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!

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

Celebration of Summer

Prairie sunflowers (Helianthus petiolaris) bloom at sunset along Mormon Lake near Flagstaff, Arizona

Hi everyone! Paul and I have been away from Arizona for almost all of the spring and summer seasons, so we apologize that we haven’t posted in awhile…

However, last weekend, we both were back in the Grand Canyon State to lead the “Wild About Wildflowers in the High Country” Arizona Highways Photography Workshop in the Flagstaff area.  Generally, everything looks really green because of the recent monsoon rains, but the wildflowers we normally see at this time have yet to burst onto the scene.  Mother Nature seems to be running about one to two weeks late…and that’s if the grasses haven’t choked the flowers out.

Awesome wildflower photo ops still exist out there though!  Here’s what we found:

In Bloom Now:

  • Arizona Snowbowl, at the top near the ski lifts.  Predominantly lupine, larkspur, and Indian paintbrush.  Some sneezeweed, but past peak.
  • The Arboretum at Flagstaff (location #6 in our “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers” book).  Excellent bloom of columbine – yellow and Rocky Mountain.  Penstamon generally past peak, but lots of other flowers in bloom.
  • Lower Lake Mary, north of the dam.  Gorgeous fields of calliopsis.  Forest covering a good collection of butter and eggs (toadflax).
  • Mormon Lake (location #12), at the far southern end.  Entire south side is covered in calliopsis.  The overlooks have a few sunflowers growing out of disturbed soil along the roadway and a handful of small Indian paintbrush.
  • Hart Prairie (location #4).  Near the Nature Conservancy turnoff, wild rose and a smattering of sneezeweed.
Summer Bouquet

Pink lupine bloom among purple lupine and Indian paintbrush near the Arizona Snowbowl outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Not Happening (Yet???  Would keep an eye on in next two weeks):

  • Bonito Park (location #7)
  • Ashurst Lake (location #13)

Have you been photographing wildflowers in Arizona?  If so, let us know what you’ve seen out there in the Comments section below!

P.S. If you’re on Facebook, be sure to “friend” Arizona Highways Photography Workshops at www.facebook.com/azhighwaysphotoworkshops and submit your best wildflower photo for their September Facebook cover contest!  The winner will not only be showcased for the month of September on their Facebook page, but you’ll also receive a FREE copy of our book, “Wild in Arizona:  Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers!

Happy shooting!
Colleen & Paul

Bloom along Forest Service Road 419

The prolific blue dick bloom along Forest Service Road 419, en route to the Barnhardt Trailhead near Rye, Arizona from this past Tuesday.

Paul_Hedgehog bloom

Detail of strawberry hedgehog cactus from the Gateway Saddle area in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Though the annual show might be coming to an end, the perennial event is just starting here in the Arizona desert so there’s plenty of excellent wildflower photography opportunities remaining even if the Mexican gold poppies we all love are starting to fade.  Here’s what we’ve seen out there since our last update:

Beeline Highway (Highway 87):  If poppies are what you seek, the sides of the road are still showing some patches of the yellow flower among other blooms like globemallow and brittlebush.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve:  The Gateway Saddle area off the Gateway Loop Trail is showing blooming Strawberry Hedgehog cacti, while the brittle bush is just OK.  Off 128th Street, near Tom’s Thumb Trailhead, carpets of yellow Goldfields cover the desert.  The banana yucca should start blooming in a week or two.  For maps and trail information for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, visit  www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/Public+Website/preserve/TrailMaps.pdf

(Additional locations/information after the photo)

View of Four Peaks with brittlebush from the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

View of Four Peaks with brittlebush from the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Sego lily

Sego lily along Forest Service Road 419 en route to the Barnhardt Trail near Rye, Arizona

Forest Service Road 419 (location #44 in our Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers book):  Sick of poppies but still want to photograph a larger, showy flower?  Make the drive to FSR 419 outside of Rye (marked as the Barnhardt Trailhead turnoff from Highway 87) to see an awesome sego lily – also known as mariposa lily – bloom in progress!  In addition to white flowers and many budding, not-yet-blooming plants, you’ll also see a prolific blue dick bloom (see photo above) as well as plenty of goldfields and desert onion.  It’s a lot cooler up there (41 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday at sunrise), so don’t forget to throw in a jacket to stay warm until the sun comes up!

