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7 Tips for Improving Your Spring Photography

It's spring in the Northern Hemisphere – finally! So it's time to dust off your camera and get out and do some spring photography. As you get going for the season, here are 7 tips to help you improve your images and take better photos.

The seven tips for better spring photography

  1. Add some “flare” to your images (a sun flare that is)
  2. Get closer and narrow in on one subject.
  3. Watch the background.
  4. Look for the light.
  5. Get down low.
  6. Try something new and different.
  7. Get up early or shoot until late.

Now let's delve into each one a bit deeper.

#1 – Add some flare to your images

In this case, I mean literally.

Usually, you don't want to have any flare in your images, but adding a sun flare intentionally can add a nice mood to your image. It can help make it feel light, airy and bright – like spring.

I wrote some tips on how to do this here: How to Create Sun Flares for Effect In-Camera

Sun flare and purple flowers and spring photography

Sun flare and pink flowers and spring photography

#2 – Get closer and pick one subject

One of the most common beginner mistakes is putting too much stuff into the image.

If you have read my e-book, 10 Photography Challenges (Get it for free by subscribing), you will know one of the things I preach a lot is getting closer to the subject.

So take a shot, and review it carefully.

Look at the edges of the image – is there anything that's distracting or not necessary for the shot? If so, get closer and crop it out in camera. Review again. Is there a clear subject now?

Look at the image from your prospective viewer's perspective.

If they see the image for the first time will the subject really jump out? Or do they have to hunt for it? If there's hunting involved – well you know what to do. Get closer yet!

Here are a few examples:

ISO 200, 1/1500th, f/3.6, 23mm lens. This first shot is pretty but where are we supposed to look? There's so much going on here that it's overwhelming for the viewer.
ISO 200, 1/1250th, f/3.6, 23mm lens. Here is another shot of the same exact tree, but this time I got really close and focused in on that one flower. See how your eye goes there now?
ISO 200, 1/120th, f/4, 23mm lens. Here's another pretty tree full of blossoms. But where do you look? What is the subject here?
ISO 200, 1/100th, f/4, 23mm lens. So I got closer – but look around the edges – see anything distracting here? Is the subject clear enough yet? For me, the bright spot in the lower left corner grabs too much attention as does the person in blue in the background, even though they're out of focus.
ISO 1600, 1/100th, f/11, 23mm lens. Now we're talking! See the difference here and how your eye should go directly to the pink blooms.

Okay, are you starting to get the idea?

But let's take the image above and go one step further. This time not changing the distance but isolating the subject even more by changing the aperture to blur out the background.

The image above was shot at f/11, watch what happens next.

The same flower, shot at f/4 this time.
Still the same flower, this final image shot at f/2.

None of the images have been altered in post-processing, they've only had basic adjustments for contrast and sharpness done. See what a difference getting closer, and the camera settings you choose make?

If you want to practice this tip, try this challenge: Simplify – June Photography Challenge

Look what you can find when you get closer!

#3 – Watch the background

The tip above leads right into the next one which is to watch the background. In the example images above you can see what a difference getting closer, and choosing your aperture carefully make to the image. You learned to look at the edges of the frame, now let's consider the entire background.

Which direction you point your camera, and the background you choose for your subject can make or break your image. There are four things that will draw the viewer's attention. These are things you do NOT want in the background:

  • Overly bright spots or areas.
  • Brightly colored objects.
  • High contrast.
  • Things which are in sharp focus.

Here's an example:

This branch and white flowers are pretty, but do you find the background as busy and distracting as I do? The bright spots take away your attention as does the car and house.
This is the same branch, but here I selected one cluster of blossoms to focus in on. See the difference? ISO 200, 1/140th, f/3.2, 23mm lens.

Change your position if necessary

Once you find an interesting subject, work the scene a little.

Take a few shots, try different angles and camera settings.

You may need to actually move your feet too! So look at that background and if it's not adding anything to your image, it may be taking away from the subject.

