Ahhhhh, fall. The season of cooler weather and amazing colors. The “downhill” month where mother nature is prepping for the upcoming winter months.
It’s the fall that deserves all the photos! The colors that foliage produces are incredible (to say the least). Seeing as we only have a small window to capture these colors at their peak - being prepared by knowing your camera and it’s settings is crucial.
It’s good a thing you stumbled across this article! We’re going to discuss the best camera settings for fall foliage, each setting specifically, and why each setting will help you get the images you desire!
By the end of this article, you’ll be able to take autumn photos like a pro (with a little practice of course)!
Let’s begin with file format!
JPG Vs RAW: It matters!
This section isn’t saying that one is better than the other. They both have their place and it’s your choice to choose which file format you enjoy the most.
This section is only designed to inform you of the benefits of each and how to approach each of them from an editing or “results” standpoint. I want to ensure that you’re using the best settings regardless of which format you’re using.
Now, let’s discuss how to approach each!
I’m sure you’ve heard someone, at some point, say that they only shoot RAW. This is the person that knows the benefits of RAW images. Those benefits are pretty incredible, honestly.
RAW images retain an incredible amount of information in the highlights and shadows of your images. The benefit of this is allowing you to recover shadow and/or highlight detail in an image if you either under or overexposed your image.
We all make mistakes, or want the option of going back later on and altering a photo completely. RAW files give you that option. You can change your white balance, effectively, in a RAW file as well.
The negatives include two and that;s the size of the files and having to use a program to “see” and edit the files.
For instance, raw file sizes out of an A7III (at 24 megapixels) are 49MB each. The JPG version is about 10MB. That’s just about 5x the size. This can be a problem for those with small SD cards that shoot a lot between dumping your photos.
Adobe lightroom is a common program that can read nearly all raw file formats on the market. Not to mention, their software is very solid. But, you need to pay monthly (or one large lump payment).
Don’t get me wrong, there is free editing software out there. But there are few that are free that support the amount of formats that adobe does. They’re on top for a reason.
Now, Jpg’s on the other hand don’t require you to do anything to them. Your camera actually processes the image and spits it out for you! Pretty convenient, right? Well…
You need to select a picture profile that best suits your overall “look”. You’ll want to choose wisely because you won’t have too much room to change it if you decide to edit it.
You see, the trade-off for JPG’s is that they don’t store that much information within the file. Remember how I said that raw files are 5x larger than JPG’s? Well, JPG’s hold 5x less information. Your highlights and shadows will usually be unrecoverable once taken (very little if any).
So, choose a good picture profile. Each manufacturer has a “picture profile” setting in their camera. Think of them as presets. Here is what each of them call it:
- Nikon: Picture Controls
- Canon: Picture Style
- Sony: Creative Style
How these profiles benefit you
Within those styles/controls options, I recommend choosing either “neutral” if you want to edit them or if you want to use them straight out of camera, choose a standard profile.
Neutral will make your image very flat, allowing you to adjust your image to your desire (with limitations). This is great for those who want to edit the jpg and retain as much information as possible (for creativity).
Standard, on the other hand, will give you a nice base-line of contrast, saturation, and sharpness. This is great for either using straight out of camera or doing very little editing with.
Note: The results of an overworked JPG will be very apparent. It’s very easy to over-work a JPG, edit with caution.
The best camera settings for fall foliage (autumn photos)
You’ve made it to the meat and potatoes in the article. I won’t keep you waiting anymore, I promise 🙂
There are two aspects of autumn photography that you need to keep in mind when thinking about settings or “technicals”. These include:
Sharpness is determined by a couple different aspects (which we will cover), but we all want sharp subjects in our image. It’s key in every aspect of photography, really.
Exposure is the balance of light and dark in your image.
You will learn how each of these are affected by each setting we’re about to discuss!
Let’s break down the type of fall foliage image you’ll be taking while giving you settings for each!
Landscape fall foliage photography
Some of the best fall foliage shots out there are landscapes. There’s nothing better than taking a nice wide angle shot of the landscape as the leaves are popping with color.
The settings for this type of image is quite simple, actually.
