minnesota: 
    • The North Shorth Shore/Duluth 
  • Wisconsin:
    • Door County
  • West Virginia:
    • The Appalachian Mountains
    • New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
  • Virginia:
    • Shenandoah National Park/Skyline Drive
  • Tennessee:
    • The Smoky Mountains/Gatlinburg
  • North Carolina:
    • The Blue Ridge Mountains/Blue Ridge Parkway/Boone/Asheville 
  • Arkansas:
    • Ozark National Forest/Eureka Springs
  • Oklahoma: 
    • Ozark National Forest and Talimena Scenic Drive
    • Beavers Bend State Park
  • Texas:
    • Caddo Lake State Park 
  • New Mexico:
    • Taos and Taos Scenic Byway
  • Colorado:
    • Aspen/Maroon Bells Wilderness
    • Crested Butte/Kebler Pass
    • Telluride/Ouray/Silverton/San Juan National Forest/San Juan Skyway
    • Rocky Mountain National Park
    • Vail
  • Utah:
    • The Wasatch Range
    • Zion National Park
  • Montana:
    • Glacier National Park
  • Idaho:
    • Sawtooth National Forest/Stanley 
  • California:
    • Yosemite National Park
    • Eastern Sierra/Mammoth Lakes
  • Oregon: 
    • The Columbia River Gorge
    • Silver Falls State Park
    • Portland Japanese Garden
  • Washington: 
    • North Cascades National Park
    • The Enchantments/Alpine Lakes Wilderness
  • Alaska:
    • Denali National Park

For more detailed information and projections on peak fall foliage across the country, check out this fall foliage prediction map. Most states and regions that are known for fall foliage also have their own specific prediction maps, which are updated on a weekly basis. 

For more information on overall top states for fall foliage, check out the 42West article “15 Top States for Fall Foliage Photography.” 

Canada: 

  • Nova Scotia:
    • Halifax 
    • Cape Brenton Highlands National Park
  • Quebec: 
    • The Laurentian Mountains/Mont-Tremblant Region
    • Montreal
    • Quebec City
    • Mont Orford National Park
    • Jacques Cartier National Park
    • Charlevoix Region/Hautes Gorges De La Rivieres Malbaie
  • Ontario 
    • Bruce Peninsula National Park
    • Algonquin Provincial Park
    • Agawa Canyon
    • Niagara Falls
  • Alberta:
    • Banff National Park/Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass/Banff
    • The Kananaskis/Canmore
  • British Columbia:
    • Vancouver
    • Kootenay Lakes Region/Nelson
  • Yukon Territory:
    • Dawson/Tombstone Provincial Park

Europe: 

  • England/The United Kingdom
    • The Lakes Region
  • Scotland
    • The Scottish Highlands
  • France:
    • Paris
    • The Loire Valley
    • Chamonix and Mont Blanc Region 
  • The Netherlands:
    • Amsterdam
  • Switzerland:
    • Engadin/St. Moritz Region
    • Lauterbrunnen/Interlaken Region
    • Zermatt
  • Italy
    • The Dolomites/Cortina d’Ampezzo/Bolzano/South Tyrol
  • Germany:
    • Eibsee and Bavarian Alps
    • Neuschwanstein Castle
    • Burg Eltz Castle 
  • Austria:
    • Halstatt
  • Slovenia
    • Lake Bled
    • Triglav National Park and the Soča River/Valley
  • Croatia:
    • Plitvice Lakes National Park

Helpful Fall Foliage Photography Tips

Now that we have our gear and locations covered, let’s talk about helpful tips related to photographing fall foliage.  

Always shoot with a circular polarizer filter

We covered this above but always shoot with a circular polarizer or CP filter in the fall season. Not only does it increase contrast in the sky, but it can increase color saturation and allow for control over glare and water reflections. With a quick twist, you can increase or decrease that reflection and allow for the look you want.

This is especially important because it rains a lot in the fall, especially in the Northeast and Northwest regions of the U.S. Reflection and glare will be even more prevalent in the scenes you are photographing. Having a CP filter with you at all times gives you ultimate contrast, color, and control, in a season where you need it the most. 

Find and use water reflections

There’s simply nothing like a glassy, still body of water reflecting fall foliage. Capturing those images, and including a subject like a cabin or human, can be some of the most rewarding fall images you can take.

Be ready to wake up early. Most bodies of water are calmer in the morning. The light is soft, fog can form on the water, and there are fewer people. The early bird gets the worm but it also captures the fall foliage reflections. You might just come back some of your favorite fall images of the season. 

Photograph throughout the day

Fall is a very fickle and unpredictable season. It can be sunny and clear one minute, and cloudy and rainy the next. The best part about the unpredictable weather is that it can actually allow you to shoot quality images throughout the day. 

Sunny days lead to beautiful sunrises, golden hours, and sunsets, with the warm light reflecting off the vivid fall colors. Although, cloudy days can be just as beautiful. The muted light on a cloudy day can actually accentuate fall colors for longer and lead to beautiful images even at midday. 

Don’t fret if the weather gets rainy or cloudy. Plan and use the weather to your advantage and shoot throughout the day if possible. 

Utilize different perspectives to your advantage

Finally, utilize different perspectives to your advantage. Don’t just shoot one perspective. The fall season lends so many opportunities for beautiful perspectives. Look up, look down, and look all around. Focus on details big and small. Never underestimate the power of changing something simple as your camera height and angle. These small changes can add variety and value to your portfolio this fall season. 

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