Maps & Pro Tips for GREAT Fall Foliage Photography

Don’t wait! Plan your fall foliage photography forays now. Here are four interactive maps that help you predict when the fall colors peak in your area, plus a recommendation of three glass screw-in camera filters that make autumn colors more vibrant.

September is upon us. That means that now is the time to get ready for nature's annual organic fireworks.  All indicators point toward vivid, explosive fall colors. A cheerful, colorful fall is Nature's way of apologizing for the onset of a weary, monochromatic winter.

Rolls of barn straw in upstate NY photographed with a 14-year-old, 8-megapixel Sony DSC-H3 set at f/4 for 1/100 sec at ISO 100. I emphasize camera age to remind that you don’t need a $3000 DSLR to get photos you can be proud of. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

Interactive Maps
No one can predict the future with absolute certainty, but these maps have done well historically. Set the date of your planned photo trek and see how the timeframe stacks up against the breakdown of the chlorophyll.

Of course, the most accurate reference comes from a friend who lives in or recently visited the targeted area. Nothing beats a firsthand report from a reliable source, unless it’s about fishing conditions.

National Scope
Our friends at offer this excellent map of the Continental USA as we have reported for years. The color-predicting map analyzes 48,000 data points and displays the info graphically. While not guaranteed to be 100% accurate, it’s useful to help determine the approximate time foliage will peak anywhere in the lower 48.

Their website is full of fascinating foliage facts. If you want to teach your kids about Anthocyanins, Flavonoids and Chlorophyll, this site is a great source for a concise, easy-to-understand science lesson.

Bonus: on the website you can read this very complete and thorough article written by Vicky Reddish that lists “Top Places to See Fall Foliage in All 50 States.” Scroll through the story or click on your state.

Not necessarily the first state you think of when thinking fall colors, but we say, “think again.” Arizona has more than its share of gorgeous photo opportunities. Trees, mountains and deserts—more ingredients than you will find in any other state. Arizona even has a Leaf-ometer for the Flagstaff area. And heaven forbid, don’t forget the Grand Canyon which is always beautiful.

The lucky people who live on the right-hand side of the lake in Michigan enjoy some of the finest fall foliage found anywhere. Mackinac Island has been delighting locals and tourists for decades. And for a special treat, check out Ontonagon County.

And the folks on the left-hand side of the lake in Wisconsin have equal fall colors. My personal favorite spot in that state is Door County. The Kettle Moraine area is phenomenal, too. But for a family trip you’ll never forget, visit the Wisconsin Dells.

Filters for Fall Foliage
If you're like me, every year you want to shoot the best fall foliage of your life. To do so you need a handful of optical glass filters. Yes—physical filters—the kind that screw into the front of your lens.

If you’ve never purchased screw-in filters for your camera, or if you have any questions, check out this article “How To Buy A Filter For Your Camera Lens.”

Do you need expensive equipment to capture the fall colors? Hell no. This was shot with a Didymium filter on a Canon D30, a 3-megapixel early DSLR that was introduced in the year 2000 (not the later and better Canon 30D). Canon D30 with 200mm Canon lens, f/6.7 for 1/180 sec at ISO 100. Original image is 2160x1440 pixels. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

Didymium Color enhancers, made of a clear metallic mixture called (surprisingly enough) didymium, are sometimes sold as “red-enhancers.” They have unique absorption characteristics that create a narrow-pass filter that blocks only certain wavelengths of light. Consequently, you get bright foliage colors that are free of distortion. They accentuate the warm, fiery fall colors without stepping on everything else.

Didymium filters are a secret weapon—few people know about them—so you can create incredible fall scenery while your friends are wondering what you know that they don't.

Order from Amazon, only about $25 in 52mm for Hoya Red Enhancer.

If you don’t own a polarizer you're missing out on one of photography's greatest assets. Buy one today and experiment with it all during the fall and winter. You will be amazed by the difference a properly applied polarizer can make. Polarizers darken a blue sky and make the clouds pop without causing color shift or adding a colorcast of their own—and that makes them immensely popular for fall foliage imagery.

Also, since polarizers reduce or eliminate surface glare (the light that is reflected from slick-surfaced objects like leaves) they allow true, richly saturated colors to be recorded. If you're trying to catch the reflection of fall leaves on a pond or lake, a polarizer is an absolute must. You'll love how polarizers help tame snow glare, too.

Amazon offers the Tiffen Circular Polarizer in 67mm size for just $24.59.

Don’t be so dazzled by the colors that you ignore the basic rules of composition. This shot is from Ringwood State Park in Ringwood, NJ, and was shot with a point-and-shoot Canon SD850IS, f/3.2 for 1/125 sec at ISO 80. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

Shift Colors
Warming (amber) and cooling (blue) filters get their names from the common notion that colors near the red/orange end of the spectrum are “warm” while colors at the blue/violet end are “cool.” Use a warming filter—an 85A for instance—to add a gentle glow like the rusty colors we see at sunset. To simulate the blue of twilight or pre-dawn, shoot through an 80A. And always remember that the easiest way to exaggerate the effect of a filter is to slightly underexpose the scene. Slightly—about one-third to one-half stop only.

Order from Amazon. Prices start at $25 for Hoya 85A in 55mm, and about $11 for a Tiffen 80B (blue) filter in 52mm.

Shutterbug Photo of the Day
What are you doing with all of the pictures of autumn colors you have captured? Share them with other readers. Submit your best and it might be selected as a Shutterbug Photo of the Day. See the Galleries section on this website for more info.

Jon Sienkiewicz

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