How I Got the Shot – Poppies under the Blazing Arizona Sun

Author: Ambika Balasubramaniyan


  • Camera: Canon 5DMIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8 II USM
  • Settings: Av (Aperture Priority)1/40 sec, f22, ISO 100, 16mm
  • Filter: None

Location: Bartlett Lake, Arizona

  • This location in Arizona typically explodes with poppies mid-late March if the rain and temperature conditions are conducive to good bloom. In March 2017, the steady moisture over winter delivered a great bloom year for the poppies. In other years, when the rain is inconsistent over winter – there may be very few poppies. Another note, you also find some white & orange poppies here in addition to the yellowish-orange kind!
  • Location guide: Wild in Arizona™: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, & How(Expanded 2nd Edition) by Paul Gill & Colleen Miniuk-Sperry Location #25 Page 102

Vision: An above average heat made for a blazing hot March and I wanted to capture the contrast of the delicate poppies under the blazing Arizona sun – a juxtaposition of hot and cool. I wanted to feature the sun as an integral part of the image in addition to using light the highlight the delicate poppy petals.

Image Capture: I wanted to showcase the sun along with poppies feature the mid-morning sun – higher up in the sky rather than the typical sunrise – on the horizon treatment. I wanted the image to convey “hot” and showcase the sun loving poppies reaching up to soak up the rays. I also included a bit of the surrounding hills to set context. The image capture was set up was with the Canon 16 – 35 mm lens for the wide angle treatment, shooting upwards from below the clump of poppies on a roadside berm to emphasize the poppies reaching up towards the sun. Aperture was set to f22 to include the sun as a “sunburst” in the composition. The small aperture at f22 on the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 II USM wide angle lens generates a pleasing starburst.  I also intentionally under exposed the image to ensure a sharp “sunstar” with a workable image that was not over exposed. Remember to remove ALL filters in front of your lens to minimize any lens flare. You may still get some lens flare from the internal elements of the lens but you can do your part in minimizing them!

If you are interested in learning more about sun bursts & different lens that make good ones:

Post Processing: Images were post processed in Lightroom CC minimally – some cropping, opening up of the shadows, pop of clarity & saturation in Lightroom.  Some of the lens flare artifacts were also cloned out to clean up the sun.

The key post processing move for this image is the opening up of the shadows that show cases the color of the poppies against the blue sky!

Ambika is a Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Photographing Rodeos – you win some, you loose some!

author:  Ambika Balasubramaniyan

Rodeos — Quintessential Americana. The excitement and action that any sporting contest generates is always a great opportunity for photographers to try and capture the emotion & action that surround event! Rodeos are also a challenge for the photographer – quick unpredictable action in some challenging venue conditions!

I had the opportunity to be at the Fort Worth Stockyards Rodeo at the Cowtown Coliseum Arena late September and what a memorable experience it was. Some trivia: The Cowtown Coliseum is home to the World’s First Indoor Rodeo in 1918.  I enjoyed the event and learnt a whole lot about photographing rodeos – especially ones that are held indoors!


American Grace: Capturing the history, grace and glamour of the American West

Some tips to have more wins at the rodeo shoot:

1. Research your event and know the drill: Things happen fast at rodeos so knowing what to expect and where to expect the best of the action matters. Understand the venue and how much access you will have; attending pre-events also allows for some interesting photo opportunities of both people and animals that capture the spirit of the event.

These boots are made for Ridin!

These boots are made for Ridin!

If this is your 1st rodeo — watch the action on You Tube to know what to expect and help visualize your photo opportunities –  the opportunities when animals leave the chutes – bulls & broncos , best opportunities with barrel racing, team events.

Best Buddies - The Longhorn Mascot of the Fort worth Stockyards

Best Buddies – The Longhorn Mascot of the Fort worth Stockyards

If you have the chance to see the arena before the event, it will help you plan your shoots and account for lighting challenges the venue may present. In my case I was located directly across from their spot lights and was frequently blinded and lost many frames to a light wash from the moving beams but it also provided me some opportunities!

Cowboy Tricks: The outrageously amazing acts that make a rodeo a fun event!

Cowboy Tricks: The outrageously amazing acts that make a rodeo a fun event!

2.  Plan your set up: In an arena rodeo with assigned seating, its lot harder to move about to change your shooting location. So research the venue and decide how you want to photograph the event. Different events have different vantage points for capturing the action. Try and get the front seats where you have unobstructed views of the action. If you stand up to shoot, remember there are people behind you that many not appreciate you blocking their views.

