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autumn photography

How to photograph the prettiest season of them all


Autumn in the Intermountain West presents a natural canvas that can stop people in their tracks. Seasoned photographers know what to do, but many others miss the boat on autumn photography. Those leaves are falling, and there might not be a next time.

Hank Blum, one of our favorite landscape photographers, shares some important tips on how to catch the fall colors before they fall away.

1) Tell people where you’re going.

Blum says his own enthusiasm has led to trouble. “Seriously! I literally get so crazy excited when I am out shooting and sometimes will scramble to dangerous and hard to reach areas in order to get the shot.”

So be careful and tell someone where you’ll be and what time you’ll be home.

Blum waited 40 minutes on an overcast day for the splash of light at the right of this frame to emerge from the sky at Crystal Lake outside Ouray, Colorado.

2) Altitude and timing are everything

Blum says it’s all about the elevation. “The colors are mostly influenced by altitude. Foliage around 10,000 feet in elevation can be in full peak by mid-September. Foliage in the 4,000–5,000 foot range will usually see color by mid to end October.”

On a rare ride without traffic on Red Mountain Pass outside Ouray, Colorado, Blum was allowed to take a series of shots of the falls colors.

3) Get squirrelly

Blum says he likes to mix up angles.

“One thing that drives me nuts is seeing people take the same shots from head level. Be creative. Use your legs and move around. Pretend you are a squirrel and get close to the ground. You will see the world from a new perspective. Also, get closer, beauty is in the details.”

The glowing aspens behind this iconic cabin on Molas Pass near Molas Lake in Colorado caught the  Blum’s eye. He scrambled down a hillside to get the perfect view.

4) Go early, stay late

“Allow extra time,” Blum says. “So many times I have left my house on a mission to capture a sunrise or sunset and have only given myself a few minutes to set up. I end up seeing amazing stuff on the way, and either end up missing the shot I was going for, or missing an opportunity because I did not have enough time.”

Sometimes leaving the house at 3:30 a.m. pays off, as it did for Blum when he took this shot of the Dallas Dive at sunrise near Ridgeway, Colorado.

5) See the light

“Lighting is everything,” Blum says. “I think the magic hour or golden hour is the best, the first half hour after the sun rises in the morning, or a half hour just before the sun sets. This is ideal for fall landscapes. The light is warm and rich and makes the colorful leaves pop.”

And, don’t shy away from a little weather, says Blum.

“Overcast and hazy days present new opportunities.”

Sometimes inspiration hits just driving by. Blum passed this meadow and saw this shot near Purgatory, Colorado, and got to work.

6) Experiment

Blum also encourages ambitious photographers to experiment with their cameras. “Play with the settings,” he says. “Set the ISO as low as possible to eliminate noise. Experiment with slow shutter speeds to create silky smooth streams and waterfalls.”

When taking photos, always be prepared. Blum had his camera handy and nailed this shot outside Rico, Colorado.

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