Australian wildflowers have a strong appeal to the senses – some are voluptuous in shape and form, some fragile; some have a scent that is almost overpowering, but in others the perfume is delicate; some are bold and brightly coloured, but others are pale and shy. They are among my favourite subjects for photographing with both still and video cameras.
There is little that gives me more joy than wandering alone, camera in hand, over a desert dune or through the heath during an excellent wildflower season. I like to be as unencumbered as possible so that I can drop to my knees or lie on my belly to marvel at the structure, colour and texture of the object of my inspiration.
A motor drive allows me to keep one hand free, maybe to hold grasses back from my focus point, or, especially in low light, to brace the camera for a slow shutter speed. I often use a tripod for stability, particularly when the light is low and I want to balance the artificial light with the natural light. The tripod also helps with careful focus and detailed composition. While unplanned encounters are great, it is best if you do some planning and time your visits to coincide with the flowering seasons. Western Australia’s south-west in springtime is the most spectacular area for wildflowers. Contact the local parks and conservation authorities for information regarding the timing of your visit.
Spectacular fields of wildflowers
The annual wildflowers of Australia’s temperate coastal heaths can be a spectacle, particularly in southern climes. During the wildflower season (June to November) in the south‑west, Eneabba is particularly well known for its dazzling wildflower displays, as are Mingenew, Morawa and Mullewa shires. When I mention masses of wildflowers, most people think of Western Australia, however pristine areas in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania also have wonderful displays when conditions are right. Nonetheless, Western Australia is flora rich, with almost 12,000 species, many described as unique to the State. Rain and sunshine greatly influence the timing of the wildflower season, causing it to span several months. In the north, wildflowers will appear in July with early rains hastening their arrival. As late as November, a blaze of wildflower colour will take over the south when warmer weather produces a totally different collage of flowering species.
Wet wildflowers are irresistible dry when wet they are sensational. Photographing wildflowers after rain or in the morning dew is sure to add interest to your flowers. Alternatively, you can carry a spray battle if so inclined.
Birds and wildflowers
You will find it hard to exclude vegetation when taking pictures of almost any of the birds that nest in Australia. What can be worthwhile, however, is to take particular note of any flora that certain species specifically associate with and then photograph the plants separately as part of a story. All avian species have associations with plants. Even if a bird does not use vegetation as a food source, as is the case with birds of prey, it will use it as a source of nesting material or for roosting.
Insects and wildflowers
Photographing spiders and insects and their myriad associations with plants is extremely rewarding. Simply set up your camera and flash, and then go on a hunt to see what you can find. Spring is most certainly the best time, or after rain in more arid regions when lots of flowering plants attract this enormous group of animals.
Nectar‑feeding beetles and butterflies inadvertently carry pollen to other flowers, which helps with the flowers’ fertilisation process. This activity is an interesting challenge to photograph and an important part of all flowering plants’ stories. Many spiders lurk among the flowers simply to find their prey.
Mammals and wildflowers
The relationship between mammals and flora is inextricable. Flora provides animals with food, shelter and protection from predators. In return, mammals play an essential role in plants’ reproduction processes by transferring pollen and seeds. Capturing this relationship can add depth and meaning to your work.
Wildflower Photo Tips
- A DSLR or Mirrorless is essential for wildflower photography as a specific focus point focus is crucial.
- If hand-holding, I prefer a “rocking focus” for both flower and small animal photography and use my depth of field preview to select the best aperture to suit the focus effect I want.
- Macro lenses give much better results than close-up filter attachments. The best focal lengths for flowers are between 100 and 200 mm. Longer lenses can be excellent as well. I often use the Canon 100–400 mm lens because of its close-focusing capability. The upside of longer lenses is that the background bokeh (softness in the background) increases.
- Mastering fill-in flash photography will be of benefit, mainly to maximise the number of species you record. A small handheld LED light can be useful. I have also used a little white umbrella as both a diffuser and a reflector.
- Any research will be of considerable benefit. There are several excellent wildflower reference books available. The internet is also a handy source of information.
- Private, council, state and federally managed botanic gardens have either wildflower sections or entire gardens devoted to native flowers. The Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra and Kings Park in Perth are two of the many public gardens with excellent native wildflower displays. They are ideal for recording species in top condition and offer easy access as you develop your flower photography skills. I have highlighted the botanic gardens throughout the state-based volumes.
- It is essential to keep detailed records of each species for identification and cataloguing. Whenever possible, shoot the foliage, the fruits, the whole plant and the area (in the wild), not just the flower.
Wildflowers can be made to pop by choosing an angle of capture that provides back-lighting. You may need to compensate for exposure around +1 f-stop.
Every flower is a work of art in its own right, but when the bloom is particularly multidimensional in foliage and general stamen structure, it is worthwhile making a series of image. This can also help with identification, especially if the leaves are included.
If it is not rainy or or there is no morning dew, you can carry a small spray bottle to add this wonderful “drippy” effect.
Sometimes simply changing the angle of view can make all the difference to the impact of an image.
Wildflower Gallery > Click & Scroll