I hate early Spring.
Maybe it's because of the Chicagoland-area's tendencies in early Spring to have wildly unpredictable weather. Maybe it's because I just can't wait to get rid of the memories from Winter. Really, it's neither of those. It's because of photography.
When the weather warms up, all I want to do is pick up a camera and enjoy the return of "daylight"...
Why does photography make me hate early Spring? Well, it's not entirely photography's fault. I really think that the weather lends photography a hand by teasing me with warm weather and sunlight that actually lasts longer than the drive home. When the weather warms up, all I want to do is pick up a camera and enjoy the return of "daylight", but instead, I convince myself it's not worth it.
Living in Chicagoland presents a lot of photographic opportunities: skylines, cornfields, nature preserves, prairies, candid street photography... The list goes on. However, most of these have one thing in common - being outside.
Although the weather has warmed up, at least for a few days, any photo you try to take that involves any sort of nature will be complete and utter crap. No matter how well you expose the shot, no matter how you compose the shot, no matter how interesting the background seems in our easily-tricked, tiny, human brains, the fact of the matter is that the camera sees brown. All of it.
The grassy field you are happy to finally be able to see again, now that the snow has melted? Brown. The trees that seem to be more beautiful thanks to the pleasurable weather? Brown. The streets? Surely, the streets are black! Nope, brown. Actually, they're more grey, but for the sake of my argument, I'll just lump it into the neutral-colored overload that is early spring: brown. Salty, dirty, worn down brown streets. Cars? Unless you just got a car wash, add a layer of neutral "meh" to the color you think you see. Likely, that "meh" color is, you guessed it, brown.
It doesn't matter how much post processing you do, the pictures will never live up to how you see them. Since a photograph is simply one slice of time lasting a fraction of a second, it doesn't know about the winter you just survived. It doesn't care that this is the first time you've seen real-life, actual, in-the-flesh grass in three months. All it cares about is that fraction of a second, and that fraction of a second is brown.
Now, don't sit there and call me a pessimist, there's a bit of advice here, too!
So, what is a budding photographer to do? (Like the pun? Ya' know, because it's Spring?) Well, I only see a few options when taking photos in the early Spring.
Stop down the aperture
Stopping a lens down from it's maximum aperture by a stop or two will usually** give your photos a bit more color saturation. This effect is extremely noticeable on my 85/1.2, for example. Once you've got the saturation in the RAW file (good luck shooting JPEG in these conditions. If you can do it well, keep doing your thing!), you've got more options for creative post-processing.
Experiment in post
Don't assume you can simply doe the same post-processing that you apply to photos taken during, say, Summer. For example, if I were to do my "typical" outdoors summer photo editing technique on an early Spring photo, by bumping vibrance a tad, playing with the shadows/highlights to prevent clipping, etc, chances are I'll end up with a really saturated brown with unnatural blues.
So, for early Spring, if I can't avoid getting an overwhelming amount of glorious brown hatred in my photos, I'll just switch to black and white. I really don't like the limiting nature of nature photos in early Spring, because I feel as though the absence of green plant life gives me only two options: go black and white, or make a really "moody" picture with overly-saturated shadows.
Think outside the box
Unlike Summer, which provides a wonderful palette of background colors, running the gamut across the entire spectrum, early Spring gives us... Oh man, this is my favorite part: that god-awful, boring, "bleh", color. Damn you, brown.
The wonderful part about knowing what you're up against is being able to develop a plan to attack the brown nightmare. Early Spring makes a great season for naturally-filtered light, thanks to the clouds' overcast nature during this season, and the mono-chromatic brown landscape that paints the region provides a very neutral backdrop for very targeted photo composure. In essence, it's a great time to take photos of subjects that are very contrast-y. (Yes, I know that word doesn't exist, but I'm using it, so take it and like it.)
The example that keeps popping into my mind of a "good" photo to take outside during these dull-colored, yawn-inducing, hell-season's brown times is a photo of a tin lunchbox. Perhaps one that's brightly colored with a cartoon superhero or other comical subject. In my imaginary photo, the lunchbox is sitting on a wooden park bench that is not painted, e.g. brown. Get a nice forest about 100-200 yards away in the background. Now, the shot is composed with the lunch box being the main subject of the photos, but contains a very strong sense of depth of field. Not only does the forest in the back blur out to a nice, non-intrusive background, but the imagi-photo has a bit of the bench that the box is sitting on protruding into the near-side out of focus area, allowing the photo to include the wood grain lines, while keeping them from distracting the viewer from the subject by gradually fading into DoF. If the bench is found near a gravel path, perhaps that would be enough to keep the background from being a completely brown bore-fest.
Maybe my imaginary photo scenario won't appeal to you, but it's a rough example of what I'm talking about. If you're going to shoot outside, it's not going to be as easy as heading out, geared up, on a nice Summer day, adventuring to "go take photos" with the full intention of just winging it. You've got to plan beforehand to make the time you spend in front of a computer screen post-processing as minimal as possible. Besides, who wants to be sitting in front of a computer when the weather is finally getting nice out?
The bottom line
I still hate early Spring. I still don't like the way that brown likes to invade every photo I take. However, if you've got the willpower to force yourself outside with a camera in hand, hopefully I've given you some ideas to make the photos you take better. Remember that whatever the season is, you've got to know how to expose, compose, and post (process) your photos in order to make the vision in your head show up on the file on your card or the negative on your roll of film.
I'm just going to let my camera sit for another month or so; I'll dust it off when the weather brings green back into my life, but now is definitely the time that I should start locating and charging my batteries, because once I start, I'm going on a photo rampage.
Congratulations for reading all of this boring rant/informative post/unintelligible nonsense!
Comment on your theories about early Spring and photography, how you like to keep shooting when the backdrop turns "bleh", or any tricks/tips you have to share related to this frustrating subject!