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Wildflower Photography in Big Sur

Holly Higbee-Jansen
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Holly Higbee-Jansen

Holly is a passionate photographer, photo workshop leader and instructor for Jansen Photo Expeditions.
Holly Higbee-Jansen
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wildflower photography Big Sur

After arriving in Big Sur at 10pm, it was a bit of a challenge getting a place to park our camper for four days. You see most of Big Sur is only available to campers and is very popular especially in the early spring. We decided to just take our chances and arrive without a reservation, and we lucked out by finding a place to call home mid way about the coast. We were going to one of our favorite places for a weekend of R and R to enjoy the spring and to look for some secret places to share with our photographic workshop clients at Jansen Photo Expeditions. My husband and I have been doing the photography expeditions business for about 10 years now, and although we travel quite a bit, we don’t get as much alone time as we would like. This trip we were interested in the wildflower photography in Big Sur.

This time of year, Big Sur is bathed in green with California poppies everywhere. The weather was also on our side with a short rainstorm on our first morning there, enough to bring in some clouds (perfect for photography) and clean out the air. This type of nature experience is few and far between and we were thrilled and awed to be there.

Fortunate enough for me, the best time to photograph this area is either in the morning after the sun has come up or in the late afternoon. (No predawn wake ups on this trip!) So I spent time shooting in an area close to our campground.

wildflower photography Big Sur

Big Sur is all about the magnificence of this wild shoreline, but this time I was ready to explore some other creative opportunities here. We come to Big Sur about four times a year with our photographic guide clients for Jansen Photo Expeditions and this time we were here on our own. Free to shoot and explore on our own.

After I spent some time shooting the bluff, I noticed several patches of California Poppies in the distance. These flowers only open when the sun warms them, but it also means that it is generally too bright to capture the warm morning light creating pictures with over exposed highlights. I have always loved these flowers and decided to spend the day searching for California poppies. As you can see, it wasn’t too difficult!

It seemed clear that this became the trip to photograph California poppies. These flowers are the California State flower and only come out in the early spring. There are poppy preserves in Southern California, but during drought years the poppies are scarce. So, it was a treat to find fields of poppies in bloom and to work in ways to incorporate them into my photographs of the rustic California coastline. They are not profusely blooming everywhere, but it’s my job to make it look like they are!

Tips for Photographing Wildflowers
Use a reflector if available Usually when I photograph wild flowers, I use a simple white reflector that will  block the sun and cut down on glare. It is 12″ – 18″ round and flat, made with translucent white fabric. Basically it lets light through without the intense glare that can ruin an image. It also can work as a reflector, allowing you to point light in any direction towards the subject. It generally comes with a shiny gold or silver surface to reflect light.

Don’t miss the details – I came upon a beautiful bunch of poppies. A dead bush had fallen on this particular patch and at first I was disappointed to see that. Then I could see some creative possibilities there. The vertical lines of the fallen bush gave the poppies some graphic interest.
Big Sur Wildflower PhotographyGet Close and Personal – In this shot, I was literally on my belly on the ground (very close and personal) so that the lens would line up with the height of the poppies. I also used my 35mm macro lens which allows for close focus and a wide open aperture.  Taking various perspectives when you are shooting will give you a wide variety of images to choose from when you return home.

It’s all an illusion that makes photography such a fun art. You get to create the reality you want with the tools that you have available to you. When the photographic tools become second nature, that’s when you will start creating consistent quality photographs.

If you would like to join us on one of our photographic expeditions in Big Sur, Eastern Sierras or one of the many tours and classes offered by Jansen Photo Expeditions, please browse our current schedule at www.jansenphotoexpeditions.com