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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.

'The Hills Are Alive' © Denise Bush

‘The Hills Are Alive’ © Denise Bush
click here to view larger or order a print

'Last Light In Yankee Boy Basin' © Denise Bush

‘Last Light In Yankee Boy Basin’ © Denise Bush

'Paintbrush Beside the Falls' © Denise Bush

‘Paintbrush Beside the Falls’ © Denise Bush

'Mountainside Fireweed' © Denise Bush

‘Mountainside Fireweed’ © Denise Bush

'Mountainside Meadow' © Denise Bush

‘Mountainside Meadow’ © Denise Bush

'Columbine & Friends' © Denise Bush

‘Columbine & Friends’ © Denise Bush

'Wildflower Trail' © Denise Bush

‘Wildflower Trail’ © Denise Bush

'Beside the Lake' © Denise Bush

‘Beside the Lake’ © Denise Bush

'Mountain Meadow with Elephanthead Lousewort' © Denise Bush

‘Mountain Meadow with Elephanthead Lousewort’ © Denise Bush

'Pink Cloud, Yankee Boy Basin' © Denise Bush

‘Pink Cloud, Yankee Boy Basin’ © Denise Bush

Special thanks to all who helped me experience these awe-inspiring locations!


46 Responses to “Wildflower Scenes & Lessons Learned”

  1. Excellent post Denise!

  2. Mixing photography and hiking. Hiking through a landscape is the best way to get to know it and understand it. Being in the high mountains, I’d recommend adding more survival gear in case you get stuck up there above the tree line. Sorry, I don’t mean to let my safety freak side show. These photos are great, wonderful compositions. The last one is making my heart melt. By the way, I love your method of keeping bears at bay. It worked for me in Shenandoah too.

    • I’ll have Brent or Dan carry the survival gear! There is tons of hiking here … you and Viv would love it!

      • We’re probably due for a Colorado trip sometime soon to visit my family. We’ll have to try to swing by and visit.

  3. !!!!!Speechless!!!!!

  4. Really great set! And such diversity in the flowers.

  5. You must be in fantastic shape. I used to peter out just climbing Bridal Veil Falls behind the Glen Falls House.

    Seems like a loooooot of effort … but the results are wonderful. I almost stopped scrolling at Last Light in Yankee Boy Basin, but I’m a sucker for blue as in the Columbine & Friends and whatever that is in Pink Cloud.

    • Well maybe I’m getting there … in shape that is. Yes, it does take some effort to get up to these high mountain basins … especially when hiking. Brent says I’m not in shape yet because I’m still breathing heavy but says I’m tough (and Dan is proud of me). That is mostly larkspur in the last image. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. 12 Deb

    I’d say you did a spectacular job Denise! I love all of them, I could get lost in these locations!

  7. OMG, Denise, my mouth is hanging open in utter astonishment at the beauty of these photos. I think ‘breathtaking’ barely covers it (really, I can feel my heart responding to my held breath – lol)!
    I love that you also gave us some idea of the work that goes into getting to these sites and post-processing as well. No mean feat. Beautiful work, my friend!

  8. Denise, I love your images and your write-up on what it takes to get these images. Photography is so much more than pressing the shutter button, but that is the enjoyment and the challenge. Another great post.

  9. These are magnificent images Denise! Thanks for sharing what obviously took you alot of time and effort (and talent) to capture.

  10. Your going to be in such wonderful shape I am never gonna be able to keep up with you. Great collections. I love the feel of the fields in the foreground sweeping back and forth to the mountains in the distance. Wild flowers in August next year?

    • OK! Wildflower peak (in the high meadows) is mid July thru mid August. The first week of August would be good … Flowers were beautiful near Columbine Lake but my battery was at home. 😢

  11. Beautiful images, and scenery Denise! Well worth the effort of the long hikes, and lessons learned this year will surely aid you next wildflower season!

  12. 25 Barry Plimpton

    Just beautiful images. Thanks so much for sharing them and especially your difficulties in getting to and capturing the photos. It’s encouraging to me to know that even very experienced photographers are still learning. At this point, every shoot is a learning experience for me.

  13. Beautiful!

  14. Wow, Denise. I am impressed. Just knowing where the flowers are would be challenging for me. Your lessons learned are excellent, so thanks for passing that advice on. Your photos are beautiful and well done.

  15. Thanks for sharing your hard-earned tips & techniques. Hiking/backpacking create a real battle over how to balance weight versus “necessary” equipment. I’ve experienced each of the foibles you mentioned. I have a light weight tripod, but with that comes all the warts of a lightweight. 😮

  16. Fantastic images, Denise, and very helpful tips. I am always battling with the issue of carrying equipment while hiking. Not getting any easier as the years pass! 🙂 Your last tip about camera settings hit home since it is often windy in CA and focus stacking isn’t something I think of when out there. Thanks!

    I love your thoughtful compositions in this series. Well done.

    • Thanks very much Jane. I increase my shutter speed when it’s windy. I’m beginning to use focus stacking to insure sharpness front and back. Of course when you focus stack you could open up the aperture which would in turn increase the shutter speed. I found hyper-focal distance at f/16 doesn’t work so well when your foreground is so very close.

  17. Masterfully magnificent! From the gorgeous wild flowers in the foreground to the majestic mountain-scapes in the background, your compositions bring so many levels of beauty. These belong in a lovely Denise Bush coffee table picture-book! Also thanks for sharing the great advice. On my last couple of backpacking trips, I was way overweight with my full frame camera and tripod! Hey, I bet REI will have some lightweight gear on sale this Labor Day.

  18. So beautiful!

  19. I love this

  20. Stunning compositions of stunning scenery. I need to get to Colorado!

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