As you can probably tell by now, wildflower photography has become the driving force behind my frequent spring and summer hikes here in my Rocky Mountains. I’ve become a student of Colorado wildflowers not only because I love to take pictures of them, but also because I’m somewhat obsessed with knowing their names. I have a whole pile of books specifically about Colorado wildflowers and if I photograph a flower that I can’t identify, I will pore through the books, and the internet if necessary, until I can determine what it is.
Purple fringe, Butler Gulch
You don’t have to be quite so obsessive-compulsive in order to take nice wildflower pictures. Following are a few tips for improving your wildflower photos:
- There are two general types of wildflower shots: the portrait, which is a photo of a single flower or small grouping of flowers; and the landscape, which generally features a whole bunch of flowers in the foreground of a beautiful landscape shot. Try doing some of both.
Field of blooms, Butler Gulch
Columbine, Butler Gulch
- Wind is the archenemy of the wildflower photographer. Even with a tripod and fast shutter speeds, you’re probably not going to get a good shot of a moving flower. This will be a good time for you to work on that characteristic that is critical for photographers: patience. Really super windy days are not good days to attempt wildflower photography, but if it’s just a little breezy, wait it out. The wind will generally let up here and there, so seize that moment to take your shot.
- A tripod really is necessary to get super crisp flower shots. Often you’ll be shooting in lower light conditions, such as in the dappled light of the forest or at sunrise or whatever, and you’ll need to use slower shutter speeds, for which a tripod is critical. Even in ideal light conditions, a tripod is your best bet for capturing nice sharp photos.
Alpine avens, Butler Gulch
- Get low. Shooting flowers from above is rarely the best angle. Mix it up. Get really low and shoot from underneath the flower. Be creative. You knees will get dirty, but it’s worth the effort.
- Tread lightly. Don’t go stomping all over a whole field of flowers and other plants just to get at the one you want to photograph. It’s just not nice.
- Light: As with most other types of photography, the best times to shoot wildflowers are just after sunrise and just before sunset. For the rest of the day, it’s best if the sky is overcast or at least partly or mostly cloudy. The midday sun creates harsh shadows and highlights.
- If you absolutely must shoot in the middle of the day, consider using diffusers and reflectors to manipulate the light.
- Don’t use your on-camera flash.
- Lens: A macro lens or macro setting is best for photographing individual flowers. I generally use my 105mm macro lens when I’m shooting close up. If you have a point and shoot with a macro setting, experiment with that. Try the super macro if that’s an option. For landscape shots, a wider lens or setting is usually better.
Columbine landscape, Butler Gulch
- Composition: Get close. Fill the frame. Experiment with the Rule of Thirds. Don’t center every flower in the frame, but it’s ok sometimes. Try to capture the occasional bee, moth, butterfly or spider within your flower composition. Check your background for distracting elements. For landscape shots, try to find a fabulous background to complement that gorgeous field of blooms. Flowers also work well in the “intimate landscapes” that I wrote about HERE.
Mountain laurel intimate landscape, Diamond Lake
- Look for nice specimens. Don’t bother photographing the flower that’s covered in dust, damaged by frost or half eaten by a bug. Look for the most beautiful specimen(s) that you can find.
Dusky beardtongue, Mayflower Gulch
Of course I have to admit that I don’t do all this stuff. I rarely use a tripod, I almost always shoot in the harsh midday sun and I’ve never used diffusers or reflectors, etc. I definitely have a lot of room for improvement. But that’s what it’s all about – improving – so pick a couple of these tips at a time to work on and I can almost guarantee that your wildflower photos will start looking better.
Scarlet paintbrush, Fourth of July Trail