Now is the perfect time for planning how and when you're going to capture the best nature and landscapes of the season. In many cases, such as blossom and breaking buds, a day too late means waiting another year.
Of course there is always the chance of stumbling upon a fantastic shot, but it's better to be prepared, know what you're going for, and capture your images in the best possible light.
I keep a small pocket diary in my camera bag and note subjects against the relevant dates.
It helps to get a diary with the sunrise/set times in too. These little notes come in handy year after year, reminding me what I'm likely too capture on an outing.
Shooting in spring holds lots of advantages for the photographer. Daylight appears at more accommodating times than in the summer, and what could be better than starting a photographic morning by capturing the sunrise. The air is cleaner at daybreak so it gives better colour and clarity and if there is a mist rising from the land it's a double bonus. Insects, still torpid from the cold night, make great macro subjects, and birds are more obliging at first light.
Trees provide another interesting subject in spring. Some are still great skeletal shapes while others are breaking bud or producing their first blossom. Try lots of different angles. One of my favourite is to jamb a beanbag against the trunk and shoot straight up into the branches. Try a longer depth of field, f11 or even f18 to get more of the tree in focus. In dense woodland, if the ground is dry, an effective viewpoint is to lie on the ground in a circle of trees and shoot up using a wide-angle lens. Macro shots of bark, buds, and blossom are challenging, but remember to use the light to enhance every angle. Early mornings produce soft backlight for leaves and flowers and adds a warm glow to bark.
Spring flowers are a delight to photograph, especially when there may be a heavy dew, but again, experiment with your shooting angles. Overhead shots and a worm's eye view will give very different results of the same subject.
If your back's playing up, or the ground is wet, you could have a go at ‘camera roulette', simply choose a shallow depth of field, place the camera on a beanbag below, or at the flower's level, and either use the timer or a remote and shoot blind. Of course you will have lots of missed shots, rather like ‘shooting from the hip', but I guarantee some will be surprisingly good.
If you're using a beanbag on wet ground pop it into an open plastic bag. Not rocket science, but it works.
Depending on where you live, there is still a chance of morning frost with its fine crystalline structure. Get in close and capture blades of grass, cobwebs, and leaf edges. Look for dramatic back light effects; and take a sheet of black card and some strong tape to fix the card behind a subject when it is awash with front light. A tripod is essential, and if you don't have a remote get to know your camera's delayed timer. Press the shutter and then use a small reflector to divert extra natural light onto the subject.
Spring landscapes have a fresh greenness about them; add the warmth of early morning light and a sky blazing with a dramatic sunrise and you'll wonder why you ever wanted to stay in bed! Always use a tripod or quality beanbag. Again, because of the low light and slower shutter speeds, it's best to use a remote or the camera's timer, and if you have mirror lockup all the better. Know that whatever the view, it will never be the same again, so bracket the exposure for extra security. And while you may be captivated by the sunrise in front you...don't forget to glance over your shoulder occasionally. It's amazing how a mundane landscape can be transformed as the light changes.
Get to know and understand the various effects of filters, yes Photoshop is great, but it never quite gets the quality that can be achieved on location with the right settings and a good filter or two. A neutral density grey graduated filter will help guard against washed out skies especially in misty conditions, and a circular polarizing filter will reduce the glare from shiny wet leaves and add extra punch to skies.
Spring is a great time to capture farm animals and farmland. Look out for freshly ploughed fields and rows of growing crops. Fresh green shoots against the rich colours of damp earth make great graphics. Spring lambs are one of the classic images of the season. Try to position yourself so that the sunlight is on the lambs face to get a nice catch-light in the eyes. If the sun is very bright take the exposure down half a stop to avoid burning out the white lambs wool.
Don't let the weather hold you back. Keep a bag of wild birdseed in the car and if the inevitable spring shower breaks while you're on a shoot, scatter some birdseed a short distance away, then sit in the car with a long lens on and a beanbag over the windowsill. Wild birds are very active on spring mornings. If your bait is placed around a puddle you'll get reflections, or even some birdbath action shots. Keep quiet and still and if you're lucky you may spot a fox or a hedgehog fresh out of hibernation.
When you get home and edit the images, don't forget to add the new subjects you've captured into your diary for next year.
Visit Patricia Fenn's website for more information.