Spring is just around the corner (well, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere – our friends in Australia will be coming up on wintertime in a couple of months!). With spring comes wildflowers. I live in the desert of Arizona and we’re about to reach our peak wildflower season. Here are some tips to consider when photographing wildflowers.
1. Use a tripod when and where you can. I understand that getting to great wildflowers sometimes means hiking in to the location, and lugging around a bulky tripod can be a pain. That’s where a product such as the Gorillapod Flexible Tripod comes in handy. These things are light enough to be carried easily, but sturdy enough to hold your camera securely. As the name suggests, it’s flexible and can be used in a variety of positions on a variety of terrain under a variety of conditions.
2. Though the best times of day to shoot are at dawn and at dusk, sometimes wildflowers aren’t open to their fullest at those times of day. If you find yourself shooting in bright sunlight, bring something small and light to help diffuse the light for close-up shots. Something like a Lastolite Inch TriGrip Reflector works well, and is small, light, and collapsible. A Circular Polarizer Glass Filter (or linear for manual focus cameras) is also helpful to balance color and light in outdoor photography.
3. Try not to shoot down on a flower from above (unless you’re photographing a field of flowers in a wider depth of field). Get down on level with the flower, or even shoot from below aiming upwards. Getting a “bug’s perspective” of the flower makes for interesting photographs that fill the frame.
4. Motion blurring can be an issue when shooting wildflowers – especially those with long stems – in the outdoors where any little breeze can set the flower to swaying and bobbing. A fast shutter speed (short exposure time) will assist in minimizing the blur, as well as taking short bursts of continuous shots to “freeze” the motion (and give you a greater chance of getting “lucky” with a clear shot). You can also fashion a “frame” on which to fasten the stem of the flower, thereby giving it added weight and support against errant breezes. A mini-tripod with thin legs (such as some of the products offered by Assia) works well when used in conjunction with small plastic clothespins, rubber bands, or string, to secure the flower’s stem against the sturdy frame of the tripod. While it won’t keep the flower absolutely still, it will have less motion and increase your chances of a sharp shot. The challenge lies, of course, in getting the angle that leaves the tripod out of the shot!
5. Don’t let the lack of a macro lens stop you! Even if all you have is the kit lens that came with your camera, you can still get great close-up shots. Just use the range that your camera affords you. Sets of Extension Tubes are also widely available and affordable – there are sets to accommodate any lens and camera combination you have.
6. To achieve a “macro” effect and photograph a wildflower with only a small aspect of it in focus, utilize a wide aperture (the smallest f-stop your camera/lens will allow). To photograph the entire wildflower in focus, use a smaller aperture (around f11 to f16). The use of the tripod is essential in accommodating for the decrease in shutter speed that will be necessary at smaller apertures. To help correctly expose wider shots of wildflower-covered landscape, consider utilizing the Sunny 16 rule of thumb.