Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

There’s no month of the year when Austin doesn’t have wildflowers

with 32 comments

Yup, the title’s true. Here’s a December 15th portrait of an aster (Symphyotrichum sp.) in Great Hills Park as an example. Because the aster was growing in forested shade I had to use flash, and because the light from a flash drops off quickly, I aimed sideways so that distracting things in the distance obligingly went black.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2020 at 4:35 AM

32 Responses

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  1. That is an interesting technique I have never tried before with the flash, Steve. I wonder what in comparison a long exposure photo of the aster would have looked like.

    Peter Klopp

    December 19, 2020 at 8:15 AM

    • In this case I probably wouldn’t have liked the results of a long exposure because the background details would then have been as visible as I saw them with my eyes, and those details would’ve distracted from the aster. By using flash I was able to isolate the flowers against a dark background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2020 at 8:42 AM

  2. We spend most of the year leafless, so having flowers year-round sounds pretty great. I always think of the asters around the Great Lakes as late summer/autumn flowers, I guess New England, New York, and wood asters (?) This is obviously a much different variety.
    How do you aim sideways, does that mean, the flash was pointed at an angle?

    Robert Parker

    December 19, 2020 at 8:18 AM

    • To clarify, although we do have wildflowers in every month, they get relatively sparse by this time of the year. That said, I recently noticed specimens of a good half-dozen native wildflower species. And to clarify about the aiming, I mainly meant that I didn’t aim at all downward, which would’ve run the risk of showing things on the ground too clearly and in too distracting a way. In the posted photograph you see a few close leaves at the bottom, yet nothing else down low shows any details. With a taller subject I could have aimed more upward, as I often do, but with a plant this low I had to settle for horizontal. The direction of the flash was the usual one, which is to say parallel to the direction I was aiming with the camera.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2020 at 8:52 AM

      • Oh, I see, thank you. I’ll try to think more about that kind of angle, I tend to have a real knack for including all sorts of distractions and ugliness in the background of my pictures. Sometimes I’ve seen photographers use flashes that aren’t attached to their cameras, that’s why I asked that.

        Robert Parker

        December 19, 2020 at 9:01 AM

        • You may have heard me say, with intentional exaggeration, that the three most important things in portrait photography are background, background, and background.

          By having extra flashes off to the sides, a photographer can reduce the harsh shadows resulting from a single flash. Flashes that aren’t built in to the camera let you adjust their intensity, which is also an asset in avoiding harshness.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 19, 2020 at 9:15 AM

  3. It’s lovely to find blossoms this time of year? You did this delicate beauty justice. The background allows the pink to stand out nicely.
    I’ve noticed some forsythia blossoms on two shrubs I have on our place. Generally those aren’t seen until early spring in these parts!


    December 19, 2020 at 8:42 AM

    • I remain on the lookout for wildflowers now, even as they’re getting fewer and farther between. There are still floral portraits to be made. When I photographed frostweed ice on December 1st I also got a picture of a frost-covered greenthread flower head. That sort of take on a wildflower is possible only during the brief cold spells we get at this time of year.

      On Long Island when I was growing up my mother used to point out forsythia. I’ve noticed it in our Austin neighborhood in early spring, as you mentioned; people like flowers in February.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2020 at 9:05 AM

  4. That is a clever use of the flash. You’ve made a nice portrait of a pretty aster.


    December 19, 2020 at 8:56 AM

    • Hooray for clever me. Most of the time the flash sits unused in my camera bag and adds extra weight to the load I lug around. But flash is sometimes appropriate, and this was one of those times.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2020 at 9:09 AM

  5. That is a lovely aster! Right now we have a few dandelions and ox-eye daisy blooming, all close to the ground near their rosettes. That is it.

    Lavinia Ross

    December 19, 2020 at 10:09 AM

    • We’re so much further south here than you are, so it’s only to be expected we’d have more wildflowers still blooming at the end of the year. I don’t know how much they’ll have been suppressed by the freeze we had two mornings ago. Maybe today’s much-needed rain will foster some new ones.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2020 at 11:01 AM

  6. And no month of the year they shouldn’t be shot.

    Michael Scandling

    December 19, 2020 at 10:33 AM

  7. Having finally made it to Floresville, I looked up the cemetery. It’s not very floriferous just now, as you’d imagine, but I did find a couple of tiny asters in a protected spot — more evidence of your point about our year-long, if unpredictable, blooms. Just now, I’m at the monument in Cost, where the mountain laurels most definitely aren’t blooming and the north wind has set in. Before long, even our asters may give way to winter.


    December 19, 2020 at 11:24 AM

    • We can’t blame Floresville for not living up to its name at this time of year compared to its floriferousness in the spring in general and 2019 in particular. Still, I’m glad you made it there and checked out the cemetery. Perhaps you’ll make it back this coming spring to compare what’s there then with the tiny asters you found now.

      When I searched back to see what I showed from Cost I also hit a post called “Color comes to Costco.” No Texas mountain laurels today for you in Cost, gray skies and some rain for me in the neighborhood of that Costco.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2020 at 12:58 PM

  8. I believe we can say the same for NZ–at least here in the North Island.


    December 19, 2020 at 2:33 PM

  9. What a wonderful blessing for your area, Steve!

    Ellen Jennings

    December 20, 2020 at 9:44 AM

  10. Nice. I always like seeing flowers “out of season.” I used to see the odd rose hanging on in front of apartments in New York in December. Yesterday I saw a daisy and the Tansies are still going strong. Oh, and there are Bearberries (Arctostaphylos) blooming, which usually bloom in spring!


    December 21, 2020 at 2:14 PM

    • If Texas and Washington, so far apart, are experiencing out-of-season blooms, I wonder how representative that is of the rest of the country.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 4:25 PM

      • Yes, strange times, one can’t help thinking.


        January 2, 2021 at 8:15 PM

        • You suddenly reminded me of the Cream song “Strange Brew.” And now I remember that when I first saw the album cover that said both Cream and Disraeli Gears, I didn’t know which was the name of the group and which the name of the album.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 2, 2021 at 9:14 PM

  11. No winter blooms here although I do see the occasional dandelion so I guess I am not entirely correct there. It is to our benefit that Austin has year round flowers that you share with us.

    Steve Gingold

    December 25, 2020 at 1:02 PM

    • Dandelions, like the poor, ye shall always have with you. I’ve seen a few here this week, too. The native wildflowers have thinned out now, of course, but a few keep making appearances. People on Facebook’s Texas Wildflowers group have kept contributing pictures of wildflowers blooming way out of season.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2020 at 1:12 PM

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