Life has always had its cycles and rhythms, but since I’ve picked up a camera those rhythms have definitely changed. Things like school, football seasons, etc. used to be the cycles that drove my life, now it is spring burns, the greening of the prairies, blooming of wildflowers, bird migrations, and other changes in the world around me. One of those “other changes” is watching the agricultural cycle going on around me. Each year I try to make sure I get out and attempt to record the experience of standing by a Kansas wheat field in the summer or a milo field in the fall. Also included in this last list is the annual blooming of the sunflower fields. While the native sunflowers are pretty, it is the large fields of commercial sunflowers that really grab your attention.
Lately I’ve been more interested in understanding some of the “whys” of our world and not so much the “how.” Why exactly are sunflower fields so popular and why are they so much fun to find and watch? I think for me anyway, the bright yellow color of sunflower field just seems to have a happy, cheerful feeling to it. How can you look at a sunflower field and not smile, even just a bit? Photography can be about so much more than just a simple recording of light, and photographing a field of sunflowers is a fun experience (witness all the people that visit the popular Grinter sunflower fields each year). In any case, I was looking forward to a chance to photograph a sunflower field this year. Earlier in the year I had the chance to photograph a sunflower field near Hesston, Kansas but I was there in the middle of a clear day…fun to see the field, but not good conditions for making photographs of it that really expressed the beauty of the field.
(Click on any photo in this post to enlarge)
Thanks to a friend telling me about a field in Washington County, Kansas I got another attempt a couple of weeks later. And not only was I getting another chance to photograph a sunflower field, but this time I had the chance to be photographing it with my dad. It has been awhile since Dad and I have been out on a photography trip and it was good to see Dad behind the camera again.
When we first arrived at the field, the light was still a bit harsh so I experimented with some compositions with just a hint of sunlight over the field. The above photo was probably my favorite of this group, nothing terribly exciting for me personally, but I was having fun playing around with different compositions. Sometimes I get too caught up in trying to make a “great photo” and I lose the enjoyment of photography. Allowing myself to lose track of time and reach a state of flow (or being mindful, whatever you want to call it) is always the best thing that can happen to me while out with my camera. While that doesn’t always happen, on this evening it did.
Early in the evening I also decided to make some photos that just showed the expanse of the field and nothing else….a field full of happiness! To do this I used a short telephoto lens (200mm) and made three exposures, each focused at a different distance. I then used focus stacking software (I used Helicon Focus, but there are other programs) to combine the in-focus parts of each photo together. This allowed me to create a photo with more depth of field than I could have otherwise. This technique is often used in macro photography, but can also easily be applied to landscapes. I wanted the sunflowers in the photo sharp from front to back…a field full of happiness!
As the evening went on and the sun sank lower on the horizon the light softened and the colors in the sky started to develop nicely. The blue of the sky contrasted nicely with the golden yellow of the sunflowers. The lines the clouds formed in the sky also added a nice touch to the scene. Because the sky was still pretty bright at this point and the foreground was starting to darken, I combined two exposures to create this photograph; one exposure to capture the sky and one exposure to capture the foreground as I was experiencing it. This was probably my favorite photo of the evening.
As the sunset dipped below the horizon the colors in the sky really started to pop. The clouds also had some interesting textures and shapes to them. To make this photo, I held my tripod up over my head and triggered my camera using my remote shutter release. I had to try several times to get a composition I was happy with. Exposure was also tricky and the exposure was not ideal for the best quality. I really needed to have multiple exposures to capture the dynamic range of this scene, but holding the camera up on my tripod didn’t allow me to do this. As a result I had to lighten the foreground more than I normally like to, which decreases the image quality somewhat. Next time I do this, I’ll use the auto exposure bracketing feature (AEB) on my camera to capture a range of exposures. Live and learn right? Raising my camera up gave me a unique view of the field and showed off some of the lines in the field. It was fun just getting lost in trying something new.
By the time the last of the light had faded and Dad and I had packed up to head home, we were both pretty happy. The photos were good, the evening was good, but best of all was that lost in time, content feeling. I know this is a photography blog, so why am I talking about being happy and content? Well happiness is something that can make the world a better place so how can that be a bad thing? Most of the time I’m pretty happy when I’m out hunting for photographs and if I can inspire someone to explore the world around them in a way that makes them happy then that is also a good thing. Beyond that, I hope my photographs convey a sense of the experience I had when I was making them. Sunflowers in general seem to convey happiness and this was a fun evening for me. I hope anyone who views these photographs will find a moment of happiness or contentment.
If you would like to see more of my work photographing the beauty that can be found in agriculture, please take a look at my Beauty in Agriculture gallery. And if you would like to be notified of blog posts, events, sales etc. by email, please sign up for my email list.
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