Photographing wildflowers

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					Photographing wildflowers
By Ben Luna

The spring wildflower season is almost here and it is time to spring (get it?) into action with
renewed energy. The rainy winter promises to bring a bumper crop of wildflowers until the next
hard freeze. But before you grab your camera and run out there, take the time to review some of
the basics you may have forgotten during the long hibernation.

On the surface, photographing wildflowers seems simple enough when compared to shooting other
wildlife. Unlike birds they don’t dash about from branch to branch or from tree to tree. Wildflowers
don’t get spooked and run away or you. You don’t have to sneak up on them. They just sit and wait
patiently for the right photographer to come along.

However, there is a whole different set of demands associated with wildflower photography. They
mostly have to do with lighting, focusing, timing, equipment, and weather. I included weather
because in order to find them, you must first go and shoot outside. You’ll have to go where they
grow and bloom.

Wildflowers grow and bloom everywhere. Generally, you can find wildflowers in the dessert, vacant
lots, forests, swamps, mountains, grasslands, along freeways, and even cemeteries. Wildflowers
will begin blooming in early spring (about when daylight savings time begins in the U.S.) and
continue until a good hard freeze. Not the same flowers bloom all season long. The flowers you
shoot today may disappear and not bloom again until next season, but another will bloom in its
place. Some times you can return to a place where you shot before and photograph a different

Portrait or Landscape

There are two ways to photograph wildflowers. Portrait and landscape. No. I am not referring to the
orientation of the photo, rather the type of flower photograph you wish to make. Knowing how yhou
intend to shoot will dictate what equipment you’ll need and to a certain extent – the time of day to

Shooting a Wildflower Portrait

Shooting a wildflower portrait uses the same principles used in people portraits. Be close and
personal to your subject or subjects whether you are photographing a single bloom or a small
group of flowers. In this type of shooting, you will require the use of a macro lens, a zoom lens with
macro setting, extension tubes, or diopters (close up lenses).

Shooting a Wildflower Landscape

When shooting a wildflower landscape,
position a field of flowers in the foreground
with a great landscape in the background.
The “golden hour” is a great time for shooting
wildflower landscapes. The light is diffused
and angled low to provide side lighting in a
nice warm color. In this type of shooting, use
a wide angle lens. Also use a small aperture
(large f number) to achieve an effective
depth of field. Typically, you would want to
set the aperture at f11 to f16. Achieving
decent depth-of-field demands a small F-stop, which demands a longer exposure, which requires a

While we’re on the subject of tripods, here’s an absolute rule in wildflower photography - always
shoot from a tripod. If you don’t, you’re just wasting your time and effort. An old mentor of mine told
me this when I was just starting out in flower photography, “Before you even think about adding
lenses, get a tripod.” Not just any tripod, but one that can adjust as close to the ground as possible.
Some wildflowers tend hug the ground. You may even want to carry a bean bag with you in case
you have to position your camera almost down to the ground.

Sometimes, there is a temptation to leave the tripod behind because you think it may slow you
down, and no doubt it will. But look at the up side. It will make you slow down, look around, and
think. You’re a photographer, not a butterfly. There is no need for you to flit quickly from flower
to flower. Conceptualization and visualization are just as important as any tool you carry in your
gadget bag, if not more so. You may also discover that when you take your time to contemplate on
your subject, you gain more than a photograph. You may very well find yourself in touch with your
feelings and with nature.

Here is a collection of ideas to ponder on the subject of photographing wildflowers. They are not
necessarily complete and not presented in order of importance.

 OK. I lied. This is the most important. Put that camera on a tripod! Not a flimsy off-brand from the
  dollar store. but a quality one like Giottos, Gitzo, or Manfrotto. In conjunction with using a tripod,
  use a remote shutter. The overriding purpose here is to keep camera movement to zero.
 Here’s a novel idea. Master how your camera works. Know how to set the settings and know
  what results you can anticipate. Being out on the field is not the time to study the owner’s
  manual. Remember JFK’s admonition, “The time to fix the roof is not while it’s raining.”

