Photographing spring colour in the Midlands

Christine Novelli Harding, Volunteer photographer Christine Novelli Harding Volunteer photographer
Purple sweet pea in front of the Head Gardener's house at Shugborough

Spring is the perfect season to embrace new growth, and fresh ideas. Now that the days are getting longer again and everything is coming back to life, it’s a great time grab your camera (or smartphone) and be inspired by the great outdoors. Here are some points to consider when photographing this season.

Be a weather watcher

There’s nothing stopping you from going for a free-spirited amble and seeing what the photo gods will bestow upon you, the camera is your ticket to exploration after all, but if you’re serious about getting a great seasonal shot, you’re going to want to be aware of the weather. 

The weather will determine the amount of light you have to work with from a technical photographic aspect, but also in much more practical ways. No one wants to be caught unaware in a spring downpour, especially with a camera. Make sure you always have a protective camera cover if you intend to work in the rain, and know beforehand how weather resistant your equipment is to the elements.

Weather can also determine subject matter, especially when photographing plants and landscapes in springtime. High winds and storms can knock blossoms off trees sooner than expected, or splatter low-growing plants with flecks of mud (nothing worse than a grubby snow drop). Alternatively, a solid day of warm sunshine can hurry along buds, and you wouldn’t want to miss a big bloom. Try your best to follow the weather of the season and use it to your advantage to get an interesting image, be it an illuminated snowdrop wood at Attingham Park or a bank of cheery daffodils at Shugborough Estate.

Check your lighting before you take your photo
River and river beds at spring at Shugborough
Check your lighting before you take your photo

Wear good shoes

It might seem redundant, but fortune favours the prepared, and you’re ready for anything if you’re wearing good shoes. You never know when you may need to creep up on a buzzing bumble bee at Biddulph, or chase after a beautiful butterfly at Berrington.

While you’re preparing, remember that charging your camera battery is just as important as charging up yourself for a day out. Don’t forget a map if you’re going for a rigorous hike, and any weather appropriate clothing. Fingers too freezing to operate camera controls can make a fun outing miserable. Spring is volatile- you may need a wooly hat, conversely you may need sunscreen. The point is, the more comfortable you are, the more you can focus on your photography. If you’re visiting a National Trust garden specifically, you should take care to prepare by making sure you’re visiting during open hours as these can change seasonally. 

Be aware of purpose

There are many good reasons to make photographs, whether that’s personal enjoyment, a research project, or donating your pictures to your local Trust property; but every image serves some function even if it wasn’t intentional. 

Being aware of purpose when photographing, can help you grow as a photographer. That’s not to say you must photograph with a rigid agenda in mind, but be aware of the different functions your images could serve. For example, a close-up photo of a bluebell might be aesthetically beautiful and perfect for a postcard, but the image may also be detailed enough to reveal if the flower is a native species and serve as a scientific record for a local wildlife survey. 

Going out to photograph with a specific function in mind, such as the above examples, can help you focus and achieve the look you want. Conversely, going out and being open to inspiration can pleasantly surprise you. The key is to always be aware, but ultimately let your instincts lead the way.

 

What's your favourite flower to photograph?
Bluebells
What's your favourite flower to photograph?

The dishy details

It’s an exciting time to photograph; spring is a particularly good time of year to photograph macro, or detail, shots. In order to do that well you need to know what to look for, and learning to see this way is an art form in itself. Below is some more technical advice on photographic approach to help train your photographer’s eye.

1. Think about composition and what you choose to show in your photograph. If you’re just starting out with photography, you can use the Rule of Thirds as a guide. To do this, frame your image so the main subject of your shot, or focal point, is about a third of the way into your composition. This will help give you a visually balanced image without centering the focal point in the middle of the frame. The Rule of Thirds is just a rule of thumb. It won’t be appropriate for everything you’ll photograph, but it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for some guidance.

You never know what angle can reveal the perfect shot
A ruin hidden behind green leaves at shugborough
You never know what angle can reveal the perfect shot


2.    Consider photographing from different angles. If you’re looking for practice and still learning your own style, try photographing the same subject from different heights or distances. Your perspective as a photographer really influences your images and how people think about them. As humans, we relate to the world around us on a specific scale; we’re used to being taller than some plants, and shorter than others. Try to vary vantage point to make something commonplace look more unique.

A rabbit's view of garlic
Close up of garlic in the ground
A rabbit's view of garlic

3.    Revisit the same subject matter. Spring is transformative, the small sprouts you see at the beginning of March will look totally different in early June. Photographs are only a very small sliver of time and light captured in an image, so it makes sense to revisit a subject again to learn about how it looks in different light and weather conditions. Many professional photographers will do a pre-shoot to ensure they know exactly how the light will be illuminating what they want to photograph. This is especially important for garden and landscape photography because photographers are often dependant on natural light. 

While we’re on the topic of revists, it can sometimes be tempting to pick specimens to take home and photograph; but it’s important to refrain in order to reduce the chance of spreading plant diseases like phytophthora, and encourage a healthy landscape of beautiful views to flourish for fellow photographers for many years to come. 

4.    Put on your artist’s hat. Long is the debate of photography being an art form, or something else entirely, but being familiar with the elements and principles of design can help better train your eye. 

If you’re unfamiliar, the elements of design are the conceptual tools artists use to make an artwork, and the principles are how they apply these concepts. For example, repeating the same to shape several times makes a pattern. Shape is the element, pattern is the principle. So when you’re photographing, think about the shapes, colours, lines and textures you see when framing your shot; and how you can compose those elements in the frame to make an interesting scene. 
 

Try taking pictures from down low to that unique shot
Buttercups surrounding the Arch at Shugborough
Try taking pictures from down low to that unique shot

5.    It’s not just about flowers. Flowers are a joy to photograph, but that isn’t the only spring delight worth capturing. As moisture and temperature change, so too do many other plants and fungi. Be on the look-out for interesting changes in small details on tree bark, mosses, and darker wooded areas. Lichen, mushrooms, insects, small mammals, and amphibians are all worth seeking when you’re exploring. Once you’ve trained your eye to look for the good photo opportunities around you, it will be second nature to start focusing in on all sorts of details that we tend to otherwise miss. 

Its not all about the flowers. Try different textures.
Close up of bark
Its not all about the flowers. Try different textures.

 
 
6.    Have fun! The best camera is the one you have on you when you want to photograph, so don’t make it more complicated than you want it to be. There’s no time to waste, the world is waiting for you to come and have a good look.

Remember to tag us in all of your pictures on our social media channels