The Secret to When Leaves Change Color

It’s true. Everyone wants to be out when fall color is at its peak, but predicting peak colors isn’t easy. Fall foliage reports may be helpful. However, often they are not extremely accurate at the time of trip planning. Here’s the secret on how to strategize and select the best days for photographing fall colors in the Northeastern United States.

Choosing the Best Travel Days to Photograph Fall Foliage Blog Post by Chrissy Donadi

Autumn Tree Reflection

The timing of color changes in the leaves is primarily driven by the increasing length of night. As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer and cooler, biochemical processes being to change the leaf from green to some fall color variation. Different tree species change colors at different times.

In Pennsylvania, a few trees, such as Blackgum and Dogwood trees, show brilliant fiery reds in late August through September. In late September into early October, the maple trees will become red and orange. Typically, Oaks only show their yellow or red colors in October long after the Maple trees have shed their leaves.  All of this variety of deciduous forest land (trees and shrubs that seasonally shed leaves) is why Pennsylvania and the Northeast have a longer and more colorful fall season than most other places around the world.

When to Book Travel for Peak Fall Foliage

Whether they realize it or not, this is the reason why many photographers opt for the last week of September through the first 10 days in October as the best window of days to book their travel.  This is particularly true for areas like the Poconos in Pennsylvania and the Catskills and Adirondacks in New York.

In New England, the northern areas of Maine and New Hampshire have leaves turning colors normally around mid-to-late September.  Then, the colors peak around the middle of October. In the southern areas, such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, color will start later and can last up through October.  The color is later simply because of the delay of the longer nights reaching the northern states.  This is the reason that planning a trip for mid-October offers a higher probability of arriving for some type of vibrant colors throughout the landscape.

Continue to Photograph Before and After Peak Fall Foliage

While it is beneficial to do the research and attempt to put yourself in the right place at the best time for autumn colors, it doesn’t always pan out perfectly. That’s life. Do not put away your camera if the timing is off or conditions are not perfect. There are plenty of opportunities to be found if you keep an open mind. Many of my best images are shot throughout the weeks leading up to and after peak.

If you go to enjoy the experience, you will find something to photograph. Experience and enjoy the beauty of sleeping in a little more before an autumn sunrise, the warmth of sipping coffee on a cool, crisp morning, or the sound of leaves rustling in the wind.  Go explore and let those feelings feed into your adventure and where you decide to point your camera from grand landscapes to small scenes.  If you start out with the expectation that you want to go and enjoy whatever color and light you find, then you’ll find plenty of scenes that catch your eye which are worth photographing.

Happy Photographing!