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Friday, May 29, 2009

Visit Maine During Lupine Season

One of the most spectacular wildflower displays anywhere in the world happens each June all over the state of Maine when the beautiful lupines come into bloom. If you've never seen the lupines in bloom, it's an amazing site: you come around a corner on a country road and suddenly dozens of acres are filled with purple, blue and pink stalks reaching upwards of five or six feet tall.

I have to confess to having spent a lot of frustrating hours over the years trying to get a good photo of the lupines and it's tougher than it looks. I was in a spectacular field in Rangeley, Maine one summer and got so frustrated at not being able to find a shot that I came close to tossing a camera into the woods. It can really make you nuts to have what looks like millions of flowers in front of you and not be able to find a single good shot.

Getting a good shot is actually a true test of your ability to see creatively. One of the first decisions you'll have to make is whether to shoot just a few blossoms or try to take in an entire meadow. Remember that you don't have to include every flower stalk that you see in order to impart the feeling of endless blossoms. Often it's better to find a small group of flowers and contrast them against a plain background (try to use a dark background like the pine trees in the shot here). Experiment with different lenses or zoom settings, too. I find that a medium telephoto setting is a good way to isolate a small grove of plants, but a wide-angle lens will let you exaggerate the depth of a long field full of flowers.

If you're really serious about getting a good shot of a broad field, consider bringing a small step ladder with you. Just getting an extra two or three feet of height above the field is enough to get a really unique and interesting perspective. The great landscape master Ansel Adams had special shooting platforms built on top of his vans for that very reason.

Lighting is also very important in shooting the lupines: early morning and later in the afternoon when the light is soft and less contrasty is ideal. I actually like working on cloudy days because the flower colors are more saturated and there are no glaring highlights. One other slight problem I run into when shooting lupines is wind--on windy days you either have to include some motion (intentionally using a show shutter speed) or just wait for a calmer part of the day.

All of these considerations will race through your mind when you spot your first big field of lupines, so I suggest that when you find one good field in full bloom, slow down and spend a few hours there looking for good shots and experimenting with different ideas. And boy, has writing this tip made me want to get out the Maine maps!

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