Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

P.S.A. or S.S.A., that is the question*

with 50 comments

I’d been scheduled to do a presentation for the Williamson County chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas on April 9th. I decided to illustrate some techniques of nature photography that conduce to good pictures and therefore might lead to more submissions and better competition in this coming fall’s statewide NPSoT photo contest. As the date drew near, though, it became obvious that the presentation couldn’t be a present-ation, as everyone was already keeping to their homes. Fortunately technology let folks attend live online, and the show also got recorded. If you’re interested in techniques of nature photography, you’re welcome to watch some or all. My part begins at 9:37 and lasts for about an hour; it includes 90 photographs.

Not wanting today’s post to be only an announcement, I’ve added a jolt of sunshiny yellow in the form of a Texas dandelion (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus); the little round structure in the upper right is an about-to-open bud. The picture comes from April 8th at the Doeskin Ranch in Burnet County. I’d hoped for solitude there, but plenty of other homebound people had the same idea, and I was surprised to see so many cars in the normally almost empty parking lot. I was also dismayed when I came back to my car a couple of hours later and found a swarm of teenagers hanging around the car that had parked right next to mine.

—  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —

* It occurred to me that this public service announcement could also be construed as a self-service announcement, especially with S.S. happening to be my initials. Oh well, as another S. wrote: “one man in his time plays many parts.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 14, 2020 at 4:31 PM

50 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. How large is the Texas dandelion? It looks considerably larger than the common ones I see just about everywhere. The central structures look like little fireworks displays!


    April 14, 2020 at 5:18 PM

    • Staminate fireworks: now there’s a welcome concept. You’re right that you can’t tell the scale here. My local field guide says the diameter of a flower head ranges from 0.75 to 1.25 inches. Ironically, one of the vernacular names for this wildflower is “false dandelion,” which is true only if you consider the Eurasian dandelion to be the “true” one in Texas. Of course it isn’t, but that’s what Anglo and German settlers in Texas were familiar with.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2020 at 5:43 PM

  2. You have been a photographer since the late 1960s?! Dang! That is a long time ago! I was not even born until then! I am working right now, but will leave this on in the background like I sometimes do with really bad old television shows (because I like really bad old television shows). I am not interested in photography so much as the subject matter. If I am going to be distracted from work, it may as well be for something like Indian paintbrush (if there will be any).


    April 14, 2020 at 5:25 PM

    • Yes, I got my first “real” camera in 1969 in Honduras. In the half-century since then my involvement with photography has gone through phases of great activity and much less activity. Although I did some nature photography throughout, the emphasis on native plants began about 20 years ago and has continued unabated.

      We’ve been watching not old television shows but old movies, mostly thanks to Turner Classic Movies on cable television. One picture in the nature presentation does include a colony of Indian paintbrushes, which you should have no trouble recognizing. Happy viewing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2020 at 5:53 PM

      • I turned two in 1969. I do not remember it though.
        The Indian paintbrush is recognizable by color alone. I try not to guess what anything is because I know that I don’t know what much of it is. However, even some of the unfamiliar species are recognizable, such as bluebonnets earlier. I can recognize them now by color. Although it is unique, and darker blue than familiar lupines, it is obviously a lupine.


        April 15, 2020 at 1:08 PM

        • What? You don’t remember being 2? Okay, so I probably don’t either, although I do have a memory that could’ve been from when I was 2 or 3. I know no way of determining if it’s really a memory or something I imagined later when looking back.

          Aye, bluebonnets look like the lupines they are. We’ve got dozens of native species of them in America.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 15, 2020 at 1:23 PM

          • The two most common lupines here are the same color as each other, but are lighter blue than bluebonnet. I actually looked up bluebonnet, only to find that the seed really should have been sown last autumn. I intend to grow a few just to be able to brag about doing so. I do not want to plant many here where there are plenty of natives. That would be weird. (Well, I suppose that growing a few just to be able to brag about them is weird too, but I won’t worry about that right now.) When I get Indian paintbrush, I intend to get seed for Castilleja indivisa, just because I want to see what it’s like. I suppose that I could and should grow the native, but I do not find it to be as alluring.


