Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Photographing Wildflowers

Living in Central Texas, spring is the most beautiful season of the year. Even before I got serious about photography, I would go out and enjoy the beautiful fields of bluebonnets, the primroses in the corners and the prickly poppy towering over the field. I've had flower identification books since the kids were little.

When I got serious about photography, that meant trying to capture the beauty of the wildlflowers both in Texas and as we travelled. And some years we have not been home long during the wildflower season. And income tax also falls during tax season. Another time conflict. Last year I did all of two sets of shots with the wildflowers - one on the way home from Amarillo when I was so tired and the skies were gray and wet. The other - the bluebonnets along the road in front of my house. The home bluebonnets were the best of the lot, but were . . . simply bluebonnets . . . nothing special. And, although I sent them to Texas Highways for the wildflower edition, they did not make the magazine. I was not really surprised.

So, as we headed home, I had on my to do list: Take time out and go shoot the wildflowers. After all, you travel thousands of miles to get seal pictures, and you don't even take time for the bluebonnets?????

Henry was thoughtful Sunday . . . and said without prompting - Let's go to Willow City Loop. I said, "Sure, but I've got to finish paying the bills." I thought we'd get out Sunday night and spend the night in Fredericksburg. I was also still filing papers from the mail (I still am). By Sunday evening I had at least the most important checks written and we planned to leave early Monday morning.

I've found wildflowers to be "tricky." I live in Texas . . . the wind ALWAYS blows in Texas. So issue #1. - you want to shoot ISO 100 so that you get the least amount of noise, you want to shoot a high f/stop for greater depth of field, that means even the slightest breeze gives you blurred flowers.

Issue #2. Wildflowers are WILD. That means they grow where they want to grow - sometimes the background and surrounds are beautiful. There are tall dry grasses surrounding them or growing through them. Dead grasses or weeds lurk around the edges or the center of your framing efforts. Bare trees, dead branches, fence posts or ugly brush thwarts the effort for a flawless shot.

Issue #3 - Lighting The colors of wildflowers photograph better on cloudy days, but if the day is too cloudy, everything takes on a gray cast. If the sun is out, there is more color, but the sun washes out the color. Gray days, less light, slower shutterspeed - see issue #1 - more blurred flowers.

Plus, if you want the sky in your shot, there needs to be some blue - solid cloudy days give the sky in your photos a dead white zone. (The trick with gray sky . . . frame your photo where the sky does not show) So - blue sky=sun . . . sun equals harsh light, washed out colors . . .

But sometimes you luck out . . . a friendly cloud shades your bluebonnets and you still get the blue sky background . . .

Issue #4 - Chimping outside. Chimping is slang for when you check the photo in the back of the camera. If you like what you see you go OOHH OOOHHH OOHHH. Part of that process is important - checking histograms for exposure, checking framing trying to find those things that are going to be distractions immediatetly so you can reshoot while on location. But it is bright outside - hard to see that little screen. Hard to know if you are really capturing that beauty.

Hum . . . I said wildflowers were tricky!

But none the less, I started the day hopefully. By the middle of the afternoon, I was hot, tired, thirsty. While the photos on the little screen on the camera looked sorta OK. I was at the low point of the day. I had waited for cooperative clouds to come shade my flowers and leave the sky with blue. I had sat on the ground to photograph the flowers at their level. Everynow and then I felt little "bites" and wondered if I was going to go home with chiggers - I didn't. II had "weeded' a few areas for a more pleasing end result. (yes . . . some people think that is cheating . . . but some contests don't let you clone . . . and some judges want a pristine, beautiful final product.) Remembering all the times I had gone out and shot disappointing wildflowers shots weighed on my mind.

We bailed on spending the night out. I knew I was tired. I had made three runs at Willow City Loop. Until the next group of flowers (more yellow ones) comes out . . . I was satisfied that I had done my best, but I doubted.

When we did get home, I began the download . . . I started looking at the photos. Yes, there were some blurred ones, some over exosed ones, distracting elements, compositions that just did not quite work. And I was too tired to finish the process until this morning . . .

After the initial sort to get rid of the unusable ones and find the hopefuls . . .

there were a few that just may have that "magic."

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