This marks the third year that I've made the little trip down to Grinter's Sunflower Farm, located between Lawrence and Tonganoxie, Kansas. Each year, I have seen a dramatic growth in the number of people who visit this place. It really is amazing, and attracts people from all over. It is a very popular photography location, as I usually see a number of local photographers with various photographic equipment out for family or senior portrait shoots. The combination of the sunflowers at their peak the lighting, assuming you are there at the right time and the weather is cooperating, can't be beat.
Many of you probably know that I've been writing bi-weekly articles for the Improve Photography website for the past few months. My visit to the farm this year was a great opportunity to provide a little more exposure to this wonderful place. You can check out my article at this link. Check out the other articles while you are at the website; there is lots of great information, especially for those interested in learning how to make great images.
I mentioned the importance of getting to the fields at the right time. That applies not only to the time of day, but the time of year as well. The sunflowers are typically planted in July. That means they reach their peak bloom sometime in late August or early September. This year, that time happened to be around the Labor Day holiday. The crowds that weekend were incredible. At one point, the farm had to be shut down to visitors because of traffic backups on the incoming highways. I was there the Saturday before Labor Day, along with hundreds of other people. There was plenty of parking, however, and plenty of space to find my own little peace in the 40 acre field.
Not only is time of year important, but also time of day. This is especially important if you want to be there during the times of best lighting for photos. Generally speaking, this is either just after sunrise or right at sunset. The low angle of the sun at those times produces golden light and helps to create much more dramatic images. Mid-day is the least favorable, as the sun directly overhead creates harsh light that just isn't as pleasing for photography. Of course, if the skies are overcast, it doesn't really matter, but I would try to coordinate a visit when there is mostly sunny conditions and maybe a few light clouds swirling about. A few high clouds, especially in the western sky can really create some dramatic color after the sun dips below the horizon. I made my visit in the afternoon in order to catch the sunset. The sky was sunny, but unfortunately there were no clouds in sight.
Since the sky was crystal clear, I decided to stay late and catch some late evening and Milky Way shots. I wasn't sure how dark the skies would be due to the proximity to Kansas City and Lawrence. There was a fair amount of light pollution, but the Milky Way was still visible. One of the nice things about staying late is that there are very few, if any, people there. Once the sun went down, the crowds quickly disappeared, and the farm was as peaceful as one would hope. One of the bad things about staying late is mosquitoes. I made the mistake of not packing insect repellent and regretted it as I was battling those blood suckers all evening.
So, another year is in the books for visiting this amazing place. It really is a neat place to go visit and I would definitely recommend it. Even if you aren't a photographer. I'll be there again next year, so look me up.