Although Mother Nature seems to be taking her sweet old time, autumn is coming, and with it, fall colors. It shouldn’t be too much longer before the mountains are covered in gold as the aspens change before falling into a long winters slumber.
 
There are two big seasons in Colorado for nature photographers such as myself: Wildflowers and fall colors, and in some ways, they couldn’t be much different from each other. Wildflower season in Colorado lasts from April or May when the first pasque flowers pop-up — sometimes from under a blanket of snow — and through September when the last of the asters, sunflowers and gentians finally give up and call it a year. Fall colors season, on the other hand, can be pretty brief. Depending on a whole host of botanical and meteorological things I won’t even pretend to understand, our aspens can either remain the same color, their leaves just dying and falling to the ground, or they can change from green to gold for only a few days to more than a week. All of this makes timing very important. When you see or hear that the colors are changing, it’s time to grab your family and your camera and hit the road (or trail, or sidewalk) and do some leaf peeping and photography.  
 
One of the best resources for predicting fall colors is at smokeymountains.net. While conditions can and do change, my experience has been that it tends to be pretty accurate and will help you determine when to start looking. There are also Facebook groups where users report on fall colors.
Fall colors

Look down and get close.

 
It’s pretty easy to get good fall colors photos, but with a little bit of effort, you can get really good photos. 
A few simple tips to up your fall colors photography game:
  1. Pay attention to the foreground and background. While your brain zeroes in on the trees, your camera is seeing everything else. Biggest offenders are telephone poles, street lights, power lines, cars, roads and buildings. There are some exceptions of course — old weathered barns can be elements of good photos, but not so much your local convenience store. A four-lane paved highway is generally not a good element, but a windy mountain dirt road through a grove of aspens is can be a pleasing image.
  2. Pay attention to the sky. A plain blue sky is boring, a blue sky with a smattering of white puffy clouds is very appealing. Even worse is an overcast sky. Not sure? Think of every great sunset or sunrise photo you’ve ever seen.They almost always feature beautiful clouds. If the sky is featureless, either plain blue or dull white, compose your shot for a minimum amount of sky.
  3. Don’t be afraid of bad weather. That cloudy, chilly, drizzly kind of day that will usually have you staying in bed, with the covers pulled up to your chin and ordering a pizza? Don’t do it! Get out and shoot. Those overcast conditions create even light, make colors really pop, and are a good time for closeup photos. Don’t forget to protect yourself and your camera from the elements.
  4. Get close and fill the frame. Many fall autumn photos feature a clump of trees with golden leaves, surrounded by a bunch of ... nothing. Get in close and fill the frame. Also, don’t be afraid to look at your feet, especially when the fall colors season is winding down. The leaves that have fallen to the ground can make interesting and appealing compositions. Don’t shoot them while standing up. Get close, move around, fill the frame. Leave a little “breathing” room around the perimeter of the photo so that cropping, matting and framing don’t cut off elements of the photo.
 We’re just scratching the surface here — I could eat up a lot of space here with much more — but you’ll find it more rewarding to take these few tips and learn from there.
 
If you want more guidance, I’ll be teaching a fall colors photography mini-workshop at the Garden of the Gods Visitors Center on Oct. 1. For more information, click here.

This Saturday is National Public Lands Day, and admission fees to all National Park Service sites are waived for the day.

 
Be Good. Do Good Things. Leave No Trace.

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