North Dakota is a small state, just over 760,000 residents estimated in 2019. Much of the land in the state is devoted to agriculture, and most people know the reputation of North Dakota winters. That fact proves the phrase, “Make hay while the sun shines.” A drive through Rural North Dakota yields many colorful fields in mid-summer. Canola fields glow in bright yellow, wheat goes from green to those “Amber waves of grain” that “America the Beautiful” reminds us. The most spectacular commodity, though, is the sunflower. Perched atop a strong stalk, a bright yellow flower mimicking the sun welcomes the day facing our nearest star, and each head turns as the day goes on, flower facing west at the end of the day… until it gets large enough that its head can no longer turn.
The opening photo was captured through a Lensball at the edge of a county road next to a sunflower field near Fargo. Etiquette demands that one doesn’t enter a field for photography unless permission is granted by the farm owner. I would have loved to put one of those beautiful flowers directly in front of the ball, but since I didn’t know who owned the field, I kept to the shoulder of the road.
Sunflower fields are amazing to behold. The image above was captured using my drone. To give you an idea of how tall sunflower plants grow, from the roadway, the tops of the sunflowers were above my head, even though the road was raised higher than the surrounding field. General Internet searches told me that sunflower plants grow up to ten feet (3 meters) tall, depending upon the variety.
OK, true confession time… I went to find a field early one evening after dinner. I threw my camera bag in the trunk and we hit the road. Finding this field, I pulled over to start capturing images and went to the trunk to get my camera only to realize I brought my drone bag instead of my camera bag. As I noted in a “Dronie Sunday” post a few weeks back, I’d just finished a drone photoshoot earlier this week, and following the best practice to charge batteries just before you fly to ensure they are “topped off,” I hadn’t yet recharged the batteries.
I knew, though, that the last battery I used was still at over 50 percent when I put the drone away. For sure that should be enough to capture some images. After firing up the drone, I was pleasantly surprised to find that last battery at 75 percent charge. It would be more than enough to capture some images of the field.
North Dakota leads the country in sunflower production. Indeed, just a few miles from this field, in the city of West Fargo, Cargill operates a sunflower processing facility turning those lovely plants into sunflower oil. They also process canola and linseed oil. Certain varieties of sunflowers are better at producing human and bird food rather than oil. Those varieties are processed in a different type of facility.
After reviewing the images I captured from the drone, I wanted to go back and capture these beautiful flowers during the golden hour just before sunset. Being sure this time that I had my camera bag, not my drone bag, we headed to several different fields in the area looking for a field with the best view of a sunset. That led to the opening photo through the Lensball. It also gave my photos an extra touch of gold to enhance the color of these beautiful flowers.
One of the advantages of having a longer lens on my camera is that from the edge of the road, I could get a “portrait” of a sunflower head while standing on the shoulder of a road. Using a wide lens opening and setting the lens to its maximum zoom of 300 mm (using my Tamron 16-300 mm) focusing on the subject, the lens compression and depth of field left the background blurred and allowed many sunflowers to be visible in the background.
Another portrait of one of the taller sunflowers allowed me to capture the setting sun in the background. This one turned out to be my favorite image of the shoot. The evening wasn’t one of those golden sky types. The sky was only gold right near the sun. It provided a golden background for that beautiful flower. Every year, I look forward to the time when the sunflowers are showing off. This is the first time I made any effort to capture their beauty.
As we left the field with only a few minutes of the golden hour remaining, we saw another car arriving with a young man and a pretty lady who was dressed in formal attire. He carried a camera. I could surmise they were looking for a sunset portrait of the woman. Knowing how little time they had until the sun disappeared below the horizon, we drove by wishing them well in our thoughts. They would be lucky to get their photos framed and captured before the golden hour turned into the blue hour.