Where does your eye go here? The bright areas of high contrast and bright yellow in the background draw too much attention here.
So here's a new camera position which has eliminated the colorful spots in the background, but the bright area and high contrast still leave the subject lost.
Look at the difference that the simplified and darker background makes here.

#4 – Look for the light

I've said it before, but it is worth repeating.

Light is everything in photography!

We have a few articles about light here on DPM so I'll let you read those and leave you with more of an inspiration here. I want you to start putting light first on your list of most important things to look for when you're shooting.

Think about light as THE subject and make sure it not only works with the subject but flatters it and tells the story you want to tell.

If you want more drama in your images – include more shadows. If you want a soft delicate feeling in your image, choose soft light

Look for side lighting for enhancing the texture in your scene, or backlighting to make a silhouette or highlight the subject.

Fear not the shadows!

Read this for more tips on this: 5 Tips for Using Shadows to Create Dramatic Images

This image is cropped specifically to just show the shadows. Taken in NYC, I went back and forth on this crosswalk four times to get this shot.
Use shadows as your subject. Anyone from the prairies will know what this is – for the rest of you it's the shadow of 2 grain elevators.

Find and enhance texture with side light

Just finding a subject with good texture isn't enough to have it translate into a good photograph. The lighting must be right. So to enhance the texture of a rough subject, always look for light coming across the subject from the side, just skipping across the surface.

Read this for more tips: How to Create Texture in your Photographs

Side lighting here brings out all the wonderful brick texture on the wall.
Side lighting enhances the feeling of the rough twisted tree trunk in this image.

Backlighting

Many subjects look great when the light is coming from behind (backlight) or through them. A good example of that is plants and flowers. They look fantastic backlit, always glowy. Backlighting is also needed for creating a silhouette.

Read for more on that topic: Silhouette Photography Tips – 3 Keys to Great Photos

You can also start to combine these tips. Notice a sun flare, and backlighting here!
Another combination of sun flare and backlighting.
Backlighting brings out the shape and texture of this little cactus.
Having a bright background goes against what you learned above, but using it to create a silhouette is an effective technique. Learn when to use it to create unique images.

#5 – Get down

Okay, it's time for you to get down, and I don't mean to boogie!

I'm talking about changing your perspective and literally getting down on the ground.

By choosing a camera angle that is different than how most people see the world, which is from their eye level, your images will start to stand out from the crowd.

The average person with a cell phone doesn't crawl around on the ground to get photos. So if you're willing to do that which is a bit uncomfortable, you can take your photography up a notch above those folks.

Don't be afraid to get a little dirty to get the shot!
I was down on my belly on this old train trestle to get this shot.
I spent part of my day last Sunday just sitting in the grass at the park. I leaned over on my elbows to get this shot. I was attracted by the light on the grass (backlight) and wanted to showcase just the grass and nothing else. So this worm's eye view does that well. Note this image uses three of the tips: #1 get close, #4 look for the light, and #5 get down.
Getting down low also means looking up too! This image also incorporates tip #6 below, as I rented a fish-eye lens in NYC one year.

#6 – Try something new for you

This time of year is a great opportunity to learn a new technique, get a new lens, try a new post-processing idea, etc. So for your spring photography, I urge you to get outside of your normal methods and try something different.

Some ideas:

Fish-eye lens

A fish-eye lens is one that has a super-wide angle of view, almost a circle. You have to be careful not to get your own hands and feet in your shots, that's how wide it is.

5D Classic, ISO 100, 15mm fish-eye lens, f/22, 1/8th of a second. I rented this lens for 2 days from a store in New York. I don't think it cost more than about $50.

Even if you never buy one, look into renting one for a day from your local camera store or one that rents gear in a city you plan to visit. I did that in NYC years ago and how have an 8mm fish-eye for my Fuji camera (there's a version for Canon and 4 Thirds cameras available as well). I don't use it a lot, but it can really create unique images.

Shot with my Fuji X-T1 and Rokinon 8mm fish-eye lens.

