7 Tips for Fall Color Photography From a Professional Photographer

Getting a compelling photo of fall colors in the Sierra Nevada is no easy task. Peak areas are constantly changing, and small pockets of color can be hard to capture. Here are some tips to help you shoot the best fall color photos while you are visiting Mammoth Lakes.

Get up Early, Stay Out Late

Light is the number one factor in determining if fall colors are going to be “spectacular” or just pictures of dead leaves. Think about a beautiful area that you want to take pictures, and analyze what time of day the light will be shining through the leaves of the trees. Shooting into the sun isn’t typically ideal for photographers, but fall colors are the exception. Backlight works well for the translucent leaves of aspen trees. Since you’ll be shooting into the sun, first light and last light are ideal for getting those golden hues that can make a dull tree pop.

Look for Creative Framing

Not every fall color area in our region has a blanket of color. Most of the time we have a wide variety of green, with hidden pockets of vibrant color. To capture these pockets of fall colors, get creative with framing. When you have only a small grove of colorful trees, use a long depth of field. Or choose an additional subject to include in the frame with the fall colors. Examples include roads, mountains, wildlife, water or even human subjects.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Close

Remember when you are out shooting photos to keep a diverse range of shots in mind. I like to think of three different frames; an establishing shot, a mid-range shot and an intimate shot. Everyone has seen a spectacular landscape photo of fall colors, so getting up close to the trees can highlight a different perspective. (Just don’t get too close if you spot wildlife nearby!)

Shoot As Much Content As Possible

On an average day out shooting, I can come back to the office with more than a thousand images. I shoot everything that I see, especially during fall. The best part of shooting digital is that you have unlimited storage potential. Your chances of capturing a spectacular image multiply the more photos you take. People often ask how they can get better at taking photos, and my response is always the same: take a lot of photos. Practice. Practice. Practice. 

Do Your Research

Fall weather and quickly changing conditions mean fall color hotspots are constantly changing. Especially in the Mammoth Lakes area, weather, temperature and wind can dramatically change where the color is best. Even if a spot was brilliant last year, use your resources before venturing out this fall. Visit Mammoth and Mono County Tourism both have incredible fall color resources for our area. Make sure you sign up for Visit Mammoth’s fall color newsletter, which provides a weekly report throughout the fall on the different fall color hotspots. 

Plan Ahead to Maximize Your Time

If you only have a few days for leaf-peeping, make sure you have a plan for where you want to go ahead of time. Having a solid plan is crucial for maximizing your time. Most fall color hot spots involve driving, so having an understanding of travel time is important as well. Conveniently, “plan ahead and prepare” is a Leave No Trace principle, so while we are on the subject, remember to have a plan for packing out your trash, staying on trail and being a good steward to the fall color groves you visit.

Have Fun

What would an advice list be without the number one rule? When I head out shooting, I try to remember to have no expectations. Being out among the mountains and the beautiful scenery can be the most compelling part of capturing a stunning image. Don’t forget to put the camera down for a few minutes, embrace the beauty around you and breathe in the fresh air. Happy shooting!

Dakota Snider

A professional photographer for seven years, including four years shooting in Yosemite National Park, Dakota now works as the staff photographer and digital marketing coordinator for Visit Mammoth. When he's not adventuring with a camera in hand, which is rare, Dakota enjoys time spent with friends exploring the Sierra on foot or skis.

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