Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thoughts on Flower Composition, Wildflowers Season in Transition

Consider Cross Lighting for Drama,
Shadows and Textures Tell a Story
This weekend promises nearly perfect spring weather after what seems like days of cold, foggy and wet weather. During that time we had a couple of freezes that did not do the blossoms of many wildflowers any favors. The result is that the season was shortened for some, but there are always "late bloomers" to fill in the gaps, even if there are not so many as the first bloom.

It has been very wet here. Waterfall fans will find good flows so any photo trip can combine waterfall shots with photos of wildflowers. Hopefully weather from now on will be moderated to normal spring patterns.

Flowering Trees are Great
Macro Subjects, Isolate Blooms
for More Impact -- Less is More
The flowering trees are going great. It is still just a bit early for the dogwoods, but wild plums and wild cherry trees are in bloom.

Visitors should remember that there is nearly a week's difference between blooming dates at river level vs. our mountain tops. I live at 2,200 feet so this pattern is well known to me. The prevalence of many species is different in both areas.  I see more horned violets here at altitude, most of the creekside species are not evident here.

Dutchman's Breeches should be coming along strong now. Don't forget to look closely for small species. My favorites include Bluets and Baby Blue Eyes, both quite small, but great macro subjects. There are dozens of different species out there now.

I like the idea of a wildflower "bucket list".  Not only do I collect species, I collect compositions within each species. The key to great wildflower pictures is to work carefully on creating long tonal scales and going for dramatic light. I find that often I underexpose as much as two stops to get dramatic lighting and compositions that are away from the norm. Take care to protect texture in light colored flowers. Against the dark florest floor you will need to underexpose at least one stop to preserve petal texture, and importantly, to capture the delicate pastels of many species.

Front Light at Sunrise or
Sunset Creates Striking Pics
Play with front light. I believe most photographers forget to even experiment with it. The image to the right is a Bloodroot taken with front light. I love the Bloodroot leaf, and this technique shows the details and rim lighting for a pleasing composition to my eye. I would experiment with different exposures. Bracketing is not a bad idea (different exposures) to get the best choice for later processing.

See flowers as shapes and lines, textures, then colors, and then lit up along a continuum from light to dark. Lead the eye around the frame. Look for counterpointing, and for contrast. Experiment, be visually curious.

In my workshop last year I emphasized that to a large extent the pictures you take reflect your inner spaces. If you love your subject, you see details and express ideas "objective" photographers do not see. Feel the story of your subject, then express it.

My final advice is from from a great philosopher who said "The composition is done not when the final thing is added, it is done when the final thing is taken away." Simplicity confers power in all things, in photography simplicity will lead you to photos that express the natural order, and your inner voice. It is the path to mastery.

Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 Wild Flower Season Underway

In just the last week Lost Valley has transformed from the very earliest signs of wildflowers to a widespread bloom encompassing virtually the entire Lost Valley hiking trail.

As in years past the concentration of flowers is in the very first section of the trail up to the Natural Bridge.

As of this writing the species in bloom are as follows:

White Trout Lillies,  Now Peaking at Lost Valley and Smith Creek
Harbinger of Spring
White Trout Lillies
Sharp Lobed Hepatica
Ozark Wake Robin (still early)
Trillium (Toad Shade)

The flowers are more abundant than last year and seem to be earlier, perhaps a week or so. The White Trout Lillies are now peaking. They are amongst the earliest blooms and also the first to go. If you wish to see them it would be a good idea to get out in the next week or two.

This time of year the two upper buffalo river destinations for wildflowers are Lost Valley and the Smith Creek Preserve.

Smith Creek Preserve, while less known, is the equal of Lost Valley for wild flowers. For some species it is much better. It has one of the very largest blooms of Dutchman's Breeches in the region (still a way off). Smith Creek seems to lag a bit behind Lost Valley on the blooming dates, probably about a week.

Just about any Ozark hollow will have wildflowers now. Check the tributary creeks, springs and roadside drainages along the entire Buffalo National River. The bloom dates will vary about according to the micro-climates in the different locations.

The best time for wildflower pictures is about mid morning. Most species open and close depending on temperature and sun light.

Stay tuned for news on the wildflowers. This is just the beginning of the annual wildflower and flowering tree show. It is one of the most popular natural events in our region.