Sun or Shade – Which is best to photograph wildflowers?

July 15, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.

Robert Capa


 Sunny Columbine wildflowersColumbine-Sunny Columbine wildflower in shadeColumbine-Shady

After a week of teaching wildflower photography techniques with the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival I’ve become a bit opinionated about how to photograph wildflowers in their best light. One of the key factors in photographing any subject is to determine the most flattering light to use. While there may be different opinions on what is best, this is my blog so you’ll get my opinion.

For wildflowers with complex shapes like the Colorado Blue Columbine, I prefer open shade or otherwise diffused light. I find the higher contrast of direct sun harsh and not very flattering. Softer, diffused light does not have to be flat or boring however. With a little luck or skill direct sunlight can become softer, directional light.

Coming from a portrait background, I always prefer to have the light on my subjects appearing to come from some direction rather than being flat or coming from over the photographer’s shoulder.  Kodak’s suggestions are great for selling film but not-so-great for making interesting photographs. The image below is one of my favorites because it has a beautiful subject captured in soft, directional light with no harsh shadows or bright highlights. If I can’t find a nice subject tucked under some trees in open shade with a little direction to the light, I make my own using a large diffuser. You might try a reflector as well but mine create too harsh a light for wildflowers. The diffuser does a really nice job and creates an adjustable effect based on its distance to the subject. Generally, I use the diffuser as close to the subject as possible without getting it into my photo.

While flowers with simple shapes like daisies and sunflowers seem to look great in direct sunlight, blooms with more complex shapes like Columbine, Bog Orchid and Elephantella look better with diffused light like open shade or under a cloudy sky. That’s just my opinion. You are more than welcome to disagree. If you would like personal instruction in wildflower or landscape photography check out my private and small-group photo tours through the Colorado School of Photography.

Colorado Blue Columbine in shadeColoradoBlues

The post Sun or Shade – Which is best to photograph wildflowers? appeared first on Dusty Demerson - Crested Butte Photographer.


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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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