Cheerful California Poppies!

Here in the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills, the month of April marks that time of year when various species of wildflowers proliferate in the grassy meadows and rocky hillsides of northern California. Few wildflowers get me more excited than the official state flower of California, Eschscholzia californica, also known as the California Poppy, which carpet areas of rocky and sandy soil exposed to full mid-day sun in hues of vivid orange. I always do my best to make the most of these conditions, as the prime window for viewing can be short, shouldered between the cooler temps of late March when the hills are a vivid spring green, and late April to May, when temperatures rise, and the poppies wilt and tall, dry grasses take over.

As a landscape photographer, I generally am photographing during times of day when the “best” light occurs at golden hour, sunset, and sunrise. But, compelling images can be captured at any time of day, and the best time of day to photograph poppies is roughly between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM when they are fully open on a bright day with the sun directly overhead. It is on sunny days like this that the poppies appear to be reaching for the sun and embracing it with their colorful cup shaped pedals. At night, early mornings, late afternoons, and overcast days, their pedals are typically closed, with the flowers resembling tiny orange arrows. Early in my poppy obsessed photography journey, I arrived at Hidden Falls Regional Park in Auburn for sunrise to find the poppies closed, but still kneeled down low to include the poppies before they opened in the early morning hours to capture more foreground interest. I love the landscape of rolling green hills and spring green oak trees and Hidden Falls is a lovely location to experience this type of landscape. I combined a composition of these green hills, oaks, and closed poppies, using three images focus stacked and blended in Photoshop to get depth of field from foreground to background.

After going through a rough month of March that required staying close to home and not venturing out, as my husband and I were caring for, and eventually had to let go of our beloved dog of 15 years, we were desperate to go out for a sunny spring drive, and hike through the verdant green hills and wildflowers in remembrance of our Guinness. We found this patch of poppies along our hike around Pardee Reservoir in Calaveras County where I used the macro lens for the first time on wildflowers, using a wide aperture (f/2.8 to f/4) for a shallow depth of field and dreamy effect. These macro shots really bring out the blue green foliage that poppies are known for, a beautiful color contrast against the complementary orange of the pedals.

This spring, I also returned to one of my favorite wildflower spots discovered last year in Amador County. I can’t say I was in any better shape to hike up the black diamond of all wildflower hills than I was last year, but at least, this time I had more interesting clouds and weather, and although the flowers weren’t as thick as last year, I still found some compositions I quite liked. After such a grueling hike, I’ll typically drive out to Electra Road nearby, a narrow, singletrack road with a steep hillside of wildflowers on one side, and the Mokelumne River on the other. In this image, I laid on the ground, and shot handheld with my camera looking up using a narrow aperture of f/14 to create a sunstar for a happy, joyful spring image.

One thing I learned since becoming a Californian is that you have to take advantage of the spring while you can, the green color and wildflowers do not last long! And since these conditions are so short and fleeting, this is commonly a time of year I don’t get much sleep, but I am always grateful for the photographic inspiration that wildflower season brings.

All of these images are available for purchase in this gallery. Thank you for looking!

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