Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

An aura and a wraith

with 64 comments

Here are two takes from April 12th of Heller’s plantain (Plantago helleri), with the rain-lily (Cooperia pedunculata) behind it seen first as an aura and then as a wraith. I haven’t a ghost of a chance of guessing which version you prefer. (Actually, photographers at a recent gathering did favor one, but at least for now I won’t say which it was.)

UPDATE: The majority of commenters here, like the photographers at the meeting I mentioned, prefer the first photograph.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 28, 2019 at 4:42 AM

64 Responses

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  1. I love the second one the best, but both are lovely


    April 28, 2019 at 4:49 AM

  2. “Ghost of a chance”, hahaha! I like the aura

    Ms. Liz

    April 28, 2019 at 5:07 AM

    • After I decided to refer to the rain-lilies as an aura and a wraith, the phase “ghost of a chance” came to mind. With your vote the score is tied at one to one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2019 at 7:17 AM

  3. The bottom picture is uplifting, glorious, romantic – it’s lovely. But the top picture is the one I prefer because it highlights nature’s weirdness. Some process is happening and looking at it sparks my imagination. Out of interest, which did you have down as the aura and which the wraith? I assumed the top was the wraith but it does have an aura so…?


    April 28, 2019 at 6:00 AM

    • To my mind, the first is the aura because it has no details at all, while the second has the indistinct but still discernible shape of a rain-lily. I appreciate your analysis of the two.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2019 at 7:20 AM

  4. The first is my favorite, by far. I’m especially taken with the way the white glow seems to be emanating from the flowers of the plantain, and the yellowish tinge surrounding that accentuates the colors of the flowers’ centers. It’s a simple, beautiful palette that allows the complexity of the flowers to shine.

    I’m a little iffy on the second. I couldn’t decide why, but it seemed as though my eye kept drifting up and out of the frame. When I scrolled the image just a bit to eliminate some of the white space at the top, I liked it much more. It felt more balanced, and helped to make the shape of the lily more prominent.


    April 28, 2019 at 8:05 AM

    • The yellow “frame” in the first image wasn’t planned, and I’m not sure I even noticed it at the time. Mainly I worked at trying to line up the rain-lily in the background with the plantain in the foreground, something that’s hit and miss when a breeze is blowing. I could stabilize the plantain with my left hand but had no way to control the rain-lily.

      As for the second image, that white sweep up into its right corner puzzles me. Maybe a much taller rain-lily stood behind the main one, or maybe the upward white sweep is just an artifact of the lens and the light. I could’ve cropped the picture the way you did. Instead I kept the upward sweep precisely because it was mysterious.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2019 at 10:17 AM

      • What’s odd is that I didn’t notice that sweep of white up and to the right that you mentioned. I wonder now if that’s what was distracting me, even though I didn’t “see” it.


        April 28, 2019 at 10:44 AM

  5. I guess I’m the maverick here~I greatly prefer the wraith. The first one did blow me away, though. Such delicacy and detail in such a tiny flower head.


    April 28, 2019 at 8:08 AM

    • Big things come in small packages, right? You’re not the only maverick (assuming the first picture turns out to be the one more people prefer): the first commenter also chose the second photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2019 at 10:24 AM

      • Linda’s assessment was interesting to me because when I saw the second image I immediately thought, “oh, that is how I would have painted it.” And I’ve wondered over the years why my botanical paintings seldom sell. She was pretty emphatic in her thoughts, which nearly swayed me, but in the end I remembered that it is all subjective.


        April 30, 2019 at 8:38 AM

        • It sure is subjective. At the same time, I find some reactions highly predictable: show most people a conventional but poorly rendered picture of a kitten or puppy or butterfly, and they’ll ooh and aah, even while largely dismissing more subtle and less obvious artworks.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 30, 2019 at 8:49 AM

          • YES!~!!! Doesn’t that make you mad? I lost the opportunity to exhibit to a woman who painted (very poorly) a worn pair of soldier’s boots with a misshapen puppy. I consoled myself that that particular audience wouldn’t have responded to what I do anyway, so it would have been a waste of time if I had gotten the exhibit. hmph.


            May 1, 2019 at 9:14 AM

            • I think it’s only to be expected that people like us who have spent years learning about art in general and working on our own art in particular develop a nuanced appreciation that goes well beyond that of the public.

              Steve Schwartzman

              May 1, 2019 at 10:34 AM

              • That is a gentle perspective~thanks for sharing it. In France children are brought up to appreciate fine art. I wish it were so here, since it is unlikely I will be able to move there.


                May 2, 2019 at 9:34 AM

                • At this point I’d settle for American kids getting out of high school with the ability to read and write and do arithmetic, things that many clearly can’t do.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  May 2, 2019 at 2:58 PM

                • So true. My son comments on that, how so many of his peers cannot string together a decent sentence. Lately when I pick up a new book at the library, it is increasingly common to find grammatical errors and incorrect word usage. I can’t read them. Aren’t there still editors? Can they be as ignorant as their stupid authors?


                  May 3, 2019 at 9:52 AM

                • Yes, I’ve noticed the gradual deterioration in the quality of editing over the past few decades. I don’t know if anything will reverse the trend.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  May 4, 2019 at 12:17 PM

                • Our culture is declining in many ways, and it is hard to watch. I find myself “living” in the past more and more.


                  May 5, 2019 at 7:15 AM

                • As we get older, there’s more past to live in.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  May 5, 2019 at 7:21 AM

                • Thanks to cable I get to live in the world of the Thin Man and Cary Grant and Jessica Fletcher.


