Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Out of season

with 23 comments

Botanical field guides tell us the time(s) of the year when a species normally flowers. “Normally” is the operative word, based on observations over decades. Often what has proved true keeps on being true: books say that our prickly pear cacti bloom in the spring, and sure enough, I’ve never seen a prickly pear flower here in any other season. Some other species are freer in their stirrings, and that was the case with the firewheels I found on December 3 along the Colorado River at Loop 360. Gaillardia pulchella is described as blooming in the spring and occasionally into the summer, but here I found a small group that had put out some very healthy-looking flowers just three weeks before Christmas.

I’d gone out that morning to try for some pictures of fog, a rare occurrence here. I didn’t get any good fog pictures, but the firewheels made up for that. The low light led me to use an uncharacteristically wide aperture of f/2.8. That accounts for the photograph’s shallow depth of field, with only the nearest ray and the closest part of the central disk coming into good focus. At the same time, the limited depth of field caused distracting background details to graciously dissolve into amorphous areas of muted colors.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 8, 2017 at 4:46 AM

23 Responses

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  1. The Gaillardia is beautiful. They’re a favorite of mine at any time, but to see one now is special. In a sense, your shallow depth of field replicates the way fog shrouds things in the landscape, when only the nearest objects are visible with any clarity.

    Now, I’m off to get dressed and get outdoors. It’s snowing! Sleet woke me at about 4 a.m., but now it’s all snow, and I’m eager to see what kind of accumulation we get. It’s become heavy enough that I can see it swirling under the street lights.


    December 8, 2017 at 5:03 AM

    • The snow came! Your favourite forecasters were accurate as usual!


      December 8, 2017 at 5:07 AM

    • People west of Austin and southwest of Austin got a little snow yesterday, but alas, we got none here. Like you, I’m going out soon to see if we at least have something wintry to photograph here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2017 at 6:56 AM

      • I’ll bet you found something, because I’ve seen photos from Austin showing accumulations of an inch or so. (I don’t know the location of the neighborhood.) I suspect your snow will stay around longer because of colder temperatures, so I hope you had good luck. Our snow is nearly gone, so the before-dawn photos I took will have to do.


        December 8, 2017 at 10:25 AM

        • I hope you got some worthwhile before-dawn photos. Here I found at most an inch of snow, and now at 10:30 much of it has melted as the sun has kept rising in a clear sky and the temperature has climbed to 39°. During my two hours out in Great Hills Park in my northwest Austin neighborhood I experimented with lots of things, taking hundreds of pictures. Why not, right? Something decent’s gotta come out of it. Surprisingly, frostweed didn’t do its thing at all.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 8, 2017 at 10:38 AM

    • your snow report jolted my attention! oh wow.. i need to look at the international weather maps!

      steve, your details about taking the image remind me of the gift of painting instead of photographing a subject.. it’s so easy to ‘wash out’ or ignore the ugly details and focus only on what’s important… now if you can manage to rearrange the placement of items in your image – yes, you’ll be a painter with a camera!!!!

      Playamart - Zeebra Designs

      December 8, 2017 at 8:32 AM

      • I went out for two hours this morning to see what I could do with the light snow, which was bound to melt once the sun got sufficiently high in today’s clear blue sky. Photography and painting each have their advantages. You get to rearrange and ignore things, as you pointed out, but you have to start from zero every time (well, maybe not, given that lots of painters use photographs of their subjects as guides). As a photographer I have something in front of me every time, but in spite of my best positioning there may still be distracting things. Of course with modern software photographers are increasingly able to tone down or remove those distractions, as well as create new images by combining parts of several photographs. It’s a brave new world.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 8, 2017 at 10:24 AM

        • ‘ it’s a brave new world.’ – you’re right, though i will always respect the photographers/artists who use the old school methods based on good compostions and good drawing skills!

          i have another new word for you – based on a visit just now in francisca’s kitchen.. she whirled some green items in the blender, and i had seen her chopping parsley, so i inquired about the mix.. cilantro, apio, perejil, albahaca – and she called it hierbita de cilantro…. she grew up in the southern part of ecuador’s andes, so she refers to many of these items as typical for the city of loja…

          Playamart - Zeebra Designs

          December 8, 2017 at 12:13 PM

          • I’m fond of albahaca but I hate cilantro. It was the bane of my existence in Honduras and unfortunately it has spread to many restaurants in Texas. In Mexican and Indian restaurants I always have to ask whether it’s in the dish(es) I want to order. My dislike may be genetic:


            Steve Schwartzman

            December 8, 2017 at 12:33 PM

            • si; several friends of mine seem to have that same ‘genetic’ dislike…. my son charles has a differenet dislike – for olives.. i remember once he very apologetically stated, ‘i don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but i don’t like that salad dressing you’ve been making – it tastes like olives…’
              duh, i’d been using olive oil!

              other people seem to dislike cilantro at first and then adjust.. i am one of those, but i can ‘take it or leave it.’

              in costa rica/central america there’s a second cilantro choice called ‘culantro’ or ‘culantro de coyote’ and it’s a flat-leaved plant that grows much like dandelion.. the flavor, according to many sources, is identical to cilantro, but there is no family connection! recently i’ve seen it in a neighbor’s yard – growing in conditions it thrives in – shady and moist/cool… they were not aware of its culinary properties….


              costa rica cooks prefer this one over the cilantro…

              Playamart - Zeebra Designs

              December 8, 2017 at 2:06 PM

              • In Honduras I came to know (and dislike) not only cilantro but also culantro. ¡Ay de mí!

                The Romans had a saying: De gustibus non est disputandum, There’s no arguing about taste. One person’s cilantro (mine) is another person’s olive (your son).

                As for the idea of getting used to cilantro, if I haven’t done so in 50 years, I don’t think it’s gonna happen. The persistent dislike over half a century is good evidence for its genetic nature.

                Steve Schwartzman

                December 8, 2017 at 2:21 PM

              • By the way, I noticed that culantro is an Eryngium. We have two species in that genus in central Texas, including one with inflorescences that look like little purple pineapples.

                Steve Schwartzman

                December 8, 2017 at 2:26 PM

    • oh yes – natchez mississippi reports 31 degrees at this moment! those lovely pink sasanqua camellias might be tinged with brown this morning!

      Playamart - Zeebra Designs

      December 8, 2017 at 8:38 AM

      • Yup, you’ve confirmed that parts of the South have briefly turned wintry. Eve covered her few potted plants two nights ago and brought them inside last night. Otherwise she might have faced the brown tinges you mentioned, or worse.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 8, 2017 at 10:29 AM

  2. I like the moisture droplets on the flower; from the fog, I suppose?


    December 8, 2017 at 5:09 AM

    • Yes, the droplets on the firewheel were from the fog. By the time I came back home, my shoes were wet from all the moisture on the ground.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2017 at 6:58 AM

  3. I love these flowers and your flower looks as though she is dancing with skirts swirling all around!


    December 8, 2017 at 5:39 AM

    • I’ll bet a costume designer could make some fabulous skirts resembling these flowers. The dew would be optional.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2017 at 7:02 AM

  4. This is Texas and nothing surprises me any more. Fifty inches of rain, now snow this morning and we are heading to a beautiful sunny weekend. We’ll be BBQing and dining outside.

    automatic gardener

    December 8, 2017 at 7:45 AM

    • I was out for two hours this morning taking pictures of snow-covered plants. I thought we were going to have another winter without a winter. I was wrong.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2017 at 10:00 AM

  5. […] December 3rd last year I set out to get some fog pictures. I didn’t get any, unless you count pictures of plants covered with droplets that had condensed out of the fog. The bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) seed head shown here […]

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