Spring is a season of renewal. Nature is once again coming to life after the bleak winter months, showering us with blooming, colorful flowers. Shooting in the spring is especially energizing and fulfilling. The days are longer and the weather is pleasant, making it more enjoyable to explore outside with a camera.
Here, I’ve compiled the best tips for spring photography. From compositional ideas to gear recommendations, this guide will help you capture spring in its full glory before summer rears its head.
In the spring, it’s crucial to catch the flowers at their peak. The peak periods for seasonal flowers can be short, so it’s important to plan.
Research the peak flowering period for the area that you’ll be shooting in. Then, plan a photography trip to fit within that period.
You’ll also want to consider the best time of day to shoot. For instance, the cherry blossom trees in Japan or Washington D.C. are a popular subject for photography in the spring. But, to capture the cherry blossoms at their peak, you’ll have to navigate crowded streets and parks.
If you select cherry blossoms as your subject, try shooting early in the morning. At this time of day, you’ll avoid large mobs of people and get a clearer, more focused shot of the flowers. Plus, you can take advantage of the soft, diffused morning light to accentuate the flowers’ bloom.
2. Photograph Waterfalls
We tend to focus on blossoming flowers in the spring. But, during spring, natural bodies of water are flourishing, too. Melted snow from the winter months makes for rushing streams, rivers and waterfalls.
These boisterous, rushing waterfalls and rivers at the end of winter provide endless photographic opportunities.
Capture the anticipation of getting soaked by a rushing waterfall to add tension and excitement to your image.
To do this, you’ll need to use your camera settings strategically. Using a slow shutter speed creates an image that captures both the movement of the waves and the texture of the water.
The best shutter speed to use will depend on the amount of light in your scene and the movement of water. But, in most cases, shutter speeds between ¼ – ½ of a second should work.
3. Shoot in the Golden Hour
Don’t miss out on springtime sunrises. You’ll get a clearer, cleaner air during spring. You’re also more likely to find misty conditions in the early morning. Waking up early and shooting at sunrise can give you a unique perspective.
At sunset, you can capture equally beautiful shots. Instead of mist and fog, you’ll have soft, golden light to work with. The sun’s setting rays cast a gorgeous light over blooming trees, so make sure not to miss out on springtime sunsets.
When possible, aim to shoot the same location at both sunrise and sunset. Drastic shifts in temperature in the spring mean that colors change in quality throughout the day.
The same scene could appear entirely different in the morning than it does in the evening. So, photographing the same location at different times of the day ensures that you don’t miss out on any opportunities.
4. Shoot in the Early Mornings and Late Afternoons
The light during the early morning or late afternoon is great when taking images of flowers. Compared to the golden hour, the ambient light is less saturated during these times. Yet, it still possesses the soft and warm quality of light found in the golden hour.
5. Shoot the Night Sky
Did you know that in the spring in the Northern Hemisphere, the Milky Way is low in the sky? This means that you’ll see it in clear view in the early hours of the morning. So, on a clear night, head out to photograph the Milky Way.
Use the Milky Way as your background and experiment with different foregrounds. For instance, try out a body of water in the foreground to create a reflection of the night sky.
Resource: How To Photograph The Milkyway
6. Zoom In and Photograph Flowers
When you photograph flowers using a wide-angle lens, it’s difficult to see their uniques textures and tones. Zooming in, on the other hand, allows you to capture its delicate patterns and details.
A single bright flower against lush green grass is a simple, but effective, spring scene to photograph. With just one flower as your subject, you can hone in on a detailed, small-scale shot.
To achieve even greater detail, consider using a macro lens. This type of lens will capture your subjects in extreme detail showcasing their natural beauty.
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7. Utilize Your Foreground
If you want to experiment photographing flowers using a wide-angle lens, consider placing them in your foreground. For instance, you can position the flowers in front of a mountain range, vast lake or lush trees to create an ethereal scene.
For this type of composition, I recommend getting as close as possible to the ground and the flowers to make the flowers appear larger and more prominent in the image.
Keep in mind, using a large aperture may not be enough to keep both the flowers and the background in sharp focus. To keep both your foreground and background in focus, consider focus stacking.
Focus stacking is a technique that combines two or more images with different focal points in post-processing. For this composition, I suggest you start by taking two images- one image with your focus placed on the flower and another with the focus placed on the background.
