Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The results of rain

with 64 comments

Waterfall with Leaning Tree 8630

Some of you have heard that Texas got a lot of rain this past Friday. It’s true. In my northwest part of Austin we got probably 5 inches of the stuff, and at around 3:30 A.M. Saturday the sound of another downpour briefly woke me from sleep. By the time morning came I figured I’d better go out and see what all that water had done, so I spent some time over at a heavily flowing Bull Creek. In particular, I worked my way down to the base of the largest waterfall in one of its tributaries, which you see here.

If the scene looks familiar, it’s because I showed a view of this waterfall after a similarly heavy deluge 13 months ago. That time I gave you the cottony water that comes from a long exposure, but this time you have a take that’s more the way our eyes see things. That view was unimpeded, while this one has the overlay of a leaning tree. Different times, different approaches.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 1, 2015 at 5:05 AM

64 Responses

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  1. Nice contrast to long exposure from prior year.

    Alan R Lusk

    November 1, 2015 at 8:14 AM

  2. That is a beautiful spot. I like the contrasting approaches.


    November 1, 2015 at 8:41 AM

    • We are who we are, so we tend to repeat ourselves. Sometimes I try to be different from myself, and occasionally I even succeed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2015 at 9:47 AM

      • I would not want you to be different from yourself~ I wrestle with this myself, thinking I should change up the way I paint or something but I’ve come to realize that the way I see things and paint them is already unique and I should just do that, the best I can. Of course over time our work will evolve on its own.
        Just this morning as I awoke I was thinking of my dad, and how he loved to tell stories. I loved to hear them. Of course, over the years I’d heard most of them a few times, but I never got tired of that. It was part of who he was and I knew I’d miss that when he was gone. Never underestimate how much you are valued for being the you that you are.


        November 2, 2015 at 9:44 AM

        • I don’t know that we can change ourselves all that much, at least not essentially, but from an artistic viewpoint I sometimes push myself to try different approaches in an attempt to keep from getting into a rut. As you say, though, the way each of us sees things is already unique, and I appreciate your conclusion: Never underestimate how much you are valued for being the you that you are.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 2, 2015 at 11:24 AM

  3. It is a nice shot, I love how you framed your subject.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    November 1, 2015 at 9:45 AM

    • Although most of the pictures I took of the falls yesterday didn’t include the tree, I decided to show this view because it’s different. I also couldn’t help noticing that the leaning trunk roughly parallels the slope of one part of the falls.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2015 at 9:52 AM

  4. You’ve certainly had some impressive rains. Is there any danger of damage to your home?

    Jim in IA

    November 1, 2015 at 11:24 AM

    • We’re up fairly high in a hilly neighborhood, so it’s unlikely that we run the risk of flood damage. I’m more worried about the possibility of a fire sweeping up the hills when we’re in a drought, as we were once again until the rains began about 10 days ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2015 at 11:40 AM

  5. I have read about your flooding. Mother Nature is going crazy at the moment

    Raewyn's Photos

    November 1, 2015 at 12:32 PM

    • Perhaps so, but in central Texas there’s a long tradition of this sort of craziness in the weather.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2015 at 12:36 PM

  6. The falls are beautiful, and the blue skies are a nice addition. It’s still raining here, despite assurances that the system would move into Louisiana yesterday afternoon. Even if the sun came out this minute, it’s going to take some time for all this to drain away, let alone for the ground to firm up. You get waterfalls, and we get pools of muddy water that turn into squishy, boot-sucking pools of stagnant, muddy glop. Well, at least for a while.

    I like the way the tree is canted across the falls. It looks as though something draped from the tree has somehow separated the waters.


    November 1, 2015 at 2:09 PM

    • The bits of blue didn’t last, and the afternoon was largely overcast. There was even some light rain this morning (which seems to have moved on to the coast, from what you say), but now the skies here are partly blue again and the sun is mostly shining. When I went out photographing yesterday, naturally I expected wet ground and also figured I’d have to stand in the water of one or more creeks, so my usual hip-high boots were the order of the day.

      It’s interesting that you mentioned something draped from the leaning tree. That’s not quite right, but surprisingly close. A corrugated black plastic tube about a foot wide and maybe 30 feet long had gotten draped around the tree at the top center of the falls and was hanging in two unequal lengths. Initially the tube ruined some potential pictures, but eventually a teenager came along, climbed up to that tree, and unhooked the plastic tube. It got carried over the falls and I grabbed onto it in the pool at the bottom, pulling it out of there and onto shore behind me. But for that kid, I wouldn’t have been able to take the photograph you see here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2015 at 2:37 PM

      • Hooray for agile teenagers, and hooray again for helpful, agile teenagers. It must be frustrating to be in a spot, envision an image, and then discover that one detail or another makes it impossible to capture what you see with your artistic eye.

