Trumpeter swan in flight over fall color wash reflection on lake © Michael DeYoung

Fall is my favorite season. Like many photographers, I get stoked about capturing blazing fall colors with big mountain landscapes in gorgeous sunrise or sunset light. Who doesn’t love beautifully lit golden aspens under deep blue skies? Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

Long stretches of cloudy wet weather are a reality in Alaska and over my 34 years photographing here, I had to learn to create impactful imagery suitable for tourism promotion in cloudy, wet weather. Unless it’s a downpour where you risk serious damage to your gear, grey skies, light rain, or, better yet, snow, shouldn’t mean keeping your camera put away.

Fresh dusting of snow on lake side trees in Anchorage. © Michael DeYoung

It’s rare to see snowfall in September in Anchorage. This was a real treat and I love shooting during snowfall even better than rain.


Don’t get bummed out because you are not getting the grand landscapes you came for. Get out and make some grey sky weather magic! Consider it an opportunity to grow creatively. Focus less on named geographic places and features, or specific plant and animal species and simplify your subjects to just patterns and colors.

These subjects photograph well in grey skies and rain:

  • Flowing water including waterfalls
  • Forest interior and close-ups of forest understory
  • Really dark, stormy clouds and mountain ridges with low clouds below summits
  • Close-ups of animals (and people) with fall color background
Photograph moose in the local area during a guided photo tour during our Best of Alaska Fall Landscapes, Glaciers, & Moose photo tour © Michael DeYoung

A moose cow and calf feed on alders in Kinkaid Park in Anchorage on a grey morning with light drizzle. This is part of our Best of Alaska Fall Landscapes workshop.



1. Fill the frame with patterns and/or color. Fall colors are often more saturated when wet than they are in full sun. The key to drawing maximum attention to saturated fall colors is to eliminate the things that distract from them – usually the sky. I often find this easier to fill my frame with color using telephoto lenses but with expansive colors real close to me, I can use a wide angle lens as well. My thinking is flat light, long lens.

Close up of Canadian bunchberry which is part of the dogwood family. © Michael DeYoung

On the Alaska tundra, there is a whole world of interesting color and design beneath your feet. This was shot while raining and the water drops really add to the wet feel. Sheltering my lens from the rain, I was able to make some tight shots focusing on the colors of this bunchberry turning fall colors. A circular polarizer really reduced the glare aiding in color saturation. Denali Highway, August, 2023


2. Eliminate featureless white skies. Including large portions of bald, white sky really diminishes impact in the rest of the photo. Our eyes often go to the brightest part of the image. Don’t take your viewer to the least interesting part of your image – large spaces of white sky. Yes, you can crop in post processing but it’s better to crop on location, through your viewfinder. There are 2 conditions in which I include sky: 1) with rich textured and dark clouds above mountains and terrain, and 2) when low clouds and fog form below mountain peaks and other high terrain such as canyon walls.

Fall colors along road to Anchangel Valley - Alaska © Michael DeYoung

This is another example of how brilliant fall colors can look during a light rain and grey skies. This is from the Talkeetna Mountains looking into Lane Valley. More capable processing tools in the latest versions of Lightroom allowed me to mask the sky and mountains to help bring out the textures of the clouds. This image would not work without the lower clouds below mountain tops.


On the technical side, it’s important to verify there is detail in your sky. Shoot HDR, use a graduated ND filter (if you have a near straight horizon), or verify with your histogram that you have detail in your sky if you are capturing it all in one frame. If you’ve lost detail in your highlights, there is nothing you can do to save the image in post processing except for sky replacement, which, if not used skillfully, creates unnatural looking images.

Fall landscape of trees below Mount Sneffels in the Colorado San Juan Mountains. © Michael DeYoung

Mount Sneffels in the Colorado San Juan Mountains. I think fall colors are more saturated in flat light. The key to making a flat light, big landscape image work is to have dark, moody and textured clouds. A bland and featureless white or grey sky would have resulted in poor separation between ridge lines and sky. In grey skies and rain, really look for color and tonality contrast throughout your images.


