Finding Blue in a Field of Sunflowers by Todd Henson

A bee on a young sunflower against a cloudless blue sky.

One morning my brother and I found ourselves driving to McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, Maryland. We were hoping to photograph the fields of sunflowers that are planted there each year to feed the wildlife.

A young green sunflower bud.

But when we arrived we found the first field had yet to bloom. It was a field full of green sunflowers. A kind individual walking the field told us there was only one field even partly in bloom, and he showed us where this field was on the map. We, along with another group of photographers, got back in our cars and drove towards this field.

Facing the field of sunflowers, partly in bloom.

The morning was hot and extra humid. Just walking from the car to the field we were already soaked in sweat. Some of the sunflowers in the field had begun to bloom, but it was still mostly full of unopened green buds.

Side view of the partly blooming sunflower field.

So what do you do when you find your main subject is not how you had planned? You adjust your plans!

We hiked around the field looking for anything that caught our eyes. We did photograph a sunflower here and there, but what ended up catching our interest were other flowers growing amongst the sunflowers.

A beautiful blue morning glory flower against a green background, found in a field of sunflowers.

Along one side of the field we found morning glory vines with soft blue flowers. I tried using a very shallow depth of field to create a soft focus image, more about the green and blue colors than any detail in the flower.

Dew covered flower and bud at the back of the sunflower field.

At the back of the field we spent time photographing another flowering vine, possibly also a morning glory. I loved how dew had collected on the flower as it was still in shade; the sun had yet to rise high enough over the edge of the trees to reach this part of the field.

Green bee on a blue chicory flower with a green background.

And on the way back to the car we found a small patch of light blue chicory flowers attracting bees and other insects. Thankfully these were in shade which created a beautiful soft light just perfect for detail shots of the flowers and insects.

So if you ever head out for a shoot and don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, remember to stay flexible and keep your eyes open. There will usually be something else nearby worthy of your attention.

Familiar Bluet Damselfly - The Story Behind the Image by Todd Henson

Final image of Familiar Bluet Damselfly

I’d been hiking through a park looking for insects to photograph. I observed and made images of dragonflies, spiders, butterflies, and moths, but I was most drawn to the light blue Familiar Bluet damselfly. Damselflies are fascinating creatures. They are smaller and more delicate than dragonflies, but otherwise look similar. The Familiar Bluet is light blue with patches and stripes of black. It has a long, straight abdomen that can be quite flexible.

What drew me to the Familiar Bluet this day was the nice contrast of the blue damselfly in front of a pale green background of out of focus plants. So I started looking for damselflies with good poses in front of workable backgrounds. The first couple images I made did show the damselfly against a green background, but the background was somewhat busy with blades of grass crossing the frame.

Familiar Bluet Damselfly against distracting background

Better background, but still distracting

Another image I made has the damselfly posed on a curling leaf. The damselfly looks good, but it’s not a very attractive leaf, with several holes and dark spots. One of the holes is lined up with the head of the damselfly, which I find distracting.

Familiar Bluet Damselfly on leaf. Still not what I'm looking for.

Finally, I found a background that seemed more promising. The damselfly had landed on a plant with small narrow leaves that in some ways reminded me of the damselfly’s narrow body. But my first images in this environment had a busy background with a large branch directly behind the damselfly. I found the light areas of the branch distracting, so I kept looking for a different position, watching and waiting as the damselfly would fly from perch to perch.

Familiar Bluet Damselfly. Getting better.

The key to these situations is patience. Stay in one area for a while. Work the scene. Watch the behavior of the insects. Observe how they sometimes return to the same perch over and over again. If this perch happens to be a good one then set up the camera aimed at the perch. Get everything ready and then wait for the insect to return. It often will. That’s what occurred in this situation. I’d found what I felt was an attractive perch. The perch was far enough from most of the rest of the background to keep the background nicely out of focus. The background was light green that contrasted well with the light blue of the Familiar Bluet damselfly. I was able to line up the damselfly parallel enough with the focal plane of the camera to get most all of it in reasonable focus. I’d also stopped down the aperture to f/13 to help give me enough depth of field to cover the damselfly but not too much of the background. This proved to be the image I was most pleased with.

Final image of Familiar Bluet Damselfly.