Photographing Fall Foliage, with Sony

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One of the most picturesque subjects of the year, fall foliage offers a chance for photographers to show off their landscape shooting chops and revel in some of the most distinct and pleasing colors nature has to offer. Marking the change of season from summer to autumn, and indicating colder temperatures to come, this brief period, where leaves change from green to rust, is worth celebrating, viewing, and photographing.

Above photograph: Taken with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens

Photographing fall foliage and autumn landscapes doesn't necessarily require any new skills or gear compared to landscape shooting during other times of the year, but there are some techniques and considerations you might want to keep in mind to reap the most from this colorful period. This article will cover some of the recommended starting points for Sony cameras and lenses for photographers looking to upgrade or add to their shooting kit, with an emphasis on gear that excels during this time of the year. For a more in-depth look at some shooting tips and gear ideas, take a look at our comprehensive Photo Tips and Favorite Gear for Successful Fall Foliage Pictures article.

Taken with Sony a1 & FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens
Sony a1 with FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

Fall Foliage Shooting Tips

  • Timing is everything. It might feel obvious to state this, considering fall foliage is seasonal, but even within the season of fall, you still need to consider and consult calendars to make sure the foliage colors are peaking if you're planning your shoot around bright and colorful leaves.

  • Access, location, and subject choice are also key to making successful fall foliage shots. Even if you know when the leaves are changing to their brightest colors, you want to make sure you have a successful composition, subject, and place in which to photograph them. Assuming your image will also include buildings, trees, mountains, roads, waterfalls, or whatever else you're interested in, plan out your shots ahead of time to have the colorful leaves complement and enhance the main subject.

  • Adding to the above point, don't be afraid to focus on subjects other than the leaves while photographing. Portraits, building studies, nature, wildlife shots, and more are all types of subjects that can be elevated by rich and unique background colors.

  • Vary your shots. Change lenses, vantage points, times of day at which you're shooting, subject types, and more. Unless your goal is to photograph a very specific subject in a very focused way, adding visual variety is a great tactic for making a dynamic series that conveys the awesome beauty of fall foliage in general, rather than just how the changing foliage looks in one specific way.

  • Use a tripod, or at least make sure you have image stabilization. Trees are one of those subjects with which a little camera blur can really stick out once you begin to review your imagery at larger sizes and is something you might overlook when quickly checking your shots using the small monitor on the rear of the camera.

  • Try something new and don't be afraid to experiment. Most people have a clear mental image of a scene when you mention the phrase "fall foliage;" try to break that cliché and make an image that looks new.

Sony a7R IVA with Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II Lens
Sony a7R IVA with Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II Lens
Sony a1 with FE PZ 16-35mm f/4 G Lens
Sony a1 with FE PZ 16-35mm f/4 G Lens

Sony Gear for Fall Foliage Shooting

There are no overwhelmingly specific camera and lens requirements for capturing successful fall foliage photos; remember, the best camera is the one you have with you. However, there are always optimal camera and lens choices for certain subjects, or there are at least some useful starting points if you're looking to increase the chances for creating successful nature and landscape shots.

Cameras

Some of the things to look for in a camera would be resolution, sensor size, image stabilization, handling, and viewing tools. But, specifically for fall foliage, you'll want to consider working with higher resolution cameras for the pure landscape shots; image stabilization for keeping camera shake to a minimum; an easy-to-handle and carry camera for instances where you're hiking; and a nice EVF or rear LCD to hone your compositional skills solidly.

The a7R IV is the camera I'd recommend most highly for the purposes of shooting fall foliage shots. It's Sony's "landscape camera," of sorts, because it has the highest-resolution sensor (61MP full-frame) along with the other features I mentioned: impressive 5.76m-dot OLED EVF, a 3" 2.36m-dot tilting touchscreen LCD for working from low angles, and the trusty 5-axis SteadyShot image stabilization. It's also got the 240MP Pixel Shift Multi shooting mode for times when you want to make ultra-high-resolution stills of autumn scenes.

Sony a7R IVA
Sony a7R IVA

If you don't need the high resolution of the 61MP sensor, then it's hard not to recommend the more all-around versatile sibling, the a7 IV. This camera isn't as specialized as the R, but its general performance is pretty spectacular, especially for the image maker who might want to record video of the fall foliage, as well.

