Flowers are ephemeral. Sunflowers are magical. Sunflowers turn their heads to bask in the golden sunlight.
The famous Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh was so fascinated with these flowers that he painted 12 canvases of sunflowers in the late 1880s. In fact, in a letter to his brother Theo, he claimed, “The sunflower is mine.” Furthermore, he wrote, “How lovely yellow is. It stands for the sun.” He continued with, “The sun itself cannot make the world bright without souls to feel its light.”
Fast forward a hundred years, and sunflowers continue to captivate many artists—be they painters, watercolorists, and photographers. Because landscape and nature photographers can find flowers some of the most difficult subjects to capture successfully, here are some tips and tricks to help you capture these wonderful flowers.
Find the Best Location
Sunflowers bloom in gardens, fields, and farms. Perhaps you have a friend with a large garden, or you live near a wild sunflower field. You can research local sunflower farms. Grinter’s Sunflower Farm in Lawrence, Kansas, is famous for its one million sunflowers which the Grinter Family plants on more than 40 acres of land. The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas.
Other stunning sunflower farms and fields across the United States and southern Canada include:
Sunflower Field, Autaugaville, Alabama
Muller Ranch, Woodland, California
Sunflower Farm, Longmont, Colorado
Buttonwood Farm, Griswold, Connecticut
Harvestmoon Farm, Masaryktown, Florida
Anderson Sunflower Farm, Cumming, Georgia
Copper Creek Farm, Calhoun, Georgia
DuPont Pioneer’s Waialua Sunflower Farm, Oahu, Hawaii
L&A Family Farms, Paris, Illinois
Grinter’s Sunflower Farm in Lawrence, Kansas
Lyndon Leader 4H Sunflowers, Lyndon, Kansas
McKee-Beshers Sunflower Fields, Poolesville, Maryland
Sunflower Farm, Westminster, Maryland
Misty Meadows Creamery and Sunflower Farm, Smithburg, Maryland
Clear Meadow Farms, Jarrettsville and Monkton, Maryland
Colby Farm, Newbury, Massachusetts
Wish Upon a Sunflower Fields, Cold Spring, Minnesota
Cappal House Farm, Lee, New Hampshire
Liberty Farm Sunflower Maze, Sandyston, New Jersey
Frederick Farms, Clifton Springs, New York
Sunflower Maze, Camillus, New York
Sunflower Fields at the Neuse River Greenway Trail, Raleigh, North Carolina
Lady Luck Flower Farm, Leicester, North Carolina
Whitehall Farm, Yellow Springs, Ohio
Bogle Seeds, Hamilton, Ontario
Sunflower Fields at Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area, Knoxville, Tennessee
Burnside Farms, Noakesville, Virginia
Babbette’s Sees for Hope Sunflower Maze, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Select the Best Time of Year
Whether you photograph sunflowers in a garden, field, or farm, you want to find out which time of year is best for capturing these wonderful blooms in your location. While sunflowers generally flourish from mid-summer into fall, the high season is often late July into early September. The peak bloom time for sunflowers is only two weeks, so do your research to find the closest place in your area.
Select the Time of Day
The “golden hour,” which is actually more than an hour—the couple of hours before sunrise and the couple of hours before sunset—is the best time of day to capture flowers because the light is much softer and the shadows are less severe. A polarizing filter also reduces glare and enhances saturation of colors. Fewer people generally take photos in the mornings and evenings, so you probably have the location to yourself.
Dress for Outdoor Action
Be sure to check the weather and conditions of the terrain. Sunflower fields are often muddy, so boots or sneakers are a good footwear option. If it is sunny and hot, a wide-brimmed hat can protect you from sunburn. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts are also good options. Don’t forget you insect repellent and sunscreen!
Gather Your Gear
A DSLR camera provides you the best quality images for landscape photography. You want both a wide-angle lens and a macro lens for sunflower photography. A small fold-up reflector can direct light back toward the flowers. A tripod is also a handy tool for taking photos of single blooms or fields of flowers.
Isolate the Flowers for More Impact
To focus on the beauty of sunflowers, consider isolating either a single flower or a group of flowers. You may want to use a short to medium telephoto lens to narrow your field of view. Another idea is to include an insect, like a bee or butterfly, next to the sunflower. As bees go from flower to flower, they pollinate the plants.
Get Up Close
Similar to isolating the flowers for more impact, another suggestion is to get up close and personal with your sunflowers. Select a macro lens to magnify the smallest aspect of the sunflower. These small details, such as a section of petal or stem, become more important than the subject as a whole. Because the depth of field is limited, you may want to use a tripod for this kind of close-up photography.
Photograph Different Sides and Angles
Look at the sunflowers carefully. While the blooms are beautiful, you may find interesting details on the reverse sides or underneath the stems. Your macro lens is a handy tool for capturing abstract shapes and textures. Find one sunflower that speaks to you and take lots of pictures of it. Make a series of photos of this single flower.
Try positioning your camera below the flowers, so your background is the blue sky. A wide-angle lens works best for going low. You may need to lie down in the middle of the sunflower field and shoot straight up, so a small tarp or piece of plastic can protect you from the mud.
Experiment with Backlight
Situate yourself in front of your sunflowers to capture some backlight. This technique is particularly successful at that golden hour we mentioned earlier. Your images will glow in the sun and highlight the dramatic parts of the flowers.
Leave the Flowers as You Found Them
You are a visitor in their land. Think of it as an invitation to a sunflower photography party. Take your photos and then be sure to leave the flowers as you find them. Many locations have suffered overcrowding from thousands of photographers descending on the sunflowers and squashing them.
Bogle Seeds in Hamilton, Ontario, made national news when it had more than 7,000 people visit their sunflower farm in a single day. They trampled the plants, picked the flowers, and left garbage everywhere, leading to total destruction of the sunflower fields and causing the Bogle Family to close the farm to future guests.