Planning is paramount! Don’t just arrive and start driving around with no real plan. You need to know where and when you want to go and what you want to shoot. If, for example, you arrive on one of the last days of September in Maine and drive to Camden to shoot the fall colors and the harbor, you may be a bit disappointed.
Be aware that the colors generally flow from the North down to the South. Also, they will start sooner in low swampy areas and at higher elevations (where it gets colder sooner). The colors arrive last at the coastal areas. Check out my blog for the foliage forecast to start planning your trip.
Gather Info From Locals
Talk to the locals who know the back roads and subsequently see the fall colors develop every year. Stop by a general store or gas station. These owners are typically proud of where they live, and are used to people stopping for directions and asking all about their local towns.
Even though you can travel to the top of Mount Washington in an hour and within 2 hours be on the coast, distances can be deceiving.
Murphy's Law suggests you will always find something else to photograph along the way, before you ever reach your destination. So here’s a good rule of thumb: Allow twice as much time to your destination as the distance typically required.
Don’t Forget a Map
You can pick up maps or a road atlas at nearly any gas station to plan out your route. I use Delorme map books (also known as gazetteers) in conjunction with a GPS. Why? Map books are good for planning but they are lousy at telling you where you are. Conversely, GPSs are great at telling you where you are but lousy at planning and seeing the big picture. And you will definitely need to think broadly. You may have heard, for example, that a certain location is showing great fall colors. But you may notice on the map that if you take certain roads you will drive by a waterfall and covered bridges. Unless your GPS has a special feature that calls out every scenic feature along the way, you might be missing out on some other spectacular camera-worthy views.
Read What Local Experts Have Written
Many local writers have put out books on what you will find when you arrive in New England. One especially useful pamphlet (30 pages, for $20) is John Arnold Kaplan’s How to Find (and Photograph) the Photo-Scenics in Vermont, by a photographer who has crossed the hills of Vermont many times. The booklet lists good points of reference, including street names and the number of miles to look for on the odometer.
Many times, especially during October, rain (or snow) hits New England. That just means more opportunity for saturated colors. It also means that as the storm passes and begins to clear you might get a rainbow! So if I have the option to stay in or go walk in the rain, I say take the walk. If you plan to drive, though, keep in mind: Just because your GPS says you can travel that little red line to your destination, doesn’t mean your car can travel on a snowmobile trail. I had a big truck when I tried a road in Vermont. Let’s just say sometimes you need to know when the road is winning.
Best Times to Shoot
Most professional photographers will tell you that there are only 2 times to photograph: dawn and sunset. The thinking goes that these times are when the sunlight is at its warmest color and when it is also coming in from the side. And certainly, this warm light helps capture beautiful fall shots. But here’s a little secret: You can get a lot of great shots between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., too. So get out there, and start capturing New England’s fall foliage.