10 Pro Tips for Picture-Perfect Fall Foliage Photos


Whether fall 2020 brings us the bounty of glorious foliage we hope to see or a season of more muted autumn leaves, a camera–even a smartphone camera–can help capture and enhance the scenery we find.

For ideas on how to get the best fall photos, we turned to Casey Crocker and Kirk Jordan, the staff photographers for the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. After all, they’re traveling Arkansas several days a week, finding all the best spots (see our October 2020 cover story, “Fantastic Fall Colors and Where to Find Them”) to create amazing photography that shows off our state. Here are 10 tips they think will help your photos sing:

1. Know when to shoot: “For capturing fall color, harsh, midday light is the worst time to shoot,” Jordan advises. “You want low light–early morning or late evening–so the colors hum. And don’t let an overcast day dissuade you from taking photos of fall color; the colors can really pop sometimes when there are gray, overcast skies.”

2. Be close to water: “Fall colors are always most vibrant where the trees are well-hydrated, which is why you can get spectacular color next to a river, lake, creek, waterfall–any body of freshwater,” Crocker says. “When I’m looking for great fall foliage, I always start by heading towards water.” Jordan adds that the best falls for color anywhere are when the late summer and early weeks of autumn are very rainy, as that hydrates the trees, even those not near bodies of water.

Look for contrasting colors, such as an oranges against blues.

3. Know the color wheel and look for complementary colors: Jordan says artists and photographers memorize the color wheel’s  primary and secondary color relationships and incorporate that knowledge in their art. “Certain colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel vibrate off each other with intensity,” he says. “So, red and green really play off each other, as do orange and blue–for instance, if you have a deep azure sky and an orange maple against it. And then, yellow and violet, though that’s a pretty rare combination to find. When you see those opposite colors contrasting with each other, that can make a great photo.”

Photographer Casey Crocker uses a tripod to stabilize a shoot at Brock Creek Voices Waterfall.

4. Use a tripod, even for a phone camera: Crocker says tripods steady a camera more than a hand ever can. “Everyone’s hands shake. That’s one thing we can’t stop. But a tripod will stabilize your camera and help get the clearest, sharpest image.” He says tripods come at all price points and “you get what you pay for,” but even the smartphone tripods that are under $10 can help. “But always get one with metal screws, not plastic!” he insists, relating a story of an emergency tripod bought for $30 at Walmart that broke within minutes because the screws were plastic.

5. Buy a circular polarized filter: “A photographer’s secret magic tip is a polarized filter,” Crocker

Polarized filter BEFORE: a filter-less photo taken at Lower Longpool Falls near Hagarville. Note the glare on the rocks.

says. “Even if you have an iPhone. All you have to do is hold the filter in front of the lens, spin it, and then you see what happens.” He explains that polarizing filters reduce glare off non-metallic objects like water or leaves. “It will reduce the haze and the glare that happens when too much sunlight hits an object. It backs that off,” he says, adding that he recommends circular polarized filters for amateurs because those work with auto-focus cameras and are available “pretty inexpensively.” (A google search shows that the filters are available for under $20

Polarized filter AFTER: The same image, but with a polarized lens that softens the textures and eliminates the glare of light on the rocks and water.

and all the way up to more than $100.)






Change your angle to see the world differently.

6. Change your angle: “It’s often said, the most boring photograph you can take is at your own eye level,” Crocker says. “So if you try to do something different, go high up or go down, find your interesting angle that way. One of the things I love about working with Kirk is he will stick the camera so low to the ground, that ity can look like a whole other world. It’s fun to mix it up, find a

A backlit tree has a glow like no other.

fresh approach.”

7. Look for the backlight: “Backlit trees have a glow like no other,” Jordan says. “Having the sun come through your leaves as opposed to falling on your leaves is the way to get the most vibrant fall color. Look for scenes where the sun is behind the leaves. They look magical.”

Shooting into the sun with small f-stop setting can create solar flares and prisms, like these at Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area.




8. Create flare effects by shooting into the sun on a small f-stop setting: “Shoot into the sun at an f-stop, also called an aperture, of f/16-22,” Crocker suggests for people who want to experiment a little more. “Those are your smallest possible holes in your lens and create really interesting flares. They can make the sun look like a star, like it has radiating lines, creating prisms. Mess around with that just for fun.” Typically iPhones and other smartphones don’t have easily accessible aperture settings, but certain photo apps do provide some f-stop control. Search for one that will work with your phone.

9. Shoot through leaves or other framing devices for a natural filter: Crocker suggests, “When you’re framing a photograph in your viewfinder, try to shoot through something, like a view framed by leaves or grasses. Just to try it. The leaves won’t be in focus, and that can add sort of a natural Instagram filter. (Crocker also cautions against using Instagram’s built-in filters when posting photographs there; they’re so common, he says your photos can look less distinctive.”)

10. Whatever you do, don’t over-edit: “The truth is that highly edited photos with high saturation and contrast have a way of making even the most glorious colors seem less believable,” Jordan cautions. “A little bit of tweak goes a long way.” Crocker completely agrees, saying that nature photos that look natural are more visually compelling than when the picture is so over-edited that it no longer looks realistic. Both photographers recommend making only minimal edits to bring the colors in the photos to life.

The original image, taken at Devil’s Den State Park.

A lightly enhanced edit of the original, to bring out the colors.

An unrealistic, over-edited version of the original, with colors that no longer look natural.

We hope these tips help you enjoy taking autumnal pictures in the next few weeks. If you get some good ones, we’d love for you to share them with Arkansas Living’s social media pages at fb.com/arkansaslivingmagazine or tag us @arkansaslivingmagazine on Instagram. The hashtags #arkansaslivingmagazine, #arkansasliving and #visitarkansas are also great ways to get your Instagram photos seen by a wider, interested audience.