PAUL GILL: The Estrella Mountain Park is starting to show carpets of poppies high on the northern slopes of the Rainbow Valley Trail. Start at the Rodeo Arena Parking lot and hike west. The best wildflowers are located about a half to a mile in, with lupine and fiddleneck already at one foot tall! This area should be great in one to two weeks with the recent rains that will double the bloom stalks and give solid midday carpets of poppies. Also look for a brittlebush and strawberry hedgehog to begin blooming in three to four weeks.  All photographs on this post are from this week.
 
BRUCE TALBERT: The White Tank Mountain Regional Park (location #21 in the Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers guidebook) looked OK.  There were enough poppies blooming to keep your attention but little else.  There were a few lupines but sparse and small.  The best areas were the first 1/2 mile of Mesquite Trail west of Area 7, the west side of White Tank Mountain Road near Area 3, and the trails that lead west of Area 3.  The brittlebush showed small flower buds and looked healthy, but were not yet flowering.  They will likely present a better show here than the poppies.

A single Arizona lupine in a field of Mexican gold poppies in the Superstition Wilderness Area east of Phoenix, Arizona. By Colleen Miniuk-Sperry

As we anticipate the arrival of this year’s (hopefully) bountiful bloom in Arizona, now is a great time to ensure you have the right gear to make the most of your upcoming wildflower photography outings.

But first, let’s be clear. Possessing the fanciest or most expensive equipment will not make you the world’s best photographer or guarantee amazing images. Both Paul and I philosophically agree that THE most important tool in making personally meaningful photographs is your brain and eyeballs (and hey, those are free!). We also believe in the two sayings: “Less is more,” and “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

Paul has his Canon 65mm 1-5x macro lens on, his Hoodman Hoodloupe attached to his camera, and a cable release in his hand. He’s ready to photograph those brittlebush flowers!

However, some specialized gear for wildflower photography can help expand your ability to solve creative challenges in the field.  As such, here’s what we tuck in our camera bags before heading out on our flower photography shoots:

  • A camera! Bring a backup camera too, because, well, Murphy’s Law…
  • Extra batteries for camera: Be sure they are fully charged!
  • Extra memory cards
  • Lenses:
    • Macro lens (with a 1:1 or 1:2, not a 1:4, magnification ratio).  We prefer the 100mm focal length.  If you plan to photograph insects on flowers, you might invest in a longer focal length, as it will allow you to stay a far enough distance away without scaring off your bug or butterfly.
    • Telephoto or normal focal length lenses paired with extension tube(s) or a close-up filter
  • Tripod: Preferably one without a center column or one with an adjustable center column so you can get low to the ground (which is where the flowers are).  We prefer Manfrotto‘s carbon fiber options because they are lightweight and very easy to use.
  • Focusing rail: Make precise adjustments to you positioning and focusing instead of moving your tripod
  • Cable release or wireless shutter trigger:  Keep your camera from shaking during the exposure.
  • Reflector/diffuser: Add light to shadows with a reflector; create an “instant cloudy day” (aka, even, diffused illumination) over your smaller scene with a diffuser.
  • A Wimberley “Plamp”An indispensable contraption that can hold a flower or a clump of flowers still in the wind.
  • Hoodman Hoodloupe: So you can carefully review your image on your camera’s LCD even in the sunniest of conditions.
  • Filters - primarily for broad landscape scenes of expansive carpets of flowers.  We use and recommend Singh-Ray Filters (Use discount code Colleen10 to receive a 10% discount)
    • Polarizing filter: Reduce reflected glare and haze; increase color saturation; and enhance or eliminate reflections.
    • Graduated neutral density filters: Balance out exposures between the sky and land by holding back light over overly bright areas of the frame.  If you are new to this type of filter, we recommend investing in the Galen Rowell 2- or 3-stop soft gradation filter.  We find using the 4″x6″ sizes to enable the most flexibility to position over our lenses, especially with wide-angle ones.
  • Artificial backgrounds: Mat boards, scrapbook paper, or cloth in natural colors like blue, brown, green, and black.
  • Rain gear for your camera: Clear plastic garbage bags or shower caps work, but an OpTech rain sleeve works a bit better in a steady drizzling .  If it’s pouring, a Think Tank Hydrophobia won’t let you down. Don’t forget a golf umbrella, too!
  • Lens cloths: For keeping your lens free of raindrops and dust.
  • Knee pads or a small gardening pad for kneeling
  • Small backpack to put it all in:  We like ClikElite (Use discount code CEB10 to receive a 10% discount)

Colleen demonstrates how to use a Wimberley Plamp near Mormon Lake, Arizona

In our “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflower (2nd Ed.)” guidebook, we not only present this list of equipment, but we also share in-depth tips on how to use a lot of it in the field through our the Photography Tips, Making the Photo stories, and various location write-ups.

While we’re happy to help, your best and most reliable resource for gear-related questions will certainly be the helpful experts at Tempe Camera in Tempe, Arizona (one of our valued book sponsors and the local shop we frequent).

Last Friday, I took a quick ride out along Highway 60 from Phoenix to Superior. While there are lupine and gold poppies in the center median near Gold Canyon, the desert around Superior still looks very green. I was encouraged by the leaves, though, and a smattering of white popcorn flowers, which typically serves as a good and an early indicator the rest of the flowers are on their way.

They are coming, so time to get yourself–and your gear–ready!

Arizona has received the rains needed the past three months. As a result, the desert is green, and we are starting to see wildflowers sprout

The rains need to continue every few weeks or the sprouts will produce less bloom stalks. We do have a 40% chance of rain this week, and we all hope for more (so all together now, rain dance!). So our current prediction for the Sonoran Desert wildflowers is a normal spring bloom…

BUT! This rain pattern we’re currently seeing is similar what we saw 2010, when we saw a big lupine bloom (see photo below from Silver King Mine, location #36 in our Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflower guidebook). If we get a lot of rain in February, we could also get a owl clover carpet bloom like we had in 2005 in places like the Eagletail Mountains (location #18 in the book).

If we don’t see much rain this month, we still have the old faithful poppy fields like we have seen in the last few years at Peridot Mesa (location #48). A few poppies are already starting to show around Lake Pleasant Regional Park (#20), White Tank Mountain Regional Park (#21), and Lost Dutchman State Park (#31).

If you would like to start planning your wildflower outings in Arizona this spring, pick up a copy of our book to help get you in the right place at the right time: Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflower. Thanks for your support!

And keep an eye on our blog here.  We hope to have a field report up soon!

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