When I think of photography in springtime, I can’t help but imagine Ansel Adams at Yosemite in 1938, awaiting the arrival of the azaleas and the dogwood. The bears would emerge from hibernation; the brightly colored tanagers would return after a cold winter, and the warblers would sing their songs. As the ice and snow melted, the waterfalls would fill once more.
Many years later and many miles away across the world, 21st-century photographers anticipate spring with the same sense of joy and affection for nature’s many wonders. Spring is an almost sacred time for photographers, in part because it is so fleeting. In the age of climate change and “false springs,” the season’s fledging flora and fauna – particularly migratory birds and early spring flowers – are more fragile than ever.
We asked five outstanding Shutterstock photographers to tell us about their favorite spring subjects, and they confided in us about a few of those rare sights that come with only the briefest windows of opportunity. Springtime comes and goes with the blink of an eye, but perhaps those with cameras can inspire us to cherish, preserve, and protect it for a long time to come.
1. “I camp as close as possible to my target location and roll out of bed before dawn.”
In the spring, a nature photographer’s fancy turns to thoughts of birds. I camp as close as possible to my target location and roll out of bed before dawn to catch my subjects in morning light, when they’re most active. For nesting birds, I scout in advance and usually know before bedtime where I’ll go the next morning, how the light will hit, and where I’ll find my best angle.
Often, I use my car as a blind. It’s tough to sneak up on wild creatures with a big lens on a big tripod. Car-window photography works especially well in national parks and wildlife refuges. I go for the crisp morning light or the golden evening light.
The day before this scene took place on Florida’s east coast, I discovered a secluded rookery on a small island in a body of water filled with alligators. Sounds dangerous, but since those ‘gators keep other predators at bay, and it’s actually a great place to build a nest and raise a family.
The sun was high and harsh when I first reached the rookery, so I sat in my car watching the birds interact with one another. I didn’t get out or point a camera through the window. I just relaxed as a lovely collection of waders grew accustomed to my presence.
By sunrise the next morning, I was back with my beanbag draped over the window ledge, my camera and long lens on top, ready for the light and the action. And then I shot with joyous abandon for a couple of hours. I focus on the eyes. If they’re sharp, the rest of the image usually takes care of itself. I use a prime lens for bird photography. Zooms work, but there’s nothing as sharp as a prime.
I’m selective, so I reject most everything. With thirty-five years of photographing birds behind me, I aim for the extraordinary, which I believe this image is. I loved how the Great Egret mother stood guard. Enjoyed watching her chicks interact with her, with one another, and with the world outside their nest. I relished the expressions on their faces. These babies followed activities going on in the rookery, but they paid no attention to the photographer lurking across the water in her car.
I will say this to other photographers: please don’t disturb the wildlife. No image is worth keeping an animal from its food, water, or nest. Do everything in your power to protect wild creatures and their habitats. Support conservation organizations or try hands-on restoration work.
2. “Flowers are the best in spring, especially tulips in the fields.”
In the spring, nature is full of life. Everything is fresh and new and very colorful. The light, especially early in the morning, is good. During the springtime, I go out very often to make pictures of nature and wildlife.
Flowers are the best in spring, especially tulips in the fields. I made this picture at the moment the tulips were at their best. The weather was great, so I drove to the tulip fields of Lisse. As I walked through the fields, there suddenly was a field with thousands of yellow tulips, but one caught my eye because it was red. I took out my camera and framed it. Up until this day, it’s remained one of my best-selling images.
3. “After a cold winter, I feel drawn to the sea.”
Spring is not my favorite time of year, but it is my most productive time for photography. Like most photographers, I enjoy taking pictures of flowers. In addition, I feel drawn to storm clouds and lightning. But it turned out the hardest thing to photograph in the spring was the sea.
After a cold winter, I feel drawn to the sea, and I often photograph the coast with stones and rocks in the water. The algae changes to this bright green color in the spring. By summertime, they are dark green and not very interesting.
I took this picture at my favorite spot on the coast of the Black Sea. It’s not easy to take pictures at low tide, and the spring weather is unpredictable. I needed the tide to correspond with the evening sun. To make these few photos with of algae-bearded stones, I had to spend a week on the beach, sleeping in a tent the whole time. There was only one night for the whole week when I could really make the pictures I wanted.
4. “I have only about three or four days before the overwhelming outbreak of green plants.”
In Northern Europe, I wait for the early spring wildflowers. Wildflowers are usually small and delicate, so they give me the opportunity to show perfect macro details of the stamens and the petals. I search for wildflowers in the beech forests. The blanket of dry beech leaves on the ground gives a unique background in shades of brown, gold, and red.
My favorite spring wildflowers are snowdrops, liverworts, or wood anemones, which grow and bloom before other green plants. That means I have only about three or four days before the overwhelming outbreak of green plants. I love the diverse shades of green in spring, but in this very short and unique window of time, I prefer compositions with the beautiful shapes of delicate flowers and warm splashes of background color.
I look for fresh, undamaged, beautiful wildflowers and photograph them in soft spring light. If I find myself in a rain or drizzle, the picture will be even better. These images cannot be reproduced. They depend on rare and perfect conditions.
5. “The only time the nest was properly lit was in the evening.”
Nesting birds are a delight and a challenge to photograph in the springtime. Over a short period of time, usually several weeks, adult birds must mate, build nests, lay eggs, hatch, feed, and finally fledge their young.
This picture of the nesting robins feeding their young was taken in springtime. Once I found the nest, I wanted to be close enough to nicely frame the robins, but I also wanted remain far enough away so as not to disturb them. The placement of the nest also created lighting challenges. The only time the nest was properly lit was in the evening. Once the light was optimal, I had to wait for both parents to be in the nest at the same time with at least one worm to feed their young.
Waiting for the proper light, the entire family to be in the nest, and at least one worm to feed the young birds certainly tested my patience. My reward came in a photograph that captured one of the many magnificent wonders of nature.