It's hard to believe that we are already well into September and that Fall is right around the corner. This time of year marks the peak of the sunflower crop at Grinter Farms, located just south of Tonganoxie, Kansas. I visited this enchanting place for the first time last year and wrote a blog about it here. Last year, I was a few days past the peak and although the sunflowers were still in full bloom, they were beginning to look a little worse for wear. My goal was to be there this year to see the crop in its prime, and this weekend was just the right time.
The Grinter family has been farming this area since 1947 and has planted their fields of sunflowers since the 1970s. There doesn't seem to be as many fields of the Kansas State Flower anymore, as other, more lucrative crops have taken their place. That's one of the things that makes this place so special and unique. Approximately 60 acres of black oil sunflowers are planted each year and harvested in the fall to use as bird feed. The flowers typically bloom and reach their peak for a few short days in early September.
I decided to make the trek into Kansas and down Highway 24 last evening, in hopes of catching a nice sunset. By the way, the address given for the farm is 24154 Stillwell Road, Lawrence, Kansas. That will get you close, and believe me, you will have no problem figuring out where to go once you get in the area. Just follow all the other cars. If you go during the peak, and especially on a weekend, there will be a crowd. There sure was last night. Cars lined the parking area and both sides of Stillwell Road and hundreds of people were wandering the rows of flowers. It seemed that everyone had a camera and several photographers were there to do family portrait shoots. There was even one gentleman with a drone, hovering over the field for an aerial view. You'll notice the drone at the very top of the image below (as well as a few of the people that were there).
The past week, we have had some late summer heat, and last night was no exception. When I arrived at the farm at around 6:30, the temperature was still in the 80s. I turned onto Stillwell Road following several other cars that were going to the same place, and thought that I would never find a place to park. As luck would have it, there was a spot right up front just waiting for me. It was going to be a good evening. There was some light cloud cover that I figured would make some really nice colors as the sun settled below the horizon. After grabbing the camera, an extra battery, and monopod, I made a short hike to the edge of the field and up between the two stands of trees in the above image. That's where I would spend the majority of the evening snapping away and waiting for the light show. Most people stayed along the edges, so I had this spot all to myself. Surrounded by sunflowers, I took a few (hundred) photos while waiting for sunset, which was supposed to happen at 7:42. A few of those images are below.
Clicking the shutter button to take the images is only half the fun. Uploading the images onto the computer and into photo editing software can be a lot fun too. At least I think so. Some post-processing is necessary for most any raw image and it allows you to try some more creative and artistic things with your photos. Since everything so far has been mostly yellow and green, I thought why not try a black and white. I also ran the same image through Topaz Impression, which provides more of a painter-like finish. See what you think of the images below.
OK, so the sun did finally set, and that's when the camera went on the monopod. Normally, I would use a tripod to shoot landscapes, but I wanted to make some images from above the heads of the sunflowers and thought this would be a good way to do it. With the camera mounted on the monopod and the shutter release set to a 10 second timer, I would press the shutter button, then hold the camera overhead, trying to keep it as steady as possible. Granted, this isn't the ideal way to shoot, but I think it worked out. It just took a few dozen tries to get everything relatively straight and composed in a way that was to my liking. Oh yeah, and a little tip for shooting sunsets: don't leave right after the sun goes down below the horizon. Wait around for a while. If there are some clouds, that's when the best colors will start.