Photographing Fall Colors

September 21, 2017

-Blog and photos by Bob Falcone
@HikingBob

Seeing them is one thing, but photographing fall colors is something else. Here are a few tips on how to take great photographs of fall foliage. The best thing is that most of these tips work whether you’re using a smartphone camera, a DSLR, or something in between.

Location is important. You can find some great shots right from the side of the road. But, don’t limit yourself to what you can see from the roadside. Take a stroll into the trees, or hike your favorite trails and look around. You’ll be surprised at what you see.

Pay attention to details. Power poles in the foreground or background, power lines running through the picture, or buildings – unless they’re old, rustic looking buildings – can ruin a great photo. The same with signs, cars or people.

Pay attention to the sky. A picture of a distant swath of trees with a bland sky doesn’t make a great photo. A plain blue sky is boring, just as much as a white, overcast sky. On the other hand, white, fluffy clouds look great when you’re including the sky in your photo. If you’re faced with an overcast sky, don’t fret. The even lighting is great for close-in, tight shots.

The Time of Day is important. Sunrise and sunset give not only the best color, but also the direction of the sunlight at those times is more pleasing than the harsh, cold, overhead light found during the middle of the day.

Choose your subject. Big, wide expanses of gold are nice, just as much as the closer shots of just a few trees, and just as much as close-ups of just a few leaves. Look for reflections in ponds or lakes. Look for contrasting colors, such as gold aspen leaves against green foliage.

Equipment. Almost any smartphone or camera will give you great photos. If you’re shooting close-ups or in the dim light of sunrise or sunset, a tripod is indispensable. A remote control for your camera, preferably wireless, is helpful when the camera is on a tripod. For smartphones, my favorite app for enhancing or editing photos is Snapseed, which is available for both Android and Apple phones.

Fall Colors in the Pikes Peak Region

As much as all the other great things Colorado is known for, it’s also known for its wonderful fall colors. There are few things more awe inspiring than seeing swaths of Colorado’s golden “quaking” aspen trees.

Here are some of my favorite places in the Pikes Peak region to find and photograph Colorado’s fall colors.

The Pikes Peak Highway, below tree-line. If you’re up for a short hike, stop at the Crow Gulch Trailhead and picnic area. Take the Crow Gulch trail from the parking lot and follow it for less than a mile. You’ll go through several groves of Aspens. Best time is early-mid September, but in mild weather, good colors will extend into late September. A little further up the highway, the area around the Crystal Reservoir is full of aspens. You’ll want to walk around a bit and get pictures of the reservoir with reflections of aspens, or with the reservoir as a great foreground.
Above tree-line you can get some great, vast views of the surrounding area, along with fall colors. A telephoto lens will help you isolate the best colors, otherwise they may get lost in the wide, expansive view.

Nearby, Mueller State Park has many acres of aspen groves, making for great viewing and photography. My favorite trail for fall colors is the Cheeseman Ranch Trail, at the far north end of the park. You can get some great photos of the ranch with a background of aspens. On other parts of the trail you can get the west side of Pikes Peak as a background. If you’re lucky, you might glimpse and photograph one of the elk that wander through the park in the fall. If you do encounter an elk, treat it with respect and keep your distance from them.

While you’re at Mueller, take the time to drive the length of Highway 67 to Cripple Creek. The highway is lined with aspens, and there are plenty of places to pull off to admire the views or to take photographs. As an alternative to going to Cripple Creek, take the turn-off from Highway 67 on to Teller County Road 81. A short distance down the road, there is a nice view of Pikes Peak to the left, with a large swath of aspens in the distance. Further down 81, you can turn left onto Gold Camp Road (Teller County Road 8), or continue straight to the town of Victor. Gold Camp Road has many nice view points and lots of aspens. You can take Gold Camp Road all the way to Colorado Springs, or take it as far as you want before turning around and heading back to County Road 81. Gold Camp Road is a dirt road for its entire length, and may be a bit washboardy, but it’s typically clear, and passable with almost any car.

Of course there are many, many places in Colorado and the Pikes Peak region to see and shoot the fall colors, but this should get you started.

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