WHETHER IT'S THE SPRING FLUSH OF GOLD POPPIES in the southern deserts, a rare flowering cactus in the badlands, or the wildflower-filled meadows of the northern mountains, New Mexico wildflower junkies are often inspired to capture their beauty. We asked four photographers for tips on finding and creating great images. They all agreed on a few things. Light is the most important factor to getting good photos of wildflowers—so get out early and stay late. Early mornings and evenings give you appealing, soft light. And always—always—leave the flowers as you found them so they can set seed and make more blooms for the next year.
Suggs has photographed the Southwest for more than 45 years. He travels and teaches photography for Muench Workshops and recently published The Color of Dreams, which includes 100 images and the stories behind them.
Favorite wildflower location: While hesitant to share specifics (“With social media, giving out locations can be detrimental to the wildflower fields themselves,” he says), Suggs finds beauty in the juxtaposition between wildflowers and the normally arid desert landscape near his Las Cruces home.
Advice on finding wildflowers: “Following weather patterns and how they affect seasonal flower growth is a big part of becoming a wildflower photographer. New Mexico rainfall is sporadic. It may rain three inches in one particular area of the desert, and another area just miles away may not receive any.”
Recommended gear: A wildflower guide. “A book may not sound like a piece of gear, but educating yourself about a subject is the best way to start on a path to creating beautiful, meaningful images.”
Tip for shooting wildflowers: “If you think you’re close enough, get closer! Also, get low. A photograph becomes interesting if it’s from an angle most people don’t see.”
A photographer since his parents gave him an Olympus OM-2 as a kid, Stein specializes in landscape, weather, and night photography. Three of his photos were selected in the 21st annual New Mexico Magazine Photography Contest.
Favorite wildflower location: The Jemez Mountains. Stein enjoys the variety found in different zones: the alpine region’s blue columbines, the abundance of Rocky Mountain irises in the high meadows and streams of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, and the yucca and other desert plants found in the canyons.
Advice on finding wildflowers: “Go where the water is—or was. You can usually find an abundance in ravines and depressions in meadows or along streams.”
Recommended gear: “A simple tripod is a very useful tool to help with focusing, especially if shooting low and in that early-evening light.”
Tip for shooting wildflowers: “For close-ups, use wide apertures for shallow depth of field and focus on the most interesting part of the flower. This is usually the core of the flower, such as the stigma and stamen or even some interesting color and design variations on the petals.”
Born in a small coal-mining community in South Wales, U.K., Smith moved to the United States at age 22. He has been published extensively in local, national, and international publications, and is the author of Rio Grande del Norte: An Intimate Portrait, which was reissued in 2019 by Museum of New Mexico Press.
Favorite wildflower location: Valle Vidal. While Smith enjoys the mountain basin’s proximity to his home, the abundance and variety of flowers keep drawing him back to the Sangre de Cristos.
Favorite wildflower photo: “Meadows of wild iris. Last year, there were literally millions of wild irises carpeting the valleys and hills in northern New Mexico. That said, my favorite flower is the one I’m looking at in the moment.”
Tip for shooting wildflowers: “Look for a healthy, blemish-free bloom. Bracket exposure, especially if there is a lot of contrast, brightness, and shadows. Consider a tent to diffuse light and shield the plant from wind.”
With a master’s degree in art from New Mexico State University, Mandelkern pursues artistic interests ranging from ceramics and textiles to digital photography. Passionate about hiking and photographing the landscapes and flora of the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico, she has also racked up awards in the Doña Ana Photography Club Photo Contest for three years in a row.
Favorite wildflower location: Sacramento Mountains. Even in reduced rainfall years, Mandelkern finds the area reliably green and much cooler than the surrounding desert.
Advice on finding wildflowers: “Wildflowers in New Mexico tend to inhabit ecological niches. Flowering plants that live in the mountains are often very different from flowering plants that live at lower elevations.”
Favorite wildflower photo: “I once photographed a monument plant, a very handsome plant in its own right. While I was adjusting my frame, a hummingbird hovered next to the flower stalk. I ended up with a beautiful photo of a split second in time. I felt immensely lucky to have been there with my camera.”
Tip for shooting wildflowers: “Flowering plants in a landscape context are easier to tackle if the plant is big or if there are huge numbers at hand. Give wildflowers a prominent place in your frame.”