Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sun on a cloudy day

with 19 comments

Sunflower and visitors (myself included) on a cloudy morning; click for more detail.

As another visual harvest from the noisy embankment of the US 183 freeway in Austin on the overcast morning of December 1, behold once again a sunflower, Helianthus annuus, a species that appeared so often in the springtime of this column. Sunflowers typically begin flowering in central Texas in the latter part of May and they usually reach their peak by the end of June, but it’s common for a few to straggle on even through late fall, until there’s finally a freeze.

Many photographers have had the experience of looking at an image on the computer screen and seeing something they hadn’t noticed when they took the picture. Call it tunnel vision if you like, say it’s a defect or a gift, but it’s real. In this case, when I was out in the field I never noticed the insect on the green bract of the sunflower, even though it was sitting so prominently in the center of that ring of bracts. All I can say is that the sunflower’s bright rays curving upward drew my attention away from the darker regions of the flower head just below.

For those interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 3, and 8 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s picture.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 7, 2011 at 5:05 AM

19 Responses

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  1. I’ve enjoyed seeing a resurgence of sunflowers in the past weeks. A little rain, and a little warmth, and they thrive. It’s been fun tracking the city work crews, too. They’ve been mowing regularly, but here and there, where there are larger stands of sunflowers – they’re still standing!

    Some experiences with a camera can be shared by the pro and the point-and-shooter, and you raised one today. I believe it was two years ago we experienced a particularly close perigee moon. I wanted to have a reminder of it, so I stepped onto my balcony to take the photograph.

    I was so focused on the moon I barely noted the lovely Belt of Venus, but I was completely astonished when I uploaded the image and discovered I’d captured not only pink sky but pink water. I remember exactly what I thought: “How’d I miss that?”


    December 7, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    • Sounds like you have more sunflowers near the coast than we do here, where I’ve seen isolated plants flowering but no groups of them. I’m always heartened to hear of anything that survives mowing, but I hope you didn’t have to bribe the mowers.

      In looking at your picture, my eyes jumped to the pink in the bottom right corner that picked up color from the sky, so I agree with you about how surprising it was that you weren’t aware of it at the time. Or maybe not so surprising, given the number of times it seems to happen. Sometimes when I walk back from a location along the same path I followed on the way out, I see things that I’d walked right past the first time but hadn’t noticed. Extrapolating from occurrences like these, I’ve often wondered how many things I’ve missed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2011 at 2:18 PM

      • Shoreacres your photo is beautiful!

        Steve, you said, “Sometimes when I walk back from a location along the same path I followed on the way out, I see things that I’d walked right past the first time but hadn’t noticed.” This is precisely why when you go hiking on long, or unknown trails they tell you to turn around often and take stock of view from the other direction! (Less chance of getting lost… I could tell you stories.) 🙂 ~ L


        December 8, 2011 at 7:12 PM

      • I wasn’t aware that people on long or unknown trails are told to turn round often and look in the opposite direction, but I’ve certainly learned to do that myself, especially if I plan to return by a different route. So I’ve had kindred spirits all along and didn’t know it. And yes, as a practical matter, I do sometimes look back to fix places in my mind so I know how to recognize the path home.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 8, 2011 at 9:01 PM

  2. I love sunflowers, this is beautiful!!


    December 7, 2011 at 8:31 PM

    • Thanks, Juanita. You can tell that I’m a fan of sunflowers too because there have been more photographs in this blog of them than of any other wildflower. I imagine they’re not flowering any more in Michigan, so I’m thankful to still be finding some down here in central Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2011 at 8:41 PM

  3. I’m so glad you linked back to your craft points, because I immediately wondered what went in to that shot! The perspective you chose is terrific, and so interesting that you used a flash on this, too. Beautiful photo–but then that’s nothing new with you!

    Susan Scheid

    December 7, 2011 at 9:24 PM

    • Thanks for the kind words, Susan. You might say that I look up to sunflowers, though that’s true for many other native plants as well.

      i don’t always put links to the craft points, but the fact that I did this time may be evidence that I picked up on your near-future wondering.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2011 at 9:59 PM

  4. Those unseen nuggets are a wonderful boost to the photographer’s soul; to look at an image and be rewarded with that one ‘thing’ that you weren’t aware you had captured is exciting. Great capture, as usual fantastic detail. Congrats on the other ‘visitor’ being there when you didn’t expect. Cheers!


    December 7, 2011 at 10:57 PM

    • As a fellow photographer you can certainly relate to those welcome but unexpected finds. In my case they’re partly a function of age: I don’t see things that are very close as sharply as I used to unless I’m wearing glasses, and I don’t wear glasses when I look through the viewfinder of my camera. Maybe I should start referring to these finds as ARS, for age-related serendipity.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2011 at 6:59 AM

  5. There are a couple of prairie locations not too far from my base in northeast Illinois–Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and Nachusa Grasslands Preserve–that are sunflower havens in the mid- and late summer. The sunflowers are usually making very nice progress around the time that the native purple coneflowers (not the ubiquitous hybrids that are so commonly found in gardens) start to burn out. I can say without fear of contradiction that I’ve never seen a living sunflower in Illinois or Indiana in December.

    Thanks for posting.


    December 8, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    • I’m glad to hear that you have some prairies near you where you can see not only sunflowers but native purple coneflowers. At the same time I’m sorry that your northern latitude doesn’t let you say that you’ve seen a living sunflower in December. The temperature here dropped to just below freezing two nights ago, but when I drove past the embankment this morning I still saw a couple of sunflowers, and I’ve seen a few in other parts of Austin as well. You can let that be an enticement to visit Austin in March, when you’ll have gotten really tired of winter up there and when we’ll already be happy to see spring wildflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2011 at 5:08 PM

      • Texas during bluebonnet peak bloom is on my (depressingly long) list of “must do” photographic trips. I’m just waiting for some assurance of a few years of decent rain down there so I can count on a good show…


        December 10, 2011 at 11:28 AM

      • 2010 was an excellent spring for bluebonnets, but because of the drought 2011 was poor, not only for bluebonnets, but for wildflowers on the whole. There’s no certainty about what will happen each spring, but even in dry years there are always some species of wildflowers that thrive. There are so many other species of wildflowers here beyond bluebonnets that you could photograph.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 10, 2011 at 1:02 PM

  6. My favorite place to take photographs is in my gardens. I often find strange and wonderful creatures within the flowers and foliage. Maddeningly, they come out better when I don’t know they’re hiding, than when I go out with the express purpose of trying to capture them! Well, there was that one cicada this year that I was proud of. Beautiful photo, Steve. ~ L


    December 8, 2011 at 7:22 PM

    • Thanks, Lynda. You’re right that the intention to photograph some strange or wonderful creature doesn’t always coincide with success in doing so. I find it’s hit and miss, with some things getting away from me and others not. And there are always those welcome times when I stumble on something unexpected or when something unexpected comes to me. As an example of the second type, I’ve had it happen that I was looking through the viewfinder of my camera while taking a closeup of a wildflower and suddenly a butterfly landed right on that flower that I was photographing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2011 at 9:06 PM

  7. I enjoy seeing such flowers out of season, particularly in winter. Great photo for an overcast day!

    Watching Seasons

    December 9, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    • A good thing about living this far south is that sunflowers aren’t fully out of season yet the way they are up north. Your out-of-season look is my they’re-still-here look.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2011 at 10:41 PM

  8. […] I took this photograph on July 20 on the east bank of Waller Creek along Chesterfield Ave. in north-central Austin. Sunflowers typically reach their peak in my part of the world in June, but scattered plants continue to flower through the summer and early fall (and occasionally even late fall, as I reported last December 7). […]

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