We didn’t get any storms here in the Sierra between mid March and late April, and therefore no chance to photograph interesting weather. So what else could I photograph? What was happening that might provide opportunities to make a compelling photograph? Well it’s spring, so… flowers? That would seem logical.
But by California standards, it hasn’t been the greatest year for wildflowers. We had a dry winter, so the desert and semi-desert areas that sometimes display vast carpets of flowers have stayed brown. No “superbloom” (a word that seems to get applied to any above-average wildflower season these days).
Yet Claudia and I managed to find some beautiful patches flowers in the Sierra foothills. Around here, sometimes drier years produce good blooms, while in wet years the grasses can quickly grow tall enough to crowd out the flowers.
I’ve included some flower images here from the Sierra foothills made on many separate short photo trips spread out over about five weeks. We searched for places with blooming flowers, of course, but I also looked for help from the weather. Clouds might help to soften the light, and extend the viable hours for photography into the middle of the day. But with flowers the most important weather factor is usually wind. While it’s possible to photograph flowers on a windy day, it’s much easier with light breezes. When it’s windy I might have to push up the ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the flowers, yet still keep the aperture small to get everything in focus. Also, focus-stacking is impossible in the wind, but often necessary with flowers.
Trying to make compelling flower images is a fun challenge, but for Claudia and me I think photography is really more of an excuse to get out of the house and take in the sights, sounds, and scents of spring – fragrant lupines, bees buzzing around redbuds, ridiculously-vivid orange poppies, rushing river rapids, the descending trill of a canyon wren… It’s a season we don’t want to let pass by, and photography motivates us to get out there and experience it.
— Michael Frye
Claudia made this short video of poppies and the Merced River. (Click here if you can’t see the video.)
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.