Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer | Northern Arizona Sunflowers: Photography on a Windy Hillside

Northern Arizona Sunflowers: Photography on a Windy Hillside

October 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Sun Flower Covered Hillside Flagstaff panoSun Flower Covered Hillside Flagstaff pano Flagstaff Sun Flowers 2 panoFlagstaff Sun Flowers 2 pano Flagstaff Fallen Log and Sun Flowers 2Flagstaff Fallen Log and Sun Flowers 2

“Flowers ... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

NIKON D800E,f/16 @ 24 mm1/400ISO 800

Given the extended drought in the Southwest this last few years, Spring wild flowers have been pretty sparse in our High Sonoran Desert area of Phoenix, Arizona. Typically, in the early Spring, we find a few patches of sunflowers at some of our regular destinations near Bartlett Lake and Superstition Mountains (Lost Dutchman State Park), often through extended hikes. This hardly compares to the vast fields of yellow and purple flowers I vividly recall from earlier years.  Recently, what flowers we’re lucky enough to photograph are situated in relatively small scattered groupings, lasting only a few weeks.

NIKON D800E,f/11 @ 17 mm1/500ISO 800 

Contrast this situation with the vast fields of vibrant Sunflowers we just encountered along the hillsides 12 miles north of Flagstaff this past August, 2014.  Here, in the aftermath of  Summer monsoon rains, we found bountiful fields of Sunflowers just north of Wupatki Loop Road, a few miles East of U.S. 89.    Capture My Arizona Photo of the Day

Those familiar with the area may recall that the Wupatki Loop Road leads to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, an intriguing photogenic area of volcanic cinder fields.

Flagstaff Sun Flowers and Mountain StreakedFlagstaff Sun Flowers and Mountain Streaked


Photographing the Sunflowers was a delight, not withstanding a few challenges along the way.  It was a cool breezy morning (56 degrees F), with a bit of intermittent light rain, at an elevation of approximately 7,000 feet.  From past experience, I’ve learned that wind movement in the flowers can ruin the best of landscape scenes, rendering the foreground flowers and trees out of focus.  A few techniques proved helpful in capturing the splendor of the Sunflowers:

·      Patiently, waiting for a lull in the wind.  I’m always amazed how a few minutes can make a world of difference in the wind conditions and the amount of movement in the flowers.

 NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 70 mm1/5ISO 50 Sun Flowers Winding in the WindSun Flowers Winding in the Wind

·      Waiting for a break in the clouds, to photograph the scene in brighter light or at least diffused sunlight.

·      Setting the camera to a higher ISO level, e.g., 500 or 800.

·      Shooting at shutter speeds of 1/500th to 1/800th of a second, at wider aperture settings (with attention to the resulting loss of depth of field).

·      Shooting without my much-loved circular polarizer, to maximize the amount of light coming into the camera.

NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 70 mm0.4sISO 50

·      Using a medium length lens (Nikkor 24 – 70 mm, f 2.8) for some scenes, as opposed to my “go to” wide angle landscape lens (17 – 35 mm), to display the  foreground flowers as largely as possible in the picture frame.

·      Using a collapsible Reflector Disk to illuminate the flowers in the foreground of the photo, creating a fill light to reveal details in shadow areas of the flowers and leaves. 


At one point that morning, we were confronted with gusty winds and dark skies.  In these conditions, it became impractical to shoot detailed landscape images depicting a traditional wide depth of field without moving to unacceptably high ISO settings, e.g., 1,600 and above.  Rather than fighting the limitations of our camera equipment, I opted to shoot a series of abstract images accentuating the movement of the Sunflowers in the wind. 


With a bit of experimentation using brief time exposure and panning the cameral on a tripod, I managed to capture a few “keepers” presented here and in a future post.  In some ways, the resulting time exposures (1/4 second to 2 seconds @ ISO 50) reflect the sense of movement in the wind and the energy of nature on this memorable day.


All in all, another great day of landscape photography in Northern Arizona and a new wild flower destination, with a few more lessons learned along the way. 


Related posts: Natural Coastline Shift: Big Beach, Maui, Hawaii, Arizona Fall Colors and Autumn Colors: Hart Prairie Road, Arizona.   


Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer



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