        In this case, the removal of the length of black plastic tubing was fortuitous: good for the creek, and good for the final image. I have found myself wondering a time or two about other sorts of intervention, such as bending away some grasses, or moving the leaves that half-cover a flower. Just like a need for boots, such questions never have occurred to me before. They’re interesting to ponder.


        November 2, 2015 at 8:28 AM

        • Offering my two cents…it has always been my “ethic” that things may be moved that would move on their own e.g. windblown etc. and especially trash can be removed. Bending grass to the side without harm falls into the windblown category. Nothing should ever be uprooted or cut. Rocks…if it’s embedded then I won’t move it. If it is just lying on top of the ground then sometimes. If it gets moved and something is living underneath then back it goes.
          Once an image has been made, the items that have been held back, such as an unwanted stem should be returned to the original position. No harm, no foul. A lot from me butting into another conversation.
          Steve-I hope you awarded the kid with the Portraits of Wildflowers Award for Civic Behavior.

          Steve Gingold

          November 2, 2015 at 9:19 AM

          • Butting in is fine with me, and I appreciate all you contribute as a fellow photographer. My impression is that botanists will pluck a plant to take back and study or preserve as long as there are sufficiently many other specimens in that area. I seem to recall hearing that the removed sample shouldn’t be more than 10%, but I don’t know whether I’m remembering correctly, or even whether there’s an agreed-upon percent. From what you say, you’re stricter than botanists.

            Another way we could look at it is that animals often move things around in nature, and we’re animals too, so don’t we have the right to move things?

            Still another approach is to leave obstructing things in place and remove them digitally later on. I believe that in a recent post you mentioned doing that. It does no damage whatsoever to the site, but then some people could question the authenticity of the resulting photograph. One counter-argument is that a photograph isn’t the reality the photographer saw and can never be that reality. A photograph is necessarily different from the real thing, so why quibble? There must be all gradations of opinion on this, and I don’t think there can ever be a consensus.

            As for giving an award to the kid, he disappeared back up at the top of the falls somewhere and I never saw him again. Perhaps his parents rewarded him for his good deed.

            Steve Schwartzman

            November 2, 2015 at 9:56 AM

            • All good points and they apply differently to different situations. While I recognize that botanists and entomologists regularly collect specimens to study, I do not feel a plant or insect or any other living organism needs to be sacrificed for a picture. And sometimes not even for study…. http://news.discovery.com/animals/mustached-bird-photographed-for-first-time-then-killed-151001.htm

              As far as cloning goes, if I will be presenting something as “reality” then I try to only digitally remove things when there isn’t an alternative such as a beer can on a rock in the middle of a rushing stream that would wash me away or the same in a situation too precarious to chance. OTOH, if something is being created as art and not as reality then no holds barred. Of course, there are always exceptions.

              As you say-lots of opinions.

              Steve Gingold

              November 2, 2015 at 10:19 AM

            • That 10% figure is one I stumbled across, too. I can’t find it now, but it was from the site of one of the herbaria here in Texas. It contained every sort of guideline for collecting, instructions on how to preserve plants, how to contribute them to a herbarium, and so on. When I saw some of the specimens collected by Lindheimer, at the exhibit in New Braunfels, I was amazed by how fresh they seemed.

              It does seem as though it would be possible to get pretty far into the weeds with these discussions, but it seems my inclinations are fairly middle-of-the-roadish. I’ll pick up trash, move a dead branch, or bend some grasses. On the other hand, I wouldn’t dig up a rock or break a limb: nor would I clear a space around somethng for a better shot. I’m pretty careful where I walk, too. One thing I’ve found, at least where I’ve been so far, is that it’s often possible to follow deer trails, or paths worn by other animals.


              November 2, 2015 at 9:55 PM

              • Here’s another link I’ve kept, from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas. You may well have it. Their guidelines are even more specific, and quite informative.


                November 2, 2015 at 10:01 PM

                • At the Native Plant Society symposium two-and-a-half weeks ago I spent some time talking with one of the main people from B.R.I.T.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 3, 2015 at 6:36 AM

              • I often get pretty far into the weeds (if you accept that term) when I’m out taking pictures, and chigger bites are a common consequence. Those critters don’t bite off more than they can chew (I don’t think they can bite in the normal sense of the word), but this discussion may have done so, given the many attitudes about the extent to which a photographer can legitimately alter a scene. Last night, for example, while preparing a picture for a post next week, I digitally removed graffiti that I found marring some rocks in an otherwise natural scene.

                Little trails in the woods are a common enough sight here, but I don’t know how to tell which ones deer have created and which ones are due to other animals, including people.

