When it comes to color, Mother Nature can top anything ever turned out by Kodak, Fuji or anyone else. And this is the time of year when nature's colors hit their peak in many parts of the country.

Those colors are the beautiful reds and golds you will find in leaves as the cooler autumn weather arrives.Granted, you can't find them everywhere. The desert Southwest probably is not the best place to look. But head into the northern half of the nation in October and November, and you'll find beauty everywhere. When I lived in upstate New York and in Boston, a trip into the Adirondacks or the Berkshires was a joy every October.

And, there is plenty of help in finding the best spots for color.

In many states, the tourism bureaus and commerce departments provide forecasts on when the colors will be at their peak in any given area. Also, many TV weather channels provide periodic charts on where to find the best color.

Just where to find color and how long it lasts depends on the weather. The best colors come when the oaks and maples are hit with sudden, sharp frosts during the night. In areas where the colder weather comes slowly, the leaves just don't pick up the most vivid colors. For example, when I lived in Mississippi, I remember that most of thedded joys of this fall photography is that almost any kind of camera will produce some beautiful shots. Even a point-and-shoot model can turn out the sort of pictures you will want to have enlarged, and mounted on your walls.

Naturally, the more sophisticated the camera, the wider the latitude you will have in your shooting. That's especially true in areas where you can use a telephoto lens to reach out into the mountains for the most spectacular shots. And, a wide-angle lens will enable you to include sharp foreground objects such as a fence against an equally sharp color background.

There's an old rule that you should keep the sun behind you when shooting, but the leaves offer a good reason to break it. Sunlight filtering through the leaves brings out wonderful color when you shoot into the light. Just be sure that the direct rays of the sun do not hit your lens or the picture will be fogged.

A person standing among the leaves will look even nicer if shooting into the sun provides a halo effect in his or her hair. Just be sure you allow enough exposure to bring out the detail in the face. A little overexposure in the leaves won't hurt a bit.

If your camera has a flash-fill setting, you can use it to fill in the dark spots. If not, cover the flash with a white tissue to cut down the intensity. Otherwise, the flash may wash out the background.

For the best detail and the brightest colors, use one of the slower-speed films. Kodacolor Gold 100 or Ektar 125 are good choices. You can go as high as 400-speed film, but, with rare exceptions, nothing faster. Slide films such as Kodachrome, Fujichrome and Ektachrome also are good choices if you prefer projection over color prints.

Don't be upset if your appointed day for shooting fall color turns out to be dull or even rainy. The leaves will retain their color, and it's just a matter of finding the best angles to make the best use of the available light. Some of the most dramatic shots can be found when there is a little sunshine and the dark clouds are building up in the sky. And, if nothing else, you have a chance to enjoy the outdoors and a walk in the woods.

That's hard to beat anywhere!