Photographing Sunflowers at Sunset

Hello everybody!

Today I’d like to talk about photographing sunflowers in the outdoors. I mean not one or two sunflowers at home but photographing them in the open field.

It all began when my friend asked me to make a picture for her. She wanted a very specific photograph of a large field of sunflowers, that would be completely yellow because in her imagination all the sunflowers would look up at the sky. This idea came to her while she was driving along a sunflower field, but she didn’t really pay attention to them.

I was glad to have an assignment like this because I just love any opportunity to be creative, and also if she would later hang my photo on her wall, it would be very flattering. So we decided on a day and drove to that sunflower field. I chose second half of the day towards sunset, but early enough to have time to scout the area and choose location.

When we arrived at the sunflower field I was surprised to see that all the sunflowers were NOT holding their heads up, as you can see in the photograph below. I am sure that there is a scientific explanation to this (maybe they were ripe and heavy for example), but in my mind I have always imagined sunflowers to hold their head up high. As a result it was impossible to make a photograph that my friend wanted. In the photo below you can see that there is too much green in between the yellow.


Photograph by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

But since we have already came I decided not to leave empty-handed and began to think of various creative ideas to shoot the sunflowers in their current state. Let me remind you that it was around sunset time and the sun was getting lower and lower. The shot that you see below was made almost against the sun. The sun was almost facing directly inside the lens and then I lowered it a little. So the flare can be seen, and in my opinion it contributes greatly to this photograph by creating a certain end-of-the-day mood. I also like how it lights the white “hair” on the stalk emphasizing its shape.


Photograph by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

When the sun descended more, the contrast between the sky and the sunflower field grew and it was impossible to capture both the blue sky and the yellow sunflower heads without flash. Either the sky was burned out and the sunflowers were correctly exposed, or the sky was correctly exposed and the sunflowers became very dark. So I took my Canon 430EXII flash out and started using it together with my Yongnuo remote trigger. I was shooting on manual, setting the exposure to correctly expose the sky and setting the flash power so that sunflower would also be correctly exposed. I asked my friend to hold the flash in a way that the sunflower would be lit from the side creating nice shadows.

But, of course, nothing comes out right from the first try, and I want to show that here. As you can see from the photograph below the lighting on the sunflower looks too bright and too artificial, and the shadows are too harsh. In addition there is a big shadowed area of the sunflower as a result of incorrect flash position. And even though the sky is correctly exposed it is not enough to make a good picture.


Photograph by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

But I didn’t give up, and after numerous attempts and adjustments I found the right combinations and my photographs started to improve. I was thinking less and less about technical side of the photographing process and concentrated more on the creative side. In the photo below you can see more natural lighting and balanced composition.


Photograph by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

I thought that the sunflower above came out too yellow so I decided to add a 1/4 CTO gel to the flash and see what happens. And I liked the result of that, which you can see in the photographs below. I liked the warmth of the light, which matched good (in my opinion) with the warm colors of the sunset.

Sunflowers Sunflowers

Photographs by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

As the sun was getting almost down to the horizon I got this interesting idea to shoot the sunflower with the setting sun in an interesting juxtaposition (never believed I would use this word 🙂 ), and because the sunflower heads weren’t looking up I could do that! I came low under the sunflower and positioned it to be in front of the sun, asking my friend to point the flash from my right at the sunflower. I needed the flash to point a little up so that the light wouldn’t spill on the green leaves.


Photograph by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

After getting the shot above I was pretty much satisfied but decided to try more compositions and lighting directions just to see what comes out. And it turned out to be the right decision, because in my opinion then I made my best photo of that evening.

I call it “Don’t want to look at the sunset


Photograph by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

One more thing – you could say that I didn’t have to use flash but to take several exposures and combine them together in HDR. Yes, I could but in order to do that I had to use tripod and also if it was windy (even a little), it would be difficult to create a good HDR photograph. Taking into account that I had limited time as the sun was setting pretty fast, if I was using tripod I wouldn’t have time and flexibility to try as much different compositions as I did just hand-holding my camera.

I hope you liked viewing these photographs, and learned something new in the process.

I want to read your comments and your suggestions are always appreciated. If you have pictures of sunflowers that you’d like me to review, you can send them to greg at photopathway dot com and I’d be glad to do that here on my blog.

Remember you only have to enter your name to leave a comment!

10 thoughts on “Photographing Sunflowers at Sunset

  1. I have been obsessed since photographing a field of sunflowers last Summer 2010. I welcome your tips as I am currently photographing sunflowers that my husband planted this year at our home. I love the last two shots as the sun is setting.

  2. Hi Marsha,
    I’m glad that you found my tips useful! Do you display your sunflower photos somewhere on the net so I can see them?

  3. Hi Greg,

    There is a large sunflower farm in Saline, MI.that is about an hour’s drive from my home. Like your original thoughts, I would love to get some pictures of the flowers being upright. Do you fel that morning or evening is the better time?


  4. Hello Gary,
    I am not sure but I think that sunflowers follow the sun during the day, so in order to get them upright I’d start in the morning after the sunrise and follow through to the high noon. However the quality of light during the mid-day hours is not that good for photography. For photographing individual flowers (not the whole field) you could grab a white shoot-through umbrella and have a friend hold it above the flower – it will soften the light a bit.

  5. I would recommend morning (early afternoon)for them in the upright position. However, getting them when the sun is going down (can have a dramatic effect(of the sky background or the last bit of sun lighting the back of the sunflowers’ petals.)
    Looking forward to seeing your new images!

  6. Thank for sharing your insights & experience. I will have the chance today to put them to use when I go to photograph sunflowers at a local farm

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