Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Yellow to the max

with 29 comments

How could I go through the fall and not let you feast your eyes on some more Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani)? I took the first two pictures along McKinney Falls Parkway in southeast Austin on October 10th. The light-gray band across the upper part of the photograph above was morning fog, which I rarely get to see in my part of the world (maybe ’cause I don’t go out early enough or to the right places).

And how could I not include at least one picture of Maximilian sunflowers with a clear blue sky? The one below is from October 6th on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin.

As an unrelated quotation for today, here’s a “decalogue of canons for observation in practical life” that Thomas Jefferson put forth in 1825, the year before his death.

      1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.
      2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
      3. Never spend your money before you have it.
      4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
      5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
      6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
      7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
      8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!
      9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
      10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 18, 2020 at 4:36 AM

29 Responses

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  1. As you well know, I’m also a dedicated sunflower fan. And I find them usually at their very best with a blue sky behind them. They just seem to glow and to grin.


    October 18, 2020 at 4:57 AM

    • I think I’ve most often photographed Maximilian sunflowers against a clear sky because the bright blue and yellow go so well together. Two days ago I did another round of pictures like that, at least one of which I’ll have to show in another Maximilian sunflower post. Wasn’t Glow and Grin the name of an opera by Wagner?

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 10:29 AM

      • It was also the inspiration for Laughing Cow cheese (Low & Grin).


        October 18, 2020 at 5:42 PM

        • I’ve not heard of Low & Grin for Laughing Cow Cheese. I remember that cheese from childhood as La Vache Qui Rit, which always reminded me of a different Wagnerian opera that involved Les Valkyries.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 18, 2020 at 7:40 PM

  2. Note to self: get to that blackland prairie next fall! I finally looked at the record of Maximilian sightings on iNaturalist, and the distribution is remarkably concentrated; it’s amazing how similar its shape is to the shape of the blackland prairie on the Texas ecoregions map.

    The black background is dramatic, and the blue sky is cheering, but my favorite today is the first photo. The buds seem as pleasing as the flowers in that one, and I like the sense of ‘prairie’ that it communicates.


    October 18, 2020 at 6:34 AM

    • ps: there’s no shortage of yellow around here now. We finally cooled down a bit, and the goldenrod’s beginning to bloom everywhere.


      October 18, 2020 at 6:48 AM

      • pps: Here’s one to add to the bits of good advice Thomas Jefferson offered — Never stop looking. I’m sure I just found this flower in a Wharton County ditch.


        October 18, 2020 at 9:26 AM

        • Then it’s good you didn’t ditch your search. I had to check where Wharton County is; fortunately it’s close to you.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 18, 2020 at 10:35 AM

      • Hooray that goldenrod buds turned out to be delayed-release capsules!

        Steve Schwartzman

        October 18, 2020 at 10:33 AM

    • Thanks for checking and pointing out the geographic connection between Maximilian sunflowers and the Blackland Prairie. I didn’t realize there’s such a tight correlation. I do hope you’ll get to enjoy the show next fall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 10:31 AM

    • The first view is special for me, too, in large part for what I said about not often getting to photograph fog. The use of a telephoto lens zoomed to its max of 400mm also contributed to the soft background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 10:46 AM

    • By the way, as of two days ago the Maximilian sunflowers in some places here were still going great guns, with plenty of buds in evidence, so depending on how travelsome you can afford to be, it’s not too late for you to see a field of flowering Maximilian sunflowers this year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 11:04 AM

  3. I love your title for this post – the Maximilian are spectacular “to the max”. I remember in the 70’s and 80’s we used that phrase a lot. And the “decalogue of canons for observation in practical life” is very much the way I live life. Numbers 1,2,3 and 7 resonate the most.


    October 18, 2020 at 6:54 AM

    • I wish you could e-mail Thomas Jefferson and tell him what you just said about his canons for practical life. We visited Monticello in the summer of 2019 on what proved to be our last American trip before the pandemic (though we squeezed in our trip to the Philippines in December, just in time).

      Maybe you’ll revive the phrase “to the max.” Naturally I couldn’t resist using it in conjunction with Maximilian sunflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 10:41 AM

  4. Fog often develops in the early morning hours when it is the coldest. To catch the effect on camera one needs to get up early. The early bird catches the worm. I liked the 10 pieces of wisdom and copied and pasted them into my electronic notebook. Thank you for the inspiring post this morning, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    October 18, 2020 at 8:52 AM

    • You’re welcome, my friend. May Jefferson’s pieces of wisdom serve you well.

      I’ve sometimes heard on the local weather forecast that pockets of fog are expected on the east side of the Austin area. I live in the northwest, so traveling to the southeast, as I did on October 10, meant a bit more of a jaunt than average. This time it was worth it, and the fog gave me a different sort of background than I’m accustomed to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 10:52 AM

  5. Nice set, Steve. I really like that first image with the layers.

    Eliza Waters

    October 18, 2020 at 11:48 AM

  6. The flowers are just lovely!

    That’s some good advice there!


    October 18, 2020 at 1:02 PM

    • Maximilians are a bright autumn delight here. When we visited Monticello last year Eve bought a bookmark with those ten pieces of advice on it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 3:00 PM

  7. Nice set of group portraits. ‘Round here the Maximillian Sunflowers have long since gone to seed, but there’s a lovely patch of bright yellow Solidago just inside the greenbelt.. The skeleton-leaf Golden-eye are blooming, and I had a Plateau Golden-eye volunteer itself in a parsley tub. The Four-Nerve Daisies are also blooming. That does it for the yellows. On the blue side, Mealy Blue Sage and Fall Aster are showing off and making the bees happy. The Gregg’s Mistflowers, though, seem a bit lonely – only a few Queen butterflies per day and three individual Monarchs since September 26. Good thing I’m not in the middle of the migration pathway, or I’d be worried. Thomas Jefferson was always one for pithy statements, Like “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Thanks for the Jeffersonian words of advice. Think I’ll steal it for Facebook (giving you proper attribution, of course).


    October 18, 2020 at 3:08 PM

    • From your mention of a parsley tub, I take it you’ve planted the Viguiera stenoloba, given that it grows in areas near the Rio Grande. The Viguiera dentata is coming out in my northwest Austin neighborhood, and I’ve had a report of it in quantity at the Wildflower Center. Four-nerve daisies, like the poor, ye shall always have with you. It’s good to hear about the fall asters, which I haven’t seen any of yet, but I found bunches of heath asters in Leander on Friday.

      No need to credit me for the Jefferson, which I took from a bookmark Eve bought when we visited Monticello in the summer of 2019.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 3:31 PM

  8. It really is yellow to the max, but sure looks nice with that blue sky!


    October 18, 2020 at 4:35 PM

    • I took plenty more against a blue sky for that color contrast, but I included the first two as being less like others I’ve shown over the years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 7:42 PM

      • And I should have commented about those two photos as well. The black background is gorgeous. I’ve seen that done aplenty with close-up, singular shots of flowers, but not so often with a group–it’s a great effect. The first photo also is interesting, with the layers in the background, flowers in focus, foreground. All three shots are wonderful and so different from one another.


        October 18, 2020 at 7:48 PM

        • Thanks for your added comments. I’ve used dark natural backgrounds for single flowers, too, especially this year. With regard to the second picture, that bright sunflower group had a shadowed grove of trees behind it; in processing, I further darkened some areas in the background that hadn’t come out fully black. A different shadowed line of trees accounts for the dark band across the top of the first picture.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 18, 2020 at 9:42 PM

  9. Love the sunflowers, and also Jefferson’s principles. I knew many of them as standalone sayings, but not their origin. I’ve never mastered number 1!

    • I’d say we’re all at least sometimes remiss when it comes to number 1. As a clarification, I’ll add that Jefferson didn’t claim these ten guidelines were original with him. The first one appeared in Poor Richard’s Almanack, but Benjamin Franklin likewise gathered sayings that were already in circulation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2020 at 9:05 AM

    • The Maximilian sunflowers are probably at their peak now. They make for sunny sights as I drive around my area. Just yesterday I noticed a colony in a place I’d not seen them before; had the sky not been overcast this morning, I’d be back there now with my camera.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2020 at 9:08 AM

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