Helpful Hints To Photographing Wildflowers – Kevin McNeal

Summer is approaching which means one thing for nature photographers; wildflower season. There is something magical about coming across a landscape carpeted with the color of wildflowers. But for many photographers wildflowers can be the biggest challenge to capture. Presented with so much vibrancy how do we translate that onto the camera. For many reasons capturing on the camera what we see out in the field can be near to impossible. The reward of a wildflower image depends on many things but here are a few key ingredients to a successful image.

Nearby forest fires lead to a great sunrise on Mt St Helens

Overwhelmed with color and abundant flowers it is the job of a photographer to make sense out of the chaos. Thus, the key is to look for patterns and shapes within the scene to bring the elegant simplicity of the scene onto print. The first thing when photographing a meadow of wildflowers is to take a moment to enjoy nature at its best; soak in the beauty. Don’t rush to get an image or arrive just before sunrise or sunset. I often like to arrive hours early to scout out possible compositions and how the light will interact with the subject. This downtime allows me to absorb the aesthetics of the scene and really focus on patterns and shapes within the scene.

Sunset on Steptoe overlooking the Palouse

When looking for a powerful composition asks yourself if everything included adds to the overall image. Does everything in the scene contribute or is there something distracting. Remember your job is to tell a story with your image and thus the importance of having a cohesive image. Compositions have key components that make some better then others; do you have a strong foreground? Are there multiple layers to the image that enhance three-dimensional qualities’ of the image? Does the foreground tie in with the background? Have you elements in the scene to design the image to be connected? Ask yourself these questions every time you set up to shoot a scene. It will take time but eventually it will automatically become part of the process without even thinking about it.

Summertime in the Paradise Meadows of Mt Rainier

A common flaw with wildflower images that often prevent them from becoming more effective is a lack of balance. More specifically, the composition or batch of wildflowers must be chosen carefully to draw the viewer into the image. Chose a batch of wildflowers whose petals face the viewer and not away. Choosing ones that face the viewer allow for more impact and allow the viewer to feel like they could be in the picture. This goes without saying but make sure to avoid dead or missing petals that can distract the viewer and take away from the overall goal.

Wildflowers blooming along the Columbia River near the Gorge


Try several compositions and not focus on one as this gives you more options when it comes to deciding on what looks best on print. When photographing wildflowers I will try to get as close to the foreground as possible to exaggerate the foreground size of the wildflower and maximize the impact of the foreground. This technique gives the appearance that there is more wildflowers then really exist in the image. This can really important when the wildflowers are sparse. By photographing low and near to the foreground the viewer is given the impression that the wildflowers extend beyond the scene. When I choose a batch to shoot I will also make sure that the composition of them is not balanced to one side or that the majority of the flowers are on one side. This gives the impression that the image is heavy handed on one side and therefore unbalanced. This comes back again to the notion of patterns in the scene and creating sense where there is chaos. As an artist we need to find the scene within a scene and bring this to a level of simplicity that the viewer can relate to.

Sunrise Mist From Reflection Lakes on Mt Rainier

Wildflower scenes have their own set of challenges but none more difficult then the wind. Wind can cause havoc and potentially eliminate any possibility of capturing the scene. It is important to know what to do when faced with windy conditions. There are two options a photographer can choose to do. The first option is more creative and involves choosing a longer shutter speed thus intentionally blurring the wildflowers in an artistic fashion. In this case the main component of the image is color and mood. The other option is the more difficult of the two. You must increase the shutter speed so that the camera captures the flowers with no movement at all. Depending on the speed of the wind this can be difficult. The process is two-fold and includes the combination of creative camera work and layers in post processing. For this to work you must be using a tripod and a DSLR camera. Without moving the tripod take two different shots. The first image uses a high ISO making sure that you have captured the wildflower images with no movement. Once you are sure you have captured no movement in the flowers take a second shot leaving the aperture the same as the first. But this time you reduce the ISO to 100. You now will have two images; the first with no movement of the wildflowers but excessive noise and the second with movement but with low noise. In post processing you are going to manually blend the two images together using the lower ISO as your main image and then paint in the wildflowers with no movement into the lower ISO. This involves some layers in Photoshop and painting which can be tricky but essential to wildflower photography.

Patterns In Nature - The Dalles, Washington

The reason this works is that the allowance of noise in a wildflower can be forgiving as long as the noise remains minimal in the rest of the image such as the sky. When you have the finished the final image, it will be mostly made up of the lower ISO image except for the wildflowers that are painted in from the higher ISO image with no movement of wildflowers. I realize this can be very difficult Photoshop work but critical to overcoming the challenges of wind in wildflower photography.

Wildflowers hang on a cliffside on Mt Rainier

These are just some of the techniques I use to make sure that I bring back the best wildflower images I can. Let’s face the facts that wind will always be part of wildflower photography so we need to push the boundaries of creativity to eliminate movement in our images. Choosing careful compositions and thoughtful camera techniques wildflower can be a success.

Summertime wildflowers in the meadows below Mt Jefferson


~ by photocascadia on June 7, 2011.

16 Responses to “Helpful Hints To Photographing Wildflowers – Kevin McNeal”

  1. Great flower photography article Kevin and just at the right time. Valuable tips on composition and dealing with wind motion from a master.

  2. Great article. I wonder if there is a web site where people can report and read about the flower conditions and locations.

  3. Lovely. Each photo seems like a seamless integration of two different scenery. Beautiful.

  4. An excellent read with some very worthwhile tips and techniques.

  5. Great post Kevin with some great detailed tips on the challenge of shooting wildflowers.

  6. Could you also do a follow up discussing light? Use of Grad filters? Reflectors? Thanks and great info!

  7. Good article, but you left out one option for shooting on a windy day, holding the flower still. It depends on your composition, and the type of flower, as to whether this will work of not. If you aren’t shooting the flower all the way to the ground, you can hold the stem. And if you’re not shooting the flower all the way to the top, you can hold the top of the flower.

    I was shooting a closeup of a Foxglove the other day, and several inches of the top of the flower were out of the frame. With the wind blowing at about 10 mph it would be impossible to get the shot, but my girlfriend held the top of the flower which prevented any movement. The photo came out great.

    Have Fun,

  8. Found it very useful and informative. The screenshot is submitted in @ for the general help of artists and Photographers. Credits are equally given. Thanx!

  9. great tips. can’t wait for wildflower season in the high country!!!

  10. Thank you very much. I live in a wonderful mountainous area In Serbia. I go up very often and take pictures almost like those you have. I have many thousands of them.

  11. Great post. Images are spectacular — your layering of the elements within the frame really stands out, leading the viewer’s eye into and through the image.

  12. Thanks for the tips. You don’t know how many times I’ve cursed that wind! Using the high ISO/low ISO method may save me some frustration.

  13. great post and super images to go with it.

  14. All of the example shots are amazing.

  15. Great job, great… congrats !

  16. Great writeup on a fascinating landscape theme Kevin. Maybe you left out one thing which i find very challenging when it comes to this kind of photography at that’s how to achieve critical focus and sharpness all throughout the image. I have found that 2-3 focus brackets can be ever so useful specially when you get really close to your foreground. Keep up the great work!!

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