Aperture affects both sharpness and exposure in your image. As you stop down your lens (f/1.8 to f/5.6 for instance), your image will become sharper (across the entire image).
It’s recommended to take a landscape photo at an aperture that’s the sharpest across the entire image (from edge to edge). This ensures that you’ll get as much of the landscape in focus and as sharp as possible. Most (not all) lenses are sharpest between f/8 and f/11.
As you stop down your lens, your image will get darker. To compensate for this, you could set your shutter speed lower.
This will allow you to get your ideal exposure.
If you find yourself using a shutter speed slower than 1/100, you should consider a tripod. A shutter speed slower than 1/100 can present camera movement or a blurry image. Even the slightest of blur will bring areas of the image out of focus and not sharp. Keep this in mind.
As far as ISO is concerned, use this when you absolutely need it. ISO increases the sensitivity of your sensor to light. It artificially brightens your image. You want to avoid it because it introduces noise.
The times you may need to use it is when you have a low aperture and fast shutter speed. Your image will be underexposed. Feel free to use ISO to compensate, but use it sparingly.
Landscape fall foliage settings concluded
I thought I would list the settings below to make it an easier reference if you decide to revisit this article in the future.
- Aperture: Set between f/8 and f/11. Check or do a test on your lens to see which aperture is sharpest for your lens.
- Shutter speed: Set to compensate for your aperture setting. If you find yourself using slow shutter speeds (below 1/100), consider a tripod. If you don’t have one (or choose not to use one), set it to 1/100 and use ISO to compensate.
- ISO: Should be used sparingly. Like stated before, you may find yourself needing to use ISO if you aperture is low and your shutter speed is fast. If you need to use it, use it sparingly.
Now that you know landscapes, let’s talk about closer (more stylized) fall foliage photos.
Stylized fall foliage photos
I like to think of these as detailed shots. These are the shots of just a leaf, small bush or even a falling leaf.
These are generally taken up close and include bokeh. There are a different set of settings for this. These include:
Aperture should be set to give you the bokeh you desire. The lower the aperture, the more bokeh you’ll get as a result. Just know, while it gives you more bokeh, less of your images will be in focus. This could be your style, but just know that’s a result.
If you find yourself using a very wide aperture (like f/1.8) you’ll notice your image may have a tendency to be really bright. This is normal. Use shutter speed to compensate.
Shutter speed (like previously mentioned) should be used to get correct exposure. Feel free to use a faster shutter speed to compensate from using a wider aperture. Faster shutter speeds will help with movement (of you and other objects) as well.
Your ISO should remain as low as possible. This will ensure you don’t get any digital noise in your image.
Stylized fall foliage photos summary
While the settings themselves are slightly different, they’re very similar to the landscape shots. The major difference is aperture. If you want bokeh, lower your aperture and get closer to your subject. Here are the settings for your convenience:
- Aperture set low enough to achieve the desired effect (bokeh). Get closer to your subject if you need to.
- Shutter speed is used to balance out exposure (and/or capture movement). Increase your shutter speed if you need to.
- ISO should be kept as low as you can (ideally ISO 100)
Wrapping everything up!
Let’s take a little look at everything we’ve talked about in this article as a refresher.
If you’re shooting in RAW, continue shooting and refer to the settings section.
For JPG shooters, choose a picture profile that best represents your style and final result
If you’re shooting landscapes, choose an aperture that it’s sharpest from edge to edge (usually between f/8 and f/11). Use your shutter speed to expose correctly. If your shutter speed is too slow to get clean images, increase shutter speed and use ISO to compensate for that.
If you’re shooting stylized fall foliage, adjust your aperture to give you ideal bokeh (usually between f/1.4 and f/5.6). Get closer to your subject if you can. Use shutter speed and ISO to expose your image correctly.
I hope you learned a thing or two!
I hope this article has helped you in your pursuit for amazing autumn photos.
You should now know what settings you should use to get the desired effect. If there are any questions of other types of fall foliage photography you would like to know, please leave them below!
Thank you so much for reading. Remember, you need to keep shooting to continue to improve. Get out there and take some photos with the knowledge you’ve learned here!
Until next time, keep shooting and creating!