John O'Neill's American Wildflowers

John O'Neill's
Tips On Photographing Wildflowers

" . . . some things that work for me . . . "

Finally . . . an update to July 27, 2004!

Camera equipment

Throughout the years I have employed a variety of 'film' cameras, my favorite being a twenty-year-old Nikon FM-2, a completely mechanical instrument that let me make all the decisions. This venerable instrument has been replaced by a Nikon D-100 and is now enjoying retirement, along with my father's Argus Model A, and my father-in-law's 1918 Kodak Autographic Junior on a shelf in my office! Likewise, I have used a number of different lenses/extension tubes etc., but again, the Nikon Micro-Nikkor is my all time favorite.


Until my 'digital revolution, I was exclusively using Fugicolor 200 . . . the first few 'galleries' on my web site consist of scanned images from prints produced in my darkroom from Kodak and Fugi negatives.

Shutter speed and lens opening

In my early attempts at macro photography, I remember everyone's advice to "stop the lens down for sharpness". Now, that's great for things that don't move too fast (mountains, rocks, broken down cars), but since a small lens opening requires either a fast film or slow shutter speed, it didn't work for me when photographing wildflowers. Instead, by using a fast shutter speed(500-1000) requiring a very large opening, I began getting, occasionally and completely by accident, some very interesting results: sharp flowers with nice soft-focus backgrounds! The one problem being that, since wildflowers an wind always seem to go together, I often had a lot of nice soft-focus backgrounds with not-so-nice soft-focus flowers! The secret? When you find a great subject, take lots of exposures (a secret successful photographers don't like to talk about).

Travel light, leave your tripod and flash at home!

In my opinion, trying to use a tripod for wildflower photography is a complete waste of time. Certainly, a tripod will keep your camera from moving around, but remember, your subject will most likely be bobbing around in the breeze and a hand-held camera can bob around as well! As for flash . . . this is "nature photography" isn't it(?)

Overcast, cloudy, even rainy days offer the best light

Some of my favorite and best selling images were captured under "adverse" weather conditions; the Colorado Blue Columbine was taken high in the Rockies on an extremely cold, windy day that alternated freezing rain, sleet, hail and snow. The Yellow Throated Gilia were caught in Sequoia National Park during a warm, spring shower . . .

Make use of your camera's depth-of-field preview capability

Automatic cameras give the photographer a deceptive idea of what the camera really sees. By viewing the subject through a stopped down lens, a much better preview of the finished print or slide is obtained. Also, with the lens stopped down, you will more easily see distracting background elements (light colored twigs, stones etc.); I've found the scissors attached to my trusty Swiss Army Knife invaluable for removing unwanted stems, twigs and faded blossoms. A pair of tweezers is also nice to have along and, couldn't get along without my recently acquired translucent white unbrella! Another new accessory is a one-inch foam pad for knees that don't seem to be as young as they used to be!

To be continued, revised, edited etc.

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