 Get up early and shoot right after sunrise. Wildlife and scenic photos look great with warm
  sunlight, but the early morning sun is much better for flower pictures. But if you prefer to sleep in
  late, take your pictures in the afternoon when it is cloudy. Cloudy days are great for flower close-
  ups using a little fill light from a reflector. The overcast gives soft diffused light like a big light tent,
  with no dark shadows or glaring highlights you would get with direct sunlight.
 If you have to shoot during mid-day, use a polarizer on the lens. Use the filter only at a 90 degree
  angle from the sun. Remember that you may have to open up approximately 1 to 1½ stops or
  more to compensate for the diminished light coming through the filter.
 Wait until almost sunset to shoot large fields of flowers., The light is then golden and will render
  your subject much better than the harsh light of the day. Use a polarizer at sunset for some great
  effects on landscapes.
 Fill your frame. If you're photographing bluebonnets, then fill your frame with bluebonnets —
  don't include the fence, dead branches, grazing horses, or other debris in your shot. Use a macro
  or close-up lens (diopter), a long zoom lens, or anything else in your arsenal and move in as
  close as possible. Look for dense masses of flowers to shoot, so that you can fill your frame with
  flowers, not a wimpy little flower here and there surrounded by weeds. Make a bold statement!
 Long lenses (100mm-400mm) are great for shooting wildflowers because of their inherent
  shallow depth of field. They work very well in isolating a single flower against a colorful
  background because you can easily focus on one flower in the foreground and let everything
  behind it fade into a wonderful soft out-of-focus and colorful background. Besides that, you can
  shoot from a respectable distance.
 Select your subject carefully. If you find yourself faced with a whole field of the same flower,
  choose one that has a large empty space behind it so the background will be far out of focus and
  less distracting. If you want to shoot multiple flowers, be sure they are all the same distance from
  the camera lens so they will all be sharp.
 Try to be at the same level as the subject when you shoot. Try to shoot from an insect’s point of
  view. Then adjust your tripod to its lowest level even if it means removing the center column of
  your tripod, or use a bean bag if you need to get lower. This means you’ll end up kneeling a lot
  trying to look into the viewfinder that is down low. If you’re lucky enough to own a camera with a
  flexible LCD viewer, now is the time to make good use of it.
 Shoot in RAW format. This will give you the ability to greatly improve your images after the click.
  You can enhance your image a good deal by adjusting white balance, exposure, and other
  corrections while still maintaining your original image without any loss or alteration of data.
 The wind can be a friend or foe. If you are shooting a sea of flowers and want the tops dancing
  and swaying in the wind with an artistic blur effect, then the wind is a great friend. In most cases,
  however, it is one persistent nuisance in wildflower photography. In some instances, the use of a
  windbreak or clamp can help. But most of the time, you’ll just have to wait it out and find a break
  in the wind to get your shot. Set your camera to “burst” and fire a burst when that break comes,
  increasing your chances of getting a sharp image.

Final Thoughts

Thoughtful composition is essential to a pleasing wildflower photograph. This is how the
photographer chooses to coordinate all the parts of a picture into a whole. Composition that works
should be pleasing, creative, and thought provoking. In this article, wildflower is the subject or
center of interest. When the subject is a single blossom, avoid placing the subject in the dead
center of the frame unless it is especially visually interesting. When composing a group of flowers
in a frame, make the elements of the composition as harmoniously as possible to each other.

Finally, photograph wildflower like you really love them. Find a great flower to shoot. Not some
specimen that had been chewed by bugs, covered by dust, or soiled with bird doo. Find a
wildflower that is in peak condition. Many only look good for a day or two before they start to wilt or
partly eaten by insects. A flower that has something extra like a natural raindrop or dew always add
a special touch of grace to its image.

Once in a while, when your karma is right, you may photograph a wildflower with a butterfly
perched on it. That is always a nice bonus