Plants & Animals

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From Missouri Conservationist: Apr 2015


April in Missouri is a perfect time for outdoor photography — flowers are in bloom and migratory songbirds are making their way back from a long winter hiatus. But it can also be a challenging time with often-unpredictable periods of rain.

One late afternoon at the end of April, I arrived at the Valley View Glades Natural Area in the pouring rain. Located south of St. Louis, this area is known for dolomite glades, which supports more than 250 native plant species.

For most people, even outdoor photographers, rain makes being outside less than ideal, but I decided to venture out despite the weather in search of photo opportunities.

After hiking on a wet, muddy trail in the fading daylight, my eyes gravitated to bright, red-colored Columbine flowers blooming along the creek.

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is one of the brightest flowers that bloom in Missouri from April through July. You can easily find them in rocky woods, slopes, bluffs, ledges, and open areas. Columbine features a single, long stem, with five distinctive red spurs in a bell-like shape and a mass of bushy yellow stamens. They are a welcome sight for hummingbirds that migrate back to Missouri in spring.

Standing in the pouring rain, I debated how best to capture the Columbine. Overcast light, with less shade and shadow to work against, is perfect for flower photography, so I wanted to seize this opportunity. My instinct said a macro lens, which would allow me to get closer to the flower while isolating everything else in the background. However, I decided instead to use a wide-angle lens and capture the whole environment, with the colorful Columbine flower as a strong foreground.

With my camera mounted on a tripod, I carefully moved closer to the flower until I reached a minimum focus distance, which was less than 5 inches from the flower. I also set up a flashlight beneath the flower to help illuminate the subject against the background.

Technically speaking, flowers aren’t the most challenging subject to photograph, compared to birds that are constantly on the move. However, the slightest wind could sway the flower, changing the image composition and focus. I patiently waited and took pictures whenever the breeze stopped.

As the forest grew darker, I could hear thunder from the distance, so I decided to pack up and hike back to my car.

When I look back at the images I have captured over the years, some stand out and bring back a special memory. This shoot is one of those special ones because I didn’t let the inclement weather ruin my day. It turned out that I made a good decision.

—Story and photograph by Noppadol Paothong

We help people discover nature through our online Field Guide. Visit to learn more about Missouri’s plants and animals.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler