Photographing spring blossom
One of the most uplifting signs that spring is underway is the sudden appearance of bright, pastel-coloured blossom in gardens, streets and hedgerows. The advantage is that you don't have far to go to see it at this time of year and the sight is guaranteed to raise your spirits. If you want to get out with your camera or smartphone, here are some tips on how to get the most from photographing spring blossom.
Early or late in the day?
The first morning light or the fading light at dusk can produce an intensity of colour in your shots of blossom. At dawn, you may also capture the magic of early morning mist or droplets of dew on the petals, but if you are confined to shooting in the middle of the day, try looking for shade, or try setting the petals against the sky and shooting against the light (contre-jour) for a gorgeous translucent glow.
Should I use a tripod?
A tripod isn’t essential in good light, but in the golden light at dawn or dusk, you may need a slower shutter speed, so using a tripod can help to reduce camera shake and allow for longer exposures. If you camera lens has an image stabilisation capability, be sure to switch it off when using a tripod.
What is the perfect background?
Delicate petals will look sharp and fresh against vivid blue skies, fresh green leaves, stone or brick walls, indeed any unobtrusive background that sets off the natural beauty of the blossom. Uncluttered backgrounds are best, but as an alternative you can blur your background by shooting close-up and by increasing your camera’s aperture by stopping down to f4.0, f2.8 or lower. However, when using a shallow depth of field, it is essential to ensure that at least part of the flower is sharply in focus.
Take your time
Once you have found some blossom that is promising, take a good look at it from different angles. Take a range of shots, both of individual blooms, using a shallow depth of field, and of a mass of blooms, but always choosing one bloom or cluster as a focal point. For each shot, think about the composition, the background and any particular features you want to focus on, such as a radial pattern of anthers or a visiting insect. Aim to fill the frame with colour.
Work with the weather
Sadly, it’s not always bright and sunny on spring days, but overcast skies can help colours to appear more vivid, so try using a plain white sky to your advantage by composing a shot against it. Many photographers choose to cut out the sky completely and focus on the delicate details of the blossoms. These may show up better under an overcast sky as the camera will not have to struggle with extreme contrast.
Rain can be a special challenge for photographers, but as long as you can keep your equipment safe and dry, it can pay off, allowing you to make dramatic use of reflections of colourful trees in wet pavements, or close-up shots of delicate water droplets balancing on the petals of a single bloom.
Wind is the enemy of close-up shots as it causing branches to sway, so if it is breezy try to find a sheltered spot out of the wind and use a fast shutter speed. Some photographers use a makeshift baffle, such as a sheet of cardboard, to shelter the subject. Of course, you may want to take a wider shot or a video in the breeze depicting a fluttering shower of petals falling like confetti.
Snap a bee if you can
The very purpose of blossom is to attract pollinating insects, so on a warm spring day it will not be long before a bee, a beetle or even a butterfly arrives on the scene. Keep as still as you can – the bees are far more interested in the blossom than you, and at no extra cost, you now have a beautiful six-legged model who will willingly pose on a bloom for you. Try to focus in the insects head and antennae and be prepared for a more than a few dud shots; they seldom stay still on the same bloom for very long.
Pastel colours trick your camera
Shooting a scene full of pale blossom, especially in close-up shots, can make your camera underexpose the shot and your images will turn out darker than expected. Try changing the camera’s exposure compensation settings until you are happy with the result. A slightly increased exposure can give you a brighter, purer sense of blossom in full bloom. If you shoot RAW images, you can always adjust the exposure when processing your images. Many modern point-and-shoot cameras also have a setting for taking photographs in snow, which should give you similar results.
Change your angle of approach by shooting from below or from above. Play with the motion of branches moving in the breeze, or experiment with fill-in flash if you are shooting against the light. Try to capture an angle that is different from what you see from a standing perspective. If there are carpets of freshly fallen blossom on the ground, why not try a few portrait shots of a companion sitting amongst the petals.
Try some video
If your camera has a video function, this might be an opportunity to put it to work, or use your smart phone’s video function. Short video clips of blossom moving in the breeze, or falling gently to the round, can capture the atmosphere of the spring day beautifully. Keep your camera steady or use a tripod to keep your shots stable. Try gently zooming in or out through the blossoms so each individual bloom comes into focus one at a time.
Above all, enjoy your photoshoot and enjoy the fragrances and other joys of spring blossom that a camera simply can’t capture.