Colin Roberts shares the techniques you need to capture these short-lived and fragile flowers…
Few things enhance the landscape like drifts of wildflowers, and if they are growing en masse they become the dominant feature. Of course, they can be a challenging subject to photograph – short-lived, fragile, and sometimes hard to locate – but with a little in-depth knowledge and the right techniques they can make inspiring images.
As with many natural subjects, light is a commanding factor, so it pays to think through the type of image you want to capture and visit your location when conditions are right. Soft light is always a good option for shooting flowers and foliage because the lack of strong shadows allows plenty of detail to be revealed – so take advantage of overcast weather whenever you can.
Of course, the strong sidelight at sunrise or sunset will inject a lot more drama, so if you want to capture a more striking image of wildflowers you’ll need to shoot when the sun is low in the sky.
Most of my favourite wildflower images are shot at first light, but this type of image doesn’t come easily. Being on location for sunrise around midsummer can mean setting out at 4am or earlier if you need to travel by car, and then on foot to a remote spot, so forward planning is essential.
A bit of research can reveal vital details – for example, some flowers only open when the sun is quite high in the sky, so they’re not suitable for low-light shots. Another factor to consider is that many wildflowers continually turn to face the sun, tracking its movement across the sky. This can affect your choice of viewpoint, especially if you want avoid shooting a meadow of flowers which are facing away from the camera.
The grandeur of a wildflower landscape can get lost if the composition isn’t structured carefully. In fact, being confronted with a natural spectacle can be dazzling, so it pays to work your way around the location, shoot handheld from several angles and then weigh up your results.
Bear in mind that images are often more effective if they are dominated by just one or two colours, rather than a combination of many, so in a meadow of mixed flowers try to isolate areas where one or two species prevail.
Techniques for general landscape composition are all valid, so watch for focal points, try to convey depth, and incorporate any curving pathways that lead into the scene. Try tilting your camera angle downwards slightly in order to include more pull-in of the foreground – that way the flowers will be more prominent and there will be less sky in the image.
When shooting species with smaller flower heads, such as ox-eye daisies and clover, try moving in close with a wideangle lens to make them loom large in relation to their surroundings; otherwise they can look too small to have any real impact.
1. Water works
Moisture enhances the look of wildflowers, making their colours more intense, so try to capture them on clear mornings when the dew is heavy. Alternatively, shoot after rain while they’re still wet and their foliage has been washed clean and glossy.
2. Colour combinations
Look for interesting combinations of colour where two species grow side-by-side. The mix can be harmonious, like red poppies and pink campion; or contrasting, like yellow weld and purple thistles.
Don’t be put off by gusty winds. One way to exploit the wind-blown effect is to lengthen your shutter speed and create an impressionistic effect by showing the flowers in motion.
4. In the mist
Perfect conditions don’t come to order, but keep in mind the potential of a misty atmosphere during wildflower season. It seems there’s a natural fit between a morning mist and swathes of wildflowers, so make a beeline for the best locations when the time is right.
5. Closer views
Moving in close on one or more flower heads doesn’t mean you have to exclude the landscape. With careful framing it’s still possible to include the surrounding countryside, throwing it out of focus as a soft backdrop.
I use a polariser on all of my wildflower images to cut reflections and enrich colour. The effects are especially marked when the flowers and foliage are moist.
Meadows and hillsides typically have marshy or uneven ground, so a tripod with legs that can be independently positioned is essential. I have both Benbo and Manfrotto models and find them perfect for the job.
A handbook is useful for identifying wildflowers. It will also tell you how long each species will remain in bloom – handy if you want to return when conditions are better. Try Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland (ISBN 978-0-71365-944-3)
A specialist in landscapes and nature, Colin Roberts turned professional in 2005.He has received a number of awards for his nature images, including ‘International Garden Photographer of the Year’ and the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Photographer of the Year’. To see more of his images visit his website at www.colinrobertsphotography.com.
On the next page, Mark Bauer provides a few tips and tricks for photographing his favourite type of wildflower…