Photographing Wildflowers – Pro tips from Colorado

June 17, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Wildflower Photography Workshop Notes

 By Dusty Demerson, Crested Butte, Colorado

          Beautiful wildflower photographs have several things in common. They all have great subject matter, interesting compositions, light that enhances the subject and they are technically excellent.  Occasionally (very rarely) luck is involved. As the flowers begin to bloom in the high country I thought I would share some tips the professionals use when photographing wildflowers. These tips can also be applied to almost any other subject matter too.

 Choose Great Subject matter:

            Choose subjects you find beautiful or interesting. Ask yourself why you respond to a subject. What is it about the subject that excites you or causes you to want to make a photograph? Is it the color, texture, shape, environment or other feature? What do you find exciting about the subject that causes you to want to make a photograph? By analyzing your response you can choose how to best arrange your image, enhancing your subject’s strongest features and downplaying any distractions. Choose subjects that are as near-perfect as possible. Explore your subject to find the best angles, light, etc. Know your subject! If you’re photographing a wildflower, will your subject look different at a different time of day? Does it close up at night and reopen when the sun hits it? Is the color more intense when the specimen is in the shade? Have bugs been eating the leaves or petals? Is the pollen still on the flower or gone? Whether you are photographing wildflowers, architecture, people or landscapes better images can be made if you know your subject thoroughly. Spend time with your subject exploring different points of view and compositions until you have the “perfect” shot. Your photographs are your interpretations of the subject. Only you see this way. Bring your unique point of view to your subject and show the world how you see it!

 Use Composition Guidelines:

          Use elements of composition to show what is interesting about your subject. Arrange your image to eliminate distracting elements and include those that enhance your image. Use limited depth of field to help eliminate distractions. Know all of the tools at your disposal: leading lines, framing, focus, contrast, camera angle, balance, symmetry, proportion, repetition, diagonal lines, rule of thirds, etc.

Use Great Light:

          Choose flattering light or arrange to return to the scene when the angle, color or quality of light makes your subject look its best. If you can’t come back, use light modifiers (diffuser, reflectors, gobos, flash) to control the light so your subject looks its best. Pay attention to the sky. Wait for clouds to soften light or wait for the sun to increase contrast. 

 Create the Best File Possible:

            Choose the lowest ISO possible. Expose correctly! Focus precisely. Use a tripod to steady the camera and help refine your composition. Know how your camera works. Know and use its best features. Choose the best lenses you can afford! Use a cable release or the timer. Do your cropping in the camera when possible. If digital, shoot in RAW whenever possible. If shooting JPG, use the least compression possible. Don’t practice the “fix it in Photoshop” mentality. Do it right in the camera. If in doubt, bracket your exposures.

             If you’re not thrilled with the wildflower photography you create, don’t delete them. Ask yourself why you’re disappointed. What don’t you like? What’s wrong? Try to communicate the issues using photographic and artistic terms. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

 Learn to see the way your camera sees. Don’t just point and shoot. Pay attention to the corners and edges of the viewfinder/screen. Is there something in there that you want to remove? Change your position/composition so that you are only including what you want in the photograph. Watch for power lines, fences, bugs, cars etc.  Remove dead sticks/flowers etc. Refine your images before you push the button.

 Use the zoom lens to tighten your compositions. Use your feet too! Bend your knees! Photographing a subject from above psychologically demeans the subject. By using a lower point of view you can add importance and respect to your subject. Similarly, complete items within your composition will have greater importance than elements which are cut-off or truncated. So if you want a tree, for instance, to have importance and weight in your composition try to include the entire tree. If the tree is drawing too much attention you can crop some of it off to add importance to other elements of your photograph. Elements like a field of flowers will psychologically continue on forever if they extend out of the frame whereas, if there is a visible edge to the field it will appear smaller.

 Try to photograph each subject in a vertical and a horizontal composition. Although it’s not always possible, it’s a great way to learn to see different compositions and achieve different feelings from the same scene.

 Use the camera’s histogram to check exposure levels. The LCD screen will lie to you if you are shooting in RAW or TIFF formats and the screens vary in brightness from one camera to another.

If you would like to learn more about how to make great wildflower photographs, join me in one of the many classes during the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, from July 8 – 13, 2013. Visit their site for more information: The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival. If you can’t get here for the Festival, I offer private and small-group tours all year-long.

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Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson creates fine art photography displayed as prints and canvases and provides private photo tours in and around western Colorado.

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