Sony a7 IV
Sony a7 IV

And if you're out to see the foliage but not necessarily on a photo trip, then take a look at something like an advanced compact camera, such as the RX100 VII or the ZV-1, depending on the type of shooting you prefer and the features you want. The RX100 VII is more of the photographer's camera, with a longer 24-200mm equivalent zoom lens and a built-in electronic viewfinder. The ZV-1, on the other hand, is the compact vlogging camera that would be great for storytellers and content creators looking to document their time in the fall landscape rather than focusing on creating images of the nature itself.

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII

Some camera runners-up: The Sony a1 excels at pretty much everything and is a hard camera not to recommend for pretty much any photo task, but it does feel like a bit of overkill for the sole purpose of photographing fall foliage for enjoyment. And the ZV-E10 is like the bigger brother to the ZV-1; it has a larger APS-C sensor and an interchangeable lens mount if you need more versatility. It's a great choice if vlogging is your main form of output.

Sony a1
Sony a1

Lenses

The best lens is really the one you feel most comfortable with and the one that suits your subjects. If it's a building or waterfall surrounded by colorful leaves, then an ultra-wide lens might be the best way to fit such an overwhelming subject into the frame. If it's a portrait, then short telephotos are often the way to go. And for more general landscape scenes—shots of roads, hills, old barns and churches, close-ups of trees, and so on—more versatile zooms and mid-length primes are a great place to start.

On the ultra-wide end, you might consider lenses like the FE 14mm f/1.8 GM or the FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM. Both are optically excellent and have the huge field of view that's great for those shots of a waterfall from its base, or if you come across an interesting barn or abandoned building out in the countryside.

FE 14mm f/1.8 GM (left), & FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM (right)
FE 14mm f/1.8 GM (left), and FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM (right)

For a more general lens, standard zooms are a great place to look, especially if you only want to bring one lens along for the day. The FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II is a hugely popular lens for a great reason, covering a useful range and still sporting bright optics. The FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS is a great alternative, which trades in a bit of speed for Optical SteadyShot image stabilization and slightly long reach. Or if you're more of a fan of prime lenses, we've been very excited by the FE 40mm f/2.5 G lately, compact and portable with a versatile wide-normal focal length. It's a very solid choice if you prefer to work with the same focal length for a day of shooting and like to do the zooming with your feet.

FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II (left), FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS (center), and FE 40mm f/2.5 G (right)
FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II (left), FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS (center), and FE 40mm f/2.5 G (right)

And finally, for some longer lens options that are great for fall portraits, tighter landscape fields of view, or for picking out details in the scene, a fast normal prime or medium telephoto is a great way to go. The FE 50mm f/1.2 GM is a jewel of Sony's lens lineup and would be a great choice for shooting portraits with a nicely blurred and colorful background. For a bit more reach, the FE 85mm f/1.8 is a go-to portrait lens as well as an overlooked option for general landscape shooting, as it will give a bit more reach to frame distant subjects. And finally, it's worth mentioning a lens like the FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS for the leaf peepers who are truly obsessed with the leaves… those who are looking to get tight close-ups of the colorful leaves and other small details in nature.

FE 50mm f/1.2 GM (left), FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS (center), and FE 85mm f/1.8 (right)
FE 50mm f/1.2 GM (left), FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS (center), and FE 85mm f/1.8 (right)

Accessories

Also, there are a few accessories to complement your fall foliage shoots. A circular polarizer filter would be a top choice in my view; it's a simple way to make the autumn colors pop and cut any annoying reflections in water or shiny leaves you're trying to avoid. Next, as mentioned earlier, a tripod is a must in my book. Don't spoil your photographs with a little camera shake—a simple and small tripod can make a huge difference. And, while you're at it, pick up a remote release so you don't bump the camera when pressing the shutter. Also benefitting stability for the vloggers out there, something like GP-VPT2BT Wireless Shooting Grip is a great companion for handheld selfie shooting and can quickly convert to a small tabletop tripod for getting stable images.

Sony 77mm T* Circular Polarizer Filter, Sony RMT-P1BT Wireless Remote Commander, Sony GP-VPT2BT Wireless Shooting Grip, and Manfrotto Befree 3-Way Live Advanced Designed for Sony Alpha Cameras
Sony 77mm T* Circular Polarizer Filter, Sony RMT-P1BT Wireless Remote Commander, Sony GP-VPT2BT Wireless Shooting Grip, and Manfrotto Befree 3-Way Live Advanced Designed for Sony Alpha Cameras

What's your camera setup for photographing fall foliage? What kind of lenses do you like to use during this time of year? And do you have any additional photography tips for this colorful and unique season? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

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