It is conventional wisdom that direct, harsh sunlight is not a good light for photography. Cloudy day decreases the contrast and produces better result it goes.

Does it also apply to fall foliage? My google search seems to tell me so. For example, http://www.thephotoargus.com/tips/a-detailed-guide-to-photographing-fall-foliage/

But with my naked eyes, a bright sunny day definitely produces the best color out of fall foliage. A south-facing mountain on a bright sunny day creates sparking, vivid color.

Anyone has a take on this? Even for fall foliage, is a cloudy day better for photography?

3 Answers 3


A blue sky is very useful for bringing out the color of fall foliage in the foreground. The best conditions for a blue sky are when you are aiming at right angles from the sun. That maximizes how much a polarizer can accentuate the blue, making the leaves look more colored in contrast. The whole sky doesn't have to be cloudless and sun doesn't have to be shining on your subject, but a blue sky in the background helps.

You get different effects whether the leaves are in sunlight or illuminated thru clouds. Both can be "good". It depends on what you want to show. If I had to pick one though, I think I'd take the sunlit one.


Any question that includes "best results" without strictly defining the criteria for "best" will attract a variety of different responses based on the opinions of the writer of each answer. Here's my opinion.

My preference for wider, landscape foliage shots using medium focal lengths at longer distances during the fall season is a bright sunny day in the first hour or so after sunrise and the last hour or so before sunset. To really make the sky blue and the Autumn colors pop, use a circular polarizer. Set up your compositions so that the direction you are shooting is 90° from the direction of the sunlight and rotate the filter until you see the amount of polorization you want.

For closer, detailed work I prefer the more even lighting of a very cloudy or even overcast day.

Either way, if you expose properly and save your pictures as RAW files, you have a lot of latitude in post to adjust the color temperature, saturation, and contrast. It really depends on the look you want you pictures to have.


Sunny or cloudy, midday or evening, it all depends. The same view can be so different in so many ways. The important piece of advice is that You choose the time and location and filters and exposure, everything. It will be Your photo, nobody else's but yours.

For example, here's two shots of the same scene, taken only 20 seconds apart:

enter image description here

enter image description here

I rotated the circular polarizer filter 90 degrees between the shots. Otherwise they are the exact same.

Now, what is the best time to try and capture vivid colors of fall foliage, nobody can really tell - except for what has worked for them. The rest is up to you.

And, after saying that, I suggest you try late afternoon/evening when light will be of warmer tone, enhancing the yellow-orange-red colors of the fall foliage. As long as you are photographing landscapes a cloudless day often looks better than cloudy, for having the contrast of blue sky on fall colours. It has worked for me. :)

  • 1
    that oversaturation hurt my eyes :'(
    – fortran
    Nov 2, 2013 at 23:23
  • 2
    @fortran - those are clean RAW-files converted to JPEGs without any adjustments. All settings at zero or "off" values. No saturation, no tone adjustment. That's how vivid those fall colors can be. Nov 3, 2013 at 4:49
  • there's no such thing as "convert from raw to jpeg without adjustments" (even the default settings of any given program have built-in assumptions about how to interpret the raw data) ;-) maybe it's my monitor, I'm using the sRGB profile but it's not calibrated...
    – fortran
    Nov 3, 2013 at 16:43
  • Here's the same photo with my settings. I oversaturated this one on purpose, for comparison to how tame the one in my answer really looks like ;) Nov 3, 2013 at 20:33

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