Devil’s Potato Patch (location #46):  The upper south-facing flanks are just starting to display brittlebush color, but peak is likely a week or more away.

Cline Cabin Road (location #47):  Poppies are burned in the lower elevations, but the fairy duster has exploded.  In the lowlands, you’ll also find blooming banana yucca, globemallow, and strawberry hedgehog cacti.  The brittle bush bloom is likely a week or more away…if a great show is in cards at all here.  Some of the Engelmann’s prickly pear cacti have started budding – no blooms sited yet though.  As you travel higher up the mountain, just prior to the burn area, keep an eye out for poppies, lupine, blue dicks, strawberry hedgehog cactii and rock escheveria on the south-facing hillside.  As you drive deeper into the scorched trees, purple nightshade has started to put on its own show.

One final reminder:  As you venture out, keep a watch out for rattlesnakes.  Though a fear of them should not prevent you from enjoying and exploring the desert, we simply need to start watching our step as we travel in their rocky, desert habitat during this warmer weather.

Happy shooting!

Colleen and Paul

Paul_Lost Dog Trail_1

Scorpionweed and strawberry hedgehog cactus along the Lost Dog Wash Trail

Paul_Lost Dog Trail_2

Poppies along Lost Dog Wash Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

 

Lost Dog Wash Trail:  This trail, as well as other spots in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve takes the cake for peak Mexican gold poppy bloom right now.  According to Paul, who visited yesterday, “It’s screaming out there now!”  In addition to the pretty little yellow flowers, scorpionweed, lupine, and several cacti – including strawberry hedgehog and pincushion – are also showing their colors in this desert landscape.  For maps and trail information visit  www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/Public+Website/preserve/TrailMaps.pdf

Bartlett Lake (location #26 in our “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers” book):  The impressive show here continues with fields of poppies across many of the hillsides into this area and along Service Road 459.  Though the abundant poppies on the hillsides around the saddle have peaked, last Saturday, there were still buds waiting to bloom north of the saddle (though not nearly in the same quantity as we saw near the saddle).  Typical for this location, a great mix of blooms are still going strong with cream cups, lupine, chia, chuparosa, and desert marigold being most abundant right now.  The brittlebush and globemallow are either budding or starting to show splashes of color.  Watch for the perennials to peak in 7-10 days here.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park (location #21):  Though the annual bloom of the Mexican gold poppy is in decline after a glorious show, plenty of flowers along the trail make a trip to the Pipeline Canyon Trail still worth the visit.  The perennial bloom of desert globemallow and brittlebush has picked up since last week, but could use a little more time to peak.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum (location #37): The Desert Garden in the Demonstration Garden filled with penstemon, lupine, coral aloe, and an array of other blooms. A walk down the Main Trail from the Visitor Center to the Cactus and Succulent Garden won’t disappoint, as there are Texas mountain laurels, penstemon, some Mexican gold poppies, scorpionweed, and even some early blooming claret cup cactus.

Silly Mountain (location #32):  Speeding by this location at 55 mph along Highway 60, the brittlebush high on the hillside appeared past peak, while the middle section looked at peak, and the flat bottom areas hadn’t even started blooming yet.  Despite the strange (silly?), tiered bloom, plenty of excellent photo ops still exist!

