Winter months are a blessing for landscape photographers. The sun stays low on the horizon, bathing the land with a constantly warm, ethereal light for most of the day. Ice, snow and cold, provide fundamental elements that can flood a landscape photographer’s senses and revive their creativity.
Most of us at some point in time have been on location before first light on a cold winter’s morning, struggling to keep our fingers and toes warm and then enjoying a warm cup from the flask. The kind of experience we absorb from this sort of winter photography is awe inspiring and highly rewarding.
However, regardless of how much landscape photographers love winter, there comes a point when we have had enough of it, especially those who live in countries where winter lasts much longer. What a relief to all when winter finally decides to release its grip, spring is in the air once more and, finally, nature can re-grow, bloom and show its true, vibrant colours.
Together with B+W Filters, we have teamed up to provide you with advice and suggestions on how to create your own stunning spring images.
No matter what the subject might be, composition is the first and most important key element in photography. Images with strong composition seem to captivate the audience and convey the photographer’s artistic view of the landscape. Slow down and take time to think about your subject, how best to approach it and which angle will bring out the best feature. Move from left to right, lower yourself or try from a higher viewpoint, get closer or step back. Consider also using your phone (when available) to help you compose your image. Although the image you see rendered through your phone may be wider than the lens in your pack, it will help you to see 2 dimensional compositions. In addition, leave your tripod, put your camera on Live View and walk around looking for compositions. By having this mobility, you will have the freedom to move up, down and around looking for intriguing compositions.
Make sure you are being careful with your focusing technique. All digital cameras display images that have been captured; zoom in and check all areas in the frame to make sure you haven’t miss-focused. Try the Live View feature if your camera supports it and you will be able to check that your focus is correct even before taking the picture.
Pay attention to the aperture you use and try not to push it too far. Using a very small aperture (large number) can deliver great depth of field, yet, images suffer from diffraction and quality is compromised. Avoid using apertures smaller than f/13 in cameras with APS-C sensor and f/16 in cameras with full frame sensor. If you have a medium format camera with a digital back, then you can push the aperture down to f/22 but, again, larger sensors deliver a narrower depth of field by nature.
In extreme cases some photographers use a technique called focus stacking. To do this, take multiple exposures by adjusting the focus every time and then blend all those exposures in Photoshop.
Make sure you have exposed the subject correctly; there is nothing worse than a wrongly exposed picture. Remember to consult the histogram after the picture has been taken, and take multiple exposures at different settings if you are not confident that you have achieved the correct exposure. Again, use the Live View feature if your camera supports it and try the exposure simulation mode; it will assist you in deciding upon the best exposure and show how the picture looks on the screen, even before you take it. Use exposure compensation if you wish to over or under expose the subject.
Sometimes, people refer to light as bad or good. We need to emphasise that there is no such thing as bad or good light, just variations of light, and here are some of those variations: soft, diffused, warm, cool, direct, side light, and so on. When out on location, use the 'available light' to its full potential. Waiting for light that you consider as 'good', might result in a very long wait.
It cannot be emphasised enough that for landscape photographers a tripod is the number one tool; in fact, it is an absolute necessity. Not only will it assist you in preventing camera shake, it will also slow you down and help you to achieve a much better composition. A tripod will also allow you to use the lowest possible ISO, resulting in clean and noise free image files.
If you are heading out for an early morning shoot, prepare the night before; ensure that all your equipment is in the camera bag and all your batteries have been charged.
A head torch with fresh batteries will be essential as it might be dark when you get there. The same goes for sunset photography, it might be dark when you leave the location.
A shutter release cable is a good idea also to avoid touching the camera while taking a picture (shake free pictures). Failing this, use your camera’s 2 second delay feature.
Double check your camera settings. All too often the ISO has been pushed to 3200 for an evening out in the park and then not switched back to its lowest setting. Many images have been ruined this way. Clean the camera’s sensor the night before to ensure there is no dust that will spoil your image files.
Make sure you dress for the cold and account for the fact that it will be a lot colder once the sun goes down! Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
In the woods with a circular polariser
Usually one has to deal with diffused light while in a forest or a small wooded area. Mist can offer material for stunning effects. A polarising filter can be used to enhance colours or take away reflections from droplets on leaves. Remember to keep an eye on the ground as small wild flowers can provide a colourful carpet and good foreground interest for your subject.
Time of Day
We highly recommend getting up early; probably the first and most important thing to do when capturing the beauty of spring. Before sunrise the weather can be extremely calm and tranquil. Add to this early mist and the spectacle can be amazing. During and after sunrise, low side light can result in the landscape being bathed in a warm, golden colour; similarly this applies to the sunset hours. Cloudy days mean that diffused light can produce images with soft lines without harsh shadows all day long.
This is a huge subject and we cannot possibly cover all locations. But every location will change its appearance when spring arrives. It is a good idea to re-visit locations known to you previously which have been visited at other times of the year. Here are a few suggestions:
The local park; a forest or small wooded area nearby; meadows and valleys and even your garden; the list can be endless. You can travel far or you can stay close to home. Spring is everywhere and the possibilities are limitless.
Know the Location
Besides the 'near to home' locations that probably you are very familiar with, new locations can be extremely exciting, so make sure you do a proper research of the areas. Google Maps and Google Earth are good sources of information.
Sunset / sunrise times and angles
Make sure you know the exact sunrise and sunset times before leaving the house and exactly where the sun will rise and set. This information can be found by using The Photographer's Ephemeris.
These are ideal for spring photography and the results can be breathtaking. Of course, flowering times can vary from year to year, depending upon their location and the climate, but useful information usually can be found on the internet.
After the Rain
A good downpour can be very beneficial sometimes as nature then has the tendency to look fresh. Use a polarising filter to get rid of unwanted reflections but, most importantly, take a large plastic bag with you as you might need to kneel, sit or lie on the ground for a better view. Also, look out for local patches of mist which can enhance your photographs.
Besides the classic landscape views, remember to think about abstract patterns, designs, textures, colours and more. We might be landscape photographers but this shouldn’t stop us from taking a picture of a gorgeous butterfly on a flower for example, or the curl of a fern leaf unfolding. Spring is here, nature is blooming and it is up to us to make the most of it.