Tips for better wildflower photos
Shooting wildflowers can be an intimidating endeavor, especially if you’re looking to capture grand scenes and vistas. Navigating the crowds, finding the perfect composition and nailing the shot can all be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be that way – in this article I’ll help you navigate these challenges so you can enjoy the experience and make the most of peak wildflower season.
Choose the right gear for the job
This isn’t a one-size-fits-all gear list as it really depends upon how much hiking you have to do to get to your desired location. That being said, I’ve highlighted some of the most important items from my kit in this list.
- Tripod: A sturdy tripod is a must if you plan on focus stacking, it also comes in handy if your shooting in conditions that require slightly longer shutter speeds.
- Lenses: When I’m out shooting wildflowers I always try to cover a focal length of 16-300mm. The majority of my compositions fall in the 16-35mm range, but you never know when you may want to snap an abstract shot or try something new when you’re out in the field.
- Headlamp: You may not plan on staying out late, but loosing track of time while shooting an amazing sunset is very easy to do.
- CPL: The sky in your composition will benefit a great deal from using a circular polarizer and the vegetation’s rich colors will be brought out as well.
- Bug/Bear Spray: This may sound trivial but if you’re shooting anywhere in the mountains this is a must. Watch out for ticks as well when you’re out shooting. Bears aren’t always an issue, but in certain areas they can be a problem so it’s definitely best to check trip reports and stay well informed.
- Well stocked backpack: A camera backpack or your favorite hiking backpack with a first aid kit, water, extra batteries, wireless remote, cleaning cloths, tripod tools, extra layers (Gortex jacket etc.) and snacks is a must. Anytime you go hiking it’s a great idea to be prepared for anything in the field.
- Maps/GPS: I always bring a map or a guide book in addition to a GPS unit with me to areas that I’m not familiar with.
Check flower reports and scout locations
Before heading out into the field I always make sure to scout out locations and check on the condition of the flowers I’m intending to photograph.
- Check local wild flower reports online – hiking trip reports are great places to look for wild flower updates
- Aim to photograph the flowers when they are just starting to peak; this is where checking reports pays off. Staying slightly ahead of the curve will ensure that you will be able to photograph the flowers when they are looking their best.
- Talking with other local photographers is a great way to network and to get an idea of what the flower shooting conditions are like in your area of interest.
- Scout your location to determine what areas are best for sunrise, sunset and day/night time shooting. Figure out how many miles you’ll be hiking and plan accordingly.
- Remember to give yourself plenty of time to drive to your location, hike in, take photos and hike out.
- Mark the areas that you’re interested in shooting on a map or set waypoints on a GPS to give yourself a guide of sorts to roughly follow while you’re out in the field.
Find your composition
Choosing your composition can feel like a tricky task – especially with the added element of flowers thrown into the mix. Here are some helpful tips that can make the process a bit less overwhelming.
- Look for flowers just approaching the peak of their bloom: once you have found a nice patch of flowers make sure that they can be incorporated into your composition effectively.
- Add depth through layers: flowers can add a really nice foreground element to your photo so try to fill the lower 1/3 to lower 1/2 of your frame with them to give your photo lots of FG interest and depth. Focus stacking is one way to achieve this look.
- Let the flowers be your leading line: sometimes nature can provide you with nice patterns and colors to lead your eye through the frame to your focal point. Look for flowers that can provide that ‘line’ to your focal point or that offer depth through layers.
- Don’t let the conditions dictate whether or not you choose to go out and shoot: shooting in foggy and challenging weather conditions can offer up some amazing and unique results!
- Shoot in both landscape and portrait orientations: don’t get too set on one composition, move around and experiment! This is something that I have to continually remind myself to do.
Get creative: go abstract
When you find yourself surrounded by fields of gorgeous flowers it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and bogged down by the seemingly endless photographic possibilities. Finding abstract compositions requires some work, but the results can be very rewarding.
- Take a step back and look for subtle opportunities to photograph the flowers and vegetation themselves.
- Look for different kinds of texture and layering in the vegetation.
- Let the plants and flowers become your composition.
- Look for natural leading lines, patterns, curves and turns in the plant life.
- Pay attention to complementary colors and patterns as color can add a great deal of interest to your photo.
This isn’t something that’s discussed very often in landscape photography, but I think that it’s especially applicable for this type of shooting.
- Show up early and find your composition: One of the biggest issues that I see in the field is dealing with people fighting for compositions. If another photographer was there before you, then respect their space and look for different compositions. Remember that a wide-angle lens covers a lot of real estate, so keep that in mind when looking for alternative compositions. Get there first and you will be rewarded with lots of options for outstanding compositions.
- Respect the Flowers: This almost goes without saying, but never pick the flowers and move them to improve your composition – this happens more often than you would care to believe. Also, take care not to sit on or trample the meadows when composing your shot(s).
- Tread Lightly: Chances are that if you’re shooting wildflowers you will find yourself off trail at some point. Follow game trails and stick to paths that have already been well traveled. Never create your own trail through a meadow unless you have no other options and always tread lightly. These areas have very fragile ecosystems and see a great deal of foot traffic, so it’s important to practice sustainability.
- Leave No Trace: Surprisingly this is still a huge issue. The bottom line is; if you pack it in, pack it out – don’t leave anything behind.