Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

I found the Lost Maples

with 21 comments

Bigtooth Maples Turning Colors 6693A

All right, so the lost maples aren’t really lost. That’s just a Texas way of talking about the bigtooth maples, Acer grandidentatum, along the Sabinal River in Lost Maples State Park and Natural Area, about 160 miles west of Austin. When I visited on November 14th the sky was overcast and a grayish white that’s terrible to aim a camera up into, so I couldn’t take many of the pictures I otherwise would have. I hadn’t been there for decades and didn’t know when I’d be there again, but in spite of the bad sky the maples were turning bright colors and calling out to have their pictures taken, so I found ways to oblige, usually by aiming sideways and sometimes, as here, including elevated backgrounds that blocked the sky.

Notice all the ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata, on the dead branches.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that points 15 and 18 in About My Techniques apply to this photograph. While we’re on that subject, let me add that this photograph keeps reminding me of Chinese landscape paintings, especially the vertical ones, even though these fall colors are much brighter than anything I’m aware of in the Chinese tradition (but I know almost nothing about that). Here are some interesting observations I just found in the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History:

By the late Tang dynasty, landscape painting had evolved into an independent genre that embodied the universal longing of cultivated men to escape their quotidian world to commune with nature. Such images might also convey specific social, philosophical, or political convictions. As the Tang dynasty disintegrated, the concept of withdrawal into the natural world became a major thematic focus of poets and painters. Faced with the failure of the human order, learned men sought permanence within the natural world, retreating into the mountains to find a sanctuary from the chaos of dynastic collapse.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 2, 2014 at 5:34 AM

21 Responses

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  1. Steve, I am the editorial coordinator for NatureScapes. Net and wanted to chat with you about a possibility. Can you email me at sheryl@naturescapes.net — so we can connect? All the best, Sheryl DeVore


    December 2, 2014 at 6:08 AM

  2. I was roused from my quotidian preoccupations of the day by the word quotidian. Love it. I think that Joanna still subscribes to Merriam Webster’s Word-of-the-day … it’s always a challenge to see how many are familiar to us. D

    Pairodox Farm

    December 2, 2014 at 6:50 AM

    • Other organizations offer their quota of a quote a day, something that’s quotidian in the etymological sense but we hope not in the derived sense of ‘ordinary’. The quot- in quotidian is the same as the one in quote and quota. You can quote me on that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2014 at 8:02 AM

  3. hmm that is the second time so early this morning that I have heard that the grey sky or overcast sky is horrid, this has not been my experience, though perhaps…would you explain it?


    December 2, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    • That’s how I feel it as a landscape photographer. You’ve seen plenty of pictures here where a blue sky contrasts with bright colors at the warm end of the spectrum. A recent one, for example, is:


      A gray-white sky is so much brighter than the subjects I’d be photographing that those subjects would come out underexposed. To compensate, I could raise the exposure to match what the subjects need, but then the sky would get way overexposed. One way around the problem is to use flash, but that can look garish. Besides, subjectively I just don’t like white blaring through holes in trees or whatever else I’m portraying (or that appears in the background).

      Still, on rare occasions I’ve been able to use the overcast in my favor:


      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2014 at 8:17 AM

      • Oh thank you! That helps.


        December 2, 2014 at 8:20 AM

        • You’re welcome. I should add that one advantage of an overcast sky is that you don’t get the harsh shadows that strong sunlight creates and that sometimes detract from a subject.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 2, 2014 at 9:55 AM

  4. Nature does call us to retreat into her to heal our souls and contemplate the universe. Wonderful reference…


    December 2, 2014 at 7:18 AM

  5. What a spectacular tree, right down to its ball moss, and what a beautiful portrait of it!

    Very interesting about landscape art. I have read similar sentiments in European and American Art histories, so it is a yearning felt across the human condition.


    December 2, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    • I felt it was pretty spectacular too, and I knew I had to make its portrait.

      I know a little about landscape in European and American art, but China is an unknown world for me. As you say, there’s no reason to assume that artists and intellectuals there—and just plain folks—wouldn’t have felt similar things.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2014 at 1:49 PM

  6. You found a great subject to fill the frame, Steve.

    Steve Gingold

    December 2, 2014 at 6:04 PM

  7. Gorgeous photo, as always, Steve. I had feared for the fall colors this year, but they have really popped recently. I have a most beautiful Acer grandidentatum in my yard which I can’t photog well because of its proximity to the house and the large live oaks behind it. No, wait, don’t generously offer tips–as you may know, I’m not even a budding photographer, and my best camera turns out to be my iPhone 5s! So I just enjoy your talents and don’t stress over getting my own shots. Happy Holidays to you and Eve.

    Diane Sherrill

    December 3, 2014 at 12:37 AM

    • What you say about your maple being hard to photograph because it’s close to your house is the kind of thing I often struggle with too. It’s common in Austin for me to see a tree or bush or colony of flowers I’d like to photograph but don’t because of a nearby building, pole, car, wire or some other artifact of the human world that I feel would spoil the picture. With tree I often photograph just an upper part in order to exclude the “junk” on the ground. A nature preserve mostly frees me from considerations like those, but there can still be walkways, fences, parking lots, people, etc, that need to be excluded for a fully natural view.

      In any event, Diane, it’s good to hear from you and Happy Holidays.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 3, 2014 at 6:37 AM

  8. I long to commune with nature daily. When I don’t, I don’t feel quite…right. Lovely shot, making the best of your lighting conditions.


    December 3, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    • In spite of the yucky skies I managed to take a fair number of pictures. It was my first chance there in decades, so I wasn’t going to leave empty-handed (or empty-cameraed, I guess I should say).

      Fortunately we can find pieces of nature closer to our homes. Happy communion.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 3, 2014 at 8:18 AM

  9. What a delight to find you’ve photographed the one place I wanted to visit last week and couldn’t, for a variety of reasons. I’m going to try and make it back very soon, but the next time it will be just me, my hiking boots and my camera.

    The paragraph about the Tang dynasty resonates. Although the context for his withdrawal was quite different, I couldn’t help but think of Thoreau’s words about his own impulse:

    ““I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

    Love Creek Orchards in Medina sells the bigtooth maples in containers. Wouldn’t it be fun to add one or two to your yard? A friend in San Antonio bought one, planted it, and watched it thrive. Eventually she had to move, but presumably the tree still is doing well.

    I really like the way you combined so many elements in this photo — even the ball moss. It’s all part of a wonderful reality.


    December 3, 2014 at 8:56 PM

    • By the time you were in the area, I’m afraid the best color had passed and the maple leaves were already falling. Still, from answers you’ve given to comments on your blog, it sounds as if the bald cypresses gave the maples a run for their money in the places you got to see. In fact I have a bald cypress picture scheduled for tomorrow.

      When I was a junior in high school I read some of Thoreau’s works, so the passage you quoted here is quite familiar. I appreciated Thoreau then as a writer, philosopher, and moralist; in recent years I’ve added an appreciation of him as a naturalist.

      As much as I liked the different colors of the maple leaves, I found the gray of the dense ball mosses added a lot to this image and some others. A wonderful reality it was, even if only for a few hours.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 3, 2014 at 9:13 PM

  10. […] the end of my visit to Lost Maples on November 14th I came across a sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, that in spite of being just a […]

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