I have decided I am calling, “time of death,” on Winter. I get it, I live in the Midwest, and I grew up in the Northeast, cold and snow, it’s all part of the package but, seriously? I’m done.
I want Spring. I want flowers. I want blossoming trees. I started my career doing mostly nature photography and, pardon the pun, it’s in my roots. I want to go for walks among fields of daffodils and breathe in the wonderfully aromatic scent of my grandmother’s favorite, the lilacs, and, most importantly, I want my dogwoods.
Oh dogwoods, with your ability to look both delicate and hearty at the same time. That delightful cluster of loveliness cradled in the center of your petals. Red, white, pink, yellow, it doesn’t matter, I love you all the same.
The problem with dogwood season here in the Chicago area is that the window to truly appreciate the perfect blossom, those without a single blemish or tear, is short as our mercurial weather really seems to take it’s toll. While you have a general idea of when it’s supposed to begin, there is no set timeframe, the season starts when it’s ready. So, every year, around the beginning of April, I go on dogwood watch. As soon as I hear of the first blooms making their presence known, I make my annual pilgrimage out to my favorite go to spots such as the Morton Arboretum.
Some tips on photographing flowering trees?
- Timing is everything. Like I mentioned above, many flowering trees have windows to capture their blooms at their peak. Weather is going to be the main factor in when they bloom but it can also be a factor in how well they hold up. Try to capture the flowering trees as early in their season as possible, but not so early that you’re getting more buds than flowers. I tend to watch posts on Instagram and Flickr, sorted by most recent, to see what is flowering and when.
- Let your flowers be the backdrop of the overall photograph by filling the frame with the blossoms. Using a wide aperature and a close up on the foreground flowers can give you a beautiful blur that adds an overall color tone to the photograph. (eg. “Crimson,” below or “Ethereal” above)
- If there are no distracting power lines or dead trees visible in the shot, use the sky as a backdrop and, again, fill the frame with the blossoms. A beautiful, blue sky can provide either a vibrant or muted, pastel backdrop for the blossoms and provide a delicate, almost impressionistic feel to the overall photograph. (eg. “Above,” seen below)
- This might sound like a no brainer but try to capture your blossoms on a day with little to no wind and in the best light. Even the slightest movement can make capturing that crisp, focused shot more difficult. Lighting is also something to take in to consideration. I prefer to shoot trees and flowers in the morning light, rather than later. Mid day sun, especially, can be rather harsh, and, as much as I love taking portraits during the golden hour, it can be too dark when you’re dealing with tree cover.
- Give the flowers center stage. This is easier with some flowering trees than others. Dogwoods tend to have low hanging branches which allow you to shoot from above and, since they tend to face up towards the sky, you are better able to capture their true beauty from above. Find a cluster of blossoms that are set apart from the others and do a macro shot with a wide aperature to blur out the grass beneath. In the case of “Cascade,” below, I darkened the shadows underneath the flowers, isolating them so that they could take center stage. Making the photograph black and white, and playing with focus, made it all that more dramatic.
Have fun with focus on the actual blooms themselves. I use a Lensbaby Composer Pro II to capture a great deal of my creative focus shots and my nature photography is no exception.
In “Reach,” below, I used the Edge 50 Optic on the Lensbaby to create a slice of focus across the single dogwood flower while gradually blurring out the rest to provide the colorful, blush pink backdrop. I find playing with focus not only forces the eye exactly where you want it to but it also lends an ethereal quality to the overall photograph.
- Most of all, just have fun and shoot as much as possible. The beauty of nature photography is that Mother Nature did all the work to provide you with a beautiful, colorful subject. Your goal is simply to shine a light on that work and give it your own voice, to show it to your viewer with your perspective.
If you are in the Northeast, and experiencing the “delightful,” Spring snow, I hope you dig out soon and get to experience the colorful beauty of Spring very soon! I myself am looking forward to Chicago pulling out of the cold snap so we can enjoy some of Mother Nature’s handiwork for ourselves.