Wildflower Photography: Working With Available Light

Side lighting at golden hour on a Green milkweed.

Whether you’re hoping to capture a field of flowers or the beauty of a solitary bud, the following tips will help you to capture amazing images of plants and wildflowers and create beautiful photographs.

Perhaps it goes without saying that photography is all about light. Personally, I think it is worth reminding myself of this every time I go outside to shoot so that I consider the light before pressing the shutter button. Whether soft or hard, light influences the feeling and drama associated with a photo and deserves careful consideration.

Soft light is a great choice for soothing, serene scenes of flowers and foliage. This type of light usually occurs during the golden hour, just before sunrise and after sunset. For the most part, subjects will be lit from the side during this time. Side lighting creates shadows, which help keep photos from looking flat.

Texas Bluebonnet – taken during the golden hour

Generally, nature photographers avoid shooting outdoors when the sun is high in the sky because of the hard light. Hard light can however, be used to create striking images with a bit of an edge, through strong, deep shadows. Ironically, the hard light causes viewers to pay less attention to the black areas and more to what is brightly illuminated. So, even when the sun is shining brightly, you can create stunning wildflower photos. If you’re out on a sunny, clear day, try to position your camera so that the light is hitting the back of the flower, making it backlit.

Back-lit Prickly Pear bloom

You can also take advantage of indirect lighting, which is often soft, by finding flowers that are in the shadows.

The light accentuates the pollen on the head of a Texas Soldier Beetle on an Engelmann’s daisy.

If all else fails, just go with it! Use the strong shadows as part of your composition.

Skeleton Plan – using shadows as part of the composition

When photographing wildflowers (or anything in nature), it’s also important to take only photos and memories and leave no trace. That means, be careful not to step on the flowers, or disturb the ground around them (many flowers depend on the soil structure around them). So, enjoy the wildflowers, take lots of photos, and leave them just as you found them–to be enjoyed by the next person (or pollinator) too!