Remember to follow my tips: 5 Mistakes Beginners Make Using a Wide Angle Lens and How to Avoid Them

Use camera movement to create blur

It's a myth that your images always have to be tack sharp. That's usually the case for most of the photography you'll do, but sometimes it pays to break the rules. Using intentional camera movements, and/or long exposures to blur your image can create some really neat and interesting abstract images. Try it!

Read this and try the exercise: Create an Abstract Image Using Intentional Blur – Photo Challenge or try this: How to do a Zoom Burst Special Effect with Your Camera

ISO 640, f/8, 1/4 of a second. You need a slightly slower shutter speed to get motion blur in your image. To create this image I rotated the camera during the exposure.
ISO 200, f/16, 1/3 of a second. Another camera rotation image.
ISO 250, f/9, 1/2 of a second. To make this image I moved the camera up and down during the exposure to match the vertical lines of the poplar trees.
This is a zoom blur creating by zooming the lens during the exposure. This was shot using a tripod to keep the camera steady. The exposure was ISO 200, f/5.6 for 1.6 seconds. How fast you zoom and how much changes the look of the image. Read more here on this technique.

Other new techniques

Here are some other techniques and things you can try out.

This is a double-exposure done right in the camera (Canon 5D Mark III). Check your user manual to see if your camera has this feature, and play with it!
This image was created from a 4-image bracketed set, combined as HDR using Lightroom's Merge to HDR function.
Before image – shot with a regular 50mm lens. It's not all that interesting or great.
After image shot with the same 50mm lens and a reverse mount ring. Putting your lens on the camera reversed turns it into a macro lens. I was less than an inch (2cm) from this flower.
Another shot that was done using the reverse-lens macro technique.
One of the participants (thanks Cathy!) in my most recent Drumheller photography workshop brought one of these glass balls. We all had fun playing with it and I have since ordered one for myself!
Another shot using the Lensball. You can't tell in the image inside the ball which is the reflection and which is the real subject. That's the fun of shooting with this thing!
Try a long exposure on a babbling brook like this one to create silky smooth water. You may need to get an ND (Neutral Density) filter to do so.
Try your hand at light painting

#7 – Get up early or shoot until late

My final tip for you for better spring photography is simple. Skip sleep and get out and shoot at the edges of the day at sunrise and sunset. But don't stop there, keep shooting into Blue Hour and on into the night as well!

This is yet another way to set yourself apart from the masses. Most people won't go the extra mile or do what's uncomfortable or hard. So if you're willing to get out of your nice warm bed to shoot the sunrise, or pack a chair and thermos of hot chocolate to shoot star trails at night – you'll automatically level up!

Read these DPM articles for more tips for shooting at all hours:

Sunrise at one of my Drumheller workshops. Join us for a workshop, and I'll show you why we get up early!
Sunset gives you not only golden light but things like this Alpenglow on the mountain tops.
Right after sunset is Blue Hour. Don't pack up and leave after the sun goes down and miss out on the opportunity for photos like this. This is a long exposure (f/5.6 for 30 seconds) and we painted the Hoodoos with a flashlight.
This image of car light trails was shot at Blue Hour just after sunset. I actually shot several images between 2-10 seconds long and merged the best ones in Photoshop into this final image.
Star trails at night, shot with a fish-eye 8mm Rokinon lens on a Fuji Z-T1.
Star trails over the Sahara desert in Morocco. All but three of us went to bed early that night – those who stayed up got this!

Conclusion and bonus tip

I hope I've given you some food for thought for your spring photography. But don't just stop there. Continue learning and expanding your horizons throughout the year.

I'll leave you with this final bonus tip – don't stop shooting just because the weather is bad! Sometimes you can get the best photos in the worst conditions.

This image was shot in the rain in Paris at a flower stand. I purposely waited for a person with an umbrella to appear in the corner of the frame, then I took the shot. I took several, with different umbrellas and liked this one the best.
A sudden downpour in Havana Cuba left me soaked through, but I got some cool shots as I made a dash back to my room.
I watched these girls share one umbrella and run across the street together in the rain – Viñales, Cuba.

Now it's your turn to get out and put these spring photography tips into practice. What are you waiting for? Get going!

Cheers,
Darlene-1-250x130.png


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