3 Tips for Fall Color on a North Georgia Trip

Lake Zwerner, Georgia Beautiful fall colors across Lake Zwerner in northern Georgia. November 2, 2017.

It’s our first autumn living in the southeast. Georgia to be specific. Coming from California we really only knew two seasons, and depending on where you lived the two could have various names.

  • Hot / Not Hot
  • Dry / Wet
  • Fire / Not Fire
  • Shakey / Still

The only leaves we saw change were the few maple trees the city planted along our street.

There are places in California where fall can be seen on display. Places like Hope Valley, where people flock to see the aspens turn gold in October, or Yosemite. For the most part though, California is not a mecca for viewing fall color.

Not being familiar with Georgia, I went online to find the best places to see fall color in Georgia. What I found is that it would mean gazing into the eyes of a dragon. Dragon Eyes is two loops of state highways which make up a beautiful drive through a national forest.

Dahlonega and Lake Zwerner

Our first stop before heading up into the foothills was at Dahlonega, the site of the first major U.S. Gold Rush and the heart of Georgia Wine Country.

Wine country? In Georgia? A little surprising, but it does give us a reason to come back for a weekend.

The stop in Dahlonega wasn’t a long one. It lasted just long enough for the dog to be walked and to check out a couple antique stores. Nothing was bought. I was keeping in mind our main objective – fall color and dragon eyes.

We’ll be back. Remember? Wine.

Up the road from Dahlonega is Lake Zwerner. A large pull-out provides a good spot to pull over for the first of my fall color images. A three mile long trail, which we did not take, loops the lake. Maybe next time.

Lake Zwerner, Dahlonega, GA

Chattahoochee National Forest and Photo Tips

Leaving Lake Zwerner we followed the highway up to the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chattahoochee National Forest, where the fall color really began to stand out.

When capturing fall color it is always tempting to get the grand, wide shots of the colors spread over the top of a forest.  When the colors are being particularly showy that makes for some wonderful images. On this day the bright colors were still hiding among the green a bit.

In this case, getting the best of the changing leaves requires getting close in. It’s the only way to really get the full effect of what autumn has to offer. Color is all around, and soon the trees will be bare. Some already are. Some have yet to begin shedding their leaves. Tell this story.

The lone aspen stands out with only a few leaves topping it like a yellow beret. Soon even those few leaves will be gone.

fall color - orange leaves

Getting in close also lets you take advantage of something I think really makes fall foliage pop.


Sunlight coming from behind the leaves enhances the color and makes them glow.

fall colors - red and yellow

Pay attention to contrast. Not just tonal (light and dark), but color contrast as well. This, after all, is what fall color is all about. The contrast that make everything stand out. Capture the contrast and gradation.

So, here are your 3 tips to capturing fall color:

  1. Get close.
  2. Use backlighting.
  3. Contrast is your friend.

The Shoe Tree at Neel’s Gap

The next stop on our journey through the woods was at Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap. It’s an outfitter near the southern start of the Appalachian Trail. This also makes it near the end of the trail if you are coming from the north. It has become a tradition for those who finish the Appalachian Trail to hang their old boots in the tree outside the store. The store encourages shoe hanging, of course, since it increases the likelihood of selling new boots.

Shoe tree at Neel's Gap, GA

Brasstown Bald

Next it was up to the highest point in the state of Georgia, Brasstown Bald at 4,784 feet. Where I came from that’s the foothills, but on a clear day from the top of Brasstown Bald you can see four states, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and of course Georgia.

View from Brasstown Bald

Even from this elevated position, the best shots of color were from close up. Let me give this tip once more. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when taking pictures is not getting close enough to the subject. This is especially true with people shots. Photography is intimate. Get close.

Brasstown Bald visitor center

Here is a good example. Fall color is not always the bright reds, oranges, and yellows we think about. Often fall is about softly lighted neutral colors. It was getting toward sunset when this image was made. Seeds getting ready to scatter in the wind tell a great story about autumn and the coming of winter. Come spring these seeds will bring forth new life, but first they must die.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone and is of no use. But if it dies, it will spring forth with new life and produce much fruit (John 12:24 -Randy’s Paraphrase).

Seeds ready to scatter

The road home - fall color

Your Turn

As we turn down the road toward home let me thank you for taking the time to read and look at my images. These images, and many more, are available in my Smugmug galleries. Help me to continue making images by purchasing prints. Thanks.

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