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Wildflowers: Photography Tips, Suggestions & Resources

Wildflowers are the cherries on a “landscape banana split!”  Wildflowers start appearing in numbers around the first of June in the south end of the valley and show up farther north as the snow pack melts. Arrowleaf Balsom Root plants are the first dominant yellow flowering plant of the summer season. Larkspur, a dark purple flowering plant, is often seen among the Balsom Root plants. Purple Lupine can be found early in the season, along with a spattering of early Indian Paintbrush. Mule’s Ear and One Flowers fill in many areas once the Balsom Root plants wither away. Sticky Geraniums are common early and throughout much of the summer.

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Shooting Data: NIKON D800, 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 at 56 mm, 1/800 at f/5.6, Aperture priority Mode, -2/3 EV,  ISO 100, ©Copyright 2014: This is one of the first Balsom Root plants I saw this year. I chose to shoot it up close and use a variety of aperture settings. At F/2.8, the Tetons were much too blurry. At F/16, there was too much clutter behind the flowers.

That’s a quick overview of the most dominant flowers I see each year. There are hundreds of other flowering plants in the Jackson Hole valley. To be honest, I only know a few of them by name, but that has never been a priority for me—I just take the photos if if I see something that catches my eye! There are quite a few books devoted to the subject and probably a few apps. Most local bookstores sell Common Wildflowers of Grand Teton National Park. It is a small, inexpensive book published by GTNP. I refer to it because the flowers are categorized by color.

Balsom Root June 10

Shooting Data: NIKON D800, 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 at 42 mm, 1/160 at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, -2/3 EV,  ISO 100, ©2013 Mike R Jackson:This was taken on June 10, 2013 from the East Boundary Road, just north of Antelope Flats Road.

This Feature Page is dedicated to offering the a few tips and suggestions that might help you with your photography and enjoyment. Remember, they are just suggestions. Don’t worry about trying to match your senses and tastes with mine!

Tips:

  • Get Down! I think they look best when the camera is set up at about the same level as the flower or flowers. Shooting down might be okay at times, but getting low always seems to help. (see the CamRanger comments near the bottom of this page)
  • Wait for Good Light: Harsh mid-day light is not recommended for most subjects and wildflowers are no exception. It is possible to filter the light with a diffuser or even a white sheet. Morning and evening light is usually so much more appealing.
  • Wait for Calm Days: If it’s windy, photographing close flowers will be a challenge. An advanced photographer might change ISO levels to help control depth of field and shutter speed, but any movement at close range can cause problems.
  • Get Up Early: This is a two-for-one tip combing the two previous tips. Light is usually great early and wind is usually calm. Sometimes, I “find” subject matter one day (during the harsh light period), then go back early the next day to do the actual photos.
  • Remember to “Actually Look” as the Scene Before Clicking: You’ve probably seen photos of people in which the photographer neglected to look at the whole scene (not just the subject) and had a tree branch running through the subject’s head…or a couple of sailboat sails protruding out of their head like horns. I find it easy to forget to look for similar distractions with flowers. It can help to trim some dead stems or distractions or simply recompose. (I should mention it is frowned upon to do much pruning inside the National Parks).
  • Look For “Still Life” Opportunities: It is relatively easy to set up and photograph a single stem of flowers. For some people and some purposes (like illustrating a flower book) that might be enough. Instead, I look for a flowering plant next to a waterfall, rock, stump, or similar object. And, I’d love to include a shot of a flowering plant with a bumble bee or butterfly on it. Similarly, I like to include a variety of plant species and colors in one shot.
  • Experiment! Some plants or flowers will be lined up in a row. Photographing them “straight on” will mean most of them will be equally in focus. If you change the angle and focus on one of the flowers, the rest will likely be purposefully out of focus. Try setting your camera “in” a patch of flowers and photographing “out” or up. You can even use the self timer. On extremely windy days, consider “artsy” shots that take advantage of the motion blur. Shoot a lot and keep the best ones. There are lots of “rules” for composing a scene. Photographing wildflowers allows for a lot of personal expression, including breaking the rules.

Wildflowers and Comments:

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Shooting Data: July 1, 2008  1/20s, at f/11 || E.Comp:-4 / 6 || 48mm || WB: SUNNY 3. || ISO: 200 || Tone:  || Sharp:  || Camera: NIKON D300: This old gravel pit near Pilgrim Creek Road fills with water on high snow years like this one. Purple Lupines are normally growing there towards the end of June or very early July. This shot takes a lot of commitment! I have to get up at around 4:00 am to get to the location on time. Night time speed limits are only 45 mph. The Alpenglow period there is around 5:15 am in the middle of summer. This one was taken at 6:22 am after the sun had risen some. I’ve also driven there only to be shut would with thick clouds blocking the sun in the east.

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Watch for any chance to add an insect, bird, or critter with your flowers!

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The Wildflowers are just a minimal element in this shot. I liked the texture and “Z” pattern of the plants clinging to a small patch of soil in a rock. This was taken near Granite Falls south of Jackson.

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On my Teton Images site, I like to apply artistic effects to my photos, giving them a painterly look. These were taken on the road up to the top of Signal Mountain on July 17, 2011.

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Cactus Flowers taken near the Kelly Warm Springs on July 21st of 2011.

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Selective Focus with a very shallow depth of field. These flowers are common around the valley. This shots was taken on June 23rd.

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Variety: Taken along the road on Teton Pass a few years ago.

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Dandelion: Maybe not all images will hang on a wall? I still like to take them.

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Windblown One Flower: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 200.0-400.0 mm f/4.0 at 360 mm, 1/13 at f/25, Aperture priority Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 100, ©2012 Mike R. Jackson, All Rights Reserved: At 1/13th of a second, this flower was plenty blurred and abstract.

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Columbines: I stayed out late one evening to photograph columbines near Slide Lake. This was taken on June 22nd. I used a small pen light to paint in light in areas on a long exposure. I paid the price however! With no wind, the mosquitoes were thick. Columbine plants usually grow in shaded, moist areas and can be found in most regions of the valley. Most of the wild ones are white or pale yellow, but a few are lavender. I like to photograph them just after they open up. If you wait too long, they will have flaws and specs of dust and dirt.

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Alternative View of a One Flower: This flower was still in the light, but it was against a very dark background. I liked it for the dramatic contrast.

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Blue Penstemon:  Taken on July 11 near the lake at Colter Bay.I shot this one with a Nikon 200-400mm at a distance.

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I am not sure of the name of these flowers. I saw them on Sylvan Pass in Yellowstone last weekend. Sometimes, capturing a plant in its harsh environment can tell a bigger story than if cropped in tight.

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Purple Lupines against Balsom Root flowers. My art professor would be proud! These two colors are “complimentary” colors on a color wheel…or opposite each other. Red and Green are two other complimentary colors along with Orange and Blue. That’s partially why some of the “red rocks” shots against blue skies are so powerful and captivating.

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Skyrocket Gilia: This is another example of a complimentary color scheme. Skyrocket Gilia is fairly common in mid summer.

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Bright red Indian Paintbrush grows in many areas of the valley during the summer months. This was taken on July 19th on the Signal Mountain road to the top.

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Columbine in natural light: Taken on June 24th.

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After the Rain: Shooting Data: NIKON D800, 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 at 50 mm, 1/60 at f/16, Aperture priority Mode, -1 1/3 EV,  ISO 640, ©Copyright 2014: For this shot, I kept the Aperture at F/16 to give a reasonable depth of field. I used a D800 and short lens with the aid of a CamRanger to help focus and adjust the image as I took them. See CamRanger info below.

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Balsom Root From Below: Shooting Data: NIKON D800, 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 at 26 mm, 1/250 at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, -2/3 EV,  ISO 100, ©Copyright 2014

Photography:

The beauty of Wildflower photography is there aren’t a bunch of rigid rules you are expected to follow. They can be captured with inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras right up to the most expensive bodies and lenses. On many days, I am out looking for moose and other big game, so I often have a Nikon 200-400mm lens. It is capable of focusing down to about 4.5 feet at 400mm. That allows me to use the combination in the field while I am waiting for something to stand up or move across the sagebrush. I use that lens, the 70-200mm lens and the 24-70mm lenses for wildflowers. I use a tripod for almost all of my shots. My old Gitzo tripod lacks a center post, so I can spread the legs flat and get the ball head very close to the ground when necessary. I don’t own a macro lens, but I know some people swear by them for this type of work. I prefer Aperture Priority and single point focusing.

Getting Down Part 2:

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A few months ago, I created a Feature Page called Get Down—and sometimes dirty!  Back when I had a Nikon D300, I purchased an angle viewer, but it didn’t fit either my D4 and D800. I didn’t use it as much as I thought I would back then, so I didn’t pursue one for the new cameras. In one of the comments of the Down and Dirty page, someone suggested buying a CamRanger instead of having to lie down to be able to compose the scene. After reading a few reviews, I purchased a Cam Ranger and have been using it regularly since. It works great for wildflower photography. I can do all of the composing by conveniently using either a smart phone/pad or Android pad. Better yet, I can control depth of field, focus points and essentially all of my controls without ever having to touch the camera. Adjusting the zoom is still manual.

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This shot shows the setup, even though I cut off the CamRanger at the bottom of the screen. The legs of the tripod are spread flat with a D800 on top of the Arca-Swiss Z-1 Ball Head. In earlier days, I would have to lie down to look through the viewfinder. It had been raining prior to me stopping at this location, so I would have had to deal with the wet grass and flowers. The Cam Ranger is sending a Wi-Fi signal to my Android (Verizon) tablet, allowing me to see everything I would normally see. Any adjustments to the composition are reflected “on the fly” in the tablet. All adjustments can be made there including the ability to change the focus point. When happy, all I have to do is click the “capture” button on screen or trigger the camera with my RFn-4 remote trigger. If you do a lot of wildflower shots, I’d definitely recommend one. Just for reference, the image below was being taken in the image above.

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Please Share! If you like what you are seeing here, please click any of the Social Media Icons below and share this page with your friends and associates! MJ

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Comments (6)

  1. Thanks Mike..Very interesting info about the Cam Ranger…Will be out there in 2 weeks and can’t wait. Hoping the Wildflowers are blooming and that the Great Gray will make an appearance.

  2. Great photography tips! I recently shot a collection of sunflower images from Tuscany, while different scenes from the Tetons – I used similar techniques for these compositions. http://www.jaredlawsonphotography.com

  3. Matt Smith

    Really nice Mike. The gravel pit Purple Lupines shot is by far my favorite. Thanks for sharing this!

    Matt Smith

  4. Matt, I haven’t been up in a week or so, but the Lupines at the gravel pit by Pilgrim Creek Road should be close to peak right now. Over the years, some of the willows have grown up and filled in the open water and reflections. Still good!

  5. Thank you, Mr. Jackson, for the helpful hints you posted on shooting wild flowers. I was in the midst of a trip to YNP (5/28–6/12) when I first read them, and they made my succeeding shots more thoughtful. I actually took nearly the same shot of the unnamed yellow flowers in the rocks on the East Entrance Road on 5/31 that you did in a vertical shot rather than your horizontal.

  6. Hi Kathleen, Thanks for the comments and please come back often. I love the feedback! I like the “flowers in an environment” shots a lot. It is amazing where some of the flowers can grow! MJ

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