  • Chutes is where the action is — In this venue there were chutes on both ends — Bulls and broncos on one end and the roping events on the other
Bulls 1: Cowboys 0: Action happens very quick and very close to the chutes. 8 seconds ride seems like a lifetime

Bulls 1: Cowboys 0: Action happens very quick and very close to the chutes. 8 second ride seems like a lifetime

  • Roping events saw action more that was further in field from chutes – mid field for calf roping; 1/3 way in from chutes for team roping
Calf Roping: Know the sequence - Lasso, Wrestle the calf and Tie off!

Calf Roping: Know the sequence – Lasso, Wrestle the calf and Tie off!

Team Roping: Lots of action between the cowboys, horses the calf and the ropes!

Team Roping: Lots of action between the cowboys, horses the calf and the ropes!

Be mindful of the distance between horse and calf/cowboy if you want to capture the whole scene. I wasn’t and don’t have any that show the whole picture.  The calves are fast so I have plenty of frames with parts of the action that don’t make for a good story.

  • For Barrel Racing – the 2nd barrel yielded best images of the action from where I was located midfield.
Tight Turns: Watch for direction in which riders go around the barrel -- sometimes it’s the other way!

Tight Turns: Watch for direction in which riders go around the barrel — sometimes it’s the other way!

3.  Lighting: With indoor arenas, you are in a low light situation. I expected it to be brighter based on what I saw when I did my pre-show assessment. One the show started, the lights got turned low and performers we highlighted by spotlights that were worked by hand – this made for a very unpredictable light on the rider. Many a time the action was faster than what the operators could manually track, Hard shooting conditions – so I had to bump up the ISO significantly and still missed a lot of shots. The one benefit of the low light is that it was easy to get blurs in the images. I like some of that – especially when it reflects the extreme action of the field!

I did not use a flash – make sure you check if they allow flashes in the arena. Horses can be easily spooked by bright flashes of lights, so please be mindful of the horses when you do use a flash even in arenas/ events that allow them.

A monopod is nice but with today’s technology of high ISO image quality and image stabilization, you can easily hand hold. Just make sure your camera settings will allow you’re the shutter speed to arrest motion! Make sure you are set to AI-Servo Focus and using Continuous shooting mode to capture peak of action.

Hanging on: Watch for opportunities when the action slows momentarily

Hanging on: Watch for opportunities when the action slows momentarily

4.  Don’t forget the other opportunities at the Rodeo – The Rodeo Clowns!


I had a wonderful time at the Fort Worth Rodeo…see if you can find a smaller local Rodeo – better access to action and less restrictions. Take a shot at it! You will have a jolly good time and come away with some fun images!


Ambika Balasubramaniyan is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Carnival Rides @ Night – Quick Tips

Author:  Ambika Balasubramaniyan

Time to capture some memorable images of your Summer Carnival fun at night….. — The warm night air, the excitement of your local spring/ summer carnivals, fun times – rides, lights and “carnival food”!


# 1: Shoot RAW – High Quality Images give you flexibility in the Editing Process

  • The color, movement, lights – all make for a wide dynamic range. You want to capture this yumminess to capture the spirit of the Carnival. RAW images will retain the most ‘information’. Allowing you to capture the full dynamic range of the scene.
  • RAW allows for more creative latitude in Post Processing: On things like Color Temp/White Balance, Exposure adjustments

# 2: Use a sturdy tripod.

  • Low light/ Night Photography: Low light, long exposures yield interest in your carnival images – especially when there is movement!
  • When you’re shooting on a tripod don’t use image stabilization. Remember to turn it off. Using image stabilization when you are on a tripod will it will reduce image sharpness rather than increase sharpness.
    • Note: Not all of your low light work needs a tripod (a tripod will typically yield better results). Learn and remember to use the ISO settings. Current digital cameras offer exceptional high ISO performance that open up a whole new range of opportunities for low light work as well as shortening exposure times.


#3: Remember to walk around to Scout your Photo opportunities and plan your time at the carnival

  • A quick stroll around the area when you arrive will allow you to scope out the scene and identify interesting rides, stalls and photographic compositions. This pre-planning will help you when the skies darken, lights come-on & the crowds thicken. It will also allow you to make the best use of your twilight hour.
  • Being a bit early will also typically mean less crowded rides so you can get close to the barriers and get different compositions.

