Taking Pictures of Wildflowers, Part 2
Wildflowers in Glacier National Park in early August 2009
Several years ago I wrote an article about How to Shoot Wildflowers, Part I. You might want to read this article if you interested in learning the basics of wildflower photography. There is a ton of good information in this article if you want to get serious about shooting wildflowers.
One of the main points I made is that you should never shoot wildflowers in direct, bright sunlight. The wildflowers will look great to your human eye and possibly even great in the view finder of your camera. But when you look at the flowers on a monitor or as a printed photograph, there will be way too much contrast. The bright parts of the picture will be way too bright and the dark parts way too dark. The result is a harsh, ugly picture that looks very unlike the vibrant, colorful wildflowers that you saw in the real world.
In this previous wildflower article I advised you to wait for a cloudy day, or at least not shoot until a big cloud floated by to soften and diffuse the harsh light of the sun. I also advised that you might want to use a two or three foot diameter diffusing screen that you hold between the sun and the flower to soften the light. However, I stated that I really don't use diffusing screens and mostly just waited for a passing cloud or even came back later on a cloudy day.
However, in the last month or two I've been preparing for my upcoming April and May shooting trip in southern Utah. One of the things I did was dig out my old Larry Ulrich book on Southwest Wildflowers. Larry is one of the all-time great landscape photographers. If you want to see some great wildflower pictures check out his books on the subject. My favorite Ulrich picture book is probably Wildflowers of the Plateau and Canyon Country. His Wildflowers of California and his Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest books are also great. You can buy all of these books on Amazon. This link will take you to the correct page to do so.
Anyway, after marveling at Larry's wildflowers all over again, I noticed that many of them are taken on clear, sunny days. And then I read his note at the end of the books where he explains that he uses "flexible loops stretched with fabric, called Flex Fills, both to shield my subject from the wind and create soft light by shading."
The more I thought about this and then remembered that cloudy days are not all that frequent in Southern Utah, the more I began to think that maybe I needed to buy some kind of diffusing screen for my upcoming Southwest, wildflower shoot.
So I searched on the internet and came up with the "Lastolite 33" Tri Grip, 1 Stop, Triangular Shaped, Translucent, Diffuser". This is a triangular diffuser with a nice little handle that can be used to diffuse direct sunlight when photographing flowers. I bought mine at Amazon for $65.95. Click here to go to the Amazon page showing this diffuser,
The Lastolite Diffuser folds up into a nice neat little 13" circle and fits into a nifty little canvas carrying case. It fits perfectly into my small photo pack. I've been practicing with my Lastolite Diffuser by shooting grasses and cactus in the now snowy New Mexico desert. Just hold it up so that it casts a light shadow onto the flower or whatever it is that you want to shoot, and click away.
The Lastolite diffuser works perfectly. The picture is infinitely better than one shot without the diffuser. Flower pictures shot this way are rich and brilliant and extremely colorful. I'm sure that it will be a permanent part of my photo pack from now on.
If you want to photograph both the wildflower as well as other foreground and background, the diffuser will make a discernable shadow around the flowers. This shadow can be blended into the lighter area surrounding it by using the circular gradient tool in photoshop. If you don't know how to do this, it's the perfect time to buy that photoshop book you been intending to order for the last two years. It is really very easy to do.
When shooting wildflowers using the diffuser, it's possible to hold the diffuser in one hand and a light camera in the other and take a picture without a tripod. However, this is more than a bit clumsy and leads to hurried shots that often turn out to be crooked or blured or lacking the exact composition that you had intended.
I'm sure I'll do a good bit of one-handed flower shooting this summer, but I suspect that I'll shoot many more wildflowers using a tripod. Up-close wildflower shots are tricky; you have to use just the right f-stop to get the right parts of the flower in sharp focus and to also to blur all the background junk out. Getting the perfect shot is difficult and time consuming and pretty much impossible if you are hand holding.
So, if you want to get great wildflower shots, I'm afraid a tripod is going to be necessary most of the time. Even though I'm an advocate of hand-holding cameras at least part of the time, there are other times tripods are pretty nice. Shooting wildflowers using a diffuser is one on them. Here is a series of articles I wrote on hand-holding cameras that you might find interesting.
Good luck with wildflower shooting this year. The CO season usually begins in late June and lasts most of July.This is also true for most of the Rockies. In the Pacific Northwest I have had the best luck in late July and early August. Wildflowers are usually best in the high plateau Southwest in late April and May. In the lower Sonoran dessert, wildflowers usually are best in late February and March.
Bonnyville Peak and Wildflowers
Wind River Mountains of Wyoming