Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Monochrome Monday and more

with 40 comments

For decades I took pictures using black and white film. Now I’m enamored of color and rarely convert any digital files to black and white. Something about this picture enticed me to try that, though, and above is the result. Coincidentally, it’s similar to the effects of the black and white infrared film I was fond of in the late 1970s and early 1980s. What you see below is another possibility when converting a digital file: reducing the color partially rather than entirely.

You may want to compare these to the original color photograph that debuted here last month.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 21, 2020 at 4:37 AM

40 Responses

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  1. I have never been keen on flowers without colour as colour is mainly what they are all about, but some are so textural that conversion to B&W works well. In this case I prefer the second image with just that hint of colour.


    December 21, 2020 at 4:42 AM

    • I’m fond of the reduced-color version, too. But then I like all three (including the original), and probably other versions that Photoshop could bring forth. I agree with you that most flowers less readily lend themselves to black-and-white conversion than do seed heads.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 7:58 AM

  2. I love black and white, in the winter, old barns and wooden structures. And old vehicles…

    Kelly MacKay

    December 21, 2020 at 4:58 AM

  3. I like the thousand-points-of-light impression these photos give (even if this isn’t a Bush), and I agree with HeyJude, the bit of color makes it come alive for me.

    Robert Parker

    December 21, 2020 at 5:46 AM

    • Ah, but poverty weed often is described as a bush, with a local field guide giving the upper end of the height range as 9 ft. In the original post I called it a slight tree. But we won’t quibble, and your metaphor of a thousand points of light works well for this species. In converting the photograph to black and white, it seemed natural to also stop along the way, one result being the second picture here, which I just replied to HeyJude that I’m fond of, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 8:08 AM

  4. Hmm, I like both of these images more than the original, I think. I find the bits of brown a little distracting in the original. If I had to pick a favorite it would be the second, with just a hint of color.


    December 21, 2020 at 6:18 AM

    • The second, with its colors reduced but not gone, is quickly emerging as the favorite. The original is the truest to life, but as art sees things, conforming to reality isn’t required or often even desired.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 8:17 AM

  5. I love both of these, Steve. The first reminds me of snowfall on plants – it has a luminescent quality. In our current winter snowfalls, everything I photograph in color is still in B&W. I do like the hint of green stems and blue skies in the second one too. Simplifying color certainly brings out a different kind of detail, doesn’t it?


    December 21, 2020 at 6:45 AM

    • I like the way you put it, that everything you photograph in winter snowfalls is automatically in black and white. This poverty weed gave me the chance, uncommon down here, to drift in that artistic direction. Yes, simplifying color does bring out a different kind of detail. As you’re a composer, you’ve made me wonder if a musical counterpart exists: perhaps a melody in which the notes stay close together on the scale, or in which only a few notes get used. Any thoughts on that?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 8:25 AM

      • Oh yes indeed – music is quite a bit about color, or timbre. It can be stark or lush or anything in between – part of that is the notes and their context, part of it is the color and texture of the instruments. It’s all vibration, after all.


        December 21, 2020 at 8:28 AM

  6. I like the partially reduced picture best. Sometimes we stumble over a technique that enhances the image by experimentation. Then we also learn from others like I did today.

    Peter Klopp

    December 21, 2020 at 8:22 AM

    • Everyone likes the reduced-color version, including me, so I seem to have stumbled onto a good technique, at least for this subject. In the early decades of photography people sometimes hand-tinted black and white photographs, and those often had the reduced-color feel that the second picture in this post has.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 8:28 AM

  7. You’ve made three beautiful versions of this image. I think my favorite is the second one here, with its very painterly look. There’s just enough detail in the foreground and just enough blurring in the background. The black and white is really beautiful, too.


    December 21, 2020 at 2:07 PM

  8. I think the black & white version of the poverty weed is quite striking. The reduced color comes a close second for me.

