The beautiful fall foliage often peaks in mid-October in Washington DC. By this time of the year, daylight is certainly waning. I’m sure you’re noticing it already. People everywhere are rushing their families to fit in their fall photos before it’s too late. Finding the right time of day to shoot great family photos can certainly be a challenge. This is especially true if your favorite photographer is already booked.

Whether you’re trying to schedule the perfect time with your photographer, or are the shutterbug yourself, knowing the ideal times to get snap happy is a great place to start. Especially if you’re hoping to highlight the fall foliage and make the color pop in the background. All of this, of course, while capturing great shots of your family.

Here are my tips for great outdoor fall photos:

  1. Aim for late afternoon

    To avoid the scenario where the light level drops too much, aim for around 3 to 3:30pm to get things started. The light will be strong enough to give your photographer a fair choice of options for aperture & shutter speeds, or if you’re camera savvy. It’s also a great time to get snap happy, even if you’re a novice. The light is warm, but not so overwhelming that you’ll be blinded by it. It’s also better than early morning because it’s naturally warmer. This makes it much easier on families when trying to corral kids together for photos.

    Little girl on fence for fall photos

  2. But not too late

    You don’t want to get started too late in the day, though. The light goes down quicker than you might think this time of year. Dimming light will force your photographer to use wider apertures and slow shutter speeds. Wider aperture will result in skinny depth of field that could leave some family members in the blur zone. In addition, slow shutter speeds result in blur if the camera is wobbled, or someone moves quickly. For novice photographers, the waning sun provides challenges all its own when compensating for the lack of good light. It’s best to work with good light from the start.

    Little boy and girl sitting on a rock in the shade for fall photos

  3. Keep to the shade

    Avoid standing out in strong, direct sunlight. It causes everyone to squint as they shield their eyes from the sun. Obviously, this makes for poor portraits. Instead, stick to the shadier areas where you can utilize the penumbra effect. Your photographer will naturally guide you to the areas with the best back drops in relationship to light. There are some terrific spots for fall photos around the DC area. Click here to check out my post on the spots I recommend.

    Family of four outside for fall photos

  4. Use a tripod

    If you’re taking the photos yourself (and even if you’re a seasoned professional), a tripod can eliminate camera shake. This in turn can prevent an otherwise great family photo from going bad. A tripod will also give you more options, like using delayed timers to hop in the shot. Or if you simply want to delay it long enough to have your hand fully off the camera as the picture’s taken.

    Little boy pushing sister on a trike for fall photos

  5. Invest in a lens hood

    – Or use the one you’ve got. Fall light can certainly bleed in from the sides and cast unwanted flares onto your photos. Using the lens hood will keep strong light from entering the lens from the side angle. This in turn keeps your photos clean and beautiful.

    Family outside for fall photos

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