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  • March 8, 2016

Watch Spring Turn Into Summer, One Picture at a Time

There’s no place like home. In life and in photography, a closer look at the familiar can often reveal truth and beauty. This series of 93 days of spring in my home state of Minnesota is no exception.

Day 31 | Thawing waterfalls
Day 31 | Thawing waterfalls

Shooting locally may seem counterintuitive to some. Cameras seek the exotic, and for good reason—novelty is inspiring. As a National Geographic photographer for more than three decades, I’ve made millions of images in far-flung places—majestic African landscapes, remote groups of indigenous people, lively street scenes in Paris.

Day 13 | Goldfinches and pine siskin (center)
Day 13 | Goldfinches and pine siskin (center)

But sometimes the most revealing photographs are of the places we know best. When you shoot an area you know in your bones, as I do the North Woods and prairies of Minnesota, it touches on something primal. Familiarity and intimate knowledge of the subject come to light and manifest themselves in the frame.

I was born in the southwestern part of the state—flat, featureless landscape dominated by corn and soybean fields. It’s not exactly a location brimming with compelling imagery. But learning to make photographs on the prairie may have been a blessing for me: I was weaned on looking carefully. The visual language I employ today—my photographic voice—was born in this minimal landscape of “fly-over country.”

Day 84 | Swallowtail butterfly on birch tree
Day 84 | Swallowtail butterfly on birch tree

Like the two other season-specific series I’ve produced, this one has been a near-transcendental experience for me. Each image I make feels like a prayer flag I’ve hung out to the universe—a celebration of nature’s wonder. I hope some of that is revealed here.

I’m drawn to limitations. So when I started this series, I thought I’d shoot it the same way as an earlier one: by restricting myself to one image a day, simply and minimally. I would shoot like a Japanese Zen master calligrapher who observes a sheet of paper, then makes one simple gesture. And I’d make each image at exactly noon. As photographers know, noon light is the worst light of the day—a time to put away the camera and take a nap.

Day 44 | Willow branches leaping out
Day 44 | Willow branches leaping out

But after two weeks my self-imposed limit began to feel artificial, even cruel. I was missing precious light and moments. So I decided to shoot in a more joyous way, driven by aesthetics rather than the clock.

Most of these photographs were intuitive and unplanned. Sometimes I’d see a subject and say, This orchid isn’t quite in full bloom, I’ll come back later. But spontaneity was the standard.

Day 35 | Tree roots, Mississippi River
Day 35 | Tree roots, Mississippi River

This project began on the 2014 vernal equinox and ended on the day before summer solstice. Minnesota weather can vary greatly in spring. When the season begins, there’s deep snow in the north and temperatures are as low as -30°F. Then it climbs, often to uncomfortable heights. Record highs and lows have ranged a full 140 degrees.

Day 89 | Sediment-filled wave on Lake Superior
Day 89 | Sediment-filled wave on Lake Superior

I took these photos in the state’s four main ecological zones: tallgrass aspen parkland, prairie grassland, deciduous forest, and coniferous forest. Many of the images have a strong narrative. For instance, I’d been watching an eagle nest for five years but had never photographed it. Then on day 50, on my way to finally shoot it, I saw an eagle floating in a pond nearby. It had been hit by a car. My heart broke as I watched it hang its head and die in the water. The next shot (day 51)
shows the eagle’s mate waiting in vain near their nest. It waited for days.

Day 67 | Spiders on moss
Day 67 | Spiders on moss

Other frames record happier experiences. Days 91 and 93 were made at Touch the Sky Prairie—a thousand-acre preserve I established in 2002. It’s one of the few large unplowed pieces of land in the region. I was born on a farm just a mile away, and I made some of my very first photographs there when I was 14. I’ve come full circle. I’ve come home again.


Jim Brandenburg’s series 93 Spring Days is featured in the April issue of National Geographic magazine. Watch a nature video from each day of the year on Nature 365 and see more of Brandenburg’s photographs on his website.

There are 73 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. os
    June 8, 2016

    I love reading about photographing locally, have been doing so for years now- some of my most joyful photos happen within a mile of home. thank you for sharing the world you see… and, yes, I cried reading about the eagle.

  2. Beverly Deak
    May 15, 2016

    Thank You. MN is my favorite place in the world. Each photo seems like a prayer. I find God in beauty.

  3. Greg Colvin
    May 15, 2016

    Mr. Brandenburg is a world class photographer. His writing describing his art reads like prose. Beautiful, thank you

  4. Dariusz
    April 20, 2016

    Superb project, execusion and result.

  5. Kathleen
    April 10, 2016

    I love all your work!

  6. Erich Steinlechner
    April 10, 2016

    As usual, splendidly.
    My everyday highlights.

  7. Gary James Moon
    April 8, 2016

    Typical Jim Brandenburg, but I love it.
    Thanks for letting us enjoy them.