Also, remember to bring a tripod with you as using one will allow you to blend these images together later seamlessly.
8. Use a Polarizing Filter
Using a polarizing filter helps minimize distracting glare on the glass, water, and other reflective surfaces. Using one can be especially useful when photographing streams and waterfalls in spring. Polarizing filters also help boost saturation of color and vividness in photographs.
If you’re wondering which polarizer to use, I recommend a Circular polarizing filter. These filters are user-friendly and a great choice for beginner and expert photographers alike.
All you need to do is screw the filter onto the front of your lens, then fine-tune the filter’s strength with its adjustable ring. A CPL filter at its highest strength can make images appear inauthentic, so experiment with its low and mid-range strengths.
When you’re using a CPL filter, also keep in mind that your subject should be positioned about 90 degrees from the sun. At this angle, the filter has the best effect. The effect of the CPL filter is canceled out when your subject is directly in front of or behind the sun.
Finding a good CPL filter can be difficult. If you purchase a cheap option you will see the impact on your images.
If you are looking for a quality polarizer I recommend the B+W CPL filter. It comes in a variety of sizes which means it will fit different lenses very easily.
B+W is are known for their high quality and durable filters for a fraction of the price compared to other high quality polarizers.
9. ND Filters
ND filters are designed to reduce the amount of light that reaches your lens, enabling you to take long exposure during the day.
They are available in different strengths: two-stop, six-stop, and ten-stop. The higher numbers indicate a higher strength, which will make for higher light reduction.
There are also several abbreviations that relate to ND filters and their unique qualities. The Filter Factor Number is one of the simplest abbreviations to recognize. It starts with “ND” and ends with a number, such as “ND2”. ND2 translates to a 1 stop reduction.
To determine the number of stops a filter reduces it is the number two raised to the number of stops is reduces. For example, ND32 is 2 raised to the 5th power which means that the filter reduces 5 stops of light. Likewise, ND512 is just 2 raised to the 7th power which translates into 7 stops of light reduction.
Each stop increase in ND filters makes for a one-half reduction in the light that hits the lens. For instance, an ND2 filter allows just ½ of the amount of light to reach the lens; a reduction of one-stop. An ND4 filter reduces the light by two stops, allowing just one-quarter of the initial amount of light to reach the lens.
ND filters with three or four stops (ND8 and ND16) are best used in extreme light conditions, such as at sunrise and sunset.
At these times, the bright sunlight can make it difficult to use long exposure times without blowing out or overexposing your image. An ND8 or ND16 filter will fix this issue for well-exposed images in bright natural light.
You can use an ND64 filter for a soft, slightly blurred effect while shooting water in motion.
For exposures lasting multiple minutes, a 10-stop ND filter (ND1000) is necessary for a high-quality image. But, you can substitute a stack of many smaller ND filters if you don’t have an ND1000 filter on hand.
ND1000 filters are also a common choice for long-exposure cloud photography. At an exposure of about two minutes, a 10-stop filter generates a soft, ethereal look. Also, for fast-moving clouds, which you’ll often find on beaches and coasts, a 10-stop filter will help you successfully use a long exposure.
A 16-stop filter is necessary for photographing with an exposure of five to 10 minutes. In bright natural light, a 16-stop filter can also create stunning cloud streaks.
When choosing a filter, I recommend you go with a variable ND filter which allows you to adjust your ND filter to account for different intensities.
I recommend the Tiffen Color Graduated ND Filter adjustable from 2 to 8 stops. This is a great filter that you can use in a variety of different situations without the need to carry countless individual filters.
My favorite individual filters are produced by Breakthrough. While most producers don’t make large ND filters Breakthrough makes filters as large as 20 stops.
10. Use White Balance
White balance is another tool you can use to make the color of the sky more dramatic. Depending on the time of day, you can use white balance to either enhance or completely change the color of the sky.
While adjusting your white balance using the custom setting will give you more creative options, it is time-consuming and harder to use.
Using white balance presets are great for quick and predictable adjustments.
For example, if you are shooting during the golden hour, you can use a white balance preset setting such as shadow to make the colors appear warmer and gold. You can also use a high custom white balance setting between 7500 and 9000 to have the same effect.
