A rite of spring

Backlit Poppies, Folsom, California

Backlit Poppies, Folsom, California
Canon EOS 10D
1/30 second
F/3.5
ISO 100
100 mm

Today it’s gray and wet in Sacramento, a refreshing break from our ridiculously warm and dry winter (sorry, pretty-much-everywhere-else-in-the-U.S.). Usually by the end of February my thoughts have turned to spring, but this year I find myself feeling a cheated of winter (and wishing the rest of you would have shared). As miserable as it can be, I’ve always loved winter photography—not just snow (which I have to travel to see), but rain, clouds, bare trees, and the low angle of the sunlight.

Another aspect of winter I like is the precipitation that rejuvenates our creeks and rivers and nourishes the wildflowers. It’s hard to know what combination of winter conditions will make a good wildflower spring, but I do know that ample rainfall is an important component. Which makes me a little nervous about the wildflowers’ prospects this spring. But that won’t stop me from what has become an annual ritual, meandering through the foothills east of town, Spring Training baseball on the radio (go Giants!), photographing poppies. I have several go-to poppy spots, but I’m easily distracted and often never make it to my original destination.

The image here is from one of my earliest spring excursions, nearly ten years ago. On my way home, I detoured at the last minute to a spot I knew I’d find a few nice poppies—(believe it or not) the Intel parking lot in Folsom. The poppies were in an elevated bed atop a retaining wall, allowing me to easily drop low and capture them backlit by the setting sun. The sun, distorted and dulled by horizon haze, was a throbbing orange ball that I blurred beyond recognition with an extension tube and a large aperture on my 100mm macro lens. Without wind, focus through my viewfinder on the center poppy’s leading edge was pretty easy (today I’d have used live-view focus). The translucent petals caught the fading sunlight, igniting the flowers like orange lanterns. I underexposed slightly to save the highlights and color, and to turn the shaded background into a black canvas.

One other thing I remember about this shoot was my brief brush with the law. Apparently my activity aroused the interest of Intel Security—after just a few minutes of shooting I was visited by an officer who clearly took his job quite seriously. It took me a few minutes, but I was finally able to convince him that, despite my sinister appearance, I was in possession of no explosive device, nor was I an AMD (Advanced Micro Devices, Intel’s leading competitor) spy seeking the secrets of Intel’s fertile flower bed. After making a theatrical display of checking of my license plate (that clearly communicated, “We know who you are”), and in a tone that made let me know he wasn’t quite convinced and would be watching me, he allowed me to finish.

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