  8. Thi Ngoc
    April 7, 2016

    These photos are beautiful, Love the swallowtail butterfly.

  9. Hubert Steve Cole
    April 6, 2016

    Wow … once again Jim’s brilliance is showcased … hurry up with getting the book published I am anxious to get one in my hands to view and share with my grandkids.

  10. Lorrie Roff
    April 6, 2016

    Wow!!!! Absolutely spectacular.

  11. Diana
    April 2, 2016

    I’m curious what camera(s) he used for these prints, does anyone know? Maybe I missed it.
    Incredible photos, each of them, and so inspiring

  12. Pauline
    March 31, 2016

    Beautiful pictures, as always. The story of the eagles just broke my heart. People who don’t think animals have feelings, don’t know animals.

  13. laney Emmett
    March 31, 2016

    I have never seen so many beautiful pictures in my entire life.

  14. Pee & Gail
    March 29, 2016

    Wonderful nature …
    Wonderful NatGo.
    Thanks for the reminder of the beauty of nature

  15. Steve
    March 22, 2016

    Jim has always been one of my favorite National Geographic photographers! He should be featured more often. This was such a lovely surprise in the magazine this month. Thank you!

  16. Chat
    March 20, 2016

    Lovely!! However there wasn’t enough time to thoroughly enjoy each shot. Wish there was a way to show each shot for two seconds rather than the brief one second…

  17. rob
    March 18, 2016

    this sucks

  18. David Nyro
    March 17, 2016

    Every image is a gem. You are a true artist, capturing the greatest artist of all. If I have one small quibble, it’s that I wish you could have lingered a little longer on each image, even just a second. Luckily, we can pause and view to our heart’s content. Beautiful work. Thank you.

  19. Crystal Roemmich
    March 15, 2016

    I found this collection breathtaking! Jim Brandenburg has such an amazing eye….. thank you so much!

  20. Pat
    March 15, 2016

    After 3 days of continuous cloudiness, as in no sun (that is Michigan) these beautiful photographs were food for the soul.

  21. Ed B
    March 15, 2016

    Many of your photos reminded me of my favourite wildlife artist, Carl Brenders..The capture of the wonderful simplicity and beautiful randomness of natural wonders that abound, we must take the time to appreciate such beauty, thank you for sharing…well done!

  22. Fornik Tsai
    March 15, 2016

    it’s so beautiful.

  23. E. Shimasaki
    March 14, 2016

    watched the slideshow before reading the text. Knew without having to read – the images shout this is my Minnesota!

  24. Joyce Williams
    March 14, 2016

    Amazing and beautiful!

  25. mindy
    March 14, 2016

    gorgeous & so varied.

  26. Stephanie L.
    March 14, 2016

    Wow! I love this video! The music is perfect, what is it?

  27. R. Murali
    March 14, 2016

    Lovely pictures. The eagle’s end and the other one’s wait make sad reading.

  28. Marilyn
    March 14, 2016

    Capturing MN as it awakens from it’s frozen sleep, beautiful.

  29. Shyla C George
    March 14, 2016

    photos that are poems

  30. Diane Sutherland
    March 14, 2016

    Your beautiful photographs speak for themselves, but I also found your text inspiring. Thank you.

  31. Veena
    March 14, 2016

    Simply WOW
    Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder..
    Kudos..

  32. Nicolas Sampson
    March 13, 2016

    Thank you for such a lovely and wonderful display of nature. Congrats to the photographer !!!

  33. Kersi Vakil
    March 13, 2016

    Was there anything that could have been done to save the eagle ? Nice slideshow otherwise!

  34. Guillermo Morán Méndez
    March 13, 2016

    Those pictures are so beautyful. Thank so much. Greetings.

  35. Alan Jones
    March 13, 2016

    BRAVO!!! Your images are incredible.

  36. Craig
    March 13, 2016

    I felt peacefulness and joy seep into my body while watching this. By the end my mind was completely still and focused on the beauty in our planet? Thank you so much for sharing this!

  37. libby rich
    March 13, 2016

    thank you for sharing

  38. James Whitney
    March 13, 2016

    I got this email from my daughter. I’m 82 years old, grew up in Minnesota and never saw any of this until today. Just magnificent! Thanks to my daughter, Jim Brandenburg and National Geographic, I’m not going to miss it……….JimW

  39. Andy Shuttle
    March 13, 2016

    Fantastic. Inspired to do something similar at home.

  40. flora
    March 13, 2016

    it is just superb. thank you ever so much for the pleasure

  41. Bugs
    March 13, 2016

    I agree with Brian. Too bad there wasn’t time to appreciate the images because it went way too fast.

  42. Adrienne
    March 13, 2016

    Such stunning photographs, many of which are reminiscent of life here in northwestern Pennsylvania. Spring and autumn are my favorite seasons becasue of the dramatic changes that occur from start to finish. As always, NG showcases the beauty our Mother creates.

  43. Sharon
    March 13, 2016

    Beautiful images. Taking the moments to observe and appreciate nature are always good for my soul.

  44. Maria
    March 13, 2016

    Awesome. A true labor of love. Thank you for sharing such beautiful photos. They make us realize how important it is to save our planet from pollution, so future generations may also enjoy it and not just see it in photographs or films.

  45. Melissa March
    March 13, 2016

    I couldn’t stop looking at these photos! I’m an amateur photographer and I love seeing our amazing world through someone else’s eyes. Thank you so much for sharing these spectacular photos!!

  46. Brian Stone
    March 13, 2016

    Wonderful pictures. He did a fantastic job on them. Too bad that the timing of each shot was only about one second. That almost totally spoiled the show. Had to go back and Start and Stop the whole thing over so I could really see all of the photos and all of the ones I missed. You really should make the pictures 2-3 seconds minimum so they can really be enjoyed.

  47. Anandha Alphonso
    March 13, 2016

    I am reminded of the movie “The Four Seasons” in the 60s. We just take for granted what the nature is. But when an intelligent photographer captures exquisite pictures and explains what one should observe, is great. My great full ‘thank you’, including to the hard work put in by the staff of ‘National Geography’

  48. MIRIAM KELLER
    March 13, 2016

    Simply marvellous! Congrats!

  49. Michael Szczesny
    March 13, 2016

    Beautiful. I have been waiting for this for years! For those of you who love this project, check out Brandenburg’s similar study of winter in an earlier NG or in his book Chased by the Light. Both stunning accomplishments.

  50. Annalisa
    March 13, 2016

    That’s true: Mother Nature is always amazingly beautiful

  51. Jacqui
    March 13, 2016

    Really beautiful pictures, but they went by too fast. Some, I would have liked to linger over.
    Photography has been my hobby for more than 60 years. Taking photos of nature and animals is calming and exciting all at the same time. It’s getting closer to something I love, it gives me a little peace in this ever changing, cruel and violent world we live in.

  52. Cristen
    March 13, 2016

    Inspirational, breath-taking, filled with awe…

  53. Ray Jones
    March 13, 2016

    Fantastic, but here in South Africa, we are lucky to get even 30 days of Spring, but then we get the now fearfull heat of 270 days of Summer

  54. Andrea Deegan
    March 13, 2016

    Coming from a place where winter is relatively warm, the change to spring is usually only marked by the increase in temperature, not particular changes in scene. (Australia.) So your delicate images of ice and thaw, and of new green, is of particular interest. Thank you!

  55. Kathrin Wagner
    March 13, 2016

    What a beautiful collection – I wanted to savor and linger over each photo but was a bit frustrated by the speed with which eac image sped by. Can you post a versions where the viewer is in control of advancing the frames?

  56. Kay Verdoorn
    March 13, 2016

    I was raised on the farm land of north central Ill. and can relate to the Prairie shots, the “wonder” that is there is amazing when one takes the time to look

  57. TScott
    March 13, 2016

    stunningly gorgeous

  58. Barb
    March 13, 2016

    Thanks. I can’t wait to show these to my class of fifth graders with your comments. Hopefully they’ll become active observers.

  59. Sheree
    March 13, 2016

    WOW!, I cannot wait to see the April issue so I can see in print! Amazing and so wish I could shoot like that!

  60. Vicki
    March 13, 2016

    Absolutely beautiful photos & a fantastic story!! Very inspiring!! Keep them coming!!

  61. Shahid Zaidi
    March 13, 2016

    Beautiful pictures, freshened up my stressed eyes and brain…. Love it.

  62. roger suda
    March 13, 2016

    WONDERFUL…stop and smell the roses…

  63. Daneen Gore
    March 13, 2016

    Lovely !

  64. Latia Stokley
    March 13, 2016

    Beautifully done! Truly captures the transition into spring. Very well done!

  65. John E. Smith
    March 11, 2016

    Gorgeous photos and words of wisdom about nature. Thank you.

  66. Rajeshri Aneesh
    March 11, 2016

    nature’s majestic beauty at its best !!

  67. Nicole Vasques
    March 10, 2016

    Thank you so much for sharing. I’m originally from northern MN and the familiarity and pure beauty of your art actually brought tears to my eyes.

  68. Anjali Jangra
    March 10, 2016

    Excellent photographs. Keep ut up.☺☺☺

  69. RAMA PRASAD MUKHERJEE
    March 9, 2016

    All the pictures are nicely taken and quality also excellent. Thank for sharing .

  70. Alex
    March 9, 2016

    this is one of the things I love about the website and magazine is the beautiful photographs and interesting articles

  71. emythmakers.com
    March 9, 2016

    The beach is so beautiful

  72. Claudia
    March 9, 2016

    Really breathtaking. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  73. Jaime Valdebenito
    March 8, 2016

    A selection of pictures very well made, very delicately and quality. Congratulations

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