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Nature
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California - Central

Carrizo Plain Wildflower Superbloom

Unless you have been living on a rock, you must have noticed the amazing shots of the superbloom happening in California right now. The intense rain we got this year has made the desert bloom like never before, in stunning density that’s visible from space! One of the most photographed spots in Carrizo Plain wildflower bloom outside of Bakersfield, CA, a usually brown plain with an alkali lake that is now in full superbloom status.

Luckily I happened to be in the area a week or so ago when this was happening and got to check it out. It was pretty incredible.

A little confession. I once went to Anza Borrego to see the wildflowers. I lived in San Diego and it was a 2.5 hr drive out to see them. And after I did, I swore never again.

You see, wildflowers in the desert is a cool idea. Because usually there are none. But really, most years, they are so tiny and few and far between, that you’re not going to get an amazing colorful landscape. So five hours of driving to experience the scrappiness of nature in the form of a couple of daisies leads to disappointment.

NOT THIS TIME.

The wildflowers are spectacular this year, and if you’re going to go once, this is the moment.

The Nitty Gritty

 

What to ExpectOkay, this is a temporary and rare phenomenon in the spring, and especially after so much rain. So you want to check if the magic is still happening.

But I got you. Here's a link for photos taken April 17-23, 2017 - go there and pick the date to find the most recent shots.

The area is a large plain with an alkali lake, in the middle of nowhere.
There are NO restrooms, stores, gas stations or water and no cell service(!) so gas up and pack what you need, including an offline map.

We drove out from the 101 and saw a sign that said "No Services, 82 miles". Which is insane.
How to Get ThereYou take the 58 out from either the I-5 or Route 101. Exit at Soda Lake or 7 Mile Rd.

Note that Soda Lake is a paved road but San Diego Creek Road that connects back to 7 Mile Rd was not and our miata could not handle it. You don't need an SUV but at least a normal sedan with decent clearance.

My friend Sourav put together a map with more details. Check that out for more directions.
Versatile Gear
I took my awesome point and shoot which has full manual controls.
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II (Black)
Buy Now

If you go in lower light (which I recommend), definitely take your DSLR, maybe a wide angle lens.
Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
Buy Now

From Flowers to Color

The first place we stopped had a number of these closed up daisies. I snapped a few shots because the hills in the background looked interesting.

Using f/8 helped get a lot more in focus from the foreground to the background.

Carrizo Plain Superbloom

Exposure
1/800s ƒ/8 @ ISO 320
Focal Length
36.8mm
Camera
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
Date & Time
April 11, 2017, 5:47 pm

We moved on further south, but my husband’s toy car (aka Miata) could no longer take the dirt road, so we had to pull over.

I have to admit, the whole time we were here, I was mildly worried that the KERKLUNK we had heard from the Miata’s undercarriage meant that we were going to get stranded and die among the daisies.

But I decided to stay positive and enjoy the Carrizo Plain wildflowers while I could. This second location was very popular as you can see here. These daisies were much brighter and better formed.

Carrizo Plain Wildflowers

Exposure
1/800s ƒ/8 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
8.8mm
Camera
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
Date & Time
April 11, 2017, 6:12 pm

I liked the effect of having flowers so close you can see the petals, zoomed out all the way to solid yellow color where it’s kinda hard to believe those are flowers.

I think it gives the viewer the sense of being in the image. Using a wide lens helps with this effect – you can see the focal length was 8.8mm but this was a point and shoot, so the focal length equivalent of 24mm. If I’d pulled out my 10-18mm I could have got a wider shot.

Here’s another one, where I tried to bring attention to a clump of purple wildflowers. There weren’t too many of those and they were a nice surprise in all the yellow.

Carrizzo Plain wildflower superbloom

Exposure
1/1250s ƒ/8 @ ISO 320
Focal Length
8.8mm
Camera
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
Date & Time
April 11, 2017, 6:07 pm

Leading Lines

If you can find a leading line, use it to draw the viewer’s eye from the closeup to the distance. Adding a person gives a great sense of scale too.

Leading lines work great when you have farms of flowers like tulips. It’s a bit tougher to find them in wildflowers, because you know, they’re growing wild.

Wildflower Superbloom Central Coast California

Exposure
1/1000s ƒ/9 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
18.624mm
Camera
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
Date & Time
April 11, 2017, 6:18 pm

Carrizo Plain Wildflower Superbloom

Here’s another shot using a leading line to draw your eye to the painted hills, but this time it’s the road. I took this shot from the car. And no, I wasn’t driving!

See how the fence on the left also offers an organic leading line. So rustic.

Road to Temblor Range wildflowers

Exposure
1/640s ƒ/2.8 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
34.885mm
Camera
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
Date & Time
April 11, 2017, 6:59 pm

That’s the Temblor Range back there and here’s another shot of them from one of the daisy fields.

To get these 3 layers, I had to crouch down and zoom in a bit. That flattens the perspective a bit to give this layered effect.

Carrizo Plain Superbloom photography guide

Exposure
1/800s ƒ/9 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
29.365mm
Camera
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
Date & Time
April 11, 2017, 6:19 pm

I really wish I could have stayed until sunset, but we had a 4.5 hr drive back to SF ahead of us and I was still not sure we hadn’t destroyed the car.

If you go out there, do try to make it at dawn or sunset so you can enjoy some interesting light. And do use a car with clearance larger than 5 inches.

Thankfully, the car was fine and on the way back, I did convince my husband to stop one more time and have me jump out for one last shot.

You can see the tones in the hills are already getting more interesting.

Wildflowers at Temblor Range near San Luis Obispo

Exposure
1/1250s ƒ/2.8 @ ISO 250
Focal Length
36.8mm
Camera
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
Date & Time
April 11, 2017, 7:03 pm

So there you have it. Sometimes the wildflower superbloom is worth it. So worth it, you can see it from space.

Then you go. Get in your car and go see what nature can do out in the dessert with her crayons. And take a real car.

This post has affiliate links. If you use the link, you don’t pay anything extra but Sidecar Photo gets money for another glass of wine!

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Shimona Carvalho
Photographer, Engineer, Traveler who wants to help you take incredible photographs on your next trip.
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