Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

What f/2.8 will get you

with 20 comments

A large aperture of f/2.8 will get you a soft portrait like this one of a rain-lily bud (Cooperia pedunculata) on Floral Park Dr. in my neighborhood on April 1st.

I threw away many of the pictures I took of this bud because I hadn’t managed to get enough in focus to please me. In this frame I was surprised that I got good focus not only on the nearest surface of the bud but also on the tip of the maroon sheath.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 14, 2017 at 5:00 AM

20 Responses

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  1. Closeups at 2.8 can be tricky (as you know) but this works for me. It’s also unusual to see a vertical shot with this ratio.


    April 14, 2017 at 6:12 AM

    • It is indeed unusual to see a vertical shot that’s so elongated. That’s one reason I like it. In fact I considered cropping in some more on the sides to get an even more extreme ratio.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2017 at 7:39 AM

  2. Not only the color, but also the curve of the sheath is appealing. I saw rain lilies in the hill country last weekend, and was surprised by the intense maroon. I’m more accustomed to seeing Cooperia drummondii, which seems to have a less vibrantly-colored sheath. I suppose growing conditions and time of observation could account for differences, too.

    In any event, this does capture their delicate nature, beautifully. I’m still waiting to find an entire field filled with them: like this one.


    April 14, 2017 at 8:06 AM

    • It’s been at least a couple of years since I’ve seen a rain-lily colony as good as the one you linked to. That place was the best and most likely one I knew to find dense rain-lilies, but it got torn up as part of the project adding a toll lane to each side of Mopac (a project, I might add, that was supposed to take two years and is now going into its fourth).

      You mentioned the typical progression in a rain-lily from white to pink to maroon. I appreciate the changing colors because they offer multiple possibilities to portray an individual flower over several days. I hope you got a few good pictures of the ones you saw last weekend.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2017 at 8:33 AM

      • There are only a few — five or six — but each is from a different location, which is nice. Of course they’ll be popping up here and there — just like the real thing.


        April 14, 2017 at 8:52 AM

        • Happy future popping.

          Your last four words took me back half a century.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 14, 2017 at 9:04 AM

          • I certainly remember that one, although I haven’t thought of it in a while. Since the title has it right, I’ll not even quibble over that “ain’t.” There isn’t anything like the real thing: even when the real thing isn’t necessarily pleasant.


            April 15, 2017 at 10:42 AM

            • During the trail walk through Great Hills Park that I co-led this morning one of the people who attended said she liked the fact that we had to cross the creek by stepping from rock to rock and she was glad no one had built a railing to hold on to.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 15, 2017 at 1:09 PM

  3. Lovely reach for the sun’s forces.


    April 14, 2017 at 8:46 AM

    • You just made me aware of an interesting interpretation that the word for allows in your phrase. It’s clear that you meant the plant is reaching up toward the sun, but I initially read your words as if the sun is doing the reaching. That’s a happy ambiguity.

      In my reply to Ken I mentioned that I’d thought of cropping in even more on the sides. That subtraction would have added to the sense of reaching.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2017 at 9:00 AM

  4. Nice one, Steve! The sharpness, light and detail are really finely balanced. One could almost reach into the monitor and touch it 🙂

    Pete Hillman

    April 14, 2017 at 9:14 AM

    • Thanks, Pete. I liked the softness imparted by the low light and the wide aperture necessary to deal with it, but I had to struggle (I was lying on a mat on the ground) to get important parts of the rain-lily in focus. I’m glad to hear you feel you could almost reach into the monitor and touch the rain-lily, just as I touched the real one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2017 at 9:20 AM

      • We do have to suffer for our art sometimes, Steve, but when you get results like you have here they are certainly worth it! 🙂

        Pete Hillman

        April 14, 2017 at 10:15 AM

        • Yes, the suffering is an occupational hazard for nature photographers, but as you say, worth it when we get a good result.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 14, 2017 at 11:24 AM

  5. Very nice! Many times I shoot at f2.8, but stack a limited amount of focus areas, then focus stack them in Photoshop, giving me more depth of field, yet still have a softer background.

    Reed Andariese

    April 15, 2017 at 3:30 PM

    • Thanks. I know a bunch of people in Austin who do a lot of focus stacking. At least one of them uses a clamp to stabilize his subjects. I don’t carry a tripod with me, so I’m used to steadying a subject like this rain-lily with my left hand while I shoot at at least 1/400 sec. with the camera in my right hand steadied against my forehead, or with me lying down with my elbow steadied on the ground.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2017 at 4:20 PM

  6. Beautiful Steve .. and I these closeups often mean losing something, which I find so frustrating. Love the hues ..


    April 16, 2017 at 3:45 PM

    • Each rain-lily lasts only a few days. During that brief period its white gets tinged with pink and then maroon, by which time the flower shrivels.

      You’re right that it’s hard to get a lot in focus when you’re so close to your subject and the light is faint.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 16, 2017 at 6:03 PM

  7. You’ve been busy. Beautiful picture!

    Brian Comeau

    April 20, 2017 at 8:33 PM

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