It’s been a good year for wildflowers in California – above average in some places, and exceptional in a few spots.
One of those places that seemed to be having an exceptionally-good year was Antelope Valley, so after our Death Valley workshop Claudia and I made a quick trip down there. We had seen poppies in Antelope Valley back in the late ’80s, but hadn’t been back since, so this seemed like a good time for a return visit. And the flowers were amazing. In the sun the combination of bright, red-orange poppies and yellow goldfields was downright blinding. It actually hurt my eyes to look directly at the flowers.
But while the flowers were amazing, so was the wind. Antelope Valley is a notoriously windy place. It’s a big, wide-open plain with only scattered trees, and it’s on the eastern, downslope, and therefore windy side of the Tehachapi Mountains. There are wind turbines there for a reason.
Weather is always important in landscape photography. Usually we’re most concerned about clouds (or the lack of clouds), but for flowers wind might be the most important weather factor. Sure, I’d like to have clouds; the soft light created by overcast skies is perfect for colorful subjects like flowers. But I can make sunshine and cloudless skies work, while wind really limits what kind of photographs I can make.
We timed our visit to Antelope Valley to coincide with one morning that forecasts indicated might be calm – out of a week of windy days. And that morning was calm, sort of. Not perfectly still, but workable. A few high clouds passed by, occasionally softening the light a little, which helped. The wind picked up again in the afternoon, and didn’t let up, but at least we had one good morning there. It was also fun to meet up with our friends Mary Liz Austin and Terry Donnelly.
Even without wind, wildflower photography can be challenging. I wrote a post a while ago called “Color is not Enough,” and nowhere is that more true than when photographing flowers. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the color, and forget about design. But design and composition are always essential. You can’t just point your camera at a colorful field of flowers and expect to make a compelling photograph.
When working with students on composition, I seem to repeat the same things over and over: look for patterns and focal points, and fill the frame with interesting stuff. There’s obviously a lot more to composition than that, but those three principles can help immensely. In this small portfolio of wildflower photographs I’ve included extended captions where I talk about those factors in each composition.
The big wildflower displays in Southern California are fading, but the wildflower season will last well into the summer in the mountains. If you photograph flowers, just remember to look to patterns and focal points, and fill the frame with interesting stuff. And pay attention to the wind forecasts!
— Michael Frye
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.