Bradley Nordlof: The Beauty of Spring

Globetrotting photographer Bradley Nordlof trains his eye on the elegance of spring and the exquisite sights found in the bounteous blooms of the Midwestern seasons. In this captivating photo spread, the Rockford lensman shares his insights on photographing nature’s rich spring pallete and training your eye to find the truly sublime in your own backyard.

Spring is such an amazing time for photography in the Midwest.

In my life, I’ve had time to travel year-round. But no matter where you are in the U.S.A., it’s hard to beat the richness and beauty of the Midwest blooms. There’s something so special in the air. With my camera, I generally come out of a winter hibernation every spring. And while there may have been plenty of photos during the winter mouths, they are usually chilly ones in this neck of the woods. But now, the browns are slowly fading, and the amazing greens are dominating. Watching the daffodils and tulips unfold and the redbuds blossoming is spectacular, to say the least.

There are so many great places to visit and photograph in northern Illinois – Anderson Gardens, Nicholas Conservatory, and so many parks and forest preserves. There seems to be never-ending variety of new speciates popping up daily.

Getting out in the spring with those summer teaser days makes the rewards even better. With my camera, I love to explore so many of the places that take on a different meaning in the spring. It’s such a magical time.

Quite often, I find myself focusing on bright and vibrant colors. It could be whatever might be blooming, though it’s hard to step away from my favorites, which are tulips of all shapes and sizes. I quite often find myself concentrating on groups of tulips in a collage of color. Though there may be great patches of tulips in this area of the Midwest, it’s hard to beat the tulip festival in Holland, Mich. Just 3.5 hours away, it should be on everyone’s bucket list one year or another. Another spectacular location is Kuipers Farm, located just east of DeKalb in Maple Park. This is a smaller farm, but it has a beautiful multi-field of tulips all blossoming in their spring glory.

As far as photographing tulips, I have the attitude that anything goes, and/or anything can work. Early and later day lighting can sometimes be great with lower harshness and shadows, but it’s hard not to like a slightly overcast day. This type of light can bring out the detail and take some of the hard light out of the photo. As far as equipment goes, phone cameras can do a great job if you’re just into sharing your phone photos over the internet or with friends. If you want to make good wall prints, I recommend a digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) or a full-frame camera of some sort. Camera- and lens-wise, there are so many options that can work. We could get into hour-or-two-long discussions on so many aspects and techniques that you could use. It really depends on what you’re looking for in a photo. For example, if you want a super close-up with detail, maybe a camera with a macro lens and a tripod is the answer. If you want to compress the image, maybe a longer focal length or a zoom lens may be the answer.

My all-time favorite for big pictures is the wide-angle lens, but be careful with the wide lenses as they tend to cause a bit of distortion if used at too much of an extreme angle. With all these options on lenses and cameras, my best advice is to carry less and make it easy. You’ll do much better in the end. It’s hard to beat a standard lens with just plain close-up capability.

Let’s not forget about the animals born in spring. With so many families of critters, there is an endless list of species running around in the Midwestern states. So much of this can be found at the local parks and forest preserves in our area. Some might be in your own backyard. I’m always surprised, especially early and later in the day, as to what may stroll in front of me.

As far as where to go, I would go wherever you may be confident and comfortable.

When I look at spring photos of the Upper Midwest, which I’ve selected for this article, I love to reflect. I reflect on so many memories and feelings from when I took them. This land cannot be replaced. Every new day with my camera was a different goal or distant thought. Sometimes it worked, and other times it was filed away as a yesterday memory. It’s funny how those filed-away memories of photos can come up later.

Quite often, I look at something I may have photographed several years ago, and I say to myself, “What was I thinking?” … and I realize I may have been looking at the wrong thing all along. It was right in front of me the whole time.

Get outside and enjoy nature! It’s right in front of you.

About Bradley Nordlof
Rockford-based photographer Bradley Nordlof travels to the far corners of the world in search of the most interesting, magnificent examples of nature’s beauty. He perpetually seeks out stunning places that deeply stir our emotions and beckon us to escape. He then communicates his experiences in oversized murals and balanced compositions that push the limits of rich textures and shadows, almost reminiscent of Ansel Adams but with a masterful palette of vibrant hues, light and saturation. Find more of his works online at