Tennessee has some gorgeous fall foliage. One way to really immerse yourself in the experience, and gain a different perspective, is to take some photos. Spending the time to get that perfect shot allows you to appreciate the beauty of fall foliage in a brand new way. Keep reading to learn some fall foliage photography tips to take photos so beautiful you can frame them and enjoy fall foliage any time of the year. If your photos turn out really well, you can even give them as Christmas gifts. Almost everyone likes art created just for them.
This is the first step you should take. Even if you are in a part of the country with beautiful leaves, some locations are better than others. The best known place in Tennessee for fall foliage is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its landscape is populated with sugar maples, hickories, sweet gum, scarlet oaks, red maple, and nearly 100 other species of native trees. Clingmans Dome, one of its most popular spots, offers a 360-degree view of the Smokys. If you’re there during peak color change, it should be your first stop. However, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited US National Park and it can get crowded during peak leaf season, which is now.
If you want a place for leaves that is closer to The River Club, and not as crowded as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we recommend Natchez Trace Park. Located on the opposite side of the Tennessee River from the Natchez Trace Parkway, it’s known for its beautiful fall foliage. One of the best spots along the parkway to view (and take photos) of leaves is from is the 200-foot-tall Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge that stands above the valley. If you are pleased with how your photos turn out, you can enter them in the 2021 Natchez Trace Fall Foliage Photo Challenge. The deadline to enter pictures is November 26, 2021. Inside the park is Pin Oak Lake, where you can take photos of vividly colored trees reflected in the water (more on that tip later).
Even closer to The River Club is Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area. With its 125,000 acres of land along the Cumberland Plateau, this spot is a dream to see in autumn.
If you don’t want to travel, there is some beautiful fall foliage at The River Club. If you are just starting with photography, it might be better to just stay home and take your time. You can try out the following tips over the course of a few days to see what works best for you.
Think about your gear
Most people think that an expensive camera is always better, and that you should learn to use all the settings on your fancy camera and shoot manually. The truth is, if you speak with professional photographers, they will tell you that cell phone cameras have gotten so good that often, even they take better shots on their phones sometimes.
If you are a beginner and want to invest in gear, our recommendation is to start simple, with a tripod or editing software like Adobe Photoshop. The amount of editing work that is done after professional photographer shoot images shouldn’t be under-estimated. It’s such an important part of the process that very few professional photographers will even share raw, unedited images.
Watch the weather
Perhaps counter-intuitively, you shouldn’t aim for the brightest, sunniest day of the week. On overcast days the light is soft and even. Plus, a grey sky can make the colors of the fall foliage you are photographing look even more intense. Autumn colors are saturated colors, which contrast nicely with a gray day.
Clouds can be beautiful and dramatic in their own right, so capturing a moody grey sky can add a drama to your photos that you won’t find on a sunny day.
You can get really lucky photographing fall foliage on a rainy or cloudy day. Oftentimes at sunset, the sky will open up and you will get a burst of sunlight that will paint the sky, and your landscape, in beautiful vivid colors. You might even hit the jackpot and be treated to a rainbow- it happens a lot more often than you would think!
Plan the time of day you want to photograph your fall foliage
Every professional photographer knows there are three optimal times of day for taking photos of fall foliage: sunrise, the golden hour and sunset.
Most amateur photographers focus on taking photos during sunset, or maybe the golden hour. But real magic can happen when taking photos of fall foliage at sunrise. For starters, shooting at sunrise often yields the best colors. Plus, during the fall, nights typically get very cold, the winds die down and atmospheric haze significantly reduces. Such drastic climate changes can bring in fog, or if you shoot near a lake, you might see steam coming off of it. This will add a level of drama to your photos that you won’t get on a bright, sunny afternoon.
The Golden Hour
The Golden Hour is the time directly after sunrise, and directly before sunset, when colors are at their softest. It’s the best for taking pictures. This is particularly true for photographing fall foliage. The light at this time of day literally takes on a golden hue. As the best fall foliage has warm, golden hues, the golden hour accentuates the dramatic colors of the leaves.
Anyone that has an Instagram account has surely noticed that their photos with the most likes are almost always taken at sunset. However, this isn’t the case for photographing fall foliage. The intense colors of the sunset compete with dramatic fall foliage and the result can just be overwhelming. If you wait 15-20 minutes after sunset, the sinking sun can provide beautiful, natural back lighting to the red, yellow and purple leaves you are trying to capture.
The exception to this is if you are photographing people at sunset. According to the award winning photographer Heather K. Purdy,
“For a beautiful soft glow through the leaves, try placing the setting sun behind the subject. It will set them on fire!“
Search out water and other visually interesting objects
Photos of fall foliage can look a little boring if it’s just a bunch of trees, without a focal point. Think of the fall foliage photos you have seen. Which is more memorable? A photo of trees, or a photo of an old fashioned, covered bridge surrounded by beautiful fall foliage?
Having a subject matter that stands out, such as a bridge, a rambling road or even your dog, gives your photos that extra bit of visual interest that turns it from a photo of fall foliage to something really striking. One of the easiest ways to add visual interest to your photos is to find a lake or pond surrounded by vividly colored trees. The body of water is the focal point, and the trees reflected in the water can look especially pretty.
Focus on details
Mix it up! Some of the best, most memorable photos aren’t of landscapes, but of small details. Take the time to take a close up of one perfect crimson or gilted leaf, or even textured tree bark. When viewed up close, leaves have such delicate, intricate structures that your close-up will likely capture something magical.
Don’t forget to look up!
If you are walking in the woods, take a moment to look up. The tree tops, viewed from below, often make for a wonderful photo opportunity.