            April 15, 2020 at 4:08 PM

            • Let’s hope the native Castilleja grows on you, in both senses of the expression.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 15, 2020 at 4:24 PM

              • I am in no rush to find it, but I know that if I happen to find it available somewhere, that I will get it, even if I happen to find seed in the wild.


                April 15, 2020 at 8:22 PM

      • The artistic quality of the photographs is more compelling than the species within some of the photographs. I do not normally notice such things, since I find the species to be so fascinating. Does Indian paintbrush fade to a more orangish shade as it matures? Is Sandyland bluebonnet the same color as the other bluebonnets? Is sumac common? I saw it commonly in Oklahoma. Is the redbud what is considered to be the Oklahoma redbud variety of the Eastern redbud species? (I don’t mean to ask so many questions.)


        April 15, 2020 at 1:22 PM

        • I’ve found that with the right approach almost any species can appear charming, not just the flashiest ones.

          I don’t think Indian paintbrush turns toward orange when it fades. Some species of paintbrushes are more orange to begin with.

          Sandyland bluebonnets strike me as a little more true blue than Texas bluebonnets, which often appear purple to me.

          We have at least three native sumac species in Austin, so yes, sumacs are common here.

          We have Cercis canadensis, both var. texensis and var. canadensis.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 15, 2020 at 4:20 PM

          • Well, I suppose that is what I get for asking too many questions; too many answers.
            I think that photographing wildflowers is more artistic than photographing garden varieties, although garden varieties get photographed too for more technical (less artistic) pictures. So many garden varieties are too frilly and garish for their real personalities to be conveyed in pictures, like a little dog who has been shorn for show. I see it a lot because I deal with those who enjoy gardening. I do like some garish flowers. They are just ‘different’ from their natural forms.
            I was not aware that there were three sumacs there. I remember that there were two near Oklahoma city, but I saw only one that was (overly) abundant.
            I just realized that the Oklahoma redbud is actually of the variety ‘Texensis’.


            April 15, 2020 at 6:45 PM

            • The most common sumac here is prairie flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, which is one of the best sources of fall foliage in this part of the country that doesn’t have large-scale fall foliage.

              I made a decision 20 years ago to photograph native plant species. The very little I know about cultivated non-native species comes from that.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 15, 2020 at 8:49 PM

              • Rhus lanceolata is naturalized nearby where we were in Oklahoma, but I never saw it. The three species of aromatica, copallinum and glabra were native there, but I do now know who was who. I believe that Rhus glabra was the one that I saw commonly growing wild and often rampantly on abandoned sites. It did not seem to be so rampant in the wild, but had no problem overwhelming areas that had been developed prior, and then abandoned. Rhus aromatica is smaller and shrubbier. I did not notice anything that looked like it that I would have thought to be a type of Rhus.
                Cultivated exotic species are mostly what I work with. However, contemporary exotic species are getting so promiscuous with breeding that they are not as much fun to work with as they used to be. I mean, I used to enjoy spruce and fir and maple that I knew came out of forests somewhere. Nowadays, the most popular cultivars are genetically wimpy love children of species that had business getting together. Fruit quality is actually getting worse rather than better. At a time when tree huggers are taking a liking to bees, many of the popular flowers are too strange to attract bees, and have nothing for them anyway.


                April 15, 2020 at 9:03 PM

                • It seems Rhus lanceolata is native rather than naturalized in Oklahoma:


                  Rhus copallinum grows one county over from where Austin is, and Rhus glabra two counties over.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  April 16, 2020 at 6:43 AM

                • Yes, it is native to Oklahoma, but not to the region where we were. The extent of migration had not yet been documented while we were there. I suspect that, because it is not exactly a desirable species (that anyone would intentionally plant into home gardens or for other purposes), the migration is somewhat natural; so when the data regarding the natural range is updated, it will depict the species as ‘native’ within the areas that it migrated into, rather than as ‘naturalized’. ‘Naturalized’ should describe plants that were introduced by unnatural means.
                  Some of the grandest Monterey cypress on the coast in Montara (south of San Francisco) were cut down because they had escaped their natural range, as if they are intended to be prisoners there. The species is actually quite common on private properties in the region, although they are about a hundred miles from their natural range. Apparently, some so-called environmentalist identified them as a threat to the ecosystem. However, naturalized blue gum from Tasmania remain.


