Aug 20, 2006
Around this time every year bluebonnets appear in Texas. When they do, people like to sit in the flowers and have their pictures taken. We shot some groups yesterday and have more planned for Saturday.

First, COVID-19 is dominating everything here. We made sure that everyone knew in advance that we would not get close to them. That mean that my wife lost her job as the person to fix hair and clothing and had to just communicate what she saw to the parents. We also laid a sheet of brown paper on the ground for each family to use. When they were done with the shoot, it was their job to take the paper home and dispose of it. We also shifted our shooting location forward or backward a bit between groups. It wasn't perfect, but it seemed like a reasonable compromise to us.

There are a million great approaches to shooting pictures of people in wildflowers. In a large field, I'd love to use a relatively wide lens and get close to my subject. We do our shoots on strips of ground alongside roads, so we don't have a lot of width to work with. My approach is to stand way back and zoom in. That also has the effect of visually compressing the flowers, making it look like there were a lot of flowers together. The real truth is that we had a 12 foot gap between the group of flowers ahead of our subjects and the group behind them.

Here's a cell phone shot of our setup with my wife roughly near the subject location.

I shot using a Canon 5D Mark IV, and a 300mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter. I used shutter priority mode and set the shutter speed at 1/200s. That's my max flash sync speed and I wanted the fastest shutter speed I could get given how long of a lens I was using. I adjusted my ISO to get me an aperture around f/9 (it varied a bit as the light level varied). At that distance, f/9 doesn't give you much depth of field, but it's a good blend between having my subject stand out and having the flowers not totally blurred.

For lighting, I did two types of shots. For one, I used a flash in a softbox held by my wife. She held it fairly low and aimed it upwards. She stood on the opposite side of the sun from the subject. We shoot with the sun behind the subject to avoid hard shadows on their faces, although we try to shoot when the sun is covered by clouds for a softer overall look. That kept most of the spill from the flowers and let the light primarily fall on my subject. I wanted the light from the flash to be a bit on the warm side, but since it was cloudy (cool light), the normal light from the flash was fine. If I was shooting near sunset and the ambient light was warm, I would probably have put an orange gel on the flash.

The second light pattern I used was to skip the flash and just use the ambient light. When done well, the flash looks better, but sometimes I screw it up. I end up with ugly reflections on glasses, too much light from the flash, or other issues. My way of getting both shots quickly is to just fire shots in quick bursts. The first shots get the flash and the later shots fire before the flash can recover. That probably sounds stupid, but it's much quicker than manually turning the flash on and off.

I did try some shots with a flash behind our subject for more of a rim light. I gave up because it's too much work. Using a back light is tough when your subjects are constantly moving, changing poses, changing groupings, etc. Combine that with the super long working distance and it's too much for me. If I was shooting one group and working 5 minutes on each shot, I'd definitely do it. We were shooting groups every 15 minutes and trying to bang out as many shots as we could during that time.

The long working distance is challenging, especially alongside a road with traffic noise. To communicate, my wife and I used walkie talkies. They are a holdover from Disney trips eons ago when we only had one cell phone.

Our first group was a couple of strangers. They were there to take some pictures with their cell phone and we offered to shoot them. It was a win-win situation because it gave us a chance to dial in our shots before our primary subjects arrive. They got much better shots than they were likely to get with their phone. Here's one of their shots.

This shot is 1/125, f/10, ISO 800, 420mm. I was still thinking through my approach and was in AV mode.

Here are a couple of later shots.
1/200, f/8, ISO 800, 420mm

1/200, f/9, ISO 800, 420mm


Invented the term "Characterpalooza"
Aug 23, 2008
Happy to see you back posting again Mark. Gorgeous shots. Thank you so much for walking us through your setup. Well done!

Your approach to the flash sounds very similar to mine when I shot my daughter's senior photos last year. Ideally I would have loved to have an assistant using a reflector but I was working solo.

  • goopysolelady

    DIS Veteran
    Jul 16, 2008
    I'm actually hoping to get out tomorrow and grab a few bluebonnet shots...depending on the weather. We were fortunate enough to FINALLY get some rain today; we'll see what tomorrow brings. :tink:


    DIS Veteran
    Jul 18, 2012
    With so many traditional seasonal things canceled it's nice to see a special Texas tradition continue in a safe way. I still cherish my kids' bluebonnet photos from when they were babies.

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