How to Photograph Blooming Wildflowers on Digital or Film Cameras
Landscape photographer Michael Shainblum went wildflower spotting in his latest video to provide some tips on how to best capture nature’s blooming beauty.
For the most part, Shainblum can be caught photographing grand scenes, like Death Valley sand dunes, monsoon and lighting in a dried-out lake bed, or fog landscape on top of mountains or over the Golden Gate Bridge. This time though, he turned his lens to wildflowers that most photographers can find around them when the flower season rolls around.
Instead of waiting for the “right” shooting conditions, Shainblum changes his shooting intent based on the weather on the day.
“Certainly, a new partial cloud day with vivid colors would be a treat, but sometimes a cloudy or rainy grey day can still lead you to great photos,” he tells PetaPixel. “If you are shooting wide-angle wildflower photography and would like a bit of drama, dusk and dawn backlighting the flowers is always a great call to get them shimmering and shining such as in the first shot in the video.”
In contrast, towards the end of the video, Shainblum was met with heavy overcast and some rain, which creates a giant softbox effect.
For images in these weather conditions, Shainblum focused on isolating the landscape and removing the empty grey sky from the scene. The soft lighting worked well for the abstract textures and patterns he was after.
Locating Wildflower Shooting Spots
It’s not an easy task to locate shooting locations for wildflowers — they change year by year. To start, Shainblum notes it’s helpful to know when the wildflower season generally starts in the area.
“Learning the bloom for a specific season comes down to how much rainfall has happened in the area and what the weather has been like in general,” he explains “It always helps to have friends or ask local photographers how things are looking.”
Then, with the help of Google Earth and Google Maps Shainblum virtually scouts locations. He creates his own maps with pinpoints and notes to use later on.
But, nothing beats driving to different areas and scouting the locations on foot — even though sometimes you go home empty-handed as Shainblum did at the end of his video. Even then, the worst that happens is photographers go on a nice hike and enjoy the area and the fresh air.
Film and Digital for Nature Photography
In his video, Shainblum shot with both digital and film which each bring something different to the shooting experience.
“Film for me is just fun,” he says. “I enjoy clicking the shutter, winding the film, and also not worrying quite a much about pixel peeping or the results of the image. My process for film photography is a lot more simple than with digital.”
“For this video, I experimented a bit with Cinestill800T film stock which gave me some interesting results and was a bit hit or miss honestly,” he continues. “But at the end of the day, I was ok with some of the results not being exactly what I wanted because it was still enjoyable to shoot the images and then a nice surprise to see the results after I got the scans back.”
When shooting film photos, he always exposes for the shadows, which is the opposite of what he would do with his digital equipment. But, when it comes to more complex work, like panoramas, focus stacks, and exposure blends, digital is the way to go.
“Sometimes I feel like popping around with a roll of film and other times I feel like busting out all the digital gear and the tripod, or both in this case,” Shainblum says.
He applies a similar approach to editing his photos. Depending on the lighting and the concept of the photo, Shainblum may add a bit of Orton glow to soften the image. He rarely if ever alters the hue of the flowers but may add some vibrancy to let the flowers stand out more.
More of Shainblum’s work can be found on his website, Instagram, and YouTube Channel.
Image credits: Photos by Michael Shainblum.