For this project you’ll need to find vibrant foliage, so head to a nearby forest or park. We visited the stunning Westonbirt National Arboretum, in the south-west of England – it’s one of the best-known arboretums in the country, famous for its collection of over 15,000 trees, some dating from the 1850s.
Autumn is a relatively short season in the UK – trees like horse chestnut start to turn brown in mid to late August, and it’s only a few weeks before the countryside is covered in crunchy brown leaves. If you want to capture autumn in all its glory, the best colours (in the UK at least) are to be found around the last week or two in October and early November.
You don’t need any fancy gear here – an entry-level kit zoom lens or a simple 50mm ‘nifty fifty’ prime will do the job. Once you’ve found your location you can start thinking creatively, and consider lighting and composition. In order to make the most of your time at a location, we recommend using the semi-automatic aperture priority shooting mode, and letting your camera to do as much of the work as possible – that way you’ll be free to experiment with composition and other creative techniques such as free-lensing, enhancing the colours in-camera, and spotting important details in and around the foliage.
During our shoot the sun kept disappearing behind clouds, and we were often walking around in the shade of the trees, making exposure a hit-and-miss affair, so we shot in aperture priority mode with Auto ISO engaged to spare ourselves some guesswork.
Using live view, rather than the viewfinder, makes it easier to shoot a low angles or point the camera up into the trees. Our Nikon D750 has a flip-out LCD screen, so we switched to live view and angled the display to help us capture interesting compositions and perspectives.
After taking a few shots, go to Playback mode and zoom in to check that images are sharp, and to check for clipped highlights. If highlights are being clipped, dial in some negative exposure compensation.
Next, work on honing your compositions. Try shooting vivid subjects against contrasting backdrops, or seek out frames within frames, for example by shooting through gaps in the trees. Repetitive patterns, like piles of leaves and tree bark, also work well.
The autumn months provide the perfect opportunity to experiment with some wacky shooting methods. Free-lensing involves detaching the lens from your camera and angling it just in front as you shoot, which can produce some fun abstract results.
You may find that due to the predominantly warm tones in the frame your camera will struggle to get the white balance right. If images look too cool, use the Cloudy setting to warm things up – this isn’t so important if you’re shooting raw, but it’s essential if you’re shooting JPEGs, as you can’t change the white balance later.