Wildflower photography with Mark Turner

By Jessica Haag
It’s hard to imagine a more inspiring place than the blooming, alpine meadows of the North Cascades to take a wildflower photography class, or a better instructor than Mark Turner, co-author of the Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest handbook.
On July 19-21st with 15 photographers under his wing Mark embarked on a 3-day wildflower photography workshop. On day 1 we did class work (ie: learning your camera and some tips and techniques) and on days 2-3 we undertook amazing hikes and field excursions to implement what we learned.

Although the wildflowers were not completely in full bloom (we were about 2 weeks early), they were still abundant and we hiked to Easy Pass (which is not as easy as the name would make it sound, but is well worth the effort). We first trekked through a dense wooded area where we were able to practice some of Mark’s tips for low light shots and working with light direction and quality, like picking a subject in the light that it was found and then focusing on finding or creating shadows and trying multiple approaches for lighting (side light, back light, shade). We also worked on composition skills using subjects like Mertons’ coralroot, Columbine and Angelica to name a few.

Only a few of the participants made it all the way to the top of the pass because of time, but even below the pass we were able to see the beautiful vistas of Fisher Basin and surrounding mountains. The overcast cloud cover was a perfect light diffuser for creating soft highlights of the clumps of the abundant and gorgeous pinkish purple Mountain Heather. One of Mark’s tips for do it yourself diffusers–if you don’t have cloud cover and don’t want to buy one–is to use a thin plastic cutting board for small close up objects or a cut piece of shower curtain.

On the last day, we hiked up one of my favorite trails,  Sauk Mountain. It is a short hike (4 miles round trip), but the views at the top are very gratifying. The steep incline and switchbacks gave us great “Points of View” that Mark talked about, such as rabbit’s-eye views looking up at the plants without laying on the ground and bird’s-eye views looking down without having to climb up on a rock. It was a bright and almost cloudless day. We began our hike around 10 am and got to experiment with harsh full midday light and overhead sun. The portable diffuser Mark brought along was very helpful.

On a side note, we ran into famous local photographer from Sedro-Woolley Lee Mann, literally at the top of Sauk Mt. It was his birthday and it was also the first time he had hiked up Sauk Mountain in 10 years — his first summiting of the mountain was in 1958. What a great way to end the class!
Below is gallery of some of my favorite photos that I took during the three days with Mark’s class.

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