Thursday, April 28, 2011

More Spring Wildflowers

This long, cool spring weather has made it a good year for wildflowers. Though we haven't had the intense blooms of some years, where flowers carpet acres upon acres of land, we have had a nice long bloom, that has given us the opportunity to enjoy the wildflowers longer than usual.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out looking for flowers to photograph, and found both a nice field of poppies and a some beautiful iris's to photograph. All of them were shot using off-camera flash to provide a bit more dramatic lighting. Enjoy!

California Poppies
California Poppies, north of Chico

California Poppies

California Poppies

Shasta Iris
Shasta Iris, on Honey Run Road.

Shasta Iris

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Dramatic Sunset - Sort Of

A few days back we had a cloudy, sprinkly day. As late afternoon approached, the clouds began to break up a bit and interesting formations began to form.

Clouds at Sunset - Sacramento Valley

I resisted heading out to try to capture the sunset, the better part of me thinking the clouds would wash out any chance of interesting sunset light. But another part of me felt that there might be a slim chance of something interesting. So I relented, and headed out into the Valley.

Eventually, I ended up near Capay, northeast of Orland, at the edge of a grassy field, with an open view to the west. I sat in my car for about 20 minutes waiting for something to happen. Right after sunset, I saw some color begin to appear in the clouds, so I quickly set up my camera despite the sprinkles of rain coming down.

I managed to capture one good image of the sunlight glowing through the clouds before the light quickly died. I'd say the light appeared in the clouds for less than five minutes.

Was it worth the drive for this one image? That's hard to say, but it's always worth the effort to go out shooting.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring in the Foothills

I think I blog about this every year, but one of my absolute favorite areas to  do landscape photography - and one of the most beautiful areas of California, in my humble opinion - is the rolling foothills on the west side of the Sacramento Valley at the foot of the inner Coast Range.

Hills near Paskenta

Rolling oak-dotted hills at the foot of the Coast Range near Paskenta.

The rolling, oak-dotted hills are a reminder of a California now mostly gone - except in this forgotten corner of the state. I'm not completely sure why this strip of hills, that extends from Capay Valley in the south almost all the way up to Redding in the north, is so unpopulated, but it's very hot and dry in summer here, and water might be a limiting factor.

I visit this area every year, and every year I see something new, something that catches my eye photographically.

Hills near Paskenta
Near Paskenta

Hills near Paskenta
Near Paskenta

Hills near Red Banks
Near Red Banks

Hills near Paskenta
Near Paskenta

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Wildflowers on Table Mountain

Owl's Clover and Lupine - Table Mountain

This year, I've tried to make time to get out and photograph the spring wildflowers. I've driven down to Bear Valley in Colusa County (a great wildflower spot), but nothing was going on down there wildflower-wise. I've been up to the Vina Plains, but not much is happening there - at least yet. And I've been to Table Mountain (one of the best locations for wildflowers in northern California) twice so far this year (once was to conduct a workshop).

And so far, Table Mountain has been the best spot for wildflowers.

So here's a set of photos from my most recent trip. I've been spending a lot of time working using flash for wildflower photos, and virtually all of these images use at least some flash. In some of the images, virtually all of the light come from flash.


Yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus) - Table Mountain
Yellow Monkeyflower

Lupines and Poppies - Table Mountain
Lupine and Poppies

Owl's Clover - Table Mountain
Owl's Clover

Albino Lupine - Table Mountain
Unusual albino Lupine

Yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus) - Table Mountain
Yellow Monkeyflower

Owl's Clover - Table Mountain
Owl's Clover

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Midnight Poppies in Broad Daylight

California Poppies

Last month I attended the Flash Bus seminar in San Francisco, put on by David Hobby (of Strobist fame) and Joe McNally. In addition, I've been reading Syl Arena's wonderful Speedliter's Handbook.

All of these gave me some ideas about how to creatively light wildflowers (and a lot of other things as well).

So, since it is wildflower season, I headed into the field on a lightly overcast day to try it out.

To start, here's the location I was shooting, properly exposed:
Location of Poppy Shots

As you can see, light overcast with no hard shadows. The sun actually came and went during the shoot.

I brought along the following equipment (for any gearheads out there):
  • Canon 5D Mark II
  • Canon 17-40mm lens
  • Canon 580EX flash
  • Canon 430EX flash
  • 2 - PocketWizard FlexTT5s
  • PocketWizard MiniTT1
  • PocketWizard AC3 Zone controller
  • Lumiquest Softbox 3
  • Interfit Strobies softbox
  • 2 - Small light stands
I set up the two lights with PocketWizards on the light stands around a bunch of poppies and attached the softboxes.

Lighting for Poppy Shots

To get the exposure I wanted, I metered the scene in Aperture Priority mode, then switched to Manual mode and adjusted the exposure 2-3 stops below what the meter had told me was a proper exposure. This made the scene look almost like night, with just a bit of deep blue color in the sky. The resulting exposure was around 1/2000th of a second at f/7.1 at ISO 100.

I turned on the flashes and PocketWizards and set the flashes to high speed sync. That's the critical part here, since you have to use such a high shutter speed to made the scene dark enough to work. Without setting the flashes to high speed sync, you can't use a shutter speed faster than at 1/250 (Syl Arena explains all of this with perfect clarity in his book).

Then I sat down on the ground, set my 17-40mm lens at 40mm and held it down at or below the level of the flowers. Since I wasn't looking through the viewfinder, I had to take a lot of random shots to get compositions that I  liked.

All in all, an amazingly simple and effective technique to give fresh, dramatic lighting to an overdone subject.

Thanks to Syl Arena for his book and wonderfully clear explanations that made me think, 'hey, I could do that with wildflowers!'

California Poppies

California Poppies

California Poppies