Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The Philippines

with 46 comments

On December 7th Eve and I flew from Austin to Seattle, then changed planes for Taipei, and finally changed once more to get to Cebu City, whose metropolitan area has the second largest population in the Philippines. While much of our 19-day trip went for family matters on the island of Cebu, including a wedding, I’d brought along a reduced version of my usual photo kit and hoped to get in some nature photography.

One Philippine province Eve (and therefore I) had never visited was Palawan, and so on the morning of December 12th we flew to the island of Busuanga in the very northern part of Palawan. That afternoon we joined a tour of the main town, Coron. The last place the tour took us was the base of Mount Tapyas, whose heights we reached by climbing 724* steps (and by enduring sore leg muscles when we had to climb more steps the next day). I see on the internet that Mount Tapyas is known for its sunsets, and it didn’t let us down.

In the first photograph the sun was still so bright that I underexposed by 3, 4, and even 5 f/stops to keep from blowing out the highlights in the solar disk. By the time of the second picture, which came 13 minutes later, I got away with an underexposure of only 1.33 f/stops, though you’ll notice some flaring on the hills beneath the sun. Just chalk it up to my usual flair as a photographer.

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* When our tour guide told us that there are 724 steps my immediate reaction was to think that 7 and 24 happen to be the lengths of the legs of a right triangle with a hypotenuse of 25 (you can do the arithmetic to verify that 7 squared plus 24 squared equals 25 squared).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 3, 2020 at 4:29 AM

46 Responses

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  1. I don’t mind the flaring as it mimics rays and you did well without all the hexagonal flares one often gets when shooting directly at the sun.

    Steve Gingold

    January 3, 2020 at 5:04 AM

    • Now that you mention it, I’m happy to have avoided polygonal artifacts. I hadn’t even thought about that till your comment. Like you, I’m not bothered by the flaring on the hills in the second picture, and so I didn’t even try to remove it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2020 at 5:13 AM

  2. Don’t be harsh on yourself Steve, I like the images for the feeling they convey. Sympathize about the pain of so many steps especially if steps aren’t part of normal life. Interested to see more of your trip.


    January 3, 2020 at 6:09 AM

    • More Philippine pictures will be coming your way over the next few weeks. That’s normally a slack time for nature photographs in Texas, anyway.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2020 at 2:19 PM

  3. It sounds like a wonderful trip. Did you see lots of cool plants?


    January 3, 2020 at 8:40 AM

    • I saw some interesting plants but had no reliable way of knowing which ones were native to the Philippines. As a result, most of the nature pictures you’ll see from this trip are landscape views.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2020 at 2:21 PM

      • That is too bad.


        January 4, 2020 at 7:55 AM

        • A woman working at one preserve told me the flowers there were native, but I don’t know if she was correct. I may show a few of those, along with a caveat.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 4, 2020 at 12:38 PM

          • I’m not sure it matters. I would have been very interested in seeing what grows there.


            January 5, 2020 at 8:42 AM

            • Some flowers in the Philippines I recognized as being from Australia. I did photograph some of the unknown (to me) flowers at the preserve, hoping I might eventually identify them, though I haven’t tried yet.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 5, 2020 at 4:40 PM

  4. January 3, 2020, Steve, Received your usual stunning daily “Portraits of Wildflowers”, and the always entertaining wording. When I did the arithmetic,  7×7=49, and 24×24=576, and 49+576=625, all was well when I tried 25×25=625. ALAS!  Your starting point was 624.  Is my math wrong, or did you and Eve take one too many steps climbing Mount Tapyas?

    Best wishes, Bill SterlingGeorgetown, Williamson County NPSOT

    Bill Sterling

    January 3, 2020 at 9:04 AM

  5. Even if you’re travelling on family-related matters, it is a good idea to take your camera along to come home with some amazing shots. In addition to your photographic skills, you seem to have a great mathematical mind, Steve. Who else would have noticed any connection to Pythagoras when climbing 724 steps?

    Peter Klopp

    January 3, 2020 at 9:16 AM

    • This time (my fifth to the Philippines) we made sure to arrange a few visits to places in nature, pictures from which will appear here over the next few weeks. For the trip I debated getting a good quality “bridge” camera that would have been easy to carry around, but in the end I went with my familiar DSLR body and two lenses, leaving behind the heavy 100-400mm lens that would have come in handy in a few locations.

      Having taught math on and off for decades, it’s not surprising if I pick up on some mathematical relationships that most other people wouldn’t notice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2020 at 2:31 PM

  6. These photos are very beautiful, Steve. I love those golden-copper skies!

    Lavinia Ross

    January 3, 2020 at 10:08 AM

    • Your description of “golden-copper skies” highlights how much the colors changed from the first picture to the one 13 minutes later.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2020 at 2:35 PM

  7. Gorgeous!


    January 3, 2020 at 10:34 AM

  8. SO gorgeous!

    Kathryn Hardage

    January 3, 2020 at 11:14 AM

  9. The serpentine ripples in the first photo are especially interesting. It looks to me like a boat wake that has spread due to the influence of wind and current, much like contrails will spread. In fact, it looks like there’s boat making way in the far background. I thought it was a rock at first, but the V shape and the way the light is reflecting looks more like a boat. In any event, the complexity of the ripples is appealing.

