Capturing Swirling Autumn Leaves

One of the great things about photographing autumn colors is that there is so much to shoot within one season. From sweeping landscapes to intimate macro shots, there’s a lot to explore as a photographer! Among the possibilities, and a personal favorite actually, is capturing leaves floating in the water, especially when they’re spiraling around in a pool. If you’ve ever wondered how to capture this kind of scene in all its autumnal glory, read on!

Probably the most important tool in a scene like this will be a polarizing filter. These filters cut the glare on the water dramatically, and since the subject is in the water, that’s especially important here. Additionally, depending on the time of day, you may need to use an ND filter stacked with a polarizer. The image below was taken late on a cloudy day so I didn’t need the ND filter, but in brighter conditions it may be necessary

However, it’s important to think about how long of an exposure you need. One common mistake with long exposure photography is to assume the longer, the better. That’s not always true. For swirling leaves, if the exposure time is too long it can become difficult to see the actual motion or color. The image below comes from a 20 second exposure, which was just right to capture the combination of motion, light and color in this scenario. Factors such as the swirl’s size and speed will mean differing exposure times, but in most cases 20 to 60 seconds will be enough. For that reason, if you need to use an ND filter consider keeping the 8 or 10 stop one in your bag – a lighter one will do the job here.

And that’s basically it! With these ideas in mind, you’re ready to do some great autumn swirl photography. As I said, this is one of my favorite kinds of photography to do in the autumn, and I hope you’ll have the opportunity to try it out for yourself. Thanks for reading, and happy shooting!

Camera: Nikon D610
Lens: Nikon 16-35mm f/4
Shot Info: f/11 | 20 sec | ISO 125 | 17mm
Filters: Tiffen Circular Polarizer

Autumn leaves swirling in water

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