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Effervescent Poppies, Merced River Canyon

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 15 March 2010 in Plant & Nature and Portfolio.

Whenever I guide people through Yosemite the subject of Ansel Adams comes up (go figure). Everybody has an opinion, and while most appreciate Adams’ gifts, there are a few who don’t seem to get it. So for those people I have a few words.

I suspect that failure to appreciate Ansel Adams’ genius lies in an inability to see the world beyond a limited frame of reference. Like most (all?) photographers, not every Ansel Adams shutter click resulted in a masterpiece, but unlike most photographers, Adams was attempting things that had never been done. Rather than merely duplicate others before him, (like all great photographers) Ansel Adams pioneered vision and techniques that are routine today. Criticizing Adams for compositions that are simple or cliché by today’s standards would be like criticizing Lewis and Clark for taking three years to do what we all know can be done in one week.

So what does the master of monochrome landscapes have to do with a colorful poppy close-up? I thought you’d never ask. Even more than timeless images and exquisite prints, Ansel Adams’ greatest legacy is the revelation that photographers are not limited to a literal view of the world. With every exposure Adams visualized the ultimate print, and how it would differ from what he saw with his eye. So with a doff of the cap to Ansel Adams, what I captured here is nothing like what my eye saw, but rather the product of understanding what my camera is capable of, and how to make it happen.

I was in Yosemite for three days last week, the first two of which were spent conducting a private tour. On Thursday we had sunshine and blue skies, beautiful for being outside, but not so much for photography. The early morning and late afternoon sweet light hours we spent in the park, but during the harsh midday light we headed down to my favorite wildflower location in the Merced River Canyon, just west of Yosemite. The wildflower bloom hadn’t peaked, but the poppies were nevertheless quite nice.

One reason I love photographing poppies is that I can find shots regardless of the light. In full light conditions like this I spot-meter on the brightest part of the poppy, setting the exposure to somewhere between middle tone and 2/3 stops over (in other words, slightly underexposed). This retains the poppies’ vivid orange and turns the shadows black. I usually limit my depth of field to turn everything in the background into a blur.

Here my goal was poppies in full sunlight isolated against a rushing tributary creek. I had to sprawl in the weeds to juxtapose the poppies against the sparkling water. To focus closer and shrink my depth of field, I added an extension tube to my 70-200 lens. While my eyes resolved every flower, splash, and ripple, I chose an aperture that would render the foreground poppies sharp, the background poppies as smudges of color, and each sparkle of water as a dancing bubble of light.

(The next day I was back in Yosemite photographing fresh snowfall and a clearing storm, an Ansel Adams staple.)

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Victor A from United States


Great shot. I love the way the poppies stand out against the background. The background gives the picture a "dreamy" feeling.

15 Mar 2010 5:44am

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France


15 Mar 2010 6:01am

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Beautiful composition and a superbe light, almost a painting.

15 Mar 2010 9:44am

Florence from Paris, France

What a lovely one, full of colors, it's fresh and wow, a pure delight. DOF and focus are perfect. Orange glows on my screen !

15 Mar 2010 11:33am

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

nice effect

15 Mar 2010 12:03pm

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

absolutly it so much...

15 Mar 2010 12:11pm

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

Gary - this is just too beautiful for words! Thanks again for all the supporting information. And a great video too!

15 Mar 2010 12:15pm

Babzy from Besançon, France

lovely composition :)

15 Mar 2010 12:27pm

Michelle from Elverson, United States

Magnificent color and light, just a perfect image.

15 Mar 2010 1:15pm

Jen from Bartlett, United States

Very creative indeed!

15 Mar 2010 3:02pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

This is wonderful Gary! Even though I would never have been able to tell that the background was water, you have managed to capture the sparkly quality of water dancing in the background. We are talking in school about what makes a memorable image- and sometimes it is showing something in a way that we have not seen before, and you have done that brilliantly in this image!

15 Mar 2010 3:22pm

Dulcie from Danville, CA, United States

Fantastic. Masterful. You've beautifully achieved an image that could be seen to come from the heart as well as the eye. The sparkle is there, the blur, the crisp edges and warm color. And it has emotional value. Bravo !

15 Mar 2010 4:00pm

Elora from Genoa, Italy

You know, I think this is one of the most beautiful creative shots I've ever seen of poppies. The ones in the foreground just jump right off the page! Absolutely fantastic Gary, I give you five stars on this one!!!

15 Mar 2010 4:34pm

Julie from Easton, United States

The flowers just pop at you while the background keeps you interested, very nice shot! Simple, you complicated!

15 Mar 2010 5:23pm

Bob Towery from Granite Bay, United States

I have taken a lot of poppy pics, and let me just say this one is incredibly impressive. Wonderful walkthru of your thinking process. Really appreciate this. A special image.

