By Joseph Thomas
Wildflowers are incredibly beautiful. So why can it be so challenging to make a beautiful wildflower photograph? Here are 10 tips to help you up your wildflower game.
1. Find A Great Composition
This bit of advice is number one for a reason. Composition is everything and will either make or break the photograph. Every other technique you will ever learn in your photography life serves only to support the composition. So spend a great deal of time considering every conceivable angle, perspective, and arrangement of elements within the frame before you click.
2. Get Ridiculously Close!
Don’t be afraid to go extreme. When you think you’re too close – get closer! Getting close to your subject makes it a more prominent compositional element. For this shot of Alpine wildflowers, the camera was on the ground and the wide-angle lens was only about three inches away from the flowers.
3. Get It Sharp
Flowers move with the slightest breeze so use a sturdy tripod and a shutter speed of 1/250 sec. or higher. Keep the ISO down to 100 or 200 for a clean image, but don’t be afraid to go higher if that’s what it takes to attain the minimum shutter speed of 1/250 sec.
4. Use Focus Stacking To Achieve Extreme Depth Of Field (DOF)
For the opening image, I wanted everything to be sharp from the closest flower to the distant mountain and rainbows. Because my lens was only about 5-inches away from the nearest flower, there was no way to get full DOF in a single shot. But by taking multiple shots – focusing farther and farther into the scene with each successive frame – I was able create extreme DOF by combining all of the properly focused pixels into a single frame with just a few mouse clicks in Photoshop. This may sound like a highly advanced technique, but it’s actually so simple it’s like child’s play!
5. Use Motion Blur For A More Dynamic Image
Now that you know how to get everything sharp, let’s discuss how to make things blurred. For the shot of a storm over Mount Crested Butte, I wanted to capture the wind in my photo so I chose a slow shutter speed of 1/8 sec. and waited for a wind gust to blow the flowers before triggering the shutter. Once I captured my motion-blurred foreground, I attached a lightning trigger to the camera and focused at infinity to capture the distant mountain and lightning storm. The focus stacking techniques discussed above were then used in post-processing to combine the two frames.
6. Use Shallow Depth Of Field For An Artistic Effect
For this shot of Indian paintbrush and a mountain reflection, I opened up the aperture, focused on the foreground flowers, and allowed everything else to be rendered out of focus.
7. Use Backlighting
The translucent petals of backlit flowers are set aglow by the sun which dramatically intensifies their color and can even produce a halo effect.
8. Try Macro Photography
Making close-up images of wildflowers is lots of fun! Make sure your background is clean and out of focus so it doesn’t distract from your subject. If you don’t have a macro lens, inexpensive extension tubes can be placed on the back of a telephoto lens to make it a macro by reducing the minimum focusing distance. Avoid having your subject in direct sunlight which is too contrasty. It’s best to be in shade or take advantage of overcast skies that provide a diffused even light.
9. Try Shooting At Night
This is a great way to create a truly unique image. After spending several hours looking for perfect specimens and a compelling composition, I set up my tripod and locked it down tight. The half moon backlit the clouds while I gently painted light onto the foreground flowers using only my headlamp passing through its diffusing filter. It was important to light the scene from the side in order to bring out the texture of the flowers. Focus stacking techniques were used for this capture (ƒ/4.0, ISO 1600).
10. Do No Damage
These flowers and landscapes are delicate and easily damaged so please be careful not to step, sit, or lie on the flowers that surround the ones you’re photographing.
Want to learn more about these and other techniques? Join photographer Joseph Thomas next summer in the wildflower capital of Colorado, Crested Butte, for his Wildflowers of Colorado photo workshop. Visit www.rhapsodyinlight.com/p/gallery for more information about this and other workshop offerings.
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