Behind the Scenes

One unique and critical aspect of our field photography is our commitment to photographing wildflowers where they naturally occur, without doing any harm. We always use available, natural light to illuminate the living plants that remain safe and sound in the ground, where we found them. Our total immersion in the heat variety of natural ecosystems we observe—sometimes found above 13,000 feet in altitude—allows us to capture the essence of plant life where it lives.

 Rob photographing wildflowers on Ring Mountain, California wildflowers

We’re often torn, therefore, between the urge to photograph an exceptional scene or wildflower in its pristine surroundings, and the risk of damaging an environment by our presence there. In those cases, our commitment to protecting the environment invariably wins.

Set up with wind break to photograph Indian paintbrush wildflower tip

The strong ethical belief that each living thing is of value, with a right to fulfill its own existence, is often called Deep Ecology. Our observance of that term embodies a consciousness and sense of gratitude for the life and beauty we have the privilege to experience and record. Limiting our impact on the land often requires considerably more time finding individual plants where our work will have the least impact, and striving to restore each rock, twig and leaf to its original state when we’re done. As you might imagine, our meals are often rummaged out of rucksacks without the benefit of fire; to describe our sleeping quarters as primitive would be giving them a compliment they seldom deserve.

Rob Badger photographing calypso orchids on Mount Tamalpais, California wildflower

The photos here offer insight into our methods. We attempt to control natural light and wind movement through a variety of man-made and natural tools, including reflectors, diffusion discs, fabrics, Plexiglas, a white photo tent (acting as a windbreak when needed), photo umbrellas, tent stakes, clamps and clothespins (to still movement), Velcro straps, bean bags, camera bags, jackets, rocks, twigs, and anything else nearby that will serve. As a result, the setup time is often very lengthy, depending on the technique required and the circumstances we encounter.

Native iris wrapped in chiffon, Ring Mountain Preserve, Corte Madera California wildflower

We’ve organized the close up images here into 3 distinct series, reflecting varying approaches and techniques:

  • Contact Series—spontaneous, unpredictable, off-tripod process. We can usually come up with a shot worth saving in less than 15 minutes.
  • Botanical Portraits—white or black grounds that average 45-60 minutes to shoot successfully. Variables include terrain challenges, intractable land surfaces, wind movement and the vagaries of available light. Setting up a tripod to avoid disturbing the immediate area is often time consuming.  Tweaking it even a tiny amount to change the composition can sometimes produce small miracles.
  • Wrapped Series—the most time consuming of all, in which we first set the botanical composition, then painstakingly “wrap” the plant with lightweight fabric to create visually complementary folds and shadows. The patience required for this often frustrating work is indescribable, with a single breath of wind often demanding a total re-composition.
Set up to photograph ground iris wrapped in chiffon, Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve

This physically challenging work often has Rob precariously balanced over a blossom for 30 minutes or more, and Nita enduring the pins and needles of limbs that have fallen asleep as she holds a reflector perfectly still on a hillside for what seems like hours on end. But the final results are gloriously rewarding, when we see the wonder of an entire ecosystem revealed in the exquisite beauty of a single wild bloom. Join us now, and witness the splendor we’ve captured digitally and on film.

Nita Winter photographing wildflowers in Death Valley

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