                  April 16, 2020 at 10:54 AM

                • I’d heard about those Monterey cypresses getting cut down. Too bad.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  April 16, 2020 at 11:30 AM

                • It was really weird, and so senseless. There is so much other aggressively invasive exotic vegetation that should be eradicated, but for some reason, they selected those.


                  April 16, 2020 at 1:00 PM

  3. I enjoyed watching the presentation. Thank you.

    B Leander

    April 14, 2020 at 6:17 PM

    • Hi, Bruce, and thanks to you for watching. That gave me practice for this Thursday’s session. “See” you then.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2020 at 8:00 PM

  4. Sunshiny yellow, indeed, Steve. The dandelion is luminescent!


    April 14, 2020 at 7:09 PM

  5. The Doeskin Ranch area has seen a large uptick in traffic. Few people make it to the back trails though.

    Jason Frels

    April 14, 2020 at 8:42 PM

    • I didn’t go all the way up to the ridge this time, having found plenty to photograph on the lower level. I managed to keep mostly free of people, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2020 at 11:00 PM

  6. Nice chatting today, Steve. I have always been fond of the dandelion, careful to mow around them (as I do more and more with lots of flowers!). I am ashamed to admit I have posted a grand total of 4 times since we all met on the beach with Linda last October. I will endeavor to make that 5 tomorrow. Looking forward to watching your first virtual meeting. Cheers!


    April 14, 2020 at 9:13 PM

    • If only the paid mowers would follow your example. We might as well wish the moon were made of tofu, right?

      Looking forward to your first post in a while…

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2020 at 11:02 PM

  7. I’m only discovering this at a few minutes before midnight, so I will have to wait to see the presentation, but this strikes me as a BDD. Big damn deal.

    Michael Scandling

    April 15, 2020 at 1:57 AM

  8. I’ll try to watch the video later on but that is a perfect specimen of a dandelion.

    Steve Gingold

    April 15, 2020 at 3:43 AM

  9. On April 8 teenagers were getting away, gathering in groups and returning home to unsuspecting (?) families. Predictable and concerning.


    April 15, 2020 at 5:45 AM

    • Predictable and concerning indeed. I walked well out of my way to avoid those kids, who fortunately weren’t clustered on the driver’s side of my car.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2020 at 7:21 AM

  10. Your dandelion stamens aren’t curly? I’ve been seeing lots of dandelions on my walks and am getting the macro and lens baby itch. I am going to add one or both lenses to my bag. I wish I had at least one with me on yesterday’s walk.

    I’ll check out the presentation thanks for sharing it!


    April 15, 2020 at 9:20 AM

    • The common dandelion, the one of Eurasian origin that’s now so common in the United States, is in the genus Taraxacum, while the Texas dandelion is in the genus Pyrrhopappus, so there are noticeable differences in their flowers.

      I’ve never used a Lens Baby but I’m never without my 100mm macro. Of all the lenses I own, I use it the most often.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2020 at 9:33 AM

      • The LensBaby isn’t for everyone, but I love mine. I have a friend who just can’t find the love for it. That’s okay! 😀

        Thanks for the Dandelion information!


        April 15, 2020 at 10:18 AM

        • Sure, and I’ll add one thing: the word dandelion comes from French dent de lion, which mean’s lion’s tooth.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 15, 2020 at 1:19 PM

  11. Hey Steve .. 90 of your photos together! Sounds wonderful …


    April 20, 2020 at 2:42 PM

    • It went pretty well. Still, I’d rather have been doing it the conventional way, in person, with people asking questions during the slide show.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 20, 2020 at 4:23 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: