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5 Tips for Taking Great Spring Photos

04/07/2014 — 

Spring is finally here!

It has been a miserable winter for many people this year, with more snow than usual and too-low temperatures. Now that March is drawing to a close, we're hoping that April will finally bring us sun, flowers, and the warm temperatures of spring.

With new sunshine brings new life, where the blooming greenery and bright colors start to emerge. The start of spring is a great opportunity to pull out your DSLR camera and start capturing the beautiful colors of spring. What can you do to ensure that your camera gets the most out of spring? Here are five tips to configure your DSLR to take the very best spring photos.

Spring Showcase

© Alpinfoto - Mirko Sotgiu

1)  Stay Away from Digital Zoom and Use Optical Zoom, Instead

Since the advent of digital cameras, many amateur photographers have come to rely upon digital zoom to get a closer look at their subjects. Digital "zoom," however, isn't really zooming at all. In reality, all digital zoom actually does is crop the picture, making you lose image resolution.

Imagine you're trying to capture the beauty of a spring blossom. You want to capture the blossom itself, big and beautiful. You might be tempted to use digital zoom to fill the whole frame with the blossom. Don't give in to that temptation. Instead, get comfortable with optical zoom, which means you manually rotate the camera lens to zoom in and out. Although using optical zoom has a steeper learning curve than digital zoom, you'll be rewarded in the end with a crisper, clearer picture of the blossom that better captures the spring beauty as it appears in real life.

© Beata Moore

© Beata Moore

2)  On a Sunny Spring Day, Lower the Level of Your ISO

"ISO" stands for "International Standards Organizations." Although the name is a little confusing, what ISO actually does is control your camera's light sensitivity. When you shoot in low light, such as a dim room, you want to turn up your ISO so that the image will be brighter. However, when you're shooting outdoors on a beautiful spring day, you'll want to lower the level of your ISO. Lowering the camera's light sensitivity when you are outside on a sunny day will prevent the images you shoot from looking washed out or overly bright. (See the point below about exposure.)

© Alpinfoto - Mirko Sotgiu

© Alpinfoto - Mirko Sotgiu

3)  Control Your Depth of Field to Make Your Subject Pop

Have you ever seen a professional's photo in which the subject in the foreground is sharp and clear, while the background is out of focus and blurry? Have you wondered, "How do they do that?!" If you have a DSLR, you can create the same effect by changing your depth of field.

You adjust your depth of field by adjusting your aperture. Your camera has an internal "iris," or aperture, that controls how big the "pupil" of your camera lens is. Think of it like this: When you are trying to look at something with very little light, your pupil expands; when there's plenty of light, your pupil contracts. In the same way, you can control how much light your camera takes in by adjusting the aperture, which in turn will also change your depth of field. The aperture's settings are measured in "f-stops." The larger the number of the f-stop, the shallower your depth of field will be. The smaller the number, the deeper it will be.

What's the difference between a shallow depth of field and a deep depth of field? When you use a very shallow depth of field, the subject in the foreground will stand out sharply, but the background will be soft and fuzzy. A deep depth of field provides more focus for both the subject and the background. If you want to take a picture of the cardinal in your backyard in mid-flight but you don't want to capture the trees behind him, use a shallow depth of field. If you want to capture a spring landscape, with blossoming trees underneath a stormy spring sky, use a deeper depth of field.

On most DSLRs, your aperture setting will be marked by a capital letter A. (On a Canon, it is Av.) Put your camera into aperture priority mode and you will be able to manually adjust your aperture level. 

© Fabio Liverani

© Fabio Liverani

4)  Control ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed Together to Get the Perfect Exposure

We've already talked a little bit about controlling the light in your photo when we looked at ISO. Now when looking at exposure, an "underexposed" photo is an image that comes out too dark and gray; an "overexposed" photo is an image that is too bleached out. A photo that is properly exposed should look like what we see with our eyes. Photographers call ISO, aperture, and shutter speed the "holy trinity," because it is by balancing these three elements that a properly exposed photo can be created.

Since we've discussed ISO and aperture above, let's spend a quick moment on shutter speed. The shorter your shutter speed, the better you will be able to capture moving images in high detail. However, a short shutter speed also means less light enters the camera. A long shutter speed allows more light to enter the camera, but moving objects are more likely to be blurry. In other words, if you want to capture the cardinal in your backyard as he flies away from the cat that's stalking him, you will want a short shutter speed to keep his wings from blurring. On the other hand, if you want to show the setting sun over a meadow of spring flowers, a long shutter speed will probably work better. For the bird taking off, or your kids playing catch in the yard, use a shutter speed of at least 1/500s. For that sunset, experiment with lower shutter speeds of 1/250s and 1/125s.

© Alpinfoto - Mirko Sotgiu

© Alpinfoto - Mirko Sotgiu

Bonus Tip!

Capturing perfect nature photos with consistency can be a challenging. A simple piece of equipment that you should consider getting (if you don’t have one yet) is a reliable tripod. A tripod only takes seconds to erect and adjust, giving support for your camera in the perfect position – for however long you wish! By having a tripod, you will reduce camera movement which will, in turn, improve your picture quality, especially if you are trying to capture the perfect sunrise or sunset. 

Manfrotto’s new 190 series tripods are great, lightweight tripods that are perfect for your adventures outdoors. Consider these tripods as the perfect addition to your equipment collection.

5)  Change White Balance Settings to Get the Best Spring Colors

Everyone's favorite part of spring, after the warmth, is the vibrancy of color. After a long winter of gray skies, blackened trees, brown lawns, and white snow, Spring feels like an explosion of color. The sky is blue once more; the trees bud into greens, pinks, whites, and reds; green shoots start to appear on the lawn; songbirds, squirrels, bees, and butterflies start chasing each other through flowers and trees. As a photographer, it's easy to feel disappointed when your DSLR photo doesn't capture the vibrant colors of spring the way you expected it to. You can correct that by adjusting the white balance.

We could get really technical here and start talking about the temperature of light and how our atmosphere affects the sun, but let's skip all that and cut to the chase:

-  Auto White Balance (AWB) Mode: This is the default setting. It tends to make photos a little bluer than they might appear to the naked eye.

-  Daylight Mode: On most cameras, this is reresented by the symbol of a sun. It's only useful when shooting in direct sunlight and, even then, it tends to be heavy on the blue.

-  Tungsten or Indoor Mode: Often represented by a light bulb, tungsten mode will definitely turn your image blue unless you are shooting inside at night.

-  Cloudy Mode: Cloudy mode will create warmer colors than daylight mode.

-  Shade Mode: Shade mode, which is usually shown as a house that's casting a shadow, tends to be much more orange than the other modes mentioned above.

-  Fluorescent Mode: Represented by a long fluorescent tube, this mode will reduce how green photos look when taken under fluorescent or halide lights.

-  Adjust each of these modes: You can start with one of these preset white balance modes, and then fine tune it from -3 to +3. The (+) makes your photo cooler (more blues) and the(-) makes your photo warmer (more oranges and reds).


© Beata Moore

© Beata Moore

Your DSLR camera can do so much more than your iPhone camera, so why leave all the settings in default mode? By manually adjusting your lens, your ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and white balance, you'll be able to capture spring in the same way that professional photographers do.

Are you looking for some new camera equipment this spring? For a limited time, you can get 10% off your entire order and free shipping. Please visit the Spring Specials page for more information and details.