Monday, June 7, 2010

Wild Ladyslippers

Cypripedium montanum, Methow Valley, Washington
I spent many years trying to find these rare orchids in the wild. They are nowhere common and are often stolen by plant-collectors who value their delicate elegance and, ironically... their rarity. It may take 8 years for a young orchid to bear flowers for the first time, so these are finicky plants, to say the least. 
Today I looked in a place where I had seen them before, but found very few orchids. Then, just at the end of the trail, I stumbled onto this sensational cluster. As is often the case, finding them was just the beginning.
The challenge, at that point, was two-fold: first, how to deal with the sun that was shining brightly overhead, and second - how to deal with the gusty summer wind. The first problem was easily solved by simply waiting for a cloud: I didn't have a diffuser big enough for the setting, so I used the next best thing. (Anyone who has photographed forest interiors knows that sun is a picture-killer. Bright mid-day overcast is the best, and often only, condition for getting pictures beneath a forest canopy.) 
The wind proved more problematic, however, largely because the quickly moving clouds that provided my cloud/diffuser were being hustled along by some pretty strong mountain winds.  We tried various makeshift barriers: jackets, camera bags, our bodies - anything we could find to block the wind (Note to self: a portable nylon wind-break would be a handy tool. Next time.). Finally the wind backed off for a few moments - and I got this shot and a few others before the cloud vanished and the wind whipped up again.

Nikon D700, Nikkor 105mm f2.8 lens

I also shot the same scene wide (14-24mm). Which do you prefer?


  1. The one with the 105 lens. But hey, just one man's opinion.

  2. Yeah, it's sort of a case of tidy vs. messy. I like both, but I think the tidy one works better.

  3. I just find myself looking at all the other stuff in the wide angle photo when it's the flowers I should be looking at.

  4. Hands down the wide angle- more context. As a wannabe botanist, I find it shows the form better.

  5. Hi Carolyn,

    Thanks for commenting. I think both pictures work for different reasons : my photographer friends prefer the "wallpaper version" while botanists (like you) seem to like the plant in context. I couldn't decide - so I took both...