 

Silly Mountain Sunset

The brittlebush bloom at sunset at Silly Mountain, Arizona last Saturday

As expected, last week’s rain followed by a fairly intense warm-up in Arizona’s low desert has made the wildflower bloom progress nicely. I took a spin around to some of my favorite locations this time of year to scout for our upcoming “Wild for Wildflowers: Sonoran Desert” Arizona Highways Photography Workshop and was not disappointed! Here’s what I saw out there:

Flora-tude

A Mexican gold poppy demonstrating attitude – or “Flora-tude” at Lake Pleasant on Sunday

GO NOW – LOCATIONS AT PEAK:

  • Lake Pleasant: (location #21 in our “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers” book) This location is AT PEAK or just slightly beyond when it comes to annuals.  The entire hillside along the south end of the Pipeline Canyon Trail has burst into yellow with Mexican gold poppies and California poppies.  I even saw a handful of albino poppies on the west side of the trail – something I’ve never seen outside of Bartlett Lake!  There is a nice mix of other flowers, including lupine, blue dicks, scorpionweed, and fiddleneck.  A very nice stand of bright orange globemallow begs for some nice photographs just south of the Pipeline Bridge.  Though the poppies will only last another 7-10 days, the perennials like brittlebush are just starting to bud and show, so watch this location for the perennial bloom over the next two weeks.
  • Silly Mountain:  (location#32) The ridiculously silly brittlebush bloom on this hillside along the highway has started almost a week or two early and will peak likely this week.

KEEP AN EYE ON IN NEXT 7-10 DAYS:

Albino Mexican Gold Poppy

Albino Mexican Gold Poppy at Bartlett Lake on Sunday

  • Bartlett Lake:  (location #26)  The hillsides around the saddle area are looking spectacular right now – poppies, lupine, chuparosa, fiddleneck, cream cups, and chia.  Though the areas north of the saddle along Service Road 459 are definitely showing a solid wildflower bloom – including the white albino and pink poppies! – a stroll through the desert revealed many, many buds still waiting to bloom.  The shooting is great here right now, but I think this area will likely see peak in the next 7-10 days.  Lots of potential still!
  • Silver King Mine Road: (location #38):  Patches of poppies are evident along the east-facing mountain sides as you drive this recently graded dirt road.  A short hike up the hillside will get you to a relatively young patch of poppies.  A scattering of London rocket, fiddleneck, and lupine are also filling in.  The verdict is still out as to whether we’ll see a spectacular bloom here, but there’s enough going on to warrant putting it on the watch list.
  • Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park: (location #37)  Though not prolific yet, thus far, the Arboretum is showing perhaps the most diverse mix of desert blooms – poppies, globemallow, blue dicks, desert marigold, desert filaree, penstemon, popcorn flower, wild cucumber, and Mormon tea – along the Main Trail.  Though good for ample photographic opportunities now, I think this spot will continue to get even better in the weeks ahead.

FORGET IT – SAVE YOUR GAS & TIME:

  • Saddle Mountain:  (location #20)  Unless you’d like to see what the desert looks like in spring when it doesn’t get enough rain, skip this location this year.  There are a few scattered, tiny poppies, some scorpionweed and fiddlneck, three bladderpod mustard blooms, and a ton of small popcorn flower, which my husband suggested looked more like the bottom of the popcorn bag.  Better luck next year…

Have you been out photographing the wildflowers in Arizona?  Tell us what you’ve seen in your outings!  We’d love to hear from you!

~Colleen

Lupine and cream cups at Bartlett Lake

Lupine and cream cups at Bartlett Lake on Sunday

RainTo all of you who have performed the Rain Dance, we thank you!  That liquid gold has finally returned to Arizona!

With the drenching we’ve had yesterday afternoon and this morning, combined with Arizona’s autumn season coming to an end about two weeks early, we start turning our sights not just on enjoying the holidays, but also on getting excited about our images for next spring during the wildflower blooms!