    I smiled at the second. The very first phrase that came to mind was “sun sandwich.”


    January 3, 2020 at 5:48 PM

    • I should’ve known I could count on you to point out those “serpentine ripples” in the first photo. I’m pretty sure you’re correct about the object in the distance being a boat.

      The horizontal orientation of the second picture makes the “sun sandwich” more obvious than in the first picture. The trade-off in waiting 13 minutes is that no ripples are apparent on the surface of the no-longer-sunlit water.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2020 at 9:34 PM

  10. The ripples in the first image are mesmerizing. When Linda mentioned “sun sandwich”, I looked back at the second image and saw “alligator having a sunset snack”… that hump of clouds looked like alligator eyes to me!


    January 5, 2020 at 2:17 PM

    • Now that you’ve mentioned it, I see how in the second picture you could take the mountain profiles for alligator jaws. Like you, the ripples in the first photo made the view especially appealing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 5, 2020 at 4:42 PM

  11. If I had been told about the 724 steps, I can guarantee you that the last thing that would have gone through my mind had to do with triangles and hypotenuses… 🙂


    January 5, 2020 at 9:25 PM

    • As you heard, it wasn’t at all the last thing on my mind, but the first. Of course my mathematical muscles would have preferred only 512 steps (for a 5-12-13 right triangle) or even better just 34 steps (for that most famous right triangle, the 3-4-5).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2020 at 12:50 AM

      • Different minds work differently (or don’t work, when it comes to certain mathematical matters 😊).


        January 6, 2020 at 10:56 PM

        • Granted, people have aptitudes for different things. Still, with the right training, almost anyone could be successful in elementary math—and perhaps even grow to like it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 6, 2020 at 11:01 PM

          • You are probably right, Steve, but at this point in my life, I have other priorities and little interest in putting in the time and effort it would take to remedy my mathematical shortcomings.


            January 6, 2020 at 11:22 PM

            • Understood. I was thinking about good teaching for children, fewer of whom might then grow up disliking math.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 6, 2020 at 11:25 PM

              • I have wished more than once that someone had helped me make sense of numbers and equations all these years ago!


                January 6, 2020 at 11:32 PM

                • Short of getting access to a time machine, we can’t change that history. I’m also not at all optimistic about the future of math teaching in the United States, alas.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 6, 2020 at 11:38 PM

                • tanjabrittonwriter

                  January 6, 2020 at 11:48 PM

  12. So off line, I scrolled through the text and wondered what the images would be like when I logged onto the www. Yet the final trivia gave me a huge smile! You are so funny, yet I also wondered about your drawing skills.. Long ago I observed an elementary student (boy) and noted his amazing technical drawing abilities. I calmly asked, “Are you good in math?” and he said, ‘No.” I immediately replied, ‘Well you SHOULD be!’

    I also noted that the students often improved in the maths after mastering drawing.. That analytical ability to decipher and break ‘things’ down into step-by-step – non verbal skills…

    My own maths are extremely rusty, but I still enjoy racing someone using a calculator when adding a column of numbers! I don’t think I’d want to race you, however, pencil for pencil!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    January 6, 2020 at 2:25 PM

    • I don’t know if, on average, there’s a positive correlation between math ability and drawing ability. As far as I know, I have no gift for drawing. I’ve seen young kids who with no prompting draw many things that they see around them. You may have been one of those kids, but I wasn’t. Somewhere I still have a piece of paper from early elementary school. We were asked to draw what we had for breakfast that day. On my paper I drew an oval that represented an egg and a square for a piece of toast, then I filled up the rest of the space with numbers. That sure tells you what I was and wasn’t tuned in to, doesn’t it?

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2020 at 4:23 PM

      • Your teacher surely smiled at your original approach to the ‘negative space.’
        Last night I came across this quote and thought of you: (From Robert Henri – The Artist’s Spirit) – ” It is clear to see how a thorough knowledge of geometry would be valuable to the artist whose ideas are to be expressed in apparently magical proportions. . . It would be well for the artist to get his training in mathematics early so that his use of such knowledge will be ‘instinctive’ later on. He should know while studying mathematics the great value the study is to give in his later work.’…

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        January 8, 2020 at 3:38 PM

        • Thanks for that great advice from painter Robert Henri. I had no idea he was so keen on a math for painters; call it a different kind of background from what people usually refer to when they discuss painting.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2020 at 5:11 AM

          • For sure it’s something that I’ve always noticed, and I credit my love of drawing for helping my love of math/or else my love of math for helping the ease of drawing/having natural aptitude for scale and balance in a design… which came first the chicken or the egg?

            Playamart - Zeebra Designs

            January 9, 2020 at 2:19 PM

            • I’m happy to hear you have both of those aptitudes. I can understand how they reinforce each other.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 9, 2020 at 3:13 PM

        • As for negative space, I was so young at the time I’d never heard of negative numbers, or probably even subtraction.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2020 at 5:15 AM

  13. I’m wowing again Steve! These are gorgeous … Wedding, holiday and fabulous photography .. got me 👏👏


    January 9, 2020 at 12:28 AM

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