                Steve Schwartzman

                November 3, 2015 at 6:35 AM

        • The kid was with his parents. He scampered up the rocks at the left (as seen in the photograph) edge of the falls. That was too hard for his parents, who asked me how I had gotten into this area (I don’t know how they had). I pointed to the relatively easy way I’d come down (way off to the right), and they went back up that way to rejoin their son. In any case, yes, the removal of the tube was fortunate for me and for anyone else who would appreciate an un-junked-up view of the falls.

          I’ve been making good use of those boots lately, including just this morning at a different stretch of Bull Creek and another tributary.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 2, 2015 at 9:40 AM

  7. It’s beautiful Steve 🙂 That part of the world has been getting some very wet weather for well over a week now! We had great fun watching the American Formula 1 Grand Prix a week ago. The weather made it the best race of the season!! Qualifying ended up so wet that it was cancelled on the Saturday but everyone in the pit lane messed around to entertain the crowds 😉 We were all a bit unsure as to whether the race itself would happen with the hurricane heading straight for the area! Texas put on a fantastic show 🙂

  8. Steven, I noticed that the NPSOT State Library in Fredericksburg has a DVD by you called Austin and Vicinity: the World of Nature. Is this DVD available somewhere? Thanks, Kathy Henderson, Williamson County chapter NPSOT

    kathy henderson

    November 1, 2015 at 8:10 PM

    • Hi, Kathy. In 1999 I put together that CD (not DVD), which has over a thousand photographs from the natural world. Sixteen years in the digital world is practically an eternity, and unfortunately the software that operates the CD is so old it can no longer run on modern computers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2015 at 8:45 PM

  9. That makes for a very pretty waterfall, but that’s a huge amount of rain!


    November 1, 2015 at 9:04 PM

    • We keep having periods of feast or famine, rain-wise. Occasional downbursts have been causing flash floods in this part of Texas for as long as anyone’s kept records or written accounts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2015 at 9:19 PM

  10. I’m relieved your risk of fire has been reduced and you aren’t in danger from flooding where you live. I enjoyed the contrast between the two pictures. It’s always interesting to see how a photographer can manipulate a scene in order to share a different aspect or atmosphere. This picture illustrated the deluge/power of a flood while the other showed tranquility.


    November 1, 2015 at 11:45 PM

    • If only the heavy rain had come a few weeks earlier, the homes destroyed by the so-called Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop might have been saved:


      I’ve often thought that, compared to painters, who have complete freedom, photographers are limited in what we can do. Short of outright manipulation by software after the fact, we can do only some basic things: choose a vantage point and an angle for the camera; stop the action or let things blur; allow more or less light; impart greater or shallower depth of field.

      It’s interesting that you sensed tranquility from last year’s picture, even though the water was flowing as heavily over the falls as it was two days ago, when you felt power. Maybe I have more power to manipulate viewers than I thought.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 2, 2015 at 3:44 AM

      • A terrible shame about the fires. I’ve been thinking that Texas is rather like parts of Australia. You seem to get extreme weather situations like us – from droughts to flash floods.
        Accept it, Steve, you have the power to influence our thoughts. I believe we were discussing what super powers you would have in another post. There’s your answer. 😉


        November 2, 2015 at 3:52 AM

        • I remember reading about the fires in Australia and seeing them on television in 2013 and 2015. It’s not a similarity we’re happy to share. On the other hand, botanists say that many species have evolved with periodic fire and need it as part of their reproductive cycle.

          Thanks for your vote of confidence in electing me the most influential person in the universe. That is what you said, isn’t it?

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 2, 2015 at 4:01 AM

          • If you say I said that then it must be true. 🙂


            November 2, 2015 at 4:05 AM

            • You reminded me of the Latin phrase ipse dixit, meaning “He himself has said it,” which then reminded me of Gilbert & Sullivan.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 2, 2015 at 4:16 AM

              • From waterfalls to Gilbert & Sullivan – a simple picture can take us in so many directions. And now I have that song stuck in my head. Thanks for the earworm. 🙂


                November 2, 2015 at 4:31 AM

                • You’re welcome. I remember that song from the records that we had in our home when I was a child.

                  I think it’s better to aspire to being eye candy than to having an earworm.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 2, 2015 at 4:38 AM

                • I’m hoping I can still be eye candy and have an earworm at the same time. 😉 Enjoy your day, Steve. 🙂


                  November 2, 2015 at 4:53 AM

                • The expression over here (and maybe over there) is to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Your twin activities sound more appealing. Buenos días (to me), buenas noches (to you).

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 2, 2015 at 5:05 AM

  11. Although I was able to find some moving water yesterday, we could use a little more of that rain you have been having. Your image says water power and gives a good idea of the amount that you have received.

    Steve Gingold

    November 2, 2015 at 3:25 AM

    • As you were writing your comment, I was replying to the previous one, in which Jane also said she felt power from this view of the falls, especially compared to the photograph from last year, when the water was flowing at least as forcefully. Some people here wish we’d had less rain, and I’m sorry you couldn’t have had more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 2, 2015 at 3:49 AM

      • While we are having this exchange, it occurred to me…you don’t like to get out early yet are up at 4 am just like me. 🙂

        Steve Gingold

        November 2, 2015 at 3:58 AM

        • It’s not intentional: I just woke up early (in fact an hour earlier than the clock would have shown two days ago) for no reason that I’m aware of. You’re right, though, that if I am up this early, I could go and stake out a sunrise. In that, though, you seem to be way ahead in having photogenic landscapes that you can put under the rising sun. Or maybe I haven’t learned to see what we have here in that way.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 2, 2015 at 4:06 AM

          • I certainly don’t know the lay of your land, but I bet there are several. I do sometimes have a half or full hour’s drive to some locations…which, of course would hardly cover the Texan landscape. It’s all what we look for and grow in familiarity. A few years back I was not shooting sunrises at all unless at the Maine coast but have learned where to go and what to look for out of desire. And the added bonus is that after those early shots there is still plenty of time for other morning shooting before the higher sun creates all those nasty contrasts.

            Steve Gingold

            November 2, 2015 at 4:27 AM

            • The sunrise pond that I showed the other day worked well, but it’s about a 45-minute drive from home (at least at that early hour there’s no traffic to contend with). I wouldn’t have know about it but after I returned from the big Southwest tour last fall a native plant friend tipped me off to the place, and I’d already taken pictures there a few times in quick succession by the time of my dawn patrol. The area is under development, and unfortunately a fence now prevents me from going back there.

              As you say, though, there must be other places that would work.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 2, 2015 at 4:47 AM

  12. The results of rain are spectacular.


    November 2, 2015 at 4:00 AM

    • They certainly were in this case, and I felt compelled to go out and record some of them.

      Unfortunately for some people in other parts of the area, the rains brought flooding and destruction.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 2, 2015 at 4:10 AM

  13. So glad you seem to have, literally and figuratively, weathered this bout safely. The falls are spectacular; must’ve been quite the symphony to accompany your shooting. I hope no more of the locale is struck with truly dangerous flood conditions, but knowing how nature operates, surely that’s a vain hope. Ah, well; from destruction can arise great beauty, as witness this photo.

    The discussions here about truth-in-photography fascinate me as the topic always does. My own approach, because I am worlds away from being a good enough photographer to do anything remotely documentary, is to remain committed to my credo of showing the world as I see/saw it. Much of the time, that means merely treating the images with cropping and/or contrast adjustments. These small edits allow me to eliminate parts of the image that were unavoidable interruptions of my intended focus and to let the light and shadows operate the way that my own eyes continuously reset as they move over a scene, changing their depth of field and heightening or reducing contrast and color intensity so as to see every part of the picture with equal clarity and interest—or choosing what is my preferred focal point altogether. But, being more of a storyteller than a truth-teller, I never hesitate to do whatever I want to an image to make it tell the tale better, if I can. I trust to the wits of my readers and viewers to see the difference between the two approaches, and am not disappointed to find that they nearly always ‘get’ it.

    I would love if I could make my words achieve the same ends, but find that when the topic holds any weight for my correspondent and me, I’m always a bit too good at getting in—you’ll pardon the reference after your day’s post here—dangerous waters. One of the many reasons I revert to fluff for my content so much of the time! 😀

    Stay safe, and keep your powder dry!


    November 2, 2015 at 3:24 PM

    • In my extended neighborhood in northwest Austin, I’m not aware of any damage. The city did what it always does when we get a sustained downpour here: it barricaded the low-water crossings along Spicewood Springs Road, including the one close to this waterfall. Those crossings were all open again this morning, but one about half a mile downstream on Bull Creek remained closed. In contrast to that, some neighborhoods in southeast Austin near Onion Creek got flooded and damaged.

      Thanks for that thoughtful explanation of how you navigate the gamut in your visual work between the documentary and the artistic. I suspect you’ve thought about that for a long time, and the discussion in the comments above gave you an opportunity to summarize your thoughts: you’re “more of a storyteller than a truth-teller.” You also have an advantage over those of us who can’t draw or paint, because you don’t have to submit to the constraints of a photograph at all if you don’t want to.

      As far as your writing, perhaps you should take an occasional dip into those dangerous waters you mentioned and see what happens.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 2, 2015 at 6:24 PM

  14. […] Springs Rd. and Spicewood Springs Rd. before I continued a few hundred feet downhill to photograph the maximally flowing waterfall on a tributary of Bull Creek. At a different scale, note the drops of rain on this […]

  15. […] follow the water around the bend for a while (which they can’t), you’d have a view of the waterfall I showed you last […]

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