Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Rainbow or nebula?

with 27 comments

You know those optical illusions where a drawing or design can be seen in different ways; this isn’t exactly one of those. And it’s also not quite like those works by Escher in which one thing gets transformed into another. Still, this photograph has elements of both of those: going from bottom to top, lily pads with a rainbow above them give way to a nebula in the night sky.

Here’s the story. On July 14th (Bastille Day), I was on the Burnet Rd. side of the Domain complex and discovered a pond with two fountains shooting water to good heights. The morning was clear, so sunlight refracting through the sprays of water created two rainbows. I set out to photograph each one along with the heavy splashing of the water as it rained back into the pond and moved sideways at the will of the wind. In the picture above I serendipitously got more than I bargained for.

Below, in a crop from a different frame, you get a closer look at the effect of the splashing water I was originally after, photographed at 1/800 of a second. Click to enlarge and see more details.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 16, 2020 at 4:37 AM

27 Responses

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  1. Very cool, Steve. Had I seen it on a wall I would not have guessed photograph.

    Steve Gingold

    July 16, 2020 at 5:12 AM

    • I was excited by how differently the top photograph turned out from what I expected, especially with the uppermost water drops getting transformed into stars in a black sky. In addition, the more-distant lily pads could pass for clouds. What strangeness!

      I took most of my pictures with a horizontal orientation to go parallel with the area of splashing water, so I’m glad I had the presence of mind to do at least some vertical takes too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2020 at 5:50 AM

  2. that’s so cool


    July 16, 2020 at 6:55 AM

  3. I’m going to pull out and dust off ‘unique’ as a descriptor for that top photo. Even before reading the text, I saw a movement from earth to sky; it’s just a glorious image. I smiled when I looked at the second image. It seems that the rainbow, unwilling to be upstaged, has inserted itself into that photo, too — at the upper left.


    July 16, 2020 at 6:59 AM

    • Definitely unique: strange things sometimes appear in our photographs, and I was excited to see what this one offered.

      I shouldn’t be surprised that you noticed the trace of color in the upper left corner of the second image; you’re good at picking up on such things. I’d even considered pointing it out in my text. What you see in the second view is the lower half of an image whose upper half shows a lot more of the rainbow going up and to the right. I like the lower half as a panoramic abstraction in its own right.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2020 at 7:19 AM

  4. Both of these are simply mesmerizing photographs. I find it strange how I often get hooked on looking at images like these, slipping into a zen-like state, and quiet mind. But, alas, at some point reality ebbs back – I can’t ever seem to forget that I have chores to do and living things to care for!


    July 16, 2020 at 7:39 AM

    • Chores? Cares? What are those? Okay, so reality does have a habit of intruding. Still, I’m pleased that these images sent you into zen-like state of quieted mind. I see the second image as a good abstraction, while the first is something magical I can hardly account for.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2020 at 7:52 AM

  5. Wow–those are stunning photos, Steve. I know exactly the water feature you’re referring to sure. Did you take the photos very early in the morning, or was the sun fully up?


    July 16, 2020 at 7:54 AM

    • On Tuesday morning I was looking at online maps of Austin to see where I might go to look for nature pictures. One map showed a couple of ponds east of Burnet Rd., which I went to first, and another map showed the pond in the Domain right at the Burnet Rd. edge. I’d never been to any of those ponds before, so I had a productive morning. I took the two pictures in today’s post at around 9:50. The sun needed to be up high enough above surrounding features for its light to reach the fountains and create a rainbow. How much earlier I could’ve come and found rainbows already, I don’t know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2020 at 8:10 AM

  6. Fountains and sprinklers often create the most wonderful rainbows just waiting to be captured. Again you went one step further and turned the images into abstract art, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    July 16, 2020 at 7:58 AM

  7. These are fantastic images. Fantastic in the literal sense. Nububows. I especially like the bottom one.

    Michael Scandling

    July 16, 2020 at 10:27 AM

    • The bottom picture is the lower half of a roughly square image whose upper half included a rainbow. The lower half in isolation, as shown here, is more abstract and all about texture. I can’t say I’ve ever made a picture like either of today’s two.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2020 at 12:45 PM

  8. The original shot is gorgeous, Steve, and the crop is equally so. Nice!


    July 16, 2020 at 1:48 PM

    • Hi, Ken. Yeah, that first picture is a bit of a wonder. I had no idea at the time I took it that it was going to come out the way it did. Naturally I was happy with its strangeness. The abstract crop from a different frame pleased me, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2020 at 2:17 PM

  9. I love after-capture surprises like this. Yet another shout of praise and gratitude for the possibilities we have in the digital realm. Under difficult lighting conditions, I often do 3 or 5 bracketed exposures, and it’s not infrequent that one of the extreme over- or under-exposures provides something delightfully unexpected.


    July 16, 2020 at 5:25 PM

    • Hooray for (good) surprises. Because the falling water was blown about by the wind, for some of my shooting I did bursts of several photos per second. That way I’d have plenty of pictures from which to choose the best arrangements of water. The first picture in this post was among the few vertical ones that had a darker area at the top.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2020 at 7:42 PM

  10. Admit it: you photoshopped it! 🙂 It’s impossible to capture water, a rainbow, and a star-studded sky in one image!


    July 18, 2020 at 8:07 PM

    • It’s not really the night sky, but it sure looks like it. The bright splashing drops of water that appear as just what they are above the lily pads and water in the lower part of the image get reinterpreted as stars against the darker background at the top.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2020 at 10:55 PM

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