Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Damselfly on western ironweed

with 87 comments

I’ve always found western ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii) hard to photograph. Not so this dameslfly on the buds thereof along Bull Creek on July 1st. In looking at John Abbott’s book Damselflies of Texas, I figured this damselfly was in the genus Hetaerina but I wasn’t sure about the species. Yesterday on bugguide.net entomologist T. Hedlund identified the species as Hetaerina americana, known as the American rubyspot. The one I photographed seems to have been a female.

UPDATE: from a different frame I’ve added a closeup showing the details in one segment of the abdomen and a part of the wing. Till now I hadn’t paid attention to the transverse black markings on the iridescent blue.

American Rubyspot Damselfly on Western Ironweed Buds by Buttonbush Flower Globe 1831 Detail

Unrelated thought for today: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana in The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress. The last sentence is famous but often gets misquoted. Much worse, many people refuse to learn that lesson.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 28, 2020 at 4:40 AM

87 Responses

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  1. Breathtakingly beautiful! The shiny colours make me think of titanium.

    Ms. Liz

    July 28, 2020 at 5:01 AM

    • Your mention of titanium sent me searching. One article that turned up was entitled “Antibacterial titanium nano-patterned arrays inspired by dragonfly wings.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2020 at 5:16 AM

      • “A great deal of inspiration has resulted from studying the self-cleaning and antibacterial dragonfly wing surfaces” – so interesting Steve, I’d never have imagined these extra properties of dragonfly wings. Thank you, amazing info!

        Ms. Liz

        July 28, 2020 at 5:31 AM

        • Equally amazing is the fact that people have discovered and come to understand phenomena like that one.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 28, 2020 at 5:38 AM

  2. Fantastic shot! The detail is amazing – and beautiful.

    Ann Mackay

    July 28, 2020 at 5:22 AM

  3. This is an incredible shot! Such an iridescent sheen on those wings and body. And I like your thought for the day too. Given the current state of the world it is quite apt.


    July 28, 2020 at 6:39 AM

    • You’ve prompted me to update this post. I just added a closeup showing details in the wing and abdomen. As for the thought of the day, it’s weighed much on my mind lately.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2020 at 7:15 AM

  4. Beautiful shot, Steve, of a spectacular female damselfly. I am always fascinated by different sizes, shapes, and patterns of the individual cells in the wings and your image does a great job in capturing those details.

    Mike Powell

    July 28, 2020 at 8:01 AM

    • Thanks. The Abbott book I mentioned describes details of individual species. That’s good, and yet as a photographer I’m happy to concentrate on those details for their intrinsic patterns and complexity. You know what fun these critters are to portray.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2020 at 8:18 AM

  5. Fascinating shot of the damselfly, Steve! Is this the same insect known in our latitudes as the dragonfly?

    Peter Klopp

    July 28, 2020 at 8:06 AM

  6. Beautiful photo. The damsel is in no distress.


    July 28, 2020 at 8:21 AM

    • You’re right about the damsel. The same can’t always be said of the anything-but-damsel of a photographer after two or three hours out in the Texas summer heat.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2020 at 8:24 AM

      • I’ll bet. It doesn’t take much for me to become a sweaty mess. Lots of water, preferably with Nuun or Gatorade and a hat. Still a sweaty mess. 🙂 Your photo was worth it though, yes?


        July 28, 2020 at 11:47 AM

        • Yes, I put up with those discomforts for the sake of the photogenic things that come my way. I’ve always tolerated heat pretty well (unlike cold, which is why I left New York). Still, after 43 years here, I have to admit I don’t tolerate the heat quite as well as I used to.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 28, 2020 at 12:41 PM

          • I hear ya. I used to work at Zilker and in the summer, I”d come home and work more in my garden. No way I could do that now.


            July 28, 2020 at 2:56 PM

  7. Looks like we all have dragons and damsels on our minds~I’ll be posting a dragonfly next week and have another on the easel right now. I cannot do them justice as you have here. This is a stunning photo.

    Like you I’ve struggled to get a good photo of ironweed. Odd~I suppose it is the saturated color. And, of course, the height. I’m looking up at them which is your strength. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any in the field in quite awhile.


    July 28, 2020 at 9:21 AM

    • Dragons and damsels, yes. I look forward to seeing your take on one of the former.
      With ironweed, it’s not the color saturation that I find a problem, but the configuration of the flower heads; usually not much is in the same plane, so I can’t get more than a little in focus, as is the case with the buds in the first photo. In a few cases, I’ve turned that to my advantage and done a limited-focus portrait, as for example


      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2020 at 11:12 AM

      • Oh my yes, that is a stunning image. Well done.


        July 28, 2020 at 2:37 PM

        • Thanks. I just noticed in the linked post that I mentioned western ironweed was still flowering into August, so I may yet see some more this year and get another shot at portraying the flowers.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 28, 2020 at 2:41 PM

          • Yes, I was thinking I could probably head out tomorrow and see if I can find some.


