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Spring Portraits – how to use natural colours

Spring portraits can be very special. Nature comes back to life with beautiful colours that you can use to enhance your outdoor portraits. From the early spring daffodils to fields full of vibrant yellow rapeseed flowers, spring offers many opportunities for the outdoor portrait photographer. Why stay cooped up in a studio when nature is providing so many stunning backdrops for free? I hope that this article will encourage you to get outside with your camera and create your own colourful spring portraits.

Spring Portraits - Amanda & Rapeseed-1

Where to shoot your Spring Portraits

The first is to find some locations. Local knowledge is very helpful, especially if you are short of time to go searching for yourself. Ask people if they have seen any good rapeseed fields this year or whether they have been to the woods and found some particularly good bluebells. Local Facebook groups can be a great source of information. Look at other people’s photos and pay attention to the locations where they were taken. A good location can be really inspiring so it is worth spending a bit of time finding out where to go.  If at all possible, go and check out your location before your shoot. Is there anywhere to park nearby? How far would you have to walk? Is there a clear backdrop or are there buildings or power lines that might get in the way? What time of day is going to work best?

It is important to look for places where you can do a shoot without causing any damage. Public places are obviously the best. If you do venture onto a field of rapeseed, for example, do not damage the plants. Look for places on the edge of the field where you can use the colour in the background. Sometimes, you may find a small section where the plants have failed to grow properly. If so, you may be able to ask your model to stand there. You do not need to push your way into the middle of the field to give a sense that they are among the flowers. Please, please, be considerate and if at all possible ask permission if you hope to use private land.
Spring Portraits - Amanda & Bluebells-2 Spring Portraits - Amanda & Bluebells-4 Spring Portraits - Lindsey Ann in rapeseed field-1

How to use the colours

You can choose whether you want to be able to see any details in the flowers or if you just want splashes of colour. To keep the details you should use a medium to small aperture, depending on how much of the image you want to be sharp, e.g. f/8. For soft misty patches of colour use a wide aperture, e.g. f/2.8 or 1.8. If you do not have a lens that lets you shoot at a very wide aperture, increase the distance between your subject and the backdrop. Also, try using a telephoto lens. This will help to compact the perspective and give you a better chance of blurring the flowers. You can also try going so close to the flowers that your lens cannot focus on them, forcing them to be blurred. This creates a soft mist of colour in front of your subject if they are behind the flowers. The first image in this post uses this technique. The yellow misty areas are cause by having flowers very close to the lens and out of focus when taking the image.

If you want to give the impression that your subject is in the middle of a field then you often only need to find a spot where they can safely go behind one or two rows of plants. You don’t need to send them further than that. If you compose your image carefully, it will be enough to suggest that they are surrounded. It can be surprising what you can achieve with just a few plants in front of them.

Spring Portraits - Lindsey Ann in rapeseed field-2Another option is to use the field itself as a coloured backdrop. In this final image I have used a wide aperture and a telephoto lens to blur the rapeseed flowers behind the model. We are left with a softly textured, vibrant backdrop. She was not standing among the plants. If possible try to alter your angle to create as much distance as possible between your subject and the flowers in the field in order to blur them like this. It may be helpful if you can get up a little higher than your model to keep more of the field in the background.

Rapeseed is easier in many ways than many flowers for spring portraits as they grow very tall. If you are shooting bluebells, for example, you may need to find places for your subject to sit down. This brings the flowers closer to body or head height. Of course, you may like a carpet of colour underneath them. But, it is definitely worth trying to bring them closer to the level of the plants as well.

With shorter plants, it sometimes works well for the photographer to lie down on the ground to shoot through the flowers. Experiment until you find a look that you like.

It is worth thinking about what your model or subject will wear. What colour flowers are you planning on shooting with? What would go well with them? Do you want them to wear something that stands out or blends in? Clothing will affect the final look of your image so don’t forget about planning this aspect of your shoot.

It is very useful to have flash available for these kinds of shoots. If you are shooting during the day when it is quite bright then you may need to have your subject with their back to the sun. Unless you want the background to be very bright, I suggest you balance the image by using flash to light up your subject. Shooting in the woods can also be challenging at times. Flash allows you to enhance the natural light. If you don’t have flash, then you will often find that it will help your image if you use spot metering. Choose the spot metering mode on your camera (if it has one) and ensure that the spot is the same as the focal point on your subject. It will then create an exposure that shows them correctly exposed. This may mean that the rest of the image is too bright/dark, but at least your subject will look right.

© Joe Lenton, May 2015

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