On the other hand, if you wanted to make the colors of your sky cooler and appear bluer, you can use a white balance preset such as fluorescent or incandescent. Similarly, using a low customer white balance setting between 2500 to 3500 will have the same effect.
Also, don’t worry if you forget to adjust your white balance while you are shooting. If you are shooting in RAW, you can adjust the white balance in post-processing with just as much accuracy.
11. Find A Focal Point
Choosing a focal point is something that you should always keep in mind when composing your shots. An image without an obvious focal point will often confuse and frustrate viewers as they won’t know which part of the image to pay attention to.
In the spring, we’re lucky to easily find sweeping fields of wildflowers, rushing bodies of water, and active wildlife. Whichever subject you choose to photograph, remember to choose one element in your scene you want viewers to see first and compose your image to highlight that object.
Remember, all of your images regardless of the season should have a focal point. Otherwise, they will appear dull and disorienting.
12. Watch the Background
Keep bright objects out of your background. Your viewer’s eyes will automatically go to the brightest objects within the frame first. If those objects are in the background, it will detract emphasis from your main subject. Position your composition carefully to keep the lighting of the background objects neutral.
Similarly, to keep the viewer’s focus on your focal point, position bright objects close to your main subject. You may even opt to make the brightest object in the frame your main subject for a more impactful image.
Color and contrast work similarly to brightness when it comes to your background. The viewer will be drawn to brightly colored and high-contrast objects first, before the other aspects of your composition. So, it’s wise to keep the colors and contrast levels in your background as subtle as possible.
When used thoughtfully, color and contrast can be powerful tools in image composition. But, if you don’t pay attention, they could detract emphasis from your main subject. Manipulate the color and contrast in your frame to draw more attention to your focal point.
13. Keep Bright Elements Away From The Edges Of Your Frame
Aim to keep bright visual elements away from the edges of your composition. Bright objects at the edges of an image pull the viewer’s focus away from the focal point.
For instance, If you’re shooting a moving body of water like a stream or a waterfall, strategize to keep the white flowing water away from the edges. That doesn’t mean you can’t include flowing water in the foreground of your image; the rushing water should simply be kept towards the center of the foreground, rather than the outermost sides. To do this, you’ll benefit from backing up slightly. Positioning your camera further away from the moving water will make it appear more centered in the image.
Sometimes, you can’t perfect the positioning of your image on location. If needed, you can use tools in post-processing to bring down the brightness. In Photoshop, the “vignette” and “dodge and burn” tools are useful for this purpose, as are the “curves” and “levels” sliders.
14. Experiment With Different Angles
How you position your camera relative to your subject can completely change its appearance. So, it’s always beneficial to take the time to photograph it from different angles.
Crouch on the ground or climb up on a hill. Try out a wide variety of camera angles before settling on a composition. Most people taking photos aren’t willing to switch up their position. But, by taking the time to experiment with different angles, you’ll capture truly noteworthy images.
15. Find Patterns
Nature contains many patterns. In the spring, when nature is in full bloom, you can find these patterns more easily and capture them through thoughtful composition.
To highlight patterns, fill your frame by using a telephoto lens. You can zoom in on the subject so that it appears to spill endlessly out of the frame.
Or you can also use patterns to direct your viewer’s eyes towards your focal point. You can do this by breaking the pattern with your subject.
For this, using a wide-angle lens could be beneficial. Using a wide-angle lens will provide you with more freedom to experiment with different angles and perspectives.
16. Look for Mood
Spring is known for its sunshine and bright colors. But, gray, foggy days are abundant in the springtime, too. Cloudy and foggy weather provides ideal conditions for moody, dramatic outdoor photography.
In the spring months, the weather can swing between sunny and stormy remarkably quickly. These drastic weather changes with high levels of moisture in the air can have an almost celestial effect in photography. So, don’t just sit around when the fog rolls in, take it as an opportunity to create moody compositions.
On foggy spring days, you can take a break from the flowers and head to the mountains instead. Fog settling over the mountains is an extraordinary scene for landscape photography. To capture it, we recommend heading out early in the morning for diffused natural lighting.
Springtime is rich in natural beauty, providing you as a photographer with limitless inspiration. Whether the skies are clear or cloudy, you can go outside with your camera and find a scene that’s begging to be photographed.
So, keep your camera bag packed and ready to head out early this spring. Catch the flowers in their peak and the streams at their fullest – you won’t regret it.