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Photographing the Red Rocks Country
Chasing the Elusive Flower; Blossom with Your Camera
By David L. Brown

We all enjoy the sight of blooming flowers with their bright colors and delicate petals. They draw our eyes to their beauty and cause us to reach for our cameras to capture them as images.

But all too often the result is disappointing. There are many reasons why success in making flower pictures is sometimes elusive. Sometimes the picture is blurred because wind is making the flower move. Again, your lens may not allow you to get close enough to fill the frame with the subject. Exposure can sometimes be a problem, as when a white flower appears against a dark background to fool your camera’s meter, resulting in an over-exposed blossom.

One approach is to back off and not get too close. This will show the flower in its surroundings, perhaps including other parts of the plant and other blossoms. An example is in Fig. 1, where a cactus plant in Hunter Canyon was photographed to show several blossoms and cactus pads. Depth of field is not a particular problem when shooting from a moderate distance as in this case.

In Fig. 2, the camera captures the entire small barrel cactus with its crown of purple blossoms. Again, the camera is not near enough for depth of field to be a problem.

It’s important to control depth of field so that the flowers are not out of focus. The secret is to use a high f-number, the setting on your camera that stops down the lens. The smallest the opening, the more depth of field you will have. A setting of at least f/11 or f/16 is advised. In Fig. 3 the camera has moved in closer to shoot down on the same cactus shown in Fig. 2, filling the frame with the luscious purple blossoms.

When shooting close up, you may not be able to get the entire plant in focus. The trick is to focus on an important part of the subject, usually the stamen in the middle. If the entire picture is out-of-focus, it doesn’t work. However, if an important part is sharp the picture can work even though other parts are fuzzy. In Fig. 4 a close up of a claret cup cactus flower shows a blossom that is sharp while unopened blossoms in the background have been allowed to go soft. This actually leads your eye to the full blossom, which is the true subject of this image. I shot this with a normal zoom lens, getting fairly close. I then cropped the image in Photoshop to get an even closer effect. The blossom is not much more than one inch in diameter.

Finally, Fig. 5 shows a magnificent blooming moonflower, also known as sacred datura. These large white blossoms are commonly seen around Moab later in the season. The exposure could have been fooled by the white blossom, but by watching the histogram through which my camera shows the range of exposure in an image, I was able to expose for detail in the bright petals of the blossom.

Fig. 1Most camera lenses will focus close enough to get good flower pictures. If you are serious about photographing small subjects, special lenses are available for that purpose. Known as macro lenses, they are designed to let you move in close, perhaps even to one-to-one or more, in case you want to make a full-sized portrait of that pesky fly or picture the kind of tiny flowers that are found in the meadows and deserts around Moab.

Fig. 1 – I found this blooming beavertail cactus while hiking in Hunter Canyon. Its yellow flowers were in the peak of their beauty.

Fig. 2Fig. 2 – This small barrel cactus grows in the lizard garden at ACT Campground and Learning Center where I live and work. This spring it donned a crown of purple blossoms.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3 – Here I moved the camera to a higher angle and shot down to show the crown of flowers in detail. The early morning light made them glow like neon.



Fig. 4

Fig. 4 – This blooming claret cup cactus was also found in our lizard garden and photographed in early morning light.


Fig. 5

Fig. 5 – This lovely moonflower blossom was photographed in early morning light at the Granstaff BLM campground along the Colorado Riverway.

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