Spring? anyone? anyone? Photographing woodland wildflowers


Well, it seems that winter is making up for it’s lack of participation and early departure last year. There’s been snow in the air for most of the week here. Early returning Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles crowd the feeders. I’m still in bird mode and not ready to give up on more waterfowl photography, but my thoughts are starting to turn to early wildflowers. Hepaticas will soon be pushing through the matted leaf litter of fall.

Round-lobed Hepatica, Hepatica nobilis obtusa
A Round-lobed Hepatica emerges in early April.
Nikon D300 & Sigma 180mm f/3.5 + 1.4x teleconverter.

After two species of hepaticas kick off the show, it’s a whirlwind of fast-emerging spring ephemerals that come and go in a blaze of glory before the trees leaf out. Spring beauties, trout lilies, Dutchman’s breeches, squirrel corn, bloodroot, anemone, wild ginger, jack-in-the-pulpit, twinleaf, trilliums, mertensia, foamflower, dwarf ginseng, phlox, geraniums and violets cover the forest floor and start to fade quickly after pollination. Some species are at their best for only a couple days. Miss it and you have to wait a year for your next chance.

Red_Trillium_20120420-160646_DSC5492
Red Trillium is the earliest trillium species in southeastern Michigan.
Nikon D300 & Sigma 180mm f/3.5

My favorite days to photograph these plants are calm and bright overcast, when you can just make out the sun behind gray clouds. These conditions allow for even diffused light without strong shadows and harsh highlights. A light rain is welcome too, adding the addition of droplets and more saturated colors. I prefer a dedicated macro lens for this sort of work and recommend longer focal lengths of 150-200mm.  These longer lenses do two things. They keep you further from the plants and insects that you’re photographing (less likely to damage or scare subjects) and they help simplify your backgrounds due to their narrower field of view.

Wild_Ginger_20120425-165814_DSC5628
“Feed me Seymour!”  The bizarre blossom of wild ginger.
Nikon D300 & Sigma 180mm f/3.5

This is slow, methodical and therapeutic work. I can spend an hour in an area the size of my living room as I search for the best specimens, compositions or wait for the wind to stop. Wind or any other movement is a big problem in this sort of photography as we’re most often using small apertures and long shutter speeds. For the best results use a sturdy tripod that will easily go down to ground level, a good ballhead, and a remote release. You do not want to touch the camera during long exposures. If your camera has a mirror lock-up function, use it. This will help combat vibration. Turn vibration reduction, image stabilization, etc. off. This is great technology but can have adverse effects on images that are made on a locked-down tripod.

Long-spurred Violet, Viola rostrata
Long-spurred Violet on a rainy day.   No lame fake droplets added.
Nikon D300 & Sigma 180mm f/3.5 + 1.4x teleconverter.

Keeping notes on the bloom time for plants in your area will help you on timing and improve your photography. It’s a shame this period doesn’t last longer but that’s why we chase it and strive for a few good images every year.

If you would like to learn more about these plants and make great images of them please consider one of my workshops.

Southwestern Michigan Wildflower Photography Workshop

Northern Lake Huron Wildflower Photography Workshop

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~ by David Stimac on March 21, 2013.

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