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.”
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
- 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)
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!
It’s raining again this morning in Phoenix and the only things fuller than the typically dry desert washes right now are Paul’s and my email inbox’s flooded with questions similar to “With all this rain we’re getting, will this be the killer wildflower bloom we’ve all be waiting for in the Arizona desert?”
After less than spectacular blooms for the past several years, this year, we are optimistically encouraged by the amount of precipitation – and as a result, the greening desert. Although the verdict is still out on what will develop, we do have some early indications of what may come to pass for this year’s desert bloom.
We have been tracking the actual rainfall in a number of key flower hot spots since November, which is when we need abundant winter rains to trigger the sprouting process. (We need solid rains in November and December, and then steady sprinkles in January, February, and March for a great annual bloom). Based on rainlog.org data, here’s what we’ve seen in areas where rainfall amounts are collected:
As you can see, the season didn’t start off terribly well (zero rain in November), but has rebounded quite impressively in December and into January (and it’s still raining, at least in Phoenix, as we speak). Whether December’s amounts were enough to make up for November’s will remain unknown until we see the magnitude and depth of the spring bloom beginning in the next three to six weeks.
Around the start of the new year, the desert experienced a couple of freezes. The brittlebush bloom had begun early in some locations, but then those buds froze. The perennial plants seem to be re-budding as the weather warms, which is good news. The poppies and other annuals were also affected by the freeze. How much so, though, will also remain a mystery until we start to see the annual bloom appear.
February is a critical month. Sort of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, everything needs to be “just right.” Too much rain could encourage the grasses to grow and choke out flowers. Too little rain could cause a smaller bloom. Cold weather could slow the progress and delay the bloom while warm weather could speed it up.
According to NOAA, Arizona remains in an El Nino Watch status with a 50-60% of this system emerging onto the scene in the next two months. An El Nino typically brings additional rain to the desert southwest, which can affect the annual, perennial, and cactus bloom starting in late February through June. The Farmer’s Almanac is also predicting rain showers for the area from February 1-7 and again February 21-26. If this prediction pans out, it’s the steady sprinkles we need at the precisely the right time of year.
What can you do to get ready for what’s to come?
- Keep an eye on the rainfall for February.
- Watch websites like DesertUSA Wildflower Updates and our Wild in Arizona blog for eyes-on field reports.
- Dust off your camera and start practicing your macro techniques.
- And if you haven’t done so already, pre-order a copy of the expanded 2nd edition of our award-winning guidebook, Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, & How via our Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/projects/wild-in-az-photographing-az-s-wildflowers-book. As Mother Nature decides what kind of bloom year we’ll have, the book will help you prepare and get you in the right place at the right time as things materialize out there!
Keep your fingers crossed, everyone!
Colleen & Paul
Thanks to many of you, we are SOLD OUT of our “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers” books. We continue to have requests for copies (that we don’t have) and many of you sent in great suggestions for new locations and new flowers.
Sooo, we need more books!
After considerable thought, Paul Gill and I (Colleen Miniuk-Sperry) are working hard to come out with the Enhanced 2nd Edition of our award-winning guidebook, “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, & How” (scheduled to be published in March 2015).
We’ve listened to your suggestions, and as such, the enhanced 2nd edition features:
- 13 new spectacular locations
- 12 new featured flowers
- 10 new “Making the Photo” stories
- Over 80 new photographs
- An updated Bloom Calendar
In other words, we’ve made an award-winning guidebook even better! (To view more information about the original book, visit our website at www.wildinarizona.com.)
But we need your help! Publishing will be expensive!
To publish the Enhanced 2nd Edition will cost about $14,000, considering costs associated with printing, shipping, etc. (Most authors do not make money on books, and this is why they call us “Starving Artists!” LOL!)
Paul and I started an Indiegogo campaign, where we are seeking your assistance in raising $5,000 to help us cover less than half of these costs to publish the book. We are so passionate about helping others grow in their own photography and helping others get outside to enjoy all that Arizona has to offer.
As a thank you to YOU, our valued supporters, we are offering discounts on:
- The new book and eBook!
- Private half-day workshops with me
- One-day workshop with Paul and me - only 5 available!
- 3-day Arizona workshop extravaganza with Paul and me – only 3 available!
And the chance to get your name in the book forever!
To jump in on these exciting, but limited-time, perks, visit our new Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/projects/wild-in-az-photographing-az-s-wildflowers-book now through February 6, 2015. And then get your camera ready for Arizona’s upcoming spring wildflower bloom!
As always, thanks much for your support!
Paul and Colleen