Wildflower Scenes & Lessons Learned
The alpine wildflower meadows here in the San Juans of Colorado make a beautiful photo subject. One would think it would be easy … right? Well that’s what I thought … until I got started. For the most-part my objective was to capture the flowers and scenery together since this union is what I find special. While I appreciate shallow depth of field images, with these I preferred that both the foreground flowers and background be sharp. Following are the lessons I learned and some choice images.
- Getting There: Above tree line, high in the mountain basins some wildflower meadows are accessible along high-clearance jeep roads while others only by hiking at high elevations. The average wildflower hike starts at 6 miles round-trip and more. That doesn’t sound like a lot until you experience walking uphill at an elevation gain of 2,000 feet (or more) at a high altitude. You need to factor in how long it will take to get there.
- The Light: In some locations there may be a delay before the sunrise comes up over the peaks. This lessens your time before the already bright mountain light becomes too bright. Late day and sunset may be better but if you’ve hiked 3 hours to get there, your return hike downhill (in the dark) might take almost as long. Jeeping to or camping at the location are ideal.
- Subject: Finding a prime flower patch along with an interesting mountain background can take a lot of looking and exploration … but that’s part of the fun!
- Conditions: It has been my experience that it is windy more often than not. My goal was to keep everything sharp from front to back, so instead of sacrificing f-stop I increased my ISO to quicken my exposure attempting to freeze the motion. (Upon review I tossed some images because the flowers were moving and blurry.) Finding the meadows near peak bloom can be hit or miss. Sudden rain and hail storms can also occur so you need to beware.
- Equipment: Unless you can drive to your location you will need to lighten your load (more so than hiking at sea level)! On one occasion I hiked more than 7 miles round trip with my large DSLR, tripod and drinking water. I ended up not even using the camera since the light and conditions weren’t favorable when we finally got there. On the next hike I left my tripod at home but wished I had it when I saw the moving water. Then on my last hike (rated difficult) to the most beautiful location of all I brought my big camera but forgot my battery in the charger at home … ugh … traveling light does mean bringing the essentials!
- Camera Settings: In addition to increasing my shutter speed to compensate for the flowers blowing about I found focus-stacking to be helpful. Since flowers are relatively small I found I needed to get quite close to make them stand out. My usual method estimating hyper-focal distance didn’t always work. Taking shots at close, middle and far focal lengths then blending them together seemed to be a solution.
Living here and having these wildflower opportunities available is certainly a blessing. As wildflower season fades I look forward to putting these lessons to use next year.
Special thanks to all who helped me experience these awe-inspiring locations!
Filed under: Colorado, Landscape Photography | 46 Comments
Tags: Colorado, columbine, landscape, meadows, mountains, Paintbrush, photography, San Juan Mountains, scenic, tips, wildflowers