Photo Tips for Late Season Fall Photography

October 20, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Mariana_Butte_sunrise_Loveland_2022_1Mariana_Butte_sunrise_Loveland_2022_1A dramatic sunrise fills the sky above western Loveland, Colorado during the peak of fall colors.

The aspen groves of the high country may be past their prime for fall colors but there is still plenty of time to photograph colorful trees in and near the urban corridor. 

Although fall colors may only last about two weeks in the popular Colorado locations, the entire season extends from the end of August on the tundra to the end of October for the Front Range. Now is the time to catch the colors in the lower elevations where deer and bighorn sheep may be set against yellow backgrounds and urban parks glow in warm hues.

Bighorn_sheep_Waterton_2019_11Bighorn_sheep_Waterton_2019_11A bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis) poses against a hillside of fall colors on a sunny afternoon in, Colorado.

Up and down the Front Range, yellow cottonwoods and golden grasses are taking their turn in the colorful spotlight. 

Locations around Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins offer some of the best chances to capture the last colors of the season. 

For example, the scrub oak trees in Roxborough State Park transform into shades of rust and brick. Finding compositions where those colors pair up with the deep red color of the rock formations in the park create a stunning scene only about 25 miles from downtown Denver. 

Roxborough_SP_in_FallRoxborough_SP_in_FallLandscape image of the red rock formations at Roxborough State Park in fall

In Waterton Canyon, located on the west side of Littleton, bighorn sheep are starting their mating season. Pair that activity against the golden hues of the abundant cottonwood trees throughout the canyon, and a photographer may have a winning image. 

In Loveland, trees frequently used in landscaping, like maples, add a splash of different color from the more typical golds of the native Colorado species. Hiking to the top of Mariana Butte at sunrise offers a wonderful panoramic view of the valley set against the foothills and mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park. 

When looking for fall colors to photograph, seek out healthy trees that haven’t yet dropped a lot of leaves and have a vibrant hue rather than a brown tone. It is also best to be out during the golden hour of sunrise and sunset for the best light, and compose the scene so the solid blue sky doesn’t take up much of the frame. If sunrise or sunset provides dramatic clouds, by all means, add as much of that into the frame as possible.

Other tips include staging an angler in a river for a focal point and sense of scale when photographing fall colors in the canyons that are popping right now. Watch the highlights on the leaves, which can turn too contrasty in bright sun. After photographing sunrise, find tall trees in vibrant colors. As the sun rises, position the sun behind the trees to capture a sunburst in the leaves. And finally, always look for scenes where wildlife, like a bird or a deer, are set against the colorful leaves. 

fishing_woman_Poudre_River_2019_184fishing_woman_Poudre_River_2019_184A woman casts her fly rod and reel while fishing on a fall afternoon along the banks of the Poudre River in Northern Colorado.

In addition to the locations mentioned above, photograph fall colors at Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora, Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder, Pella Crossing in Niwot and Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City.

Eldorado_Canyon_SP_2023_2Eldorado_Canyon_SP_2023_2The rays of the setting sun peek out from behind a canyon wall in Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder, Colorado.

Keep an eye on the weather. This fall, thanks to an El Niño pattern, has produced many sunny, blue-sky days that have helped to extend the length of the season across Colorado, but the first hard frost and snowfall will quickly put an end to the colors. 

One last suggestion is to make sure to be out in the weather to photograph the clash of seasons before the leaves fall to the ground. The contrast of fall meeting winter can bring surprising results for many photographers.

Desert_bighorn_Zion_2019_1Desert_bighorn_Zion_2019_1A desert bighorn sheep ewe (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) stands in a creek bed filled with some remaining for a recent snowfall and surrounded by fall colors in Zion National Park, Utah.

For equipment, there are a few essentials to bring into the field for a fall photo shoot.

First, always have a circular polarizer on the lens used to photograph water or leaves after a rainstorm. The polarizer will cut the glare off of the water, which helps intensify and darken the water while also allowing the camera to pick up what is below the surface, and saturates the color of wet leaves. 

Next, use a tripod to capture the blurring action of water in creeks, rivers and waterfalls. Blurring water takes a shutter speed of about a half second to a tenth of a second, depending on the speed of the water. This is too slow to handhold so using a tripod and then a remote shutter release to help keep the camera still works best for sharp photos. 

Wood_duck_Pueblo_2020_1Wood_duck_Pueblo_2020_1A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) swims through a pond full of colorful reflections of the surrouding orange, yellow and blue tones in Pueblo, Colorado.

Use different lenses in your bag. Two perfect go-to lenses are a 24-70mm and a 100-400mm. The wider angle will capture the full scene while a longer zoom lens can help compress the elements of the photo, making things like mountains appear bigger. Want to photograph wildlife in fall colors? Go for a longer zoom lens, like a 150-600mm or a massive prime, like a 500mm or 400mm prime with a 1.4 or 2.0 teleconverter.

Finally, remember to keep that lens clean. Any dust spots on the glass will show up as flares if you shoot towards the sun. A rocket blower, soft flat paintbrush and lens wipes should do the trick in a pinch in the field.

For more information about my photography, including purchasing prints and booking tours, visit www.DawnWilsonPhotography.com.

NOTE: Product links in this article may result in me making a little commission on the sale while not costing you any additional money. I appreciate the support of my business so I can continue to provide you with helpful information to improve your photography. 

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