Foto Ruta's Tips and Tricks for Capturing Autumn Colours

It’s that time of the year again when fellow Londoners enjoy the steeping of their caramel hued tea and leaves begin to crunch and change from green to red promising colourful pictures. This autumn also brings plenty of photo ops at events such as the orange tinted harvest festivals and Halloween, the earthy Indian fabric exhibit, and the Lord Mayor’s show and golden fireworks display. With such a bursting swirl of warm tones in the cooling days of fall you will certainly want to make the best of Foto Ruta's tips and tricks for capturing colour!

 Photo by  Neil Howard

Photo by Neil Howard

1-     A little bit of colour theory

A lot has been said about colour, and although we will not delve too deeply into the fascinating and complex aspects of additive and subtractive colour theories, or wave/particle physics, there are a few general concepts that, as photographers, it is important to keep in mind.

 Photo by  Daniel Parks

Photo by Daniel Parks

A- Primary colours:

Primary colours are three original hues that can combine to create other colours.

Light primaries (additive), which are used by light sources such as screens and digital cameras, are red, blue and green.

Pigment primaries (subtractive), used by printers and in paint, are magenta, cyan and yellow (traditionally thought of as red, blue and yellow).

B- Secondary colours:

Secondary colours are three different hues derived from the combination of two primary colours.

Light secondaries are magenta (r+b), cyan(b+g), and yellow(g+r).

Pigment secondaries are (you guessed it) blue (m+c), green (c+y), and red (y+m) (traditionally thought of as purple, green and orange).

As you may have noticed, the primaries of light are the secondaries of pigment and viceversa. Does this by any chance have something to do with the “additive” and “subtractive” colour theory? Yes. And, there is a decent explanation that should clarify things for the curious here

 Photo by  Alex Burner

Photo by Alex Burner

Now, the reason we are interested in this is because when we think about colour composition, we are going to consider different combinations. The two most well known types of combinations are the monochromatic colour scheme and the complementary colour scheme, although there are many more, some which you can find here.  

 Photo by  Matt Reinbold

Photo by Matt Reinbold

A monochromatic colour scheme is when we combine different saturations and luminosities of the same hue, as in the picture of the frogs above. A complementary colour scheme is when we combine “opposite” colours, which are the complementary plus its missing primary (for example: in pigment, cyan+yellow= green, its complementary colour is magenta), as in the picture of the leaves below.

 Photo by  soho

Photo by soho

We might also want to consider whether we want “warm” or “cool” colours in our composition. And again, yet another confusing aspect of colour arises, as in physics the colours with the highest temperature are the blue tones, and those with the lowest are the red. However, humans make a psychological association with colours which is inverse, so for us, due to our perceptions, cultures and minds, the red tones are the warmest, and the blue tones are the coolest. (Find a more in depth explanation here). This means that the dominance of certain tones over others in our images will create an atmosphere and a psychological response to our pictures.

It is also important to note that the red will tend to “come forward” in the image, and the blues and greens “recede”, in terms of our perception.

2-     What time of the day to shoot?

 Photo by  mendhak

Photo by mendhak

Autumn colours are very bright and saturated, so they photograph well with the sidelights from the early morning or dusk that also create interesting shadows.  London is known for its overcast weather which many complain about, but it is actually very good for photography as it allows for a soft even lighting, and also provides a grey backdrop that contrasts very nicely with the red and oranges of fluttering leaves. Rain is not an obstacle either, provided you protect your equipment, as water reflects light and gives a special shine to the foliage.

3- Equipment/filters and colour enhancing apps

If we are going to shoot at early dawn or dusk to make the most of the light, the use of a tripod is a good idea as it provides the camera stability when you modify the settings so that the exposure time is greater. Another option, which enhances colour slightly, is to underexpose one stop, and this will allow you to reduce your exposure time a bit, while keeping your ISO/DIN levels and aperture where you want them. If you want to take good close-ups of leaves, then a macro lens will allow you to capture detail and play to your liking.

Polarizing filters are another option that will help to enhance colours as they increase contrast. If you are using a smartphone to take pictures you can download a great filter app such as VSCO Cam.

Other useful apps are Sun Seeker, which gives you information about the position of the sun, and Filterstorm Neue for editing, as well as Color Effects to play with different colour alternatives.


Autumn's colours are a favorite amongst photographers. To make the best of the season's warm hues you can play with colour harmonies, observe how the lighting affects the tones during different times of the day, and enhance your pictures by making good use of the many available tools and apps!