Three resources we use frequently this time of year to help us visualize when and where the flowers might appear include:

  1. NOAA’s El Nino Forecast: (www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/enso_advisory/index.shtml)  Published in the second week of each month, this free report forecasts weather patterns based on various models.  According to their reports, Arizona moved out of the drier La Nina forecast in May and the onset of the wetter El Nino looked promising…until August when it dissipated!   Now forecasters suggest we’ll stay in a “Neutral” pattern, so we’ll likely be not too wet, but not too dry, in the months to come.
  2. The Farmer’s Almanac – Long Range Weather Forecast /7-Southwest Region:  (www.farmersalmanac.com/long-range-weather-forecast/southwest-us) Surprisingly accurate (even though they predicted drier conditions during December 12-15th…), this resource provides weather prediction in 3-day increments.  You’re able to see two-months worth of information, but if you sign up for a free account, they will show you their crystal ball for four-months ahead instead.  (I signed up earlier this year, and I’ve yet to receive a spammy-like email from them after doing so.) Their reports forecast sporadic moisture now through March which seems to match what we’d expect in the Neutral weather pattern NOAA’s predicting.
  3. Rainlog.org:  (rainlog.org)  This free website provides the actual amount of rain collected in specific areas across Arizona.  Using the Date Range or Monthly Report options, we see that November was much drier than December for most of the state but there are a few wildflower hot-spots that have seen solid rainfall in both months.  For example, the Gold Canyon area near the Superstition Mountains saw roughly an inch of rain in November, and has already seen a half-inch in December.  That could mean a good start for the flowers in places like Lost Dutchman State Park (location #31 in our Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers book), Silly Mountain (#32), Peralta Trail (#33), Hewitt Canyon (#34), and the Apache Trail (#48).

So what will happen come next February?  Only Mother Nature will tell when the Mexican gold poppies, lupine, and all the other beautiful blooms arrive next spring!  Keep in mind that the annuals are more picky when its comes to precipitation; so even if we don’t get the perfect mix of rain, warmth, and light for the poppies, the less-demanding perennials like brittlebush, desert globemallow, palo verde trees, and all the cacti are loving every minute of this rain too!

Wishing you all a “picture-perfect” holiday season and a very Happy New Year in 2013!  And whatever you do, please keep doing the Rain Dance!

We’ve just learned some BIG news!  We’re so excited to share that our book has just won FOUR awards in two international book competitions!

The 2012 International Book Awards has named our guidebook as the:

  • Winner of the Best Nature Photography Book
  • Winner of Best Interior Design – Non-Fiction

As if that announcement didn’t already make our year, our book was also recently named a Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards for:

  • Best Travel/Travel Guide
  • Best Overall Design

As the saying goes, “No man is an island” and as such, we have a long list of people to thank, including the two organizations who coordinated these contests.

We truly feel these awards honor the team effort between not just the two people with their names on the front cover, but also our talented editor, Erik Berg, in addition to our awesome focus group members who helped us finalize the layout and design of the book:  Erik Berg, Kelly Pape, Denise Schultz, Bev Secord, Kerry Smith, Holly Smith, and Floris Van Breugel.

We also have our generous book sponsors to thank for helping us see this project come to fruition: Tempe Camera, Arizona Highways Photography Workshops, Wimberley, Hoodman, Think Tank Photo, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, and STO-FEN.

We’d also like to thank our families for their patience and understanding when we’d disappear trying to capture that final shot or to rewrite the Introduction for the 11th time in the middle of the night.

Most of all, though, we’d like to thank YOU for reading our blog, buying our book, and sharing it with others!   Your ongoing support means so much to us.

So tonight, we raise our glasses to you, our valued team and community, in celebration.  CHEERS EVERYONE!

~Colleen and Paul

P.S. If you haven’t yet picked up a copy of the book or eBook and would like to (or maybe you have a friend who might enjoy it?), please visit www.wildinarizona.com to order.  We’d love to send you a copy!  OK, that’s all for the shameless self-promotion plug… :D

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