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Interactive Map Shows the Best Time to Photograph Fall Foliage

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An interactive fall foliage prediction map has made a photographers’ job of planning fall shoots easier by showing the peak periods when leaves will be at their most colorful in each region.

There are numerous apps available to photographers that make outdoor shoot planning easier, such as those that track sun movement, light pollution, best hiking trails, hourly weather forecast, cloud coverage, and many more. Even Apple Watch now tells photographers when to expect golden hour.

Now, the Smoky Mountains portal — a travel brand that markets the Smoky Mountains region — has added another resource to the list by updating the service it PetaPixel’s DL Cade originally covered seven years ago. The company has designed an interactive fall foliage prediction map that shows the optimal shooting days to pick for photography sessions and trips. Although aimed at informing tourists, it will be beneficial for photographers who want to make the most of colorful and atmospheric fall backgrounds for landscape, portrait, or wedding shoots.

The visual planning guide allows users to click through one week at a time, starting from August 30 to November 15, and shows the change in foliage across the United States, from “No Change” with leaves still green and all the way to “Past Peak” when leaves begin to fall.

The company uses a model that ingests a multitude of data sources including historical precipitation, NOAA precipitation forecasts, elevation, actual temperatures, temperature forecasts, and average daylight exposure to develop a baseline fall date for each county in the continental United States. Next, the model consumes hundreds-of-thousands of additional data points from a variety of government and non-government sources and layers this data over its own historical data from past years and, finally, with a high degree of accuracy, the algorithm produces nearly 50,000 date outputs indicating the progression of fall for every county in a graphical presentation that is easy to digest.

Although the leaf predictions are never 100-percent accurate, the company tells PetaPixel that after publishing the predictive fall foliage map for nearly a decade, it is confident in its data sources, process, and algorithm. The company hopes that this interactive tool will increase the number of people that are able to enjoy and make the most of peak fall in 2021.

“Due to the complexity of applying a humongous, multi-faceted dataset, we have historically published our map annually without mid-season updates,” Smoky Mountains explains. “However, for the first time ever, we plan to release a mid-season update in late September. By applying the mid-season update, we believe the accuracy and usefulness of the tool will be increased.”

For photographers of all genres, vibrant warm tones make fall photo sessions appealing and there are many ways this season can be documented to make the most of what nature has to offer.

For portraits, family, and wedding shoots, such as in the video above by photographer Tommy Kuo, the fall season gives natural vibrancy and warmth that can be utilized for flattering images.

Beautifully leaf-covered trails and parks provide a background that is not only visually pleasing but also allows subjects to engage with it, such as by children or pets playing with leaves or subjects sat or laid down with a bed full of colorful leaves around them.

Landscape photographers, on the other hand, will find that this season can dramatically change familiar locations while also enticing the exploration of new areas, such as in the video by Thomas Heaton, an avid landscape photographer himself.

To better plan fall shoots, the foliage prediction map can be found on Smoky Mountain’s website.


Image credits: Elements of header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

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