In winter, when it is wet and gloomy, you may not feel like going out with your camera unless it has snowed beautifully. But in spring, the days get longer and warmer, and colour and life begin to return to the landscape. So, it’s time to get out of hibernation and dust off your lenses and head for those beautiful spring landscapes. We can choose between natural landscapes or man-made parks. There is maybe a lot going on in your own garden or even on your balcony.
Spring brings new life and new growth. The landscape will be vibrant, wildflowers will once again cover forests and rocks. Gardens and parks will be filled with colour of spring bulbs or other flowers.
You might think that autumn is the prime season for landscape photography in the woods. But in spring, the foliage turns lively green, while bluebells, wild garlic and wood anemone form beautiful, attractive carpets of colour. Have also a look at my blog About woodland landscape photography. In that blog, I describe the difficulties of composition in forests for the landscape photographer. Not every plant blooms at the same time and they are also very different in number. Species such as the bluebells (hyacinth) and the wood anemone bloom as entire carpets of flowers, whereas a species such as the periwinkle only blooms here and there. The occurrence of certain species is also related to the type of soil. Sand, loam and clay occur in all sorts of proportions and ensure that one species thrives and another does not. A good plant guide, digital or otherwise, is a great help when looking up and naming your discoveries.
Fog can add atmosphere, simplifying scenes and emphasising the shape, structure and repetition of tree trunks. Extra drama is also created by low, golden sunlight, especially if you shoot in the direction of the light to highlight leaves, ferns and flowers. Drama can be added by inky shadows cast by trees on the forest floor.
I know from my own experience that it is not always easy to get to a location very early. So, if you can’t, visit the forest when it is cloudy. During the day, direct sunlight can produce very high-contrast, mottled light which your camera has trouble capturing. Cloud cover will act as a giant softbox and produce even and controllable light. If you think there is too much reflection on the leaves of trees or bushes, use a polarising filter.
When we think of spring flowers in the forest, we think first of all of bluebells. Bluebells in combination with mature beech woods make everyone dream.
Composing a pleasing landscape photo in a forest can be quite difficult because of all the hustle and bustle of branches and bushes, among other things. That is why it pays to get out your macro lens and focus on those beautiful individual flowers.
Don’t just look at the settings of your camera, but especially think about the position or the angle from which you want to put the flower in your image. I believe it is better to lower your camera at the same height as the flower instead of simply photographing them from above. For some flowers, this means that you almost have to lower your camera to the ground.
Move your camera around the flower (without damaging the other flowers) to determine which is the best angle and how you can possibly get bokeh in the background. You will find that a small change in the position can cause a huge difference in your image.
When using natural light, as a landscape photographer you don’t have much choice, because the light is coming from a certain direction. So, there are often not that many positions you can take for a nice composition and good use of the light. Or, of course, you could come back at another moment when ‘other light’ will be available.
If you do not have a macro lens, do not worry, the same effects are also possible with a telephoto lens, but then you have to take a little more distance from the subject, if the environment allows this and that is not always the case.
When there is wind and the flowers move, it becomes a challenge to obtain sharp images. You could wait until the wind eases or use a smaller aperture (F-stop higher than 5.6) and a shorter shutter speed (If that is below 1/500 for example that will be OK). If you go into flower fields or forests, my request is not to walk between or on the flowers. Nor put your tripod on them. These are vulnerable species that need to be protected. Tread carefully. Don’t walk into the flower fields (or other crops) unless there is an existing path across.
When photographing flowers close to the ground, you are often lying or sitting on the ground yourself, it can be helpful if you have a rubbish bag or some other tarpaulin with you. As I like to bring softness and dreaminess into my photos, I usually use an f-stop value of f/2.8 to f/4.0 when shooting (depending on the lens I have with me). With a small aperture (a high f-number), too many details remain visible and this makes a busier image. So, you can play with sharper or blurrier parts in your image. Also, give space to your subject.
Bokeh and light bubbles are easier to obtain with a large aperture (f4.0 – f2.8). It helps if there is light coming through the bushes. A larger aperture ensures that not the details of that bush come into view, but only the vague shapes. The light shining through takes the form of bubbles. You can get this effect even easier if you point the camera from a lower position upwards in the direction of the light.
When playing with depth of field, I let the camera do some of the work for me by shooting in Aperture Priority Mode. You choose the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed.
By making clever use of the different composition rules, you as a photographer can control how someone looks at your image. You can evoke calming feelings or surprise the viewer with your image composition.
The spring forest is full of colour, texture and contrast. It is an opportunity to experiment with creative techniques such as Intentional Camera Motion and drag the camera during the exposure to blur and soften details). Have a look at my blog Creative landscapes
In spring, fields turn green, hedges thicken and trees get fresh flowers and leaves. Spring also has changeable weather and light in store. In March, April and May, weather conditions can be extremely atmospheric. April showers can produce incredible moments of transient light and rainbows are common, while fluctuating temperatures can create foggy and misty conditions. The best conditions for landscape photography often occur when there is a change from one season to the next but also when the weather changes from good to bad or vice versa. I have another blog on the weather: What about the weather
Occasionally you will notice that certain flowers will close when it gets colder or dark. Flowers tend to open when there is enough light and close again in the evening. Not all spring flowers follow this pattern. If you want to photograph wood anemones in the early morning, you will be disappointed. These flowers only open when there is sufficient (sun) light and they close again at dusk. Species such as wild garlic and bluebells, on the other hand, remain open throughout their flowering period. Either you can use this creatively or you will have to return at another time when the flowers are open again in full splendour.
In spring one day it is sunny and the next day it seems winter again. The weather changes even during one day, and even one minute it is sunny, the next minute it is raining. Fog and mist are not uncommon and you may still get the occasional frost or dusting of snow
If the weather forecast announces sunshine and showers, pack your camera as well as waterproof clothing and a rain cover for your camera. When rainfall is near, the light often becomes dramatic. Beams of light sometimes fall through the storm clouds onto the landscape like floodlights.
Rain clears the atmosphere and brightens your landscape. It usually pays off to wait until the sun bursts through the clouds. Water drops on the leaves add extra texture and depth. If there is too much reflection on the leaves to your taste, you could try to remove this with the use of a polarising filter.
Don’t forget agricultural landscapes.
So far, I have been talking all the time about spring landscapes in the garden or the forest. But in springtime, our dear farmers also become landscapers when ploughing their fields and young crops add the same fresh touch. For your inspiration, I will add here some examples of agricultural spring landscape photographs. I could try to invent a new word like agriscapes or farmscapes. Look for the light and the lines in the fields.
And thinking about blossom, when you live close to a fruit producing area, don’t forget to take a walk with your camera through the orchards. Cherries, plums, apples, pears give fantastic blossoms.
Enjoy being outside in the spring landscapes
As a landscape and or nature photographer, you can sometimes be so busy adjusting your camera settings, searching for the right position and taking the most beautiful picture possible, that you can easily lose sight of why you are outside in the first place.
It is not a bad thing to come home without pictures. Just sit down once in a while, take a deep breath, look around and enjoy.
There’s much to be gained from going out and trying anyway, learning to deal with a variety of conditions and how to get creative when things are challenging.
So, don’t forget to have fun with your camera this spring!
Share with us your experiences or problems and please leave a comment. You can also ask me your questions.