Photography: capture the magic of autumn

 A weir on the River Wandle in Morden Hall Park, London

Would you like to capture the beauty of the autumn months with your camera? Here are our top tips for taking amazing pictures of colourful landscapes, misty mornings, mysterious historic buildings, natural objects and people enjoying the season.

Fiery colour fills gardens, parks and woodland, misty mornings give way to the first frosts, and the countryside is alive with harvest festivals and foraging wildlife. Whether you love magical landscapes or eerie houses, you can learn how to take a great picture by following this guide. 

Still life

The signs of autumn are everywhere, and you can create an eye-catching still life image using just a few natural objects. Look out for apples, pumpkins, wildflowers, fungi, conkers, leaves and berries. Use props to create different atmospheres. Books and blankets can be used to create a cosy scene, while cobwebs and foliage in windows add mystery.

Beginner's tip: Keep it simple. Don’t make the image too busy with lots of different subjects that will be competing for attention. Instead, just pick one and make it your focus. Make use of the patterns found in nature. Leaves in the background give a sense of the season, while frost and raindrops add texture.  

Tech tip: A shallow depth of field will emphasise your subject, whether it’s a sweet chestnut or a blackberry. A wide aperture will help you achieve this, so choose a small number on your aperture settings. Between f/2.8 and f/5.6 is usually best.  

Close up of chestnuts at Trelissick, Cornwall
Close up of chestnuts at Trelissick, Cornwall
Close up of chestnuts at Trelissick, Cornwall

Landscapes

Head out to our gardens, parkland and ancient woodland for a splash of autumn colour. You'll see shafts of sunlight falling between the trees, blankets of leaves on the ground and waterfalls hurtling down craggy rock faces.  

Beginner's tip: Use roads and footpaths to lead the eye into the frame and create depth. The classic ‘rule of thirds’ is useful to remember here. Break up the frame into nine parts with two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines. Then place important compositional elements along these lines and at their intersections.

Tech tip: Experiment with filters. A polariser will increase contrast and saturation in your image. A neutral-density filter will reduce the amount of bright autumn sunshine getting into the camera. This will allow for a slower shutter speed, which will blur movement such as running water. 

The rule of thirds: Borrowdale valley, Cumbria
The rule of thirds: Borrowdale valley, Cumbria
The rule of thirds: Borrowdale valley, Cumbria
Photograph magical landscapes Where do you want to go?

Weather

The blue skies of summer may be gone but autumnal mist, fog and frost can add drama and atmosphere to your photos. Don't be put off by grey clouds. The moments just after a rainstorm are often the most spectacular with bright sunshine contrasting with heavy grey skies.  

Beginner's tip: As any photographer will tell you, time of day makes all the difference. Head out early for morning mist and frost or venture out late for atmospheric evening light that picks out details in the landscape.

Tech tip: A sturdy but lightweight tripod means you can take a longer exposure photograph without risking camera shake. Using a tripod also allows you to take a step back and consider your composition and framing. Features such as flat rocks, benches or gates can also act as useful camera supports.

The parkland on a misty autumn morning at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire

The parkland on a misty autumn morning at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, National Trust Images/Mike Hodgson

Stormy skies over the Blackmore Vale from Melbury Hill, Melbury Down

Stormy skies over the Blackmore Vale from Melbury Hill, Melbury Down, National Trust Images/ David Noton

Architecture

Historic buildings, ruins and follies offer just as many photographic opportunities as nature and wildlife in autumn. Pick out shadows created by tall towers or gargoyles above a church door. Head indoors to capture light streaming through windows, open fires and creepy staircases, or even a suit of armour in a dark hallway. 

Beginner's tip: Buildings have many different angles, so keep an eye on your horizontal and vertical lines to make sure they are straight. Attaching a small spirit level cube to the top of your camera will help.

Tech tip: To retain the atmosphere of a scene avoid using flash. If your camera has adjustable ISO  (one of the settings that can change its sensitivity to light) increase it if you’re shooting inside a building with limited light. A higher ISO will make the image more grainy but this can add mystery and texture, which is perfect for those 'haunted house' shots on Halloween.

The Little Chamber at Sutton House, Hackney, London.
The Little Chamber at Sutton House, Hackney, London.
The Little Chamber at Sutton House, Hackney, London.
Photograph mysterious buildings Visit haunted houses

People

As the nights draw in and the hats come out, capture the spirit of the season by taking photos of friends and family. People gathered around bonfires, children kicking up leaves, and steam rising from hot chocolate all make great photos. Apple days, pumpkin carving, bonfire nights and farmers' markets are just some of the events that are full of autumn spirit. 

Beginner's tip: The best people photos capture a spontaneous and genuine moment. Try taking a few shots of your friends before they notice. Although it's important to check they are happy with it afterwards. Be very mindful when taking pictures of children and always ask permission from a parent or guardian. 

Tech tip: A slow shutter speed of 4s – 1/30s can make shots of people ethereal, tracing their movement in a way that makes them almost ghost-like. Remember that you'll need to use a tripod when taking long exposures to avoid camera shake.  

A family looking at a display of pumpkins
A family looking at a display of pumpkins
A family looking at a display of pumpkins
Photograph friends and family this autumn Attend one of our events