Timing Makes All The Difference

Comparison of two images of wildflowers and South Caineville Mesa by Utah landscape photographer Adam Barker.

Comparison of two images of wildflowers and South Caineville Mesa by Utah landscape photographer Adam Barker.

Timing really can make all the difference. Shooting at different times means shooting different light. And different light can give nearly the same image an entirely different feel.

Case in point is this study from my recent trip down to Caineville, UT. These two (nearly identical) images were shot just 13 minutes apart. As you can see, the image on the left still has direct light on the FG flowers. Due to the bluffs to the west, it was impossible to catch the last rays of light on the flowers themselves. This direct light is a bit hot for my taste, but it does accentuate the rows of flowers, and give the FG more of an elongated feel.

The image on the right showcases the flowers in open shade, and succulent late light on South Caineville Mesa. The open shade on the FG gives the viewer access to every last detail, and renders the colors softer and more luminescent. It doesn’t, however, showcase the leading lines of the flower rows.

This truly is the beauty of still photography. And this, really, is how you can go about defining your personal style and your preference to the types of images you’d like to capture. Study the subtle (or not so subtle) difference between images. Are you willing to sacrifice some of the detail in the FG flowers for the compositional definition, or do you prefer the soft tones and colors instead of the open shade? If you had to choose between displaying one or the other of these images, which would it be–and why?

Shot with Canon 5D MkII, 24MM TS-E 3.5II, Singh Ray LB ColorCombo Polarizer, Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad

Plan. Go. Do.

Sunset over wildflowers near Caineville, UT

Sunset over wildflowers near Caineville, UT

Several years ago I saw an image that struck me. It was a desert landscape, dotted with purple and yellow wildflowers. In a word, it was beautiful. In another word, it was mysterious. I wondered how such a barren landscape, void of color and feeling,  could suddenly spring to life as if fed by some unseen fountain of youth. I had to go there. I had to see it for myself. And really, I had to capture it for myself.

This just happened to be the year I was able to make it down to Caineville. I happened to have some spare time, and was committed to finally making this shoot happen. Caineville is, quite literally, a bend in the road. There’s no stop lights, no gas stations. There’s nothing except for mesas and buttes shaped by time and weather. Gravel ridgelines criss-cross into the distance, clawing their way further towards the base of north and south Caineville Mesas. At the right time of year, and given the proper winter/spring snow and rainfall, the valleys between these small buttes fill with yellow and purple. Seas of beeplant and purplemat flow between the mesas and fluted miniscapes. It is, quite simply, a photographer’s paradise.

Wildflower landscape image shot near Caineville, UT

Wildflower landscape image shot near Caineville, UT

It certainly is one of those places that feels nearly impossible to capture. It’s big and broad and colorful and supremely unique. My best suggestion to shooters hoping to stumble upon this symphony of nature??? Take all your gear, and take all your creative energy. You will need it. There are innumerable ways to shoot the flowers and desert landscape in and around Caineville. Some of it has been shot before, but I guarantee you will find your own nook and your own way of telling this beautiful story to those unable to attend in person.

I was also fortunate to visit Factory Butte, surrounded on many sides by an endless carpet of yellow. From what I understand, it’s a somewhat rare occurrence to see such prolific displays of wildflowers here, and I felt fortunate to be there. Alone. On an absolutely stunning morning.

Factory Butte with Beeplant (amazing widlflowers!)

Factory Butte with Beeplant (amazing widlflowers!)

As this was a solo trip, I had plenty of time to reflect on the experience of shooting such grandiose scenes. I have posted just a couple of tips below that are particularly relevant to the Caineville/Factory Butte area. They are also applicable to any shooting situation in which you find yourself slightly overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of what lies before you.

1. Go with a plan. Whether you have a written list, or mental notes of the types of images you’d like to capture, have some sort of “plan of attack”. It will help you to keep a level head and stay focused, to a degree. It’s easy to arrive at these locations and start running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Don’t do it. Be methodical, and don’t forget to enjoy yourself!

Factory Butte and grazing cattle.

Factory Butte and grazing cattle.

2. Be receptive to new images. Although you may have a plan in your head, conditions may cause your photographic plans to vary, and this is A-OK. I really believe that some of the most magical images are visualized on site, from the hip, so to speak. See with your photographic eyes, and don’t be stubbornly committed to an image that may just not be there. Vision can change rapidly, and more than anything, you must be willing to work to find the best image for that exact moment. It may be as simple as changing a lens, or as difficult as hiking a ridgeline. Regardless–make it happen. You’ll be justly rewarded.

3. Shoot different lenses. I guess this could be better suggested in shooting different focal lengths. It’s easy to get stuck in wide angle mode, or telephoto or macro mode. You haven’t properly worked a scene until you’ve at least TRIED numerous different focal lengths and angles. Sometimes the big picture will be incomplete, but there will be “pieces” of that picture that are five-star images in and of themselves. Mess around. Work on seeing through different lenses without having to bring the camera to your eye.

WIldflowers and North Caineville Mesa

WIldflowers and North Caineville Mesa

4. Visit the same locations at different times of day. Simply put–light changes, winds dies down, clouds pour in, more flowers bloom and your mind’s eye transforms. Do yourself a favor and don’t throw in the towel at any given location after one shoot. Many photographers chase that one idealistic image for days/weeks/months/years. Put in your time, and even if you don’t get that keeper this time, you’ll be better prepared the next time you visit the location.

Broken light on North Caineville Mesa

Broken light on North Caineville Mesa

5. Forget what you’ve seen. Let me clarify–forget what you’ve seen online, in others’ portfolios, on postcards, etc. This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do, as what we’ve seen largely dictates what we hope to capture. Find a way to wipe your mental, emotional and creative slate clean. This is when your own, special style will take over. This is when you will create your own magic. This is what will help you with tip #2 above. Challenge yourself to see what others have not.

Factory Butte with wildflowers

Factory Butte with wildflowers

So now–Plan. Go. Do.