• Alyce Bender

Texas Wildflowers: Hunting that Perfect Bluebonnet Photo


Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/640 | f/9 | ISO 400


If there was one single subject that was brought to my attention as a nature photographer whenever I ran into someone from Texas, it was the bluebonnets in spring. Without a doubt, probably one of the most iconic symbols of the state - I mean it is the state flower after all - the bluebonnet had a profound reputation to live up to in my mind. I also had high expectations to live up to, photographically, if I was going to appease my many friends and followers who have Texan roots.

"April showers bring May flowers..." Well that's not really true for the famous Texas bluebonnet. Before going much further, I want to give a bit of background about this plant and its life cycle.


So, for those of us who have grown up elsewhere let me just state a fact that caught me off guard: bluebonnets are just lupine. I know this statement my rustle some feathers but it is what it is. That being said, there are two types of lupine only found here in Texas: Lupinus texensic and Lupinus subcarnosis. So while the actual species of lupine is different, the flowers look similar to those lupine that grow elsewhere in places like California, Oregon, and the Cascades. For some reason I had thought it would be a different flower all together since I had never once heard the Texas variety referred to as lupine like it is in other parts of the country.


Nikon D500 | Tamron 10-24mm | 1/800 | f/11 | ISO 1250


With that out of the way, lets tackle when and where to see these wild beauties. Back to that phrase about April showers and such, bluebonnets actual require rains coming in fall and through the winter to have the best bloom. Even with all the precipitation we had in February (what with the snow and all) the water came too late for much of the region known for its massive displays of bluebonnets.


San Antonio and the Hill Country are at the heart of the bluebonnet region. Regardless of the year, bluebonnets can always be found in this area. Even this year, with the very dry conditions we had last fall, there were still pockets of bluebonnets popping up throughout the city and in the surrounding counties. But they are a short lived bloom, only lasting a few weeks at most, especially if we have warmer weather move in to scorch them as we did this year. The excessive heat forces them to go to seed quicker to save themselves.


With all that being said and understanding what it takes to get these flowers to bloom, if you are planning a trip out here to photograph bluebonnets in the spring, you will want to watch the weather we have starting the fall prior. Maintain flexibility with your travel dates as something like a freak snowstorm can push blooms back several weeks while an early heatwave can bring them up in a heartbeat.


Being flexible with location and drive times is essential if you want to make the most of a less-than-stellar bloom season, as we had this year. A friend and I spent a day before the bloom, scouting traditional locations and wildflower tour routes to the northwest of San Antonio. She was kind enough to show me some of her favorite spots and we made loose plans to re-drive parts of it together once the flowers were in bloom. Then the bloom came and it was nowhere near where we had scouted!


This year the majority of the bluebonnet action seemed to take place in about three locations that lucked out and captured more precipitation at the right times unlike the rest of the region. I was fortunate to be able to visit two of them. The closest one to San Antonio was around the small town of Floresville, aptly named in my opinion. Getting together one afternoon, we went out driving the backroads for four to five hours, capturing as many wildflower images as we could, all the while looking for the holy grail of a field completely covered in bluebonnets.


Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1/320 | f/9 | ISO 640


Photo tip: With over 2700 (!!!) species of wildflowers in Texas, be sure to capture all the beauty around you and don't solely focus on bluebonnets. If you do, you will miss out on so many other beautiful photo opportunities.


Finding fields with patches of bluebonnets, we tried to make the most of them. By getting low, using a shallow depth of field and selective focus point, I was able to make this patch seem a bit more full than it appeared if you were just standing there.

Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1/500 | f/8 | ISO 640


Just as the sun was setting we did find one, but it was far off the road and on private property so we used telephoto lenses to create a few images during the soft dusk light. While the traditional image is nice, I really love the impressionistic image I created by zooming in a bit more and using the technique of defocusing on purpose.


Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1/3 | f/10 | ISO 400 | Benro Tripod


Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1/4 | f/7.1 | ISO 400 | Benro Tripod | Defocused

If the image looks a bit "pixelated" please click and view it full screen for optimal viewing.


Safety tip: In Texas, the majority of land is private. Do not cross fences or enter an area that is posted with either signage or purple painted trees or posts. If not sure, drive a ways to make sure it is not posted in either direction. Trespassing is not only illegal but can potentially put you facing the wrong end of a shotgun or a rank bull.


The following week, I headed out on my own, chasing the wildflower reports that a large bloom of bluebonnets had cropped up in the areas surrounding Brenham, TX. Now this town is about a two and a half hour drive from my place one way, but if that's where the flowers were blooming, that's where I needed to go if I wanted pictures. Again, being flexible and willing to drive is key.


Over the course of ten-ish hours, I covered a wide swath of backroads, scenic byways, and some highway in search of the elusive field of bluebonnets. I found many a wildflower covering pastoral scenes, dotting hills, and blanketing others.


Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/1250 | f/9 | ISO 400


Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/1000 | f/11 | ISO 1250


Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/800 | f/9 | ISO 800


By the end of the day, I had come across three large fields of bluebonnets - one that could be walked into and the others that had to be shot from the fence line. In all honesty, I photographed the one that had open access from the road edge of the field anyway as I did not want to step on the flowers. Its just good wildflower ethics to avoid entering fields and observe and photograph from the perimeter. Like any other wildflower, if a bluebonnet is killed before it seeds (due to picking, being stepped on, or crushed under someone's bum during a family/IG photo session), there will be fewer seeds to germinate the following year, even under the best of weather conditions.


Nikon D500 | Tamron 10-24mm | 1/80 | f/22 | ISO 1250


Photo tip: Be mindful of your weather when photographing wildflowers. If going on a clear blue day or an overcast day (such that I had for much of my shooting), limit the amount of sky found in your frame as it will only detract from the main subject, the flowers. Furthermore, if you have a choice, aim for overcast conditions over bluebird skies as the clouds act as a light defuser and help saturate the colors rather than wash them out as bright sunlight often does.


Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/640 | f/8 | ISO 500


Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/640 | f/8 | ISO 500


Wildflower Ethics Guidelines

Be Mindful of Your Impact

This goes for making sure you are not

stepping or sitting on flowers, staying on established trails,

and not sharing sensitive locations when posting images.

Don't Pick the Flowers

Self explanatory. While it may be cute for the kids to hold a bouquet,

its even cuter if those flowers are allowed to reseed the field for the following season.

Pack it In, Pack it Out

Don't leave trash in the fields. Do better and try to pack out

more than you pack in each time you are in Nature.

Be Respectful

This means respecting the environment you are in, respecting boundaries of

private lands, respecting public safety and right-of-way when parking

off roadways, and respecting others who are also out enjoying the flowers.

#NatureFirst


Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1/320 | f/9 | ISO 500


Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1/500 | f/9 | ISO 500


Yet, of all those mile driven, all the searching for bluebonnets specifically, some of my favorite images from this season are the ones of mixed wildflowers. So again, don't discount the Texas Indian paintbrush, the firewheel, phlox, Mexican poppies, brown-eyed susans, and the many other varieties that pop up this time of year.


Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/800 | f/9 | ISO 800


Overall, I think for what many native Texans have said was a dismal year for the bluebonnets, I came away with a good collection of images for the limited time I had with them. I look forward to continuing to work with the local wildflowers throughout the summer, even though the bluebonnets have gone.


Until next time, cheers!



Sometimes you just have to embrace the cuteness of cows in wildflower covered pastures!

Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1/640 | f/6.3 | ISO 640






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