OP – The Blog

September 3rd, 2012

A Full Season of Blooms

Posted By George Lepp

In Spring, a photographer’s fancy turns to . . . flowers! Actually, the opportunity to photograph wildflowers continues throughout the year. The wildflowers in the northern hemisphere start in late February in the desert southwest and continue through the spring, summer, and even into fall, depending on the latitude and altitude.

As I write this (beginning of September), wildflowers have just peaked in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon at around 7,000 to 9,000 feet elevation. I regularly pursue the flowers in the high basins of the Rocky Mountains (10,000 to 11,000 feet elevation) at the end of July and into August. The timing is a consequence of the variables of moisture, temperatures, and when the snow melts. I’ve even photographed a few wildflowers with cooperative butterflies that linger in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in early October, when my main purpose is fall colors. Note the image below taken on the Grand Mesa near Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 1st a year ago.

Captured on the Grand Mesa of Colorado on October 1st while photographing fall colors.

If I were to follow the wildflowers of the Western United States for a full season, I’d start in the desert during the month of February in the southwestern U.S. and hope for early rains. Southern Arizona and the Mojave Desert in California can be the first to show color; in good years the desert floor is carpeted (for a minute!) with bright “belly-flowers.” Check out Organ Pipe National monument in southern Arizona or Anza Borrego State Park in California. I’d move up a bit north in late March to catch the start of the California poppy bloom, again hoping for the right combinations of rain and temperatures during the winter months. I chased the poppy blooms for 15 seasons to acquire enough images for my book “Golden Poppies of California” and had maybe three really stellar years that started in March and sometimes extended into May. Go to the California Poppy Reserve in Antelope Valley near Lancaster, California. Also watch the fields next to the summit of Interstate 5 as it heads from Bakersfield over the pass to Los Angeles. The gas stop of Gorman is in the middle of the fields of poppies and lupine in a good year. You can also get my book at www.GeorgeLepp.com for more info on photographing poppies. We have a few copies left at closeout prices.

A bug's eye view of California poppies photographed on the California State Poppy Reserve near Landcaster, California.

Just off I5 freeway near the Gorman gas stop between Bakersfield and L.A. This only happens on an exceptional flower year.

The traditional Spring wildflower season in the west begins with flowers along the Pacific coast and in the mountains at varying altitudes. My favorite places for wildflowers in April and May have been the coastal foothills of California and up into the Sierra Nevada in June. For 28 years I ran workshops at Mono Lake on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite National Park with a number of excellent wildflower years. I checked it out this past June and due to the drought, there were no flowers to speak of.

July, in the high basins of the Rockies, has been good consistently for flowers, as well as pikas and hummingbirds. Yankee Boy and American basins are good bets from the end of July through early August. Bring your 4-wheel drive to get to these locations. Columbine, paintbrush and larkspur abound.

Columbine is the state flower of Colorado and can be found in profusion at the 10,000 foot elevation in the San Juan mountains of Colorado in the high basins. These were photographed at the end of July.

Lupin in the California Coastal Range near San Luis Obispo.

The end of August has often found me in Denali National Park for the change of color, but in this case it’s the turning of leaves. With an extremely short growing season, the wildflowers are still to be found amongst the tundra until the first snow, early October.

If you just can’t get enough of wildflower photography, you can head down to South America and keep on photographing. The seasons are reversed and fall for us is spring for them. Take a look at a Linde Waidhofer’s gorgeous portfolio of spring in Patagonia, Chile (http://www.westerneye.com/portfolios/pata_spring/index.html).

There is no end to the season of bloom.

p.s. I know there are wildflowers just about everywhere, and I’m not deliberately neglecting to mention your favorite place in this little post. Feel free to share your experiences and beloved locations here!


Please leave a comment

  1. Wildflowers Throughout the Year « Natural History Wanderings Says:

    […] impatiently for the first blooms of early spring, you might want to read George Lepp’s article A Full Season of Blooms at the Outdoor Photographer blog. He talks about his experience finding wildflower bloom throughout […]

  2. jim west Says:

    As an addendum to your Quick Tips piece in the April issue. I use a piece of the thinest available Lexan from Home Depot/Lowes. I cut a sheet into two pieces, lengthwise, one twice the size of the other. When I need to block the breeze for a long exposure, I clamp the ends of whichever piece of the Lexan works best to form a hoop with which I surround my subject. I only use natural light so I needed to improvise.

  3. John Trammell Says:

    Why do some (most?) flat-petaled blue flowers appear white when photographed? In an image of blue flax some of the flowers will be white. Similarly for showy daisies (a.k.a. Oregon fleabane). A polarizing filter doesn’t help much, if at all. I’ve observed this phenomenon since the film days. More complex flowers such as lupine and larkspur don’t behave this way. Photographing in shade or under heavy overcast, the effect is less pronounced, and you can get some nice purple and lavender showy daisies, but those nearby in full sun will probably be white.

    Help, George!

  4. John Trammell Says:

    The image near Gorman gas stop was incredible! Very different from anything I’m aware of in Colorado – although this has been a good year for wildflowers on the Grand Mesa.

  5. John Trammell Says:

    The photo of the flower-covered hills near Gorman gas stop is incredibly beautiful!

    Next time you’re near the Grand Mesa, let me know and I’ll show you my favorite flower-fields – some of which are at their peak at this moment. The columbines have done their thing for this hear, however.

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