6 Tips for Photographing California’s Wildflower Superblooms, From a Pro Photographer

Colorful wildflower super blooms are exploding all over California. I recently saw super blooms in the San Francisco Bay area, as well as in the normally arid areas surrounding Interstate 5 near California’s Central Valley.

As a professional photographer, I’ve always loved photographing flowers. Of course, the new super blooms are giving me plenty of opportunities to exercise my craft!

If you find yourself face-to-face with a super bloom, you might be wondering the best way to capture it photographically. Here are my tips for photographing California’s wildflower super blooms based on my 10+ years of experience as a professional photographer.

Get up close

Many of the photos of California’s super blooms show the wildflowers from a distance. That’s beautiful, and the sight of a hillside completely blanketed in color is certainly dramatic. It reminds me of the tulip fields of Holland, which I saw on a bicycle trip many years ago.

With these photos, however, it’s easy to forget that these colorful fields are made up of individual flowers.

In photographing wildflower super blooms, try to get closer to the flowers and capture individual flowers, instead of just photographing the whole field. This can yield some amazing results, showing the brilliant hues and complex geometry of the flowers that collectively form a superbloom.

It’s fine to capture the broader context of the field as well, of course, but getting up close with your photos shows the stunning presence of each individual flower, and demonstrates that a superbloom can’t happen without the presence of millions of individual flowers.

Use your camera’s macro mode, or the portrait mode on your iPhone

Using the iPhone Portrait Mode with Stage Light produces dramatic, studio-like black backgrounds

If you’re photographing the super blooms with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, try to use the macro mode on your lens if it has the setting.

That will allow you to get closer to the flowers and photograph their parts. If you have control over the aperture of your lens, choose a wide-open setting, which is the lowest f-stop number you can select.

For example, my Leica Q camera allows an aperture as wide as F1.7. Choose the widest possible aperture, yielding a crisp focus on the individual flower and its parts, while creating a beautiful blurred bokeh effect in the background. This isolates your subject (the flower itself), which leads to a more interesting and deliberate composition.

Don’t have a DSLR or professional mirrorless camera? You can achieve the same effect using your iPhone by selecting the Portrait mode. This uses a depth sensor in the phone to simulate bokeh and a wide aperture.

Usually, Portrait mode is used to photograph people — that’s the “portrait” name. But it works just as well on objects like flowers! Using the portrait mode can help you to isolate the flower from the background, building a beautiful and colorful composition.

You can even experiment with Portrait mode’s dramatic lighting options–like the Stage Light setting–to create dramatic black backgrounds for your shot.

Consider a polarizing filter

Again, if you have a professional camera or a DSLR, you may consider adding a polarizing filter to your lens. Polarizing filters filter out light coming in at certain angles. This reduces glare and yields more brilliant and saturated colors with less haze.

Polarizing filters are particularly good at creating contrast in bright skies. Wildflower fields are beautiful, but your photos of the super blooms will be even more beautiful if you have a bright blue sky with starkly-rendered, fluffy white clouds.

If you use a polarizing filter, try rotating your filter to change the angle of polarization. This will change how the light is filtered, yielding different compositions.

Experiment with brilliance and saturation

Wildflower super blooms are known for their beautiful, unique colors. California golden poppies are bright orange, lupines are beautifully purple, and goldfields are starkly yellow.

Just because wildflowers have brilliant colors, though, doesn’t mean that your camera will capture them accurately. If your photos look a little bit duller and less colorful than the fields did in real life, you can edit your photos to make the colors pop.

If you’re using an iPhone, open the Photos app and select the option to edit your photo. Find the saturation and brilliance settings, and try increasing them. If you increase them too much, you might end up with unnatural colors, so try increasing them a bit at a time and seeing how your composition looks.

Try increasing the Saturation or Brilliance in the iPhone photos app

Your goal is to get the colors in your photos as close to what you saw in real life as possible without overdoing it and making the colors look unrealistic.

If you’re using a traditional DSLR, you can achieve a similar effect in Lightroom or Photoshop. Try increasing the saturation settings there, and also experiment with the Dehaze function in Lightroom to add additional contrast and dynamism to your shot.

Experiment with longer lenses

A wide-angle view of a field can be stunning. But another thing to try is to use a longer lens on your camera and zoom in to a specific portion of the field.

This allows you to fully fill the frame with colorful flowers, yielding a tighter composition. I would recommend using a lens that’s at least 70mm to achieve this effect.

If you’re using your phone to capture the wildflower super blooms, try using the highest optical zoom option. Most new iPhones have three different lens options when you’re taking a photo. If you select the 3x option, you’ll get a similar effect to using a long lens on a traditional camera.

iPhone 3x zoom option

This is especially useful if you can’t safely get up close to the flowers. The last thing you want to do is spoil the natural beauty by treading off of a marked trail and damaging the flower fields.

Using a long lens not only achieves an interesting composition and close-ups of individual flowers, but it also allows you to avoid damaging the nature you’re trying to photograph.

Share your photos

No matter how you capture California’s wildflower super blooms, consider sharing your photos. Not only is it a great opportunity to put some beauty out there on Instagram or the app of your choice, but it’s also a great opportunity to showcase the importance of biodiversity here in the Golden State.

If you captured a really great photo, send it into us at the Bay Area Telegraph and we’d love to share it. Email to

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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