Despite the relatively dry winter, the low foothills are alive with a carpet of green grass and an abundance of beautiful wildflowers that make for some great photo opportunities.
I took a drive through some beautiful areas that are close to Merced last weekend and stumbled across some great photo possibilities I would like to share this week.
Travel north out of Merced on G Street through the tiny community of Snelling, which, by the way, is a great photo destination in itself. Once in Snelling, stay on the Merced Falls Road. After nine miles, Merced Falls Road veers to the right.
This section of the road is one of the highlights of this drive. The lush, green rolling hills are dotted with beautiful, healthy oak trees and a great display of several different species of colorful wildflowers.
This pastoral route through the rolling countryside might take the avid photographer all day to complete with the many photo possibilities. One of the best tips that I can give an aspiring photographer when taking a photo drive is a very simple one, but for a lot of us caught up in our hectic lives is easier said than done. That tip is to learn to stop the car.
I think we get so used to always being in a hurry we have a hard time slowing down and take the approach of "well that might make a nice photo but lets see what is up the road that might be better."
If you see something that looks promising, stop and check it out. Make a few images -- you might be surprised what else is there at that spot that you did not see roaring down the road at 50 mile per hour.
As with any photo trip that you embark on, the time of day in regards to the light is very important. This drive would be gorgeous at sunrise with the morning light filtering through the oaks and the morning dew on the flowers and grass.
During the late afternoon, the long shadows cast by the low angle of the sun will add depth to your images.
But if you like to photograph the abundance of wildflowers, you will want to take advantage of a high sun, because many types of flowers, especially California Poppies, need full sun to open fully and expose their best color.
This is a little bit of a dilemma, however, as the bright sun can add too much contrast to your flower photos. Too much contrast will blow out the highlights and make the shadow areas way too dark. This adds up to a very harsh and unappealing image.
So what is the solution to this problem?
A tent, of course. Now I am not talking about a camping tent that you would buy at sporting goods store, rather a small photo tent that you can easily make yourself.
The idea is to diffuse the bright sun from striking the flowers that you are photographing and to create a nice, soft, less contrasty light.
To make your own photo tent you will need 12 feet of simple PVC pipe, the same stuff that you would use for a sprinkler system. You will also need four PVC elbows to connect the pipes together, four large white plastic garbage bags and a handful of small zip ties.
Cut the pipe into eight lengths of 18 inches -- your tent is going to be 18 inches tall by 18 inches wide. Insert the pipe into the elbows, but do not use glue if you want to make your tent more portable. You will now have a frame of PVC pipe that has four legs.
Cut the garbage bags into single sheets of plastic and cover the top and two sides of the framework with them, using the zip ties to secure it to the frame.
Place the tent over the flowers that you will be shooting, using the garbage bags as a means of softening the harsh sunlight. Shoot through the open end, keeping the plastic side to the right and left of the subject matter.
To check out my photo tent go to my website, www.jaysousaphotography.com, and under galleries click on The Rangefinder. My tent is made using poles that were originally used to construct a framework for trade show displays, but the idea is the same.
Jay Sousa, a former Sun-Star photographer, has a photography business in Merced, conducts private classes and teaches photography at Merced College.