Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Three approaches to portraying basket-flower “baskets”

with 38 comments

On the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on May 7th I tried various approaches to photographing basket-flower “baskets” in a search for new ways to portray the familiar species Plectocephalus americanus (even if the new genus name isn’t yet familiar). For the first picture, I cast my shadow on the subject to create soft lighting while a wide aperture of f/3.5 kept the background well out of focus. I also had no aversion to a version in which f/8 let a background basket-flower reveal more of its shape:

For the third portrait I used the familiar technique of aiming toward a deeply shaded area:

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 31, 2020 at 4:29 AM

38 Responses

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  1. I like all three approaches but I prefer the last image with its magnificent details against the dark background.

    Peter Klopp

    May 31, 2020 at 7:53 AM

    • Thanks for letting me know your preference. I just learned that the German equivalent to “Chacun à son goût” is “Über Geschmack lässt sich nicht streiten.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 31, 2020 at 8:05 AM

  2. So pretty.

    Martha Goudey

    May 31, 2020 at 9:19 AM

  3. Did you use a flash on the last one?

    Jason Frels

    May 31, 2020 at 9:34 AM

    • I see how you might think that. Fortunately there was enough light on the subject, and a lack of it in the background, that no flash was necessary. I avoid flash as much as I can because of the harshness it imparts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 31, 2020 at 10:14 AM

      • I got lucky like that with a bluebonnet once. I was thinking about trying an off-camera flash with a softbox to get something like that.

        Jason Frels

        May 31, 2020 at 10:16 AM

        • That sounds like a good way to go. Even with an on-camera flash I’ve sometimes dialed down the flash intensity to 1/8 or 1/16 of full power to add a little extra light on the subject without blasting it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 31, 2020 at 10:26 AM

  4. The second picture is well-framed with the flower in the background. It has just enough shape to frame the subject, but is blurry enough not to distract. Great photo.

    Jason Frels

    May 31, 2020 at 9:35 AM

    • I do try to strike that happy medium: enough form to act as a frame, yet not so much as to pull too much attention away from the subject.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 31, 2020 at 10:17 AM

  5. Very nice! I love the first, the soft light and beautifully colorful background. But I also like the variety here, with each perspective showing a different aspect of the basket.

    Todd Henson

    May 31, 2020 at 10:25 AM

    • Hail, variety! Of these three I’m favoring the first, both in its own right and because it’s less typical of what I’ve previously done than the other two are.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 31, 2020 at 10:33 AM

  6. All three beautiful but I will go with the first. I immediately thought of it as a work of architecture, and essentially, it is.

    Michael Scandling

    May 31, 2020 at 10:45 AM

    • Now that you mention it, the first picture does have something of an Art Deco architecture look to it. Imagine a skyscraper from the Chrysler Building era topped by a spire resembling the first picture’s basket-flower.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 31, 2020 at 11:08 AM

  7. I was thinking of the first shot, as something in the window at Tiffany’s, something akin to those Fabergé eggs the Tsars used to collect.

    Robert Parker

    May 31, 2020 at 11:29 AM

    • Well, maybe the fact that my father’s native language was Russian egged you on. And I have seen the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” And I know that tsar is etymologically the same as Caesar.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 31, 2020 at 11:37 AM

  8. The background color in the first image is as lovely as the flower.


    May 31, 2020 at 11:03 PM

  9. The corona of color surrounding the bud in the first photo seems to have its source in the bud, rather than in a separate flower. It’s beautiful, and unique. Your last image is equally interesting; it almost transforms the bud into a seed head without any intervening flowering. The silvery-gray reminds me of Monarda seed heads.

    I’ve been puzzled by your ability to find basket flowers when I’ve yet to see one. I finally remembered that, last year, they showed up here about a month later than yours. Sure enough, when I went to a few places where I’ve found them before, and there they are: standing tall, with mostly-closed buds. Many sites have been lost to mowers, but I found a nice stand at the old power plant on Hwy 146. That site is posted now, but the flowers are only ten feet or so inside the property line, and I can park on the right-of-way. I just found yet another use for a telephoto lens!


    June 1, 2020 at 8:06 AM

    • You’ve heard me say that uniquity is something to be sought, and in the first picture I believe I’ve found it. Thanks for your confirmation.

      I could say I’ve been surprised by your generally not finding basket-flowers. This time it worked out for you, I’m happy to hear. I hope at least some of your telephoto pictures came out well. I don’t recall ever using a telephoto lens for basket-flowers. Why would I, when I can get close to them here? Actually, they’re rare in most of Austin, and the sites I go to for them are at the northeast fringes of town, but still only 15 or 20 minutes from home.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 1, 2020 at 8:43 AM

  10. Beautiful!!


    June 1, 2020 at 8:19 PM

  11. My favorite is the first with the soft purple background showing the detail of the flowers and its ultimate royal color. You do this genre of photography so very well! Thank you for showing me the way! I will try to do better.


    June 2, 2020 at 12:36 AM

  12. That first is a great shot with an aura of its own. Nice detail in the basket too.

    Steve Gingold

    June 4, 2020 at 6:03 PM

    • I’m especially fond of that aura in the first picture. Lately I’ve been pushing toward abstraction and am not so concerned with “reality.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 4, 2020 at 6:24 PM

      • To a degree I am less concerned also although still maintain a level of reality. I am sure that will change over time as I continue to look for other ways to present familiar subjects.

        Steve Gingold

        June 4, 2020 at 6:31 PM

        • Rather than “familiarity breeds contempt” we’ll have “familiarity breeds innovation.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 4, 2020 at 6:38 PM

  13. Love the first one Steve. Intricate and unusual … and that wonderful purple background is a huge plus!


    June 8, 2020 at 1:37 PM

    • It is a huge plus, and that background color made the picture special for me. The intricacy is inherent in the basket-flower’s “basket,” and that’s why I so often photograph this wildflower.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2020 at 1:50 PM

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