SPRING has finally, er, sprung, triggering the start of a season where the world around us seems to burst open with new life and vibrant colour, all to the distinctive soundtrack of ice-cream vans doing the neighbourhood rounds. With longer evenings and milder weather there’s no better time to dust off the camera, or to pick up a new one, and begin snapping the season at its technicolour best.
So how best to capture spring’s essence? We asked a handful of leading photographers, all showing their work at The Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham, starting tomorrow, for their advice on everything from flowers to fog.
Capture the beauty of an unfolding season
David Noton is a landscape and travel photographer whose work has taken him to all four corners of the globe. Yet many of his favourite images have been captured close to his home.
‘I know my local area like the back of my hand,’ he says. ‘I know the best time to capture the grand beech tree on one of my regular local walks because I see it change season by season. If you think about your own patch, you’ll probably have something similar.’
Spring is a season of contrasts when it comes to weather. Rather than hiding away when the rain comes to play, Noton (whose go-to camera is a Canon EOS RP) encourages photographers to make the most of the opportunities.
‘Great photos are rarely taken on sunny days as clear blue skies don’t always provide the most exciting backdrop,’ he says. ‘A sky full of interest can really make a landscape photograph, so make the most of the unpredictable spring weather and take a stroll in between the showers to add a real sense of drama to your shots.’
Up close and personal
Sweeping vistas aren’t the only way to tell the story of spring. Alex Laberge brings a unique sense of fun to her work, embracing macro (extreme close-up) photography to compose her imaginative, larger-than-life images.
Macro photography demands dedicated lenses but Laberge (go-to camera: anything mirrorless) insists there’s a more cost-effective way to capture a close-up: ‘There’s no need to splash out on dedicated equipment or travel far to capture great macro shots in the spring, simply wander into your garden or a nearby park armed with a tripod, close-up filters or extension tubes.’
Close-up filters attach to your existing camera lens and reduce its minimum focusing distance, enabling you to get far closer to your subject for a fraction of the cost of a macro lens. Extension tubes do a similar job, fitting between the body and lens on cameras. A tripod will reduce camera wobble when recording minute detail, keeping the image sharp.
Laberge has further tips to avoid blurry close-ups. ‘Use manual focus and your in-built timer or a remote trigger to get the best results,’ she says. ‘For the best light conditions choose slightly overcast days or try shooting at golden hour. Most importantly, be patient, experiment and have fun.’
Few flowers say spring quite like Hyacinthoides non-scripta, or the bluebell as it is more generally known. For many photographers they are a rich source of seasonal material.
‘I really enjoy capturing the riot of colour that comes when the bluebells are out,’ says Jo Bradford (go-to camera: iPhone 7 plus), author of Smart Phone Smart Photography.
‘Scout out a woodland location where the sun may be filtered through the tree. You can then shoot directly into the sun, using the branches to filter the harsh light and cast interesting shadow patterns across the blooms.
‘If you’re shooting with a smartphone, consider using a low-light camera app so you can still get a sharp photo while hand-holding to avoid needing a tripod.’
A spring scene can also make a gorgeous background for portraits. Mark Wilkinson (go-to camera: Canon 550D) is the photographer behind the popular YouTube tutorial channel Weekly Imogen.
‘Try and get out and shoot someone with bluebells when they arrive,’ he says. ‘Shoot late in the afternoon as the sun is going down and try to colour match clothing to complement the bluebells.’
Neil Freeman, training manager at the Nikon School UK, agrees colour is key. ‘When photographing landscapes or cityscapes, using the Vivid Picture Control setting will enable you to get stunning spring colours straight out of the camera,’ says Freeman (go-to camera: Nikon Z7), adding that Picture Control is usually found in the ‘shooting’ menu on Nikon cameras but that many camera systems feature an equivalent ‘vivid’ colour setting.
The period shortly after sunrise and before sunset, otherwise known as the so-called ‘golden hour’, is sacred among photographers for its soft, natural light and the colouring it can bring to outdoor images. But in the spring there’s another benefit.
‘Mist and fog can take even the most mundane landscape and make it look special,’ says travel and cultural documentary photographer Jacob James (go-to camera: Panasonic LUMIX S1). ‘Spring is the perfect time for hunting misty landscapes because clear, cold nights and warmer mornings combine to produce wonderful clouds of mist.’
Early mornings and late nights are also ripe for capturing wildlife waking from the winter break.
‘Spring is the time when many animals are more active and the young are born,’ says wildlife and landscape photographer Tesni Ward (go-to camera: Olympus EM1X). Her advice is to learn all about a specific species and focus your attention on capturing them. ‘This will increase your chances of seeing unique behaviours and developing a portfolio,’ she says.
Understanding where animals live, what their daily routine is and where they go for food and water will help but be careful not to disturb them. Placing your camera near a frequently visited location and using a remote trigger or camera trap are ways to capture intimate portraits of animals at work without stepping on their toes.
Snapshots: The season’s most exciting new cameras
Canon EOS RP
Portability is key when capturing the capricious outdoors. The Canon EOS RP (from £1,399 body only with EF lens adapter) features a detail-loving 26.2-megapixel full-frame sensor and, as it’s a mirrorless camera, is compact and lightweight without compromising on quality. It’s weather-sealed too, so there’s no reason to stop snapping if you get stuck in an April shower.
Panasonic Lumix S1 and S1R
A brace of new cameras from Panasonic feature a special mode to record atmospheric landscapes in super-fine detail. The Panasonic Lumix S1 and S1R (£2,199 and £3,399 body only) are full-frame mirrorless cameras sporting impressive 24- and 47-megapixel sensors respectively; a High Resolution mode super-sizes those to an incredible 96 and 187 megapixels.
Nikon COOLPIX A1000
The Nikon COOLPIX A1000 (£409) is a sturdy, compact 16-megapixel camera boasting an articulated touchscreen, a high-res electronic viewfinder — great for composing shots when the spring sun comes out to play — plus a 35x super-telephoto optical zoom to help frame landscapes, wildlife and everything in between.
Sony Alpha a6400
At just 0.02 seconds, Sony claims the autofocus on its new 24.2-megapixel Sony Alpha a6400 (£949 body only) is the fastest in the business. Its ‘Real-time Tracking’ and ‘Real-time Eye AF’ tech employs artificial intelligence to recognise objects and predict their movements across the frame — great for pin-sharp images, whether still or moving.
Slow Shutter Cam
Conveying movement can be tricky with a smartphone’s stock camera app. But Slow Shutter Cam lets you experiment with long exposures to capture the likes of traffic light trails and dreamy flowing water. Handy for low-light photography too.
The Photographer’s Ephemeris 3D
Want to know exactly how and when the sun, moon — and even the stars — will cast light on to any location on the Earth’s terrain, for any point in time in the future? You’re in luck. This app’s 3D mapping can even help visualise how your final image will look.
Moment — Pro Camera
Android, £2.79/iOS from free
This brings powerful manual camera features to a beautifully economical interface, letting you focus on your photography.
Adobe Lightroom CC
iOS/Android, from free
The de facto photo processing tool for desktop is now available on-the-go on both iOS and Android. Many of its powerful editing tools are bundled for free — and are an absolute dream to use on a tablet screen.
iOS/Android, from free
A mainstay of the smartphone photography community, VSCO’s high-quality filters help bring out subtle shades and details in your images. It’s no slouch as a quick-fix editor too, and even includes its own camera.