Fall Colors – Oak Glen California

Oak Glen California Fall Autumn Colors LeavesCanon 5D Mark III, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 135mm, f/2.8 for 1/80s at ISO 100


While other parts of the world are fortunate enough to see the annual changing of colors in their neighborhood or even their own backyards, in Southern California, it often takes a drive up to higher elevations. Oak Glen is one of our favorite spots to go enjoy fall like conditions and partake in pumpkin picking and chestnuts collecting. Many Southern Californians feel the same and during the months of October and November, the area can get quite busy as visitors enjoy the cooler fall like weather and conditions, as well as visit the various small shops selling unique and handmade items.

How to get this type of shot

The photo above was made at the Snowline Orchard in Oak Glen. Several maple trees dot the picnic area at the Orchard and on this day they were radiating bright red and were at the peak of their fall colors. It is quite easy to be in awe at a not-to-often seen subject by Southern California standards and to simply put your eye to the viewfinder and start snapping away. The key to getting a photograph instead of just a snapshot is to take the time to look for pleasing compositions and think about what you want to achieve with your shot. Before making the photo, first mentally envision how you want the scene rendered as a print.

I chose to isolate a particular group of leaves and shot at a large aperture to get a nice dreamy feel to the photo. I also paid particular attention to what was in the background so that I would get a nice creamy bokeh. Below are some tips to get a photo with a nice out-of-focus background that I hope you will find useful.

1. Aperture. This is the setting that many of you probably already know and is most associated with getting a shallow depth-of-field (DOF). Using smaller f-numbers means your lens is at a larger aperture and this results in creating a shallower DOF.

2. Focal Length. Have you ever noticed how those Sports Illustrated covershots seem to have the players just pop out of the background? Some of that has to do with the focal length these photographers are using, usually in the 400 – 600mm range for outdoor sports such as football, baseball and soccer. Everything else being equal, the longer the focal length, the smaller the depth-of-field.

3. Subject to Camera Distance. Have you ever noticed the razor thin depth-of-field on some macro shots? This is because as the subject to camera distance decreases, so does DOF. If you really want to get that nice out-of-focus background, bring your subject closer to the camera.

4. Subject to Background Distance. If you want to really make your subject pop, just make sure that they are far away from the background. A bush 5 feet behind your subject will still have some definition whereas if you put that same bush 40 feet behind your subject, it will render as a creamy green background with no clear definition.

5. Sensor Size. If both are framed identically with the same aperture, full frame sensors will give you a shallower DOF compared to a APS-C or crop body sensor by a factor of around 1 1/3 stops. This extends down to 4/3″ and smaller sensors as well. The primary reason that point-and-shoot cameras are not able to get shallow DOF even at large apertures, is due to their tiny sensor sizes. This is one of the reason why professionals and advanced amateurs prefer full frame cameras such as the Nikon D600, D700, D800, D4, D3 and Canon 1Ds, 1Dx, 5D and 6D series of cameras.

Here is a resource that helps determine the depth-of-field that you might find useful. DOFMater is not only a great tool, but the website also explain some of the theory behind DOF.


Maple tree at Snowline Orchards in Oak Glen California (Coordinates: 34.044214,-116.947484)


13 thoughts on “Fall Colors – Oak Glen California

  1. lovely, soft and delicate yet vibrant colors! Thank you for the detailed tips Mark…they are most helpful. I tried for landscapes this season, but it seemed when I saw something I wanted to photograph, by the time I found a parking spot the visual I had in my mind was totally gone and going back wasn’t an option. My favorite colors of autumn are the reds, which were very sparse, turning to rust and brown very quickly…there is always next year!

    • Thanks for stopping by Heather. Landscape photography really takes patients and the willingness to either wake up really early in the morning or shoot during dinner time. Keep at it and plan ahead and I am sure you will get something you really like.

  2. Ah those lovely American maples! Great reminder of just how beautiful the fall in America can be. Great composition too: your attention to detail really pays…

  3. Beautiful shot Mark, the color of the leaves of course impresses…but it is the great lighting and capture that makes this such a great shot. Again, love the explanation of your thoughts as you walk us through the make-up of this capture.

  4. Beautiful colour and wonderful composition. Up here in Canada we’ve gone through this magnificent change, many of the leaves have now fallen off the trees but the last few weeks have brought out some spectacular colours.

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