    Lavinia Ross

    December 21, 2020 at 7:12 PM

    • You’re your own person, the first so far to favor the purely black and white version. Thanks for letting me know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 10:17 PM

  9. It looks a bit like a Christmas tree covered with stars. 🙂

    Eliza Waters

    December 21, 2020 at 8:45 PM

    • That was the impression I immediately got when I came across this specimen last month. Poverty weed doesn’t normally taper to a point like that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 10:19 PM

  10. I’m also finding the monochrome version the most appealing. In fact, I’d like to see it with even a bit more contrast and slightly-deepened dark tones. It’s a powerful pyramid of fluffy finery.


    December 22, 2020 at 2:07 AM

    • After preference after preference for the reduced-color version, you’ve added the second vote in a row for the black and white. I see the appeal in playing around with the tonalities some more. I so rarely convert a color image to black and white that I haven’t tried out many of the adjustments that Photoshop allows. Call it a powerful pyramid of possibilities.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2020 at 6:58 AM

  11. I much prefer the second image, not only because of the added color, but also because the color seems to make the white fluff more vibrant and well-defined. The first seems a little mushy; the second sparkles and shines.


    December 22, 2020 at 7:19 AM

    • It’s interesting that you referred to the second version as having added color. I’d have said I subtracted less color. It’s a good example of the rule in algebra that a double negative makes a positive. As you usually look at previous comments, you probably saw that the majority of people who expressed a preference are in accord with you. Lavinia and Gary favor the first, and Gary sees opportunities to play around more with the black and white; that might make it more appealing to you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2020 at 11:12 AM

      • I did see Gary’s comment, and played with the image a bit in the way he suggested. The second version here remains my favorite, with the original a close second. Of course, it’s the shape of the shrub that makes all three images so memorable, regardless of the treatment you’ve chosen.


        December 22, 2020 at 11:36 AM

        • I felt as if I’d gotten three good pictures (and possibly more) for the price of one. Coming across this unusually shaped poverty weed was a stroke of good luck. Given how much you like the reduced-color treatment, perhaps you’ll try it on some of your own pictures. Art doesn’t require, and often discourages, adherence to reality.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 22, 2020 at 1:03 PM

  12. I love how b/w can bring out detail


    December 22, 2020 at 7:27 PM

    • It may be that without colors there’s less to distract your mind from discerning shapes and details.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2020 at 7:31 PM

  13. I like you love color and rarely convert my images to b&w. Your top image is lovely and so timely for the season. It looks like a Christmas tree.

    I have been tempted on and off to try infrared, but to date haven’t.


    December 23, 2020 at 10:06 AM

    • This was the most Christmas-tree-like poverty weed I’d ever seen, so there was no way I wasn’t going to take pictures of it. I used infrared film extensively for about 6 or 7 years—even buying 1000 feet of it directly from Kodak—but then you could say I got it out of my system. There are companies that will convert a digital camera to infrared, and I toyed with the idea but never followed through even though I have plenty of old digital camera bodies lying around doing nothing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 23, 2020 at 10:21 AM

  14. I’m a fan of black and white, although I adore flowers in colour. The hint of colour is lovely btw


    December 26, 2020 at 1:40 PM

    • Thanks. The hint-of-color version was the overall favorite among commenters who expressed an opinion.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2020 at 1:44 PM

  15. […] While out driving in Austin on March 20th with no particular destination, I turned north off McNeil Dr. onto the confusingly named E. McNeil Rd. Soon we couldn’t help noticing that the land and trees on our left seemed oddly faded, almost as if we’d been teleported into a drier climate than Austin’s. The view on our right side offered an explanation: a tall stack and other machinery of the Austin White Lime Company. Ever-present rock dust from the quarry had settled wherever the wind blew it in the vicinity, causing the strangely washed-out look that caught our attention. If you’re familiar with the normal green of Ashe juniper trees (Juniperus ashei), compare that to the dullness of the two in the first picture’s lower left and the one below. