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Snap Away
ABOVE: Californian Reny Parker's Coast buckwheat placed first in the Botanical category during 2011. This year, please enter close-ups such as these in the Close-ups of Wildflowers and Native Plants category.

Depending upon where you live, you either can imagine spring as just around the corner or think blossoms and butterflies will never take the place of snow and ice. Regardless, the annual photo contest the Wildflower Center hosts in partnership with Texas Highways magazine and new sponsor Precision Camera & Video begins April 7 and seeks entries taken this year or in years past – during spring or any season.

“We started the contest five years ago knowing that photographing wildflowers is a strong incentive for our Wildflower Center members and the visitors to our website to get outdoors,” says Christina Procopiou, editor of the Center’s Wildflower magazine. “The contest has continued to generate interest among these audiences.”

ABOVE: Jason St. Peter took this winning shot in the Landscape category of 2012's contest with his iPhone camera on the Whitener Ranch in Burton, Texas, in late summer. The snow-on-the-prairie (Euphorbia bicolor) against the sunset was too good to pass up even though he'd left his SLR behind. Photographs such as these will now be considered within the Fields of Wildflowers and Native Plants category.

Procopiou oversees the contest and is responsible for narrowing the thousands of entries down to a manageable number from which a small team of judges who make their living as professional photo editors and visual communicators select winners each June. Among them is photo editor Griff Smith for Texas Highways – the travel magazine of Texas. In addition to the private judging by these professionals, two years ago the contest introduced public voting that allows visitors to the website to select a public choice winner.

“Last year, 23,000 public votes were cast," says Procopiou. “The winning public choice photograph – a monarch on milkweed – was entered by a long-time Wildflower Center member, Carrol Fibich, from Wisconsin.” Her photograph the recipient of more than 4,300 public votes, Fibich has said that the best part about entering – and winning – was educating people she encouraged to vote for her entry about how milkweed is critically important to monarch butterflies – and in decline.

Conservation issues such as these are as important to this photography contest as pretty pictures. The Wildflower Center works to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes. The Center's initiatives are varied and tackle everything from educating homeowners and landscape professionals about sustainable landscape practices to training citizen scientists to identify non-native invasive species.  The Wildflower Center also hosts the largest database that exists of information about and photographs of plants native to North America. This spring, it will open its Luci and Ian Family Garden to connect children and families with nature at its regional botanic garden for native plants in Austin.

Given that mission, the photo contest cannot consider the many contest entries that come in of common garden plants such as roses, daffodils, dandelions or Easter lilies – all with their origins in Europe or Asia. The contest welcomes photos taken anywhere within North America of plants native here – those that are indigenous to the continent and that were not introduced by well-intended explorers or gardeners. So, if you’re Texan and want to submit a stunning bluebonnet shot in the tradition of pictures published by contest sponsor Texas Highways go ahead. Or, if you live in New England and managed to get some great shots of trillium in your nearby woodland those too are acceptable. Californians – we’d love to see your poppy photos!

Snap Away
LEFT: Jeremy Kuhn found this striking scene in fall 2008 near a pond at Lost Maples State Park in Utopia, Texas. He remembers how a slight breeze and the sun's reflection made an interesting backdrop for this bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) grass. This is the first photo of a grass ever to win in our photography contest and placed second in the Botanical category in 2012. RIGHT: Roy Lim's photograph of this woman with Cornus spp. in Tennessee won first place in the People with Wildflowers category of 2011. This year, people pictures will not be privately judged but will be eligible for public voting.

This year’s contest features four categories that include Closeups of Native Wildflowers and PlantsFields of Native Wildflowers and PlantsBirds and Butterflies with Native Wildflowers and Plants; and People With Wildflowers. Photographs may have been taken in any year and in any season. Pictures in all categories are open to public voting. Private judging will focus on the non-people categories. All entries in the judged categories will be considered to win the grand prize award of a $350 gift certificate to Precision Camera & Video. 

For contest details visit here. Learn some tips for taking compelling wildflower photography in the article below and this video, that features Center staff botanist Joe Marcus.

Picture Perfect

Wildflower photo contest winner shares secrets

Written and photographed by Steven Schwartzman for Wildflower magazine. Steven is a multi-year photo contest winner and current year photo contest judge.

A WIDE-ANGLE PHOTOGRAPHIC APPROACH is usually best for grand landscapes, but most of us live in less scenic places. Still, we can all find pieces of nature near home, and they provide picture opportunities all year long.

I recommend getting close to your subject to reveal the small details that make each species unique. If your camera has a macro setting, you can use that for close views. If your camera lets you change lenses, then a macro lens is a great investment. Even if your camera lacks macro capabilities, it probably lets you zoom in to enlarge details.

Where people in real estate say that the three most important things are location, location, location, I’m tempted to say that the three most important things in plant photography are background, background, background. Our normal posture is upright, which means that most plants, and especially flowers, are below us.

The three most important things in plant photography are background, background and background.
Unfortunately, a downward look is often the least interesting because it includes distracting details on the ground and around your subject, so it’s often better to crouch or kneel alongside a plant or flower and aim sideways.

Sitting is even better: your body is more stable and a handheld camera will likely shake less. You’d do well to aim in a direction for which the nearest objects beyond your subject are far away, so that your camera creates an out-of-focus background that distracts as little as possible from the subject.

By aiming sideways you may also be able to line up your subject with something behind it of a different color, whether harmonious or contrasting. that background color could come from something individual and relatively close, like a bright flower, or from things in the aggregate farther away, like a colony of wildflowers or a stand of colorful autumn trees.

If aiming sideways is good, aiming upward can be even better, often letting you exclude roads, buildings and other distracting objects. A camera angled upward turns a clear blue sky into a neutral backdrop, and fleecy clouds add to the appeal. Now, the greater the upward angle of view, the closer to the ground the photographer’s head and body are likely to be, so whenever I go photographing in nature I take along a foam pad to kneel on, sit on and even lie down on. the pad also protects my clothing from damp or dirty ground, cushions me against rocks and branches, and serves the particularly worthy purpose of reducing the number of prickly things that get into my skin.

At my blog, portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com, you can click the About My techniques link to read more about these and many other techniques, along with photographs that illustrate all of them.

© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center