Working with the Seasons

Avid outdoor photographers will tell you that there's no best season for taking outdoor pictures. Each offers its own take on Mother Nature's glory and provides unlimited opportunities for you to capture its beauty on film.

Spring

Wildflowers poking their heads through carpets of leaves, baby birds begging their mothers for food — this is the stuff of spring photography.

FIGURE 14-2 These lovely striped crocuses appear in early spring and provide natureloving photographers an opportunity to photograph flowers after months of cold weather.

The scenery in spring often contains glimpses of seasons past — snow hiding in the shadow of a ridge, brown leaves drifting down mountain creeks. Because the land is still in its winter coat, your surroundings may look somewhat drab and uninteresting at first glance, but look closer and you'll find plenty to shoot, like the patterns made by groves of fir trees among aspen and oaks just beginning to leaf out.

Rainy days are a given during spring. They might result in delicate low-lying clouds that obscure the tops of mountains or merely in wet conditions where the moisture deepens the intensity and hue of the colors around you.

Summer

Trees are lush and green; flowers are in full bloom. Forests are full of animal activity. Lakes shimmer with light.

The sun is high and direct during the summer, and it's best to avoid it at its highest — between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. — when shooting outdoors. Pictures taken before 11 a.m. and after 3 p.m. will feature more pleasing shadows. Get up early — your shots will benefit from the rich, warm hues of the early morning sun. Late afternoon to dusk is also a great time for capturing scenes bathed in the reds and golds of the setting sun.

When shooting sunrises and sunsets, set your exposure level to under-expose the scene by one f-stop, which will produce strong, well-saturated color. Underexposing rainbows will produce saturated hues as well.

Fall

Capturing trees and bushes as they change color is irresistible to almost every photographer. It's hard not to get great scenic shots in the fall, but they'll look even better if you deepen their color with polarizing and warming filters, or increase their saturation in the digital darkroom.

It's easy to get swept away by the majesty of the season's brilliant colors and miss the finer details of your surroundings, but there are a lot of great detail shots than can be taken during this season, like the patterns made by field grass heads dancing in the breeze.

Winter

Cold weather often acts as a deterrent to taking pictures outdoors, especially if you aren't cold-tolerant, but if you stay inside you'll miss some really great shots. This is a fantastic time of year for taking dramatic landscape pictures like frost patterns on windows.

It's important for both you and your camera equipment to stay warm when the thermometer drops. Carry your camera underneath your coat or jacket between shots to keep it warm. Cold temperatures also sap battery strength, so be sure to carry a spare battery with you, and be prepared for some of your camera's automatic functions to work more slowly.

FIGURE 14-3 Inspiration can be found in the garden even in mid-winter. Snow and ice can provide interesting textures and shapes to photograph.

If it's extremely cold and dry out, wait until you can get to a warmer place to auto rewind your film. Cold and dry conditions can cause static electricity to build up on the film as the camera rewinds, and this can deposit lightning-bolt streaks on your negatives. If your camera has manual rewind, crank the film back slowly.

Light in the early morning and late day is best for capturing winter shots. Bright sun on snow can cause underexposures if you're shooting in automatic mode, which will make the snow look dingy gray instead of bright white. To bring out the snow's detail when taking these pictures, meter the scene, then adjust your exposure one or two f-stops higher than the meter indicates.

Winter skies are often cloudy and somewhat lackluster. If the conditions are too gloomy for your shot, try brightening the sky with a graduated color filter. You can also work around cloudy skies that lack interest by shooting from angles that reduce their prominence in your composition.

When exposed properly, moonlight shots can look just like daylight images, unless lights are in the frame. The longer shutter speeds necessary for moonlight pictures will allow the movement of the water, trees, and moon to blur. The warm color of the artificial lighting of cars, cities, or lit-up windows will make a beautiful contrast to the natural “daylight” balance of the moonlight. To photograph just the moon requires a much faster shutter speed for correct exposure and to freeze the moon's (actually the earth's) motion.

Another way to get accurate exposures when shooting in the snow is to use a gray card — a piece of gray-colored cardboard that reflects the same amount of light meters are calibrated to read. Focus on the gray card when setting your exposure, and your camera won't be tricked into underexposures or overexposure caused by subjects that reflect more or less light.

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