Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Another gift from Costco

with 30 comments

Do you remember three-seeded mercury, Acalypha phleoides? If not, you may want to take a moment and look back at the colorful picture of it from last November. It’s yet another species that never entirely stopped flowering through our warm winter.

On the morning of February 15th I stopped to get gas at my neighborhood Costco, the place that has already brought you pictures of a rain-lily and silverpuff. Because of that history of small native species on the raised earth islands in the store’s large parking lot, I looked around a bit after filling my tank and noticed a little clump of three-seeded mercury that not only was flowering but also had many small drops of water on it from the overnight rain we’d had. The sky was still overcast, and with the trees on the island blocking a portion of even that low light, I knew that this would be a job for a dedicated flash.

I drove home, got my camera and ring light, and returned to the spot. Above is one of the pictures from the resulting session. The span of female flowers that you see here represents a real height of about an inch.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 20, 2012 at 5:48 AM

30 Responses

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  1. This is beautiful. Looks like an alien. What makes the background so dark?

    The World Is My Cuttlefish

    February 20, 2012 at 6:52 AM

    • Good question. First of all, the background was naturally dark to begin with. Because the front of my macro lens was just inches away from the subject and because I used flash, the plant came out much more brightly illuminated than the background (flash falls off very quickly as the distance increases). A camera’s sensor can record a range of intensities much more limited than our eyes can, so by comparison to the lit-up part of the picture it renders the background very dark. The same thing can happen even without flash if a light-colored subject is illuminated by the sun but the background is not; you can see an example in the photograph of a rosinweed flower head from the early days of this blog.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2012 at 7:09 AM

      • Thanks for the explanation – all useful in the photographing journey. The yellow rosinweed is dramatic against the black background.

        The World Is My Cuttlefish

        February 20, 2012 at 7:24 AM

      • I was happy with the way the rosinweed came out. At the scene I could see all the details of the shaded junipers on the other side of the creek along which the rosinweed was growing, but the camera’s sensor decided that none of that was important and made all the distractions go away.

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 20, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    • P.S. There might have been a problem with that link, but it’s working now. Also, although you see this as an alien, I’ve seen it as an abstract glass sculpture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2012 at 7:15 AM

  2. It also looks like something that would be growing in the ocean! Beautiful.

    Bonnie Michelle

    February 20, 2012 at 7:25 AM

  3. Beautiful – like jewels hanging from the plant.


    February 20, 2012 at 7:35 AM

    • After I posted this I thought maybe I should have titled it “Some jewelry from Costco.” And you don’t even have to be a member to get it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2012 at 7:37 AM

  4. Hi Steve

    A great post. The photo is lovely and the explanations are a great help in understanding how you achieved it.



    February 20, 2012 at 7:52 AM

  5. Thank you for the lesson. This is amazing.


    February 20, 2012 at 7:54 AM

  6. fabulous


    February 20, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    • One of my photographic fables.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2012 at 1:10 PM

      • never offer compliments to a linguist!
        I’m sure if I thought hard enough I could find a way in which your photograph fits the definition of “fabulous” but I meant it colloquially. Ok, as always, I like your capture of the underlying forms. Your botanical pictures are not merely pretty, nor are they truly scientific illustrations though they often come close whatever your intent, rather I see in them a more spiritual narrative: the emergence and sometimes dissolution of transient structures from and into chaos. In this sense they are fabulous.


        February 20, 2012 at 1:26 PM

      • I really do think about things like fabulous coming from fable, so my response seemed like a natural complement to your compliment (here I go again). Seriously, though, I appreciate your comments. You found excellent words to convey a concept “the emergence and sometimes dissolution of transient structures from and into chaos.” The same applies to each of us: here for a while, a set of intricate patterns, then seemingly gone.

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 20, 2012 at 1:39 PM

  7. “I drove home, got my camera and ring light, and returned to the spot. Above is one of the pictures from the resulting session.” That’s dedication–and here we all get to reap the rewards. Another beautiful shot.

    Susan Scheid

    February 20, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    • Many of us are dedicated to our art(s): I think of all the time you spend tracking down musical pieces and presenting them to your readers (including me). So it’s quid pro quo.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2012 at 1:29 PM

  8. Steve, I keep trying to convince myself that surrealistic is the wrong word to describe what I am seeing, but no, I’m staying with surrealistic. Your photograph is bizarre, and yet very beautiful. ~ Lynda


    February 20, 2012 at 7:22 PM

    • You’ve given me a slogan, Lynda: Bizarre is beautiful. As far as “surrealistic,” I’ve been at home with that word since the 1960s. As a senior thesis in college I translated the novel Nadja, by André Breton, one of the founders and long-time leader of the Surrealists. When I was in Catalunya in 1985 I made a point of visiting the Salvador Dalí Museum in Figueres. So stay with “surrealistic” and I’ll be happy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2012 at 7:54 PM

  9. I can imagine Costco’s customers wondering what you where doing in the parking lot… That’s commitment, driving back and forth to get your equipment. Worth the trouble, I agree. The water drops look like some sticky glue.


    February 21, 2012 at 6:45 PM

    • I’ve also wondered, Nicolas, what people must think when they see me leaning over or lying down in strange places. On my picture-taking expeditions in various parts of the Costco parking lot, people may have looked at me but no one ever said or did anything. In other places, though, I wasn’t so fortunate, as you can see in the second paragraph of my post at


      and in my response to a comment about it by Agnes Plutino.

      You’re right that the water drops in today’s post could be seen as some type of clear plastic resin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 21, 2012 at 9:02 PM

  10. Wow an inch! That’s amazing!!!


    February 22, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    • The credit for the closeup goes to my Canon 100mm macro lens. I love the way some things look when I get in really close.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 22, 2012 at 1:37 PM

  11. I love this beautiful image! Wow. This is a species I looked for all of one season, as it was mentioned in the guide I follow, but my botany teacher finally put me out of my misery with a blunt “that doesn’t grow here”. None of the images I ever found for it suggested that it was such a lovely plant.

    By the way, 6 inches of wet snow have dumped themselves on us here, and more is falling. Guess if I want an early spring I need to venture your way!


    February 24, 2012 at 6:04 PM

    • It’s a strange image, isn’t it? The plant is small and normally rises only a few inches above the ground, so people can easily overlook it. Through the magic of a good macro lens I’ve given the plant’s flower spikes a greater presence and majesty than they might otherwise seem to possess. (If only the Acalypha would reward me for my PR on its behalf.)

      The high temperature here today dropped 30° from yesterday, but that still left it at around 60°; although a strong wind and cloudy skies made that feel chilly, I don’t think your six inches of wet snow will lead you to have any sympathy for us.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2012 at 7:32 PM

  12. […] almost certainly not what the searcher wanted, but I posted several pictures of plants growing in the parking lot of the Costco in north […]

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