- Use a tripod. Using a tripod will help you get sharper photos by ensuring your camera doesn’t move. But, the tripod helps in another way too. It forces you to be more careful about your composition.
When you hand hold your camera, there’s a tendency to just snap away. But, when you add the tripod, you’ll spend more time thinking about your composition and ensuring your camera is in a very precise position.
- Wait for an overcast or cloudy day. Direct sunlight will cast harsh shadows and create bright highlights on wildflowers, causing a disaster for exposure. So, the best time to photograph wildflowers is on an overcast day, because the clouds act as the perfect light diffuser: creating the most perfectly balanced light you can get.
If you can’t wait for an overcast day, cloudy days are good too. Just wait for a cloud to cover the sun before taking your shot.
- Position your camera’s sensor so it’s parallel to the most important plane of the flower. With every photo, you only get one geometrical plane of complete sharpness. So, to maximize sharpness in your wildflower photos, make sure your sensor is parallel to the flower’s most important plane, and carefully focus your lens on this plane.
- Use a shutter speed of 1/200 or faster. The most annoying problem you’ll face when photographing wildflowers is battling the wind. So, to help freeze the action of wildflowers (which never seem to sit completely still!), use a fast shutter of at least 1/200 sec. You may need to increase your ISO to 200 or 400 to get this fast of a shutter.
- Find a flower with a good background. When photographing wildflowers, it’s easy to focus all your attention on the beautiful flowers and forget about the background. But, a good background will help your image by drawing more attention to your subject. So, take the time to find a flower with a good background: one that’s far away (to help get it out of focus), contrasts well with the flower, and has no distracting elements.
- Find a flower that’s in good shape. Closely inspect each flower before photographing it, to ensure it’s not missing petals or has poor color. Some individual flowers of the same species will be more saturated in color than other individuals, so take some time to find that “perfect flower.”
- Use a telephoto lens with a short minimum focus distance. A long lens will help you isolate a sharp flower against an out-of-focus background. But, make sure you use one with a short minimum focus distance (5 ft or less), to ensure you can fill the frame with the flower. You can use an extension tube to make your lens focus even closer for the smaller flowers. I use a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens.
- Use the RGB histogram to check exposure, NOT the LCD preview. When you’re outside, images on your camera’s LCD will appear much brighter than they actually are. So, to ensure you have a good exposure, rely on the RGB histogram. The histogram is a whole other topic by itself, but the basic idea is to use the histogram to ensure you’re not overexposing any of the color channels in your photo.
Remember to leave no trace…
When photographing wildflowers (or anything in nature), it’s also important to leave no trace. That means, be careful not to step on the flowers, or disturb the ground around them (many flowers depend on the soil structure around them). And, it may be tempting to attach some kind of clip to flowers to keep from swaying in the wind, but please avoid this because it could potentially kill the flower.
So, enjoy the wildflowers, take lots of photos, but leave them just as you found them, so they can be enjoyed by the next person (or butterfly) too.
About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, and computer scientist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of Southern California. Read more of his articles on nature photography at the PhotoNaturalist and check out his new eBook, Digital Wildflower Photography