Spring is in the air once again and the roadsides are filling with the color of the season, thanks in part to the dedication of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The royal blue carpet of Texas’ State Flower beckons travelers to the Lone Star State, and along with such comes the need for added measures of safety. In an annual rite of the season, families and photographers will flock to areas of Texas best known for the spring blooms.
Spring in Texas actually begins in the fall. That’s when TxDOT seeds the roadsides of our highways and by-ways. Plentiful fall and winter precipitation is key in providing ideal conditions for a good showing come springtime. As roadside conditions ripen, the need for driver attention also grows. Those travelers looking for that “perfect spot” may stop or veer suddenly with no apparent concern for any vehicles in their rearview mirror. We will see cars come to complete stops in traffic lanes or even back the wrong way on a public road. Unfortunately, they all think they have the right-of-way just because they have their emergency flashers on.
The need for safety and concern does not end by simply procuring a good parking spot. I have assembled some tips here for getting the most out of your wildflower picture hunt. You want to be able to enjoy the pictures you worked so hard to get. Your trip begins before you ever leave the house. Research your trip and destination ahead of time and check the Weather Channel website for updated forecasts. Remember – this is springtime in Texas and foul weather season has already begun. The internet is one of the best resources at your fingertips for planning a last-minute trip.
Dress appropriately. Some of your best pictures can be made in inclement weather but you want to stay comfortable and dry. Nothing kills the photographic inspiration quicker than a damp chill that goes right to the bone. Early dawn and late dusk are good times for capturing images but temperatures change rapidly at these times of the day. Don’t forget your feet. Your best pictures will not happen on level, paved ground – you may have to walk quite a distance on slippery or rocky surfaces. Wear appropriate footwear with good ankle support and cotton or wool socks.
Bring along some sunscreen and something to shade your head and face if you are blessed with sunshine. I recommend a soft hat with a wide brim all the way around. Leave the ball cap at home, it won’t shade your ears or the back of your neck from the sun and you have to take it off or turn it around just to take a picture. As you come upon a spot you would like to photograph, don’t make the rookie mistakes of exiting as fast as you can and spending your entire trip in that one spot. Just a mile down the road may be a location even better than the one you are at. Scout around a little bit and even ask advice of the locals when you stop. They can be your best resource on the road and save you a little gas and time.
Plan extra time in your trip for unexpected stops and discoveries. I recommend finding a nice Bed and Breakfast to stay at and making a weekend of your adventure. (Better yet, go during the week when the roads are less congested.) For those of you joining the throngs that will be heading out to the bluebonnet fields following Easter services, bring along green trash bags or those nice Hunter Green bath towels you don’t use anymore. You and the kids can sit on them next to the flowers and won’t get your Sunday finest dirty. (The green coloring will look less noticeable in the pictures.)
One thing to remember is that you will not be alone out their with the wildflowers and I am not talking about other people. The spring wildflowers also bring spring critters – namely bees, spiders, and everyone’s favorite – fire ants. The growing grass is also a good hiding place for snakes or other small animals. I suggest carrying a well-stocked first-aid kit with you.
Watch where you squat! Nothing will put a relationship to the test quicker than the need for a loved one to remove cactus spines or bee stingers from your backside. Let’s just not have to “go there.”
As for equipment and cameras, a good picture can be made from just about any type camera, even smartphones. The key is to remember the basics of photography – get close enough so you don’t have to enlarge or crop and keep your camera steady. Use a tripod, backpack, rock, tree branch – something to support your camera for the sharpest photo possible. Try to avoid taking pictures in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead (unless it is cloudy, then shoot away in the softer light). This yields harsh, displeasing shadows and flat, lifeless color of light. Early and late in the day are recommended. Use the midday hours for naps or scouting ideal locations. If you must shoot in harsh, direct sunlight, use a fill-in flash or reflector to put some light into the shadow areas.
Set your cameras to record at the highest image quality. Memory cards get cheaper every day so don’t skimp on quality to save a couple of bucks – buy the bigger card. Don’t forget to pack extra batteries. Digital cameras are notorious for sucking the juice right out of power packs. Remember to pack your charging cable. Speaking of packing, put extra drinking water and non-perishable food somewhere in your vehicle as well as in your backpack. Things happen and you might be out there awhile.
When you find that perfect floral patch, please be kind and avoid trampling flowers that have not bloomed yet (and the ones that have). Others will want to take pictures in that same spot. There are a lot of events related to wildflowers all around the state in the coming months and there are some excellent websites to get started in planning your adventure. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center hosts a comprehensive website that offers information as well as links to other good sites. Visit them at http://www.wildflower.org. Other good websites include http://www.dot.state.tx.us, http://www.traveltex.com and http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us. Here’s to wishing you a safe and fun time and remember – “Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints.”