3. Create color and contrast separation. Separation is a key design element every good image should have. Separation makes your subject stand out from the background and can add a sense of depth to the image. In flat light I really pay attention to having visually pleasing contrasting colors and tones next to each other. With color contrast especially, having only a few really makes images pop. Too many colors create visual confusion and monochromatic images just lack interest. On the Alaska tundra in fall my favorite color combinations are what I call the condiment package – ketchup, mustard, and relish. The tundra is often ablaze with reds, yellows, and greens.

Cow moose walking through fall colored forest in fog. Anchorage, Alaska © Michael DeYoung

With flat light I always try to find contrast and/or color separation to make my subject stand out from the background. I find most wildlife subjects photograph well in fog or grey skies when they are in the forest such as this cow moose in Chugach State Park, near Eagle River, Alaska. The softening and higher key light of the fog makes it easy to achieve contrast separation with the moose.


4. Polarizers make colors pop. Polarizers aren’t just for making blue skies darker and making pretty, white clouds pop. They also remove glare from wet surfaces such as foliage and water. In post processing, you can saturate colors, but dehaze or other features will not remove glare. Only polarizers do that.

5. Slow it down and let it flow. Flowing waters often make fine subjects in flat light and rain. I carry a 6-stop dark polarizer that really helps me play with creative shutter speeds and showing water motion. The best shutter speed varies with each situation and there is no one right answer for all flowing water. When working with flowing water, bracket your shutter speeds. For me, the best way to do this is to lock down my aperture (usually f/16) so my depth of field stays the same, and vary my shutter speed by changing my ISO setting. With today’s mirrorless bodies and processing tools I can get smooth landscapes at 800 ISO. Amazing! I usually start at 1/4 second and go slower from there until I find the right look.

Fall landscape of cotton candy like Brushkana Creek along the Denali Highway, Alaska. © Michael DeYoung

Brushkana Creek along the Denali Highway shot in the rain from our most recent Denali Highway fall colors and northern lights tour. Flowing waters photograph well in rainy conditions as long as you eliminate the sky. I almost always bracket my shutter speed when shooting this type of subject matter. For this series, I used my X4 dark CPL from Breakthrough Photography so I can really get slow shutter speeds. This one is at 4 seconds. The next image was shot at 1/2 second. Which one you like better is a personal taste and there is nothing wrong with liking both. Even though the second shot at 1/2 second shows more detail I personally like the longer because it has a more soothing feel to me.

Fall landscape along Brushkana Creek on the Denali Highway, Alaska. © Michael DeYoung

Brushkana Creek, Denali Highway shot at 1/2 second. When doing a series of flowing water I bracket my shutter speeds. To do that without loosing my depth of field and proper exposure I shoot in Aperture Priority. I lock down the aperture (f16 in this case) and the exposure compensation (+1 full stop). I then change ISO settings to get different shutter speeds. This doesnÕt change my range of focus or histogram. I find with my R5 that I can have virtually noiseless images, if properly exposed with minimal shadow, up to 800 ISO. This allows me to vary my ISO from 100 to 800 to get different shutter speeds and different feels and looks to the water.


6. Stay motivated for clearing storm light. The best light and conditions almost always happen in clearing storm scenarios, either at sunset or sunrise and often both. Even in desert locations, all day precipitation events followed by evening clearing often produce magical fog and low clouds in the morning that may not be mentioned in public forecasts. In Alaska, storms systems last for days. One of the things that keeps me motivated on successive days of grey and bleak skies is having the time to scout and know exactly where I will be when clearing storm light happens.


Endless miles of tundra in fall colors with fresh snow in the Alaska Range © Michael DeYoung

A clearing shower leaves fresh snow on the Clearwater Mountains above tundra fall colors along the Denali Highway. This was from our 2022 Denali Highway tour.

A clearing storm sunrise along the Denali Highway in the Alaska Range. © Michael DeYoung

A clearing storm sunrise along the Denali Highway in the Alaska Range.