Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The view from the top

with 14 comments

Click for greater clarity.

Generally I avoid aiming straight down because that view usually includes lots of distracting details on the ground. Once in a while, though, aiming down portrays a subject in an appealing way and shows things that a side view doesn’t. Compare yesterday’s view of clammyweed with today’s, in which the white petals stand out as individuals and reveal their unusual shape and their distribution.

If you’re wondering about the red areas that are more noticeable in today’s photograph than in yesterday’s, here’s what Ellen D. Schulz wrote in her 1929 book Texas Wild Flowers: “The flower has an unusual appendage in the form of a red gland at the base of its petals.” Now you know.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 28, 2011 at 11:42 AM

14 Responses

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  1. Steve, thanks for the clammyweed pictures. It’s been several years since I’ve seen one and had forgotten how lovely they are. Recently was on 35W between Ft Worth and Hillsboro and was amazed at how many Eustoma were blooming in a dry year. I know that here in Pecos county, the one site for them in full bloom right now is caused by a bad water leak and really appreciate having the leak. I’m enjoying your blog a lot.

    John Mac Carpenter

    June 28, 2011 at 11:49 AM

  2. I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog in general and the clammyweed pictures in particular; I’m also happy that you find this “weed” as beautiful as I do.

    You’re fortunate in having gotten to see a lot of Eustoma on 35W. I drove that stretch of highway about five weeks ago but didn’t see a single one.

    Steve Schwartzman

    June 28, 2011 at 12:02 PM

  3. That clammyweed is quite obviously very hard to capture because of its complex structure.

    The two photos you have shown are not as good as the other photos you have shown here, I think. The little white leaves come out overexposed in both pictures. I peeked into the Exif and I think I’d try a larger aperture and longer shutter time to get a bigger depth of field. If I felt there were too many distracting details, I’d blur them later with manipulation software.

    I wonder how big the blossoms are.


    June 28, 2011 at 12:35 PM

  4. Good timing! I’ve been having an e-mail exchange with the writer of the blog at


    about how pictures appear to viewers. He told me he went to a store that sells computers and opened up his blog on various monitors, all of which rendered his pictures differently! Unfortunately that’s a fact of life. I can tell you that on my monitor the white of the clammyweed petals looks okay, not blown out, so I’m sorry to hear that they look overexposed on yours. I process my photographs in Photoshop, which first opens each picture in Adobe Camera Raw; that program shows whether any of the highlights in each picture are too bright, and if so I lower the Exposure slider and/or raise the Recovery slider until all the highlights come back within range. (Ah, the advantage of shooting in RAW.)

    You’re right that the structure of clammyweed presents a challenge and would benefit from as much depth of field as possible. That’s counterbalanced by a need to keep the details from blurring because of the wind; the closer you get to a plant, the more the blurring from blowing in the wind is apparent. As a result, I’m able to stop down only so far, because I can’t use too slow a shutter speed.

    You asked about size: each of the white petals is at most 1 cm in length.

    I’ll move on to a different species tomorrow, but still one with a white flower, which I hope won’t appear washed out on too many people’s monitors.

    Steve Schwartzman

    June 28, 2011 at 1:04 PM

  5. I really love the depth and contrast in this shot, and was just about to say so when I noticed the comment above…I guess emphasizing the point about different monitors.

    Marcia Levy

    June 28, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    • More good timing! I’m glad your monitor lets you appreciate “the depth and contrast in this shot.” According to the USDA map, this species has been observed growing in Massachusetts (I don’t know in which counties), so maybe you’ll run across it one day.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 28, 2011 at 5:40 PM

  6. Lovely shot, Steve—like a field of white confetti. And so completely different from the side view that you posted earlier. As you know by looking at my flower photos, I love to shoot every conceivable angle because you never know what will be your winning image. I haven’t seen a clammyweed before (and what a funny name for a plant too!)


    June 28, 2011 at 9:41 PM

    • A field of white confetti: now there’s a new metaphor. Yes, the view from above is so different that I felt I should post both. I don’t know what region you live in, but the USDA map shows that clammyweed grows in most states, so you may yet run into some. If you do, handle the plant and you’ll find that it really is gooey (“clammy”). I’m with you when it comes to shooting from unusual angles.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 28, 2011 at 10:48 PM

  7. Nice 🙂 I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flower like this before.


    June 29, 2011 at 7:51 AM

  8. I checked out your blog this morning and really enjoy your photography. This photo especially caught my attention with its abstract beauty. Nicely done.


    June 30, 2011 at 8:10 AM

  9. I can see why this is a difficult plant to photograph, steve! This post pic looks like a scattering of white petals, very abstract in its feel and look. I like the side view too. It is a really pretty plant. Perhaps, next time you see one, pick it (If you’re allowed…) and pick off just one part of it to photograph in macro mode. I think it would be quite a lovely result.


    February 15, 2013 at 2:11 AM

    • I’m pleased that this view came across to you as abstract, Janina, because that’s the effect I was after. If an opportunity presents itself, I’ll see if I can do a closer and more limited abstraction.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2013 at 3:56 AM

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