15 Mar 2010 5:24pm

Self-Indulgence from Chicagoland, United States

A 5 for each poppy. This photo is colorful yet dreamy, your dof is perfect [I'm sure you know that] in my eyes. I think what you achieved her whether it was different from what you went for or not, was a kind of perfection reticent of people like "Ansel" yet not reflective of his actual work. This is purely you and spectacular!

15 Mar 2010 5:41pm

@Self-Indulgence: Thanks, Kristen. Ansel Adams can't be duplicated, but we can still learn from his example.

LoulouPix from New York, United States

Amazing poppies. I really love what you did there and the feeling your picture creates.
Thank you Gary

15 Mar 2010 6:22pm

Steffie from Netherlands

Very lovely. This picture is so alive, I almost expect to see the poppies move in the wind.

15 Mar 2010 7:10pm

Vert Pomme from Montreuil Sous Bois, France

J'adore .....très originale cette composition.

15 Mar 2010 8:02pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

this is a perfect composition and use of DOF and also knowing where to focus in this situation! the two sharpest poppies just stand out so well - the lighting is excellent as well - it brings out their vivid colours superbly! the sparkles in the background complete this frame very well - they almost give nice glowing halos that emphasise each flower on their own...

16 Mar 2010 1:55am

MMC Photos from THE COLONY, United States

Stunning. Thank you for the explanation of how you took it.

16 Mar 2010 4:59am

Barbara from Oakland, United States

LOVE this image, Gary! Just perfect. Makes me wanna get an extension tube for sure. Just a wonderful shot!

16 Mar 2010 5:09am

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Excellent image!!!

16 Mar 2010 7:48am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

5***** I love everything in this hot !

16 Mar 2010 9:56am

elmer from Tours, France

bonjour. tout en douceur, un air d'été dans les yeux. Great !

16 Mar 2010 2:30pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Wow! Absolutely amazing!!!! 10/10 Breathtaking!

16 Mar 2010 3:06pm

Andy Wallace from Davis, United States

Beautiful take on a common subject. I love the poppies, too, and this is now one of my favorite poppy images! Makes me want to hunt some down...

16 Mar 2010 3:54pm

Shahryar from Isfahan, Iran

well done ,beautiful :)

16 Mar 2010 4:24pm

Michelle from Fair Oaks, United States

Simply amazing Gary!

16 Mar 2010 7:22pm

steve loos from hollister, United States

Gary; fantastic image - the water backdrop is just great. I very much appreciate what you say about not having a limited point of reference. I am reading an Elliot Porters Natures Chaos; page after page of beautiful images of things we walk by and never notice but for the lack of seeing. I heard Adams say in an interview the camera can not capture an abstract image, as there is nothing abstract taken from nature - you can only extract an image.

17 Mar 2010 7:33am

steve loos from hollister, United States

ps; why do we all like in the weeds to photograph poppys, , , there has to be a better way!

17 Mar 2010 7:33am

@steve loos: It's gotta be because poppies look so great backlit, and the only way to shoot them backlit is to get underneath. But yeah, I'd be all for anything that keeps me on my feet. :)

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Superb. I like the way you look the poppies and your images about them are fantastic.

25 Mar 2010 2:01pm

Marie from FRESNES, France

superbe !

7 Apr 2010 5:51pm

Belinda Gunther from Union City, United States

Awesome photo Gary! Love it so much. Thanks for all the beautiful photos.

18 Apr 2010 4:35am

Ansie from Paarl, South Africa

An outstanding image, and an excellent "workshop"Thank you for sharing in such detail, so many people keep their "secrets" to themselves!

30 Apr 2010 6:11am

Deb from Denver, CO, United States

Wow.... its wonderful. I love the color.

1 May 2010 2:28am

Zeinab from Tehran, Iran

This is fantastic. Love this orange saturation and the blur spotlike background

27 Jul 2010 1:53am

saeed from kuala lumpur, Malaysia

Fabulous.everythings are perfect

1 Aug 2010 3:30pm

aubelia from Belgium


3 Jan 2011 10:31am

janina from Melbourne, Australia

This is a beautiful 'painting'. 5stars. Thank you for explaining how you did it. I prefer these types of images within your portfolio, more than the landscapes, 'tho there are a few of those that I like...just a small handful! ^)^

6 Aug 2011 12:32pm

carla from leeuwarden, Netherlands

Really beautiful!

23 Aug 2012 5:04pm

farideh from rasht, Iran


30 Sep 2012 9:10am

karpagam from chennai, India

wonder full picture

20 Oct 2012 11:08am

montazer from urmia, Iran

i realy enjoyed ...very beautiful...

28 Oct 2012 9:01am