Warmer than normal temperatures and above average rainfall this year mean wildflowers will be in full bloom very soon. Here are 10 quick tips for photographing wildflowers in The Great Smoky Mountains. As always, be sure to respect other visitors and the parks natural resources while photographing.
Use a Polarizing Filter– This is the only filter (besides a neutral density filter) that can’t be replicated with post production software. The polarizer will cut down on glare and reduce reflections giving you more saturated colors.
Get up Early – The breeze is normally calmer during the morning hours. It is much easier to create close-up compositions when everything is still. Wildflower photography also normally requires that you use slow shutter speeds, so you will need your subject to remain as still as possible. If you are making pictures on a windy day try focusing on other subject matter or experiment with motion in your photographs.
Focus – The closer you get get to your subject, the shorter your depth of field will be. In order to get the entire flowers in focus it is recommended that you use an aperture setting of f-16 or smaller (larger number), to create a longer or wider depth of field. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t experiment with larger aperture settings. You can get very interesting results with the extremely short depth of field that can only be created with macro photography. Just be aware of your aperture setting and how it effects your focus.
Look for shade – Most of the time direct sunlight is much to harsh for photographing wildflowers. It produces distracting highlights and shadows. When photographing flowers in the shade you get much more pleasing results. If you are stuck with bright, direct light you can shade the subject with anything you have available. Just be sure to also shade the background, otherwise it will be too bright and take attention away from the flower.
Simple backgrounds – Be sure to pay as much attention to your background as you do to your subject. A cluttered background can be very distracting, even with the short depth of field you get with close up photography. Search for simple backgrounds with even light for your compositions.
Use a tripod – Many photographers think that they can get away with hand holding their camera. But using a tripod can make the difference between an average photograph and an extraordinary one. A tripod will hold your camera steady ensuring you don’t get motion blur when using slow shutter speeds and that your focus remains constant even with shorter than normal depth of field.
Clean your sensor – When using small aperture settings you are more likely to see sensor dust in your images. It’s a good idea to check and clean your sensor before shooting any kind of macro photos.
Get Closer – I’m sure you want to get a stunning picture of the entire flower. But try moving in closer to get parts of it. You can create some awesome abstract images by getting super close concentrating on just color and texture. Look for critters on the flower. They can be challenging to to photograph, but rewarding if you get one that will cooperate and stay still for you.
Get a wide view – Wildflower photography is often about getting in close in order to see the detail of these natural works of art. But there are times when the forest floor is completely covered with flowers. Be sure to keep an eye out for the possibility of wide angle compositions. This is another reason the shoot early in the morning, the light will be softer and there are less people to contend with.
Get Low – Bring a towel or something else to lay on because you will want to get as close to the ground as possible when shooting wildflowers. Also be sure to get creative with lots of different angles.
Be sure to check out my wildflower portfolio for inspiration. Some of my favorite locations for shooting wildflowers in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park are:
The Cove Hardwood Trial at Chimneys Picnic area
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Porter Creek Trail
White Oak Sinks
Chestnut Top Trail