#4: Arrive early twilight and stay after dark!

  • The golden hour for carnivals is different – you have a wonderful 45 min window after sunset (loss of direct light) & before darkness creeps in .Shooting during this time will bring out all the colors in the carnival lights & environmental details against a deep blue sky. Twilight & blue hour offer some interesting possibilities: Twinkling lights on the rides, the vivid paint work on the ride structures, beautiful sunset sky colors, and lower dynamic range across the image; all making for a more interesting image.
  •  As it turns dark, watch for contrast in images and pay attention to shadow detail. Watch your histograms & if you have a ND filter – you can use it to cut back on some of the ambient brightness.

#5: Lens Choices: Go Fast & Go Long, Go Wide

  • Make sure you bring along a good mix of lenses- there is so much variety at a carnival! Wide lens used appropriately can add drama to your images. Long lens are great for candid people images and for isolating the rides.
  • You can use your lens hood to minimize flares from unwanted sources for low light work that may have light sources as part of composition. A carnival has many flood lights that can cause lens flare. Watch for it!


#6: Master the use of Manual Mode:

  •  For nighttime exposures & special effects you should have good command of Manual mode. It will allow you to have more creative control. Carnivals are surprisingly bright – you will generally get better results when you are able to photograph in Manual mode with greater control over exposure /shutter speed combinations.
  • Auto White Balance set to Tungsten will neutralize some the “red-orange” glow.

#7: Experiment! Experiment! Experiment!

  • Start with about 200 ISO setting & about 2-3 sec exposure for a start and then adjust from there. Feel free to be creative and play around with settings till you get the feel you are hoping to get in your images. Different rides will end up at a different setting depending on the lighting levels & speed of the ride.
  • Check you histograms — this is the best way to tell if you have a workable image. You can work through your exposure settings to get the image you want by using your histograms as a guide. When you are photographing rides with longer exposures – watch for the blowout in highlights.
  • Take test shots – check focus/sharpness, composition, blur effects – each ride will have a different exposure duration to get the most pleasing light effects. Also check out the different White Balance settings for different moods.


#8: Remember to have fun!

  • After all you are at the carnival….remember to have fun and enjoy your time there! Try a ride (you will get a different perspective!), play a game – take a quick time travel to your youth!

Ambika Balasubramaniyan is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Getting the Shot – Peridot’s Poppies

Author Ambika Balasubramaniyan


Location: Peridot Mesa, Peridot AZ

This location in Arizona typically explodes with poppies early February if the rain and temperature conditions are conducive to a dense bloom. Feb 2015 brought reports of hillsides of poppies – another short-lived dramatic spring season in the Arizona deserts.

Location guide: Wild in Arizona™: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, & How (Expanded 2nd Edition) by Paul Gill & Colleen Miniuk-Sperry

Objective: Capture the overall vibe of the ” Fields of Poppies” as well as highlight the delicate beauty of the Poppy.


  • Camera: Canon 5DMIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 16-3.5 f2.8 II USM
  • Settings: Av (Aperture Priority)1/30 sec, f16, ISO 400, 16mm
  • Filter: Galen Rowell Graduated Neutral Density Filters ( 3 stop – Soft Edge)

The day I was out at Peridot Mesa was an overcast day with a thin band of opening on the western horizon. I was going to get a brief pop of late evening warmth. I wanted to make the most of the dramatic skies and poppy laden hillsides so instead of the usual focus on the flower itself, I wanted to include the landscape & the skies as an integral part of the composition anchored by a beautiful open specimen that showcased the delicacy and color of the poppies.

I located a poppy plant that had a number of fresh open blooms and positioned my camera with a Wide angle (Canon EF 16-3.5 f2.8 II USM) lens low to the ground to create an arresting foreground element of the side lit poppies with leading ribbon of color that highlights the flower laden hillsides and capped off with some beautiful clouds. It was a windy day so I have to wait for wind to die down to make the image so that I did not get wind movement on the poppies.

I used a soft edge split Neutral Density filter to hold back the brightness of the skies so I could make a capture that opened up some of the shadows in the foreground with a longer exposure. This particular image was one where the strong breeze paused long enough for me to get a sharp capture inspite of a slower exposure.

Post processing was minimal – some cropping and pop of contrast & saturation in Lightroom.

Ambika is an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop trip leader.