Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A predilection to turn red

with 35 comments

The leaves of smartweed plants (Polygonum sp.) tend to turn yellow and red. On August 25th I positioned myself with the sun in front of me so that its light would transluce this smartweed leaf and saturate the red. Cameras don’t like looking into the sun—which is to say photographers generally don’t like it—because the light bouncing around off the lens elements can create unwanted artifacts. That’s how there came to be orbs at the top of this picture. Technically it’s a defect, and I could easily remove it, but you may find it’s a smart look for a smartweed leaf. The plant’s stems also noticeably have red in them:

The answer to yesterday’s question asking which independent country has the lowest population density is Mongolia, with only about 2 people per square mile. Eliza Waters quickly came up with the right answer, and Peter Klopp soon followed.

When we look at a globe of the world, we’re accustomed to seeing countries represented in proportion to their areas. For a change, you may want to check out a map that represents countries according to their populations (click the map there to enlarge it). You’ll notice some countries appear smaller or even much smaller than you’re used to seeing them (e.g. Canada, Mongolia, Australia, Ireland, Russia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia), and others larger (e.g. Nigeria, India, the Philippines, Japan, Bangla Desh).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 21, 2020 at 3:51 AM

35 Responses

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  1. The colors in your first shot are remarkable, and the refractions don’t bother me in the least.


    September 21, 2020 at 4:49 AM

  2. The orbs obviously complete the picture, as for the smartweed… I’m amazed at all these colors [love the blue at the base edges]! So beautiful!

    marina kanavaki

    September 21, 2020 at 5:10 AM

  3. Very interesting map! Love the colours in the top image and I enjoyed seeing the green orbs at the top 🙂

    Ms. Liz

    September 21, 2020 at 5:14 AM

    • Yet another vote not to absorb each orb in blackness, but to leave them there. Yes, that map is interesting indeed. I’ve long been interested in maps and populations.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 21, 2020 at 5:44 AM

  4. I’m very fractious, and I love the orbs. Can’t get over the color and pattern on the leaf. Our smartweed leaves turn a pretty orange-red, very soft. Not like this wild pattern at all. Very striking.


    September 21, 2020 at 7:31 AM

  5. I love those artifacts and intentionally shoot for sunflares in shots like this one. It totally changes the narrative of a simple photo.


    September 21, 2020 at 7:44 AM

    • From what I’ve seen online over the years, you’re not alone in going for sunflares. I generally avoid them or try to minimize them, but sometimes they’re unavoidable when aiming close to the sun. In today’s first picture, I wouldn’t have wanted an orb to interfere with the leaf, but having one just above the leaf’s tip seemed okay to me and served as an upward extension in the direction implied by the leaf.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 21, 2020 at 8:41 AM

  6. Terrific shot! Even before reading your discussion of a population map, the leaf, to me, looked like a color-coded map of an island.

    Robert Parker

    September 21, 2020 at 8:08 AM

    • Thanks. I like your vision of a color-coded map of an island, which, as you implied, accords with the world population map I linked to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 21, 2020 at 8:44 AM

  7. Ooh, gorgeous photos! I love the rich colors and I love the sculptural effect of both.


    September 21, 2020 at 8:15 AM

    • I’ll take gorgeous, thanks. When I first encountered smartweed years ago it was the flowers and buds that initially appealed to me. Later I noticed how the drying leaves curl and turn colors, and eventually I started paying attention to the colorful stalks and their textured swellings where leaves branch off.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 21, 2020 at 8:48 AM

  8. Sometimes a small blemish adds beauty to a woman’s face and so it is with your lovely photo of the smartweed plant.

    Peter Klopp

    September 21, 2020 at 9:34 AM

  9. The lens flare is perfect punctuation. An inverted exclamation point. Bang!

    Michael Scandling

    September 21, 2020 at 10:35 AM

  10. I saw the orbs balanced at the leaf’s tip much as a seal balances a ball.

    As for the leaf itself, I want it: preferably in cloisonné, and done as a brooch. I’m not sure where I’d wear it, but if I had it, I’d find a place! Even as a photograph, the combination of RGB colors is fabulous, and the image of an aquatic leaf rising up out of earth and water within the confines of the actual leaf is just the best.


    September 21, 2020 at 11:33 AM

    • I can follow you to a seal balancing a ball on its nose. You’ve also broached a cloisonné broach and the certainty of a place to wear it; I can accept those things as well. With regard to the leaf as a leaf, its notorious RGB colors are something, aren’t they? The photographic abstractions have continued, in spite of or perhaps because of this strange year

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 21, 2020 at 2:21 PM

  11. Love the rich colours of the top photo – makes me think of stained glass!

    Ann Mackay

    September 22, 2020 at 10:06 AM

  12. That smartweed looks like a cloisonné pendant. What rare color and pattern. We have smartweed in the orchard area but I’ve never seen it like your image shows. It’s more of a burnt orange and red color.


    September 23, 2020 at 8:20 AM

  13. Stunning image, Steve. Yes, quite a smart look for a smartweed. The population map is fun to see, thanks. 🙂


    September 28, 2020 at 7:21 PM

    • I’m a sucker for maps (used to collect them in sixth grade), so was glad to pass that one along. Etymologically speaking, the various smarts that we have in English are all the same word: intelligent; neat, trim, stylish; marked by forceful activity; stinging (which is the one in smartweed).

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 28, 2020 at 8:31 PM

  14. While my smartweed here in the yard does turn red, the leaves are not as interesting as that one you found.

    Steve Gingold

    October 1, 2020 at 2:01 AM

    • I’ve photographed plenty of other colorful smartweed leaves over the years. This one was different from the norm, and therefore had to be made the subject of a portrait.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 1, 2020 at 9:00 AM

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