South Falls 00104

The seasons are changing and snow is starting to fall in the high country. As a photographer the highlight of this transition is the brilliant color of the fall foliage and looking for fall color influences where I choose to hike at this time of year. The fall colors usually peak in Oregon from mid October through November, depending on location. The season starts earlier at higher elevation, so that is where I start to explore first.

 Where to Go:


The color peak for a given location usually lasts around two weeks. At the start of the season I usually hit the high country before it gets snowed in. The trees are mostly evergreen, but the understory can be spectacular. I have made it a habit for the last few years of hiking the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood in late September or early October, if weather and trail conditions allow it. Indian Heaven Wilderness is another great place for that first taste of fall color as the huckleberry bushes are brilliant red.

Other favorite places are Silver Falls State Park. Being slightly higher elevation than Portland and the abundance of water usually results in good early season displays. Siouxon Creek, in SW Washington, and the lower Salmon River near Mt. Hood are favorite creekside locations. I enjoy photographing these and other beautiful NW streams which usually offer reliable color during the peak fall season. The Columbia River Gorge, with its outstanding display of waterfalls, is a favorite hiking area any time of the year. The fall foliage season can be spectacular. Closer to home, Forest Park and Hoyt Arboretum host a variety of deciduous trees and colors. It’s also easy to keep tabs on when the peak is happening, virtually on a daily basis.

Salmon River 2008173                How to Get the Perfect Shot:

I find that overcast days are best for shooting the colors of autumn. Too much direct sunlight yields harsh, washed out color. Don’t be afraid of the rain, as moisture is a vital component of good autumn color. An umbrella is a good addition to your gear list and comes in handy for sheltering you and your camera.

For best results I use a DSLR over my point and shoot with which I usually hike and backpack. The DSLR gives me more lens choices and the ability to use a polarizing filter. A polarizer does much more than darken skies, it helps cut the reflected glare from wet foliage and results in increased color saturation. We are out there to capture the color of the season, right? Using a polarizer maximizes the result. However, a polarizer decreases the amount of light reaching the censor which can create the need for a slower shutter speed. In this situation a tripod is indispensable for stabilizing the camera.


Unfortunately, even a slight breeze can cause movement of the leaves and it becomes impossible to render a sharp image at slow shutter speeds. It’s frustrating to have a great fall color shot that is unusable because of the blurring effect of movement. My DSLR gives me better results at higher ISO settings which might be needed to allow for higher shutter speeds if a breeze is blowing. As some of my favorite spots are around creeks and waterfalls, I prefer to shoot slower shutter speeds when possible in order to create a velvety effect of the flowing water. Of course, the ideal day is overcast and windless, but this does not always work out.

One of the great things about living in Portland is that we experience four seasons, and If you like temperate days and cool nights, autumn usually is a special time of year. With the right amount of moisture, the resulting fall color displays can be awesome.

So get out there and enjoy and don’t forget your camera.

- Gary “Shutterbug” Lawton


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