Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 32 comments

Ashe juniper at Pedernales Falls State Park; click for greater clarity.

My eyes and nose and throat yesterday morning told me that here in central Texas we’ve entered the season for what local tradition calls cedar fever. I don’t know about other people, but I have no fever, and the tree whose pollen causes my allergic symptoms isn’t actually a cedar but an Ashe juniper, Juniperus ashei, an evergreen that’s quite common in these parts.* At this time of year the males of the species release large amounts of pollen to make the female trees happy, even if many males and females of the human species suffer as a result.

Anyhow, thinking about that and about an old black and white portrait that I linked to in one of yesterday’s comments, I got the idea to do something different today by jumping back to a photograph of an Ashe juniper that I took early one August morning in 1976 at Pedernales Falls State Park, some 45 miles west of Austin. Landscape photographers are known for getting up and going out in the dark so they can set up for the “magic light” of dawn, and this was one of the rare times I did something like that, even if I was using black and white film. The film also happened to be infrared, which records light in the range that certain animals can see but that we can’t. As a result, the foliage of the juniper and of other plants and trees, though dark green, showed up as a frosty white (and anyone who knows Texas in August knows the irony of using the word frosty to describe it). The early morning sky, though blue, showed up black, thanks to a red filter I used on my camera to enhance the infrared effect.

About a third of the way down the picture you may have noticed the layers of an early morning cloudbank that I think soon dissipated. In the lower portion of the photograph you see the Ashe juniper reflected in water from the Pedernales River. I found the sinuous shape made by the tree and its reflection to be attractive, and I still do after three dozen years.


* If you’ve been reading this column for a while you may remember that in addition to yesterday’s post a couple of earlier ones showed this type of tree:

one from the end of September about a squirrel in the Ashe juniper outside my window;

one from the first month of this blog about the way the Ashe junipers were shedding leaves and fruit during the drought.


© 1976 and © 2012 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 13, 2012 at 5:10 AM

32 Responses

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  1. Oh, mountain cedar and juniper. They have been in full force for weeks now a little farther to the north from you and have been wreaking havoc with almost everyone I know. Bow down and kiss the ground every day that you are one of the lucky few who are cedar fever free. This is the worst time of year for me. It’s the equivalent of feeling like you’re coming down with the flu–for weeks on end. Beautiful photo.

    Mind Margins

    January 13, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    • I’m sorry for your (and my) suffering at this time of year, but thanks for finding the picture beautiful.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 13, 2012 at 8:53 AM

  2. I really like the abstract quality of this image: ethereal and mysterious. Would make a great opening shot for a short film, Sally

    Sally W. Donatello

    January 13, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    • We’re on the same wave length, Sally. I’ve also used the word ethereal to describe the infrared effect, and that’s the main reason I used to take so many pictures with that kind of film.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 13, 2012 at 8:55 AM

  3. This is truly a magical photo with a natural abstract quality. I’m sure it’s lovely in color, but in black and white it’s mysterious and intriguing.


    January 13, 2012 at 8:36 AM

  4. I love your infrared, black and white images. Is this one part of a stereoscopic theme? I so fondly remember your infrared black and white stereoscopic image exhibition at a beautiful gallery in downtown Austin just east of the Driskill Hotel. I’ve got the “fever” too.


    January 13, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    • Fond memories, yes: you’re thinking of the AIR (Artist in Residence) Gallery, which was revived for a time in an office building on Guadalupe St. and is long gone now. But no, this was a full-frame 35mm taken with a Canon A1, not with the decades-older Stereo Realist that made pairs of square negatives 24mm on a side.

      Sorry you’ve got the fever, too. I’m still thinking of going out to take pictures today, even if I pay a price. How we artists suffer!

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 13, 2012 at 9:39 AM

  5. Back in my college days I took a B&W photography class. I had seen some work done with infrared, but never had the opportunity to work with it myself. Can you still work with infrared, or is it just available as a Photoshop trick now? Can Photoshop do this?

    Beautiful. ~ Lynda


    January 13, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    • There are Photoshop techniques the mimic the infrared effect; I once played around with that, but not recently. If you do a search for “Photoshop infrared” you can find tutorials on various techniques for doing it.

      What many people who work in infrared do now is get a previous-model digital camera converted to infrared. A digital camera’s sensor is already sensitive to infrared but the manufacturer puts in a filter to block it, so conversion amounts to having that blocking filter removed. If you do a search for “infrared conversion” you’ll find many companies that offer that service. I’ve thought of doing it but haven’t so far.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 13, 2012 at 10:31 AM

  6. Love this other-worldly image~


    January 13, 2012 at 4:07 PM

  7. This is so good, Steve. The cloud bank fits in as part of the vegetation and the composition is beautiful with the curve and burst of bright white. I have no idea what this is except I like what you have created. In another 30 years it will still be as good.


    January 13, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    • Thanks, Leslie. I get the feeling that you see this as more painterly than a conventional photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 13, 2012 at 7:22 PM

      • Hi Steve,
        You and a few other photographers I visit inspire me and increase my vision. You are an artist. I see this and view this as a work of art. It is more than a photo to me.


        January 13, 2012 at 7:28 PM

  8. Amazing shot Steve! The infrared film really makes this image special! I have really enjoyed your posts, with all the variety of plants and your methods of capturing them! Cheers!


    January 14, 2012 at 12:12 AM

    • It’s been a long time since I’ve used infrared, so I feel some nostalgia in going back to this ancient picture. Glad you like it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2012 at 7:26 AM

  9. It’s been a busy week and I’ve missed so many of your photos – what better beginning than our beloved tree? It took a while after the front came through on Wednesday for me to realize what had happened – itchy eyes? Sneezy? Sore throat? Ah, yes.

    This is an interesting image that raises equally interesting questions. I’m not accustomed to looking at infrared photos, and I’d best describe my reaction as “disoriented”. Even after reading your description and spending some time with the photo, it’s hard for me to see it as a whole. I could be one of those befuddled viewers at the Armory show, looking at Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase and thinking, “What?”

    It’s another reminder that art is under no obligation to be immediately accessible to whoever happens by, and the viewer/reader/listener has some obligation to put out just a little effort to understand what’s been presented. I’m really glad you posted this – it certainly demands more than an “Ohhhh… pretty!” response!


    January 14, 2012 at 10:41 AM

    • The Ashe junipers welcome you back. Your references to disorientation and Duchamp remind me of Rimbaud’s statement that «Le poète se fait voyant par un long, immense et déraisonné dérèglement de tous les sens.» “The poet makes himself into a seer through a long, immense, and unreasoned upsetting of all the senses.” That doesn’t exactly apply to infrared images, but they do take us a little way outside of our normal sense of sight. If Picasso had his Blue Period and his Pink Period, I had my Infrared Period, during which I was so accustomed to seeing things this way that they looked normal to me, and I’m not startled when I see them even now. I’m glad that this view let you experience infrared with an initial sense of disorientation and mystery.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2012 at 11:13 AM

  10. Steve, this is stellar. Infrared film (or its digital approximation) isn’t right for every subject, but this is one of the best uses of the format I’ve ever seen!

    Thanks for stopping by my place, and don’t envy my winter too much – it gets caustically cold here on a “good” year, and many from these parts flee to places like yours if they’re able!


    January 15, 2012 at 1:09 AM

    • I’m glad that you found this such a good use of infrared film. It’s one way to produce a wintery look and still stay warm.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2012 at 8:05 AM

  11. Gorgeous. Ethereal, frosty? Yes, I’d agree wholeheartedly. Decidedly Romantic and mysterious–has a bit of a Caspar David Friedrich vibe, maybe a little Daumier, a little Goya. Spoiler alert: I love all of those guys and their over-the-top stuff. 😉

    I’ve played with some of the Photoshop tools that let me *fake* infrared effects a bit, and there are some things that really work well in the sort of mode. You might have unleashed a slew of such pastiches, poor man.


    January 15, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    • Oh, let’s hear it for Romanticism, and mystery, and the ethereal! I used to use infrared film so much precisely because of its ethereal effect.

      Sure, give Photoshop a shot to see what it can do in this vein. We’ll look forward to seeing any good results on your blog.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2012 at 8:05 PM

  12. An amazing, ethereal, abstract shot, Steve. I’ve spent good times at Pedernales Falls. As usual, your photographs are gorgeous and interesting and inspiring.


    January 19, 2012 at 7:53 PM

    • Thanks and thanks again. I didn’t know you’d been to Pedernales Falls and had good times there. I’m glad to have provided an ethereal reminder.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2012 at 9:35 PM

  13. Ah, this is ethereal. I like this one a lot.

    George Weaver

    April 19, 2012 at 2:57 PM

  14. […] poppy leaves. This is only the second black and white picture I’ve shown here; the other was an ancient one from 1976, and infrared to […]

  15. […] In the 1970s I used lots of black and white infrared film, and because chlorophyll reflects high amounts of infrared light, the trees and grass in the photograph came out white. (A year and a half ago I posted one other infrared photograph from the same era.) […]

  16. […] film that could record light in wavelengths the unaided human eye can’t see. I even showed one of my vintage infrared nature photographs in a post here ten years ago. Now the cleverly satirical publication The Babylon Bee has come out […]

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