            July 28, 2020 at 3:37 PM

            • May your iron determination lead you to some ironweed.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 28, 2020 at 3:38 PM

              • Beats ironing. 😀


                July 28, 2020 at 3:39 PM

                • Do I detect irony in your comment?

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 28, 2020 at 3:41 PM

                • You might. I was trying to make a pun on the iron age but couldn’t come up with anything.


                  July 28, 2020 at 3:43 PM

                • Too bad that we don’t have, on the pattern of leverage and cartilage and hemorrhage, the word ironage, which you could play off against iron age.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 28, 2020 at 3:54 PM

                • Oh, that’s good! I knew you’d have something for me. 🙂
                  For some time I’ve thought it wasn’t making a lot of sense for me to keep writing this blog, and I’ve reached the point where I’ve decided to end it. I’ll look forward to continuing to read yours, however. I can still do that, right? I hope so. Anyway I just wanted to let you know.


                  July 28, 2020 at 10:01 PM

                • First I noticed an e-mail saying you’d subscribed to my blog. That wasn’t too surprising; people sometimes do that when they have computer problems. But then I got to this comment, which does come as quite a surprise. I see that your name here no longer acts as a link. Of course you can keep coming here and leaving comments if you wish. You probably won’t be notified of replies in the old way. In any case, we’ll miss seeing what you’ve been up to.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 29, 2020 at 6:57 AM

                • Some of you, perhaps, but the growing number of readers who see fit to leave critical comments won’t. Or at least, I won’t miss them.
                  And you were right about the first part, my computer does from time to time drop subscriptions and I have to go back and resubscribe.


                  July 29, 2020 at 8:13 AM

  8. A beautiful specimen and natural history lesson, Steve. And I love the quote. 🙂

    Lavinia Ross

    July 28, 2020 at 10:16 AM

    • The quotation is duly famous. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I hope you’ll pass it along to anyone you think might not be aware of it, or who isn’t taking it to heart.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2020 at 11:14 AM

  9. Fantastic close-up! These wings really have a delicate structure.


    July 28, 2020 at 11:35 AM

    • They do have, and I assume that structure gives the wings great strength. Practicality aside, the lattice is impressive in its own right.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2020 at 12:43 PM

  10. Absolutely stellar images! Love that last quote, and agree with it.


    July 28, 2020 at 12:32 PM

    • I’ll take stellar, thanks. And that’s how I’d also characterize Santayana’s statement. I’m appalled by the large number of American high school and college “graduates” who have very little knowledge of our country’s history.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2020 at 1:08 PM

      • Me too! 😭


        July 28, 2020 at 2:31 PM

        • Yes, it’s a shame, what with all the money we taxpayers give to our schools. I don’t see the problem as having much to do with funding. I taught math in Honduras and had very limited supplies, but I had my mind and chalk and a blackboard, and those things were mostly all I needed to do my job.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 28, 2020 at 3:36 PM

  11. Stunning capture, Steve. Metallic bronze and turquoise coloring, and the wing veining detail is nothing short of amazing!

    Eliza Waters

    July 28, 2020 at 1:11 PM

    • Thanks. Think of all the things in nature we couldn’t see without the aid of instruments like magnifying glasses and, in this case, a macro lens.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2020 at 2:07 PM

  12. This is a “winner” photo. Thanks, Steve.

    Marilyn L Moll

    July 28, 2020 at 1:20 PM

  13. Damselly Rubyspot is ravishing in her glittering attire, but her wings, beheld from nearby, appear steely and are reminiscent of a metal fence.
    And while I like (and have used) Santayana’s famous quote, I take issue with his choice of the noun “savages.” It has been, and continues to be, abused.


    July 28, 2020 at 3:25 PM

    • I’ve conjectured that the “steel lattice” in a damselfly’s wings makes them exceptionally strong while keeping them light in weight.

      Perhaps we can reconcile the word by saying that anyone, regardless of where or when, who refuses to learn the past and to learn from the past is a historical savage.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2020 at 3:30 PM

  14. Astonishing. Stunning. Beautiful. Mesmerizing. And the quote could not be more fitting for our times.

    Michael Scandling

    July 28, 2020 at 3:38 PM

  15. Lovely. Perfectly parallel. Great detail.

    Steve Gingold

    July 29, 2020 at 3:52 AM

    • The damselfly was obliging enough to stay put while I maneuvered the focal place parallel to its body.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 29, 2020 at 7:14 AM

  16. First thought on seeing today’s photograph: Ooh, streamlined!

    Second thought on reading your unrelated thought for the day: I am very much enjoying your recent addition of thoughts for the day.

    I have been thinking about that message a lot lately, and misquoted or no, it is applicable to recent current events. :\


    July 29, 2020 at 11:38 AM

    • “Streamlined” is a good word for this damselfly. The “Ooh” is nice as well.

      Thanks for letting me know you’re enjoying the thoughts and quotations I’ve recently been adding to my nature posts. Without getting overtly political, I’ve put forth ideas that are sometimes relevant to current events.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 29, 2020 at 5:07 PM

      • “Without getting overtly political, I’ve put forth ideas that are sometimes relevant to current events.”
        Yes. Political hyperbole has become the norm. Sometimes less is more. 😉


        July 29, 2020 at 10:31 PM

        • I’ve often used the phrase “less is more” to describe certain photographs. You’re right that it applies to other things as well.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 29, 2020 at 11:15 PM

  17. I’m glad you added the detail, and I’m glad you included a portion of the abdomen. The patterns on both are exquisite, although I’m quite taken both with the metallic sheen and the reflectivity. The wings, especially, seem to be molten. If nature were to build a cathedral, they’d serve very well as the stained glass windows.

    It’s always nice to find someone else who’s still willing to use ‘quote’ as a verb and ‘quotation’ as a noun.


    July 30, 2020 at 7:40 AM

    • By the way, I found woolly ironweed (Vernonia lindheimeri) on the Willow City loop. I’ll be posting photos eventually. That species was tough to photograph, too, because of its ‘clumpiness.’


      July 30, 2020 at 7:47 AM

    • I don’t know why I didn’t think of including a detail in the first place, as I often do. Oh well, better late than never. The patterns on the wings and abdomen are indeed exquisite. In addition to stained glass, they’d lend themselves to jewelry (as people have said here about various features of plants and insects).

      As for quote as a noun, I’ve probably used it that way once in a while. Normally I go with the full form of the noun.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2020 at 12:29 PM

  18. Really do like the additional bit of detail on the wing and abdomen. I am frequently amazed by the sharpness of detail you are able to achieve. (Not having read all of the previous comments, I’ll risk making you repeat yourself): I know you take your photos handheld, and a fast shutter speed (1/400 or faster?), but I wonder whether you manually set the aperture AND the ISO, and whether such detail is made possible due to a large image (50 Megapixels or thereabouts), manipulation of the RAW file with photo processing software, or a combination…having read the About my Equipment and About My Techniques tabs, I think I have some guesses – but would appreciate details on this photo set. Or just tell me to read all of the comments above…


    July 30, 2020 at 10:06 AM

    • Because higher ISOs impart more noise to an image, I raise the ISO only as high as I need to to get the image I’m after. Subjects that are moving (not the one in today’s post, however) usually call for a faster shutter speed, which in turn may necessitate a higher ISO. Normally I set the shutter speed and ISO, then see what aperture the camera responds with. Having 50 megapixels certainly offers room for cropping in cases where I couldn’t get or focus any closer to my subject. Nowadays a lot of refining takes place in photo editing software. Photoshop recently added a Texture slider that can really bring up the fine details in an image. I’ve pushed that slider up a lot in many of my pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2020 at 12:38 PM

      • I’ve set my ISO to 200 (as low as I can get it) and try to use 1/400 second, or 1/250 with flash, and I have been more or less happy with most of the results so far. Actually stopped using Photoshop recently, and am using Canon’s free software and some other products to manipulate for noise reduction, etc. Thanks for the tips!


        August 5, 2020 at 11:50 AM

        • Sure thing. I’ve had Canon digital cameras for 15 years but have never used the software that comes with them. I got used to Photoshop way back when and have kept using it. I’ve read about other products that are good at reducing noise, like Topaz DeNoise AI. I may have to break down and try it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 5, 2020 at 3:40 PM

  19. I recently attended the New Zealand Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition in the Auckland Museum. This photo of yours could very well have been among them, if you’d made it here. This has to be among your very finest portraits.


    July 30, 2020 at 5:28 PM

    • Hey, thanks for your encomium. You’ve made me try to remember whether I photographed any dragonflies in New Zealand; none comes to mind. Too bad the giant dragonflies of other eras didn’t survive in the same way the tree ferns over there have.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2020 at 6:12 PM

      • That would be one fabulous Lost World find: dragonflies with 3-foot wingspans–maybe in a hidden valley somewhere in Tasmania, in the protective company of the oh-so-elusive marsupial “tigers.”


        August 1, 2020 at 5:27 AM

        • My understanding is that the air in Lost World days had a higher percent of oxygen than nowadays, and that extra oxygen made the giant versions of dragonflies possible.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 1, 2020 at 7:41 AM

          • And those conditions would be nearly impossible to find now, even in remotest regions, especially because of our depletion of the oxygen-producing rain forests. More’s the pity. Maybe on another Goldilocks planet in a distant galaxy (I’m a believer)…


            August 2, 2020 at 4:49 AM

  20. Stunning detail – these are hard to photograph!!


    July 30, 2020 at 6:23 PM

    • Agreed: those are fascinating details. Damselflies, being smaller than dragonflies, are indeed harder to photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2020 at 6:27 PM

  21. Excellent post. I like much. I can intereste.


    July 31, 2020 at 10:46 PM

  22. Beautiful post. I,like.


    August 1, 2020 at 11:28 PM

  23. The detail is amazing Steve …beautiful


    August 2, 2020 at 5:01 AM

  24. Fantastic detail!


    August 2, 2020 at 4:19 PM

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