autumn leaves

For the love of autumn: 10 favourite leafy pursuits

For the love of autumn: 10 favourite leafy pursuits.jpg

Autumn and spring are my absolute favourite seasons. The colour that transforms our streets and parks and woodland never fails to uplift and inspire me as nature puts on her spectacular end of year finale. I struggle with winter - the dark days, bleakness and brown everything - so I like to savour and soak up autumn whilst it's here. My favourite way to do that is of course photography (I'm typing this on a crisp winter's day and re-living all those beautiful moments and that delicious colour as I look through my photos). So I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourite autumnal leafy photographic pursuits and a lovely burst of colour along the way.

All of these photographs were taken at Winkworth Arboretum, Sheffield Park & Gardens and Scotney Castle (all National Trust) - my favourite places for autumn colour near me.


1. Leafy Close-Ups

Those amazing leaves deserve their moment in the spotlight. I love to hunt out the extra special ones and find a lovely colourful backdrop (a pile of leaves on the floor or a colourful tree is ideal) and use a shallow depth of field to blur the background and allow the leaves to stand out.

IMG_3580.jpg

For most of these shots I used a 50mm f1.4 lens on my Canon 6d and shot wide open at f1.4 for maximum blur and also because the light was very low. My usual lens of choice for autumn shots is my 100mm f2.8 macro lens which allows me to reach up into the trees, but for these shots, as I was holding the leaves whilst photographing them, I needed a shorter focal length.

IMG_3558_edited.jpg
IMG_3563_edited.jpg
IMG_3876_edited.jpg
IMG_3557_edited.jpg

2. Hunting out the best colour combinations

As well as honing in on the details of autumn, I love to stand back and look at the sum of its parts. The beautiful tonal ranges and melee of different colours from leaves at different stages of transformation, all working together to please our eyes.

Sometimes these beautiful colour combinations can be found in a single tree, other times beautiful compositions can be created by placing a contrasting colour in the background of the tree or leaf you are photographing (as I did with the close-ups above).

IMG_3636.jpg
IMG_3745.jpg

I always love to use a shallow depth of field for my autumn shots, to blur the background and allow the eye to focus on the important leaves or tree in the foreground; this also helps to accentuate any colours in the background, as they simply become colour rather than distracting details.


3. Collecting leaves

One of my absolute favourite things of all is to wander around hunting out the prettiest leaves (windfall only of course) to admire as I walk along, as well as photograph and take home with me. I have been known to wear some in my hair (or hat as is usually the case!) and arrange some pretty leaf bouquets. Always go prepared with a collection bag for your treasures :)

IMG_3782_edited.jpg

TOP TIP: leaves will keep well for a few days in the fridge if you put them in a plastic bag with a sprinkle of water. This comes in handy if you want to photograph them, but the light has gone by the time you get back home.


4. Leafy flatlays

This goes hand in hand with no.3 above. For me, one of life's great pleasures is arranging leaves in pleasing combinations and shapes and then photographing them to enjoy for months and years to come. It's a wonderful activity for mindfulness practice as it is wholly absorbing - I find it so relaxing.

IMG_1215.jpg
IMG_0989.jpg
IMG_1216.jpg
IMG_1389.jpg
IMG_1107.jpg
IMG_1220.jpg
IMG_1423.jpg
IMG_1317.jpg

5. Admiring the Autumn Carpet

IMG_3871.jpg

There is so much joy to be found in autumn whichever way you look. But a carpet of fallen colourful leaves is so very beautiful and brings out the inner child in me. After photographing their perfection, I can't help but kick them along or throw great handfuls of them up in the air (I'll spare you the slow-mo videos of me doing this ;) Whatever you do, make sure you look down to your feet as well as up in the air or there is so much you will miss.

IMG_3681.jpg
IMG_3428.jpg

6. The art of fallen leaves

I love to seek out the fallen leaves that have landed gently on a moss-covered branch, or been caught in the gentle embrace of other leaves. It feels a bit like suspending a moment in time. I could sit and watch the leaves gently drifting by all day. It makes a great subject for some slo-mo video too :)

IMG_3727.jpg
IMG_3656.jpg

7. Warming up with a cup of tea

It's easy to wander for miles when you're entranced by all the beautiful leaves, and it can be cold out there too. I usually make sure we have a flask of hot tea with us to revive us - and this year I went one better and took my favourite mug with me for a treat. It makes a great photo subject too :)

IMG_3827_edited.jpg
IMG_3852.jpg

8. Getting my head under the trees

Sometimes (often!) the best views and light are from under the trees. You'll often find me pacing around and doing circuits of my favourite trees to find the best light - and looking up. So many people seem to just stroll on by, missing out on some of the best colour and photo opportunities. Go under and look up people!

IMG_3186.jpg
IMG_3742.jpg

9. Taking portraits

All that glorious autumn colour provides a perfect backdrop for some portraits. Find some pretty leaves to frame your shot or provide some colour for the background. We've had fun trying to take some photos of our little dog Misty amongst the fallen leaves - but it's considerably more challenging than taking photos of people, as trying to get her to sit still is a nightmare! She's much more interested in the ducks.....

IMG_3363.jpg
IMG_3409.jpg

10. Seeking out the softness

Autumn colours can be rich and vibrant, but I've found my taste veering towards the softer end of the spectrum with some gentler, more muted colours of late. I love to seek out the pastel tones and accentuate the softness with a very shallow depth of field (you will likely gather I'm a big fan of blurry backgrounds!). A big part of the fun is then back at my computer, reviewing the beauty I've captured and playing with the edits to soften the colours and cool the tones to fit with my style.

IMG_3177.jpg
IMG_3719.jpg


Pin this post to Pinterest

For the love of autumn: 10 favourite leafy pursuits.jpg

Hunting for autumn colour in Sussex and Surrey

Since we moved to East Sussex from Oxford two years ago, I have been on the look out for the best places to find autumn colour, and more specifically, Acers. Acer leaves are my favourite thing to photograph in the autumn - there's something so pleasing and special about their shape and the huge range of colours they display as the season moves on. The best collection of Acers I have ever found is at Westonbirt Arboretum. However, this is now quite a trek for us and most certainly not a day trip anymore. So I've been on the lookout for the best Acer collections closer to home....

Winkworth Arboretum

This year, we visited Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey (The National Trust's only arboretum) for the first time and I wasn't disappointed, even though we were probably a couple of weeks away from the peak colour. It was blissfully quiet as we visited on a week day and I'm sure this considerably added to my enjoyment!

Winkworth is a large place, so be prepared for lots of walking, some of it steep. The visitors map suggests three different routes - we opted for the "Challenging walk" with steep steps of approx. 3.6km that took in most of the arboretum. We soon strayed off track, though, as I got distracted by the leaves, so I'm not sure how much of this we completed. There's also an accessible 1km route with no steps, and a shorter "taste of" walk that is 1.6km.

For us, it was definitely a whole day trip (but bear in mind there are frequent stops for photography - I can spend a LONG time with my head and camera stuck in a single beautiful tree!) and I'm very glad we took a packed lunch with us. There is a small cafe, but the lunch options are limited and it's located at the entrance, so it's quite a trek to get back there.

Since adopting our rescue dog, Misty, one of our additional requirements this year was to find places that allowed dogs to visit. Quite a challenge, it seems! A big tick in the box for Winkworth, though, even if the "short lead" rule seemed a little unnecessary.

I think Misty enjoyed the trip, but got rather impatient with our frequent photography stops! With such a beautiful backdrop, I just had to attempt some portraits. I had grand visions of some beautiful shallow depth of field shots of Misty, with leaves gently falling around her. Reality, however, didn't quite match-up.... Photographing pets is clearly an art form and I have a lot to learn. We had fun, though!

I also got a little obsessed with photographing the seed pods. I love the bright pop of red that really catches the light. Such a brilliant distribution system!

All in all, a thoroughly lovely visit - I look forward to returning next year!

Sheffield Park and Garden

I think the best place for autumn colour and Acers close to home, has to be the National Trust's Sheffield Park and Garden in East Sussex. It really comes alive in the autumn. But with it, of course, come large visitor numbers. If you can, I would try and get there for opening time on a week day. Unfortunately we were restricted to visiting after 1.30pm as this is the only time you are allowed to take dogs in the garden. We visited a couple of times this year, once on a Friday (busy, but still pleasant) and once on a Sunday (jam-packed, noisy and very hard to get much photography in without other people in your shot!).  Still worth it, though, as it's a stunning place with a beautiful Acer collection and one I will most definitely return to next year.

My lens of choice for autumn photography is my 100mm macro lens as it allows me to get nice and close with a decent background blur (and also a good way of avoiding other people in your shots!). All the photos in this post were taken on my macro lens.  One thing I love to do is to try and line up a contrasting colour as the background for my leaf shots - for me, the background is what makes or breaks the shot.

If you'd like to read more about autumn photography you might like my Photo tips: capturing autumn/fall colour post.

One of the great things about Sheffield Park is that there is a lot of concentrated autumn colour in a relatively small space, so you don't have to walk far to take in a lot of beauty. But I guess that's the reason it's so popular and busy....


Other places to visit

Do you have any suggestions for other places to visit for autumn colour not far from East Sussex? I'd love to hear them. Other places I've visited include:

  • Nymans - a beautiful place, but best in the spring and summer I think - there was a little autumn colour, but nothing substantial. Plus, no dogs allowed in the garden.
  • Standen House and Garden - I was very disappointed when I visited here last autumn - hardly anything to see - so I haven't returned since.
  • Wakehurst Place - I love it here and there are quite a few Acers as I recall, but sadly no dogs are allowed, so we haven't visited recently.

Autumn colour at Westonbirt Arboretum

Have you ever visited Westonbirt Arboretum in Tetbury, Gloucestershire? If not, I can highly recommend it - most definitely one of our national treasures. It is ablaze with colour in the autumn and has the most extensive and beautiful collection of Acers I have ever seen. It's become something of a birthday tradition for me to visit - luckily for me, my birthday tends to fall at the peak of the colour :)

Despite moving to the coast, I couldn't miss out - Westonbirt in the autumn really is one of my all time favourite things to do. So this year, we made a little mini-break of it and stayed a few nights in Lacock, a very pretty village in the care of the National Trust, about 30-40 minutes away. We enjoyed visiting Lacock Abbey and its beautiful grounds. We also managed to fit in a visit to Bath on a rainy Saturday, and a leisurely visit to Courts Garden. We found Lacock the perfect base - considerably cheaper than staying in Bath and very well located for Westonbirt. If you do plan a visit to Westonbirt next year, it is so much better to visit on a week day if this is at all possible - it gets very busy in the autumn and the car parks get jam packed on weekends.

I make no apologies for the amount of photos in this post! We spent a very happy day wandering around Westonbirt, and believe me, I can take a LOT of photos in a day ;) It's a very popular place for photographers, so you will sometimes find yourself elbow to elbow with fellow snappers. I remember smiling to myself as I took these photos - I think there were about 8 or so other women around me, with their heads in the trees and cameras glued to their eyes and it was completely silent - apart from the sound of shutters.....

Westonbirt is HUGE. It is split into two parts - the old arboretum, and the new arboretum. My favourite part is the acer glade in the old arboretum - but there are so many paths and collections and Acers everywhere - so it's very easy to get lost. But lost in a good way! Dogs are only allowed in the new arboretum, which is vast - perfect for long walks. You'll find a greater variety of trees there, but still a good smattering of Acers (did I mention I adore Acers?!!).

The colour seemed especially good this year and I found myself drawn to the reds like a moth to a flame. The beautiful leaves make a wonderful background as well as a foreground.

If you're interested in the lenses and settings I used to capture these photos, you might like to take a look at my recent post: Photo tips: capturing autumn / fall colour.

And just to prove it's not all about the reds, here are a few other colours I managed to capture :)

And finally, I just had to include a few favourites from my visit to the very beautiful Courts Garden. We got there early, before it opened, so enjoyed a lovely walk from Courts to Great Chalfield Manor and back. And ended our visit the perfect way, by stumbling across a super lovely cafe nearby called the Old Glove Factory - bright, light and spacious with delicious food and comfy chairs for reading the papers. Oh, and superfast wifi. A most happy Sunday indeed :)

These giant heart shaped leaves came from a vine - just amazing!

Heart shaped leaf at Courts Garden

We were even treated to a few bursts of sunshine whilst we were there - most welcome indeed, after a very grey weekend.

Next to Acers, I think these gorgeous giant leaves from the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) have to be my absolute favourite. They really are a perfect tulip shape. I spent rather a long time playing with these, alongside the toddlers ;) If you'd like to see a few more, have a look at my video on Instagram - but I warn you, it's a bit spinny, spinny!

A bunch of yellow Tulip Tree leaves (Liriodendron tulipifera) from Courts Garden

You'll be relieved to know that's it from me (for now) - well done on reaching the end!

I'm shortly off on a lovely break away somewhere with no wifi, phone signal or tv - bliss! So things will be a bit quiet on here for a while - but I promise to return with plenty more tales and photos.