                  May 6, 2019 at 7:18 AM

                • I had to look up that last one. I’m aware of “Murder, She Wrote” but I don’t think I ever watched an episode. On the other hand, Turner Classic Movies is a mainstay of mine.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  May 6, 2019 at 7:31 AM

                • Jessica Fletcher became my surrogate mother all through college and I still like to check in with her.


                  May 6, 2019 at 7:33 AM

  6. They’re both stunning, but I definitely prefer the first…less competing for attention, so that I am drawn in to the ethereal details.

    Marcia Levy

    April 28, 2019 at 8:48 AM

    • You’re right that the first image has nothing, neither background details nor sweep of white up and to the right, to draw attention away from a viewer’s focus on the center.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2019 at 10:30 AM

  7. I think I prefer the first one, but it is difficult for me to say why. Maybe it’s just that it is a closer-up and I can make out a few more details. Both are definitely fantastic “paintings with a camera”, though.


    April 28, 2019 at 8:53 AM

    • I’ve long felt an attraction toward abstraction and have found myself devoting more time to it lately—at least when I’m not doing overviews of wildflower colonies.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2019 at 10:41 AM

  8. I prefer the first as well. Although you didn’t notice or plan the vignette, I think it frames the lily nicely. On its own the second is very nice but when compared I’ll take the first.

    Steve Gingold

    April 28, 2019 at 12:59 PM

    • Normally I’d only have shown one or the other because of their similarity. This time I went with a comparison to see how people would react.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2019 at 2:10 PM

      • Feedback is always a good thing. Your satisfaction is first and foremost, but it’s nice to hear good things and bad.

        Steve Gingold

        April 28, 2019 at 2:15 PM

        • It is, and that’s why I showed variants of this and some other recent pictures at last week’s photography get-together.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 28, 2019 at 2:28 PM

  9. magical !!!


    April 28, 2019 at 1:04 PM

  10. I think I like the first one best. The flowers look like they are almost see through.


    April 28, 2019 at 8:00 PM

  11. Both are equally beautiful.


    April 28, 2019 at 8:24 PM

  12. Gorgeous shots of two spectacular flowers, Steve. My eye favors the first but both have lovely qualities.

    Jane Lurie

    April 28, 2019 at 10:42 PM

  13. Beautiful shots–I don’t like to follow along with the crowd, but yes, the first one edges the second–just a smidge–in beauty.


    April 29, 2019 at 8:47 AM

    • Hop on the bandwagon. There may well be something intrinsically more pleasing about the first image, at least judging from our limited sample of commenters here and at the photography group last week.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 29, 2019 at 11:22 AM

  14. Image number one was up on my screen when I had to go into another room. When I returned, I saw it at an angle and it appeared considerably brighter and with less contrast. Very other-worldly and beautiful.

    Judy Baumann

    April 29, 2019 at 9:31 AM

    • Thanks. I’ll take other-worldly whenever I can get it. It’s interesting how much of a difference the viewing angle made for you. I process my pictures so that they look good to me on my monitor but I often wonder how much the image changes on other people’s devices.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 29, 2019 at 11:28 AM

  15. I think they are both weird.


    April 29, 2019 at 10:13 PM

    • The word weird originally meant ‘fate.’

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2019 at 5:41 AM

      • Wow, that is a weird change of meaning; and it made me look again; but they are still weird.


        May 1, 2019 at 9:56 PM

      • The realistic pictures are the best.


        May 1, 2019 at 9:58 PM

        • It depends on one’s purpose. For documentation, realistic is often the best. Art, though, is often another story.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 1, 2019 at 10:11 PM

          • Hey, that is something that my mother used to tell me. When I was a little kid, I asked about a big ugly sculpture in a plaza in San Jose. I did not know what it was. My mother told me it was ‘art’. I was satisfied with that. I did not know what ‘art’ was, but it sort of made sense. After that, my mother used it to silence me if I asked too many questions. “Where do babies come from?” “It’s ‘art’.”


            May 2, 2019 at 12:07 AM

  16. […] In the previous post, the majority preferred the first photograph of Heller’s […]

  17. I like the effects of both photos, Steve, but I slightly prefer the first image because it offers such a close view of the beautiful petals.


    April 30, 2019 at 8:32 PM

    • Yes, there’s something to be said for propinquity. In the second picture I could’ve cropped in closer but because something was going on in the background, even indistinctly, I let it live.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2019 at 9:39 PM

  18. ” I haven’t a ghost of a chance of guessing which version you prefer.” – you have such a gift of coaxing smiles out of us! thanks!

    both are beautiful – so delicate, and i am reminded of how the human tends to race from ‘to see’ site to the next, while underfoot there are treasures they never see. you help us to remember to treasure what’s near, if we just take time to look!

    first is my favorite, but the delicate beauty near the yellow/bottom is nice on the second.

    • You’re welcome; I’m happy to take credit as a smile-coaxer.

      You’re right that people will gravitate to the to-die-for sites like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. It’s understandable, and I’ve gone to my share of them as well. What’s not clear is why more people don’t gradually cultivate an appreciation for what’s less obvious. After all, we do have the saying that “Big things come in small packages.” Heller’s plantain is surely one of them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 4, 2019 at 4:07 PM

  19. I really like the colours in the second image … but am gravitating to the first as my fav. 🙂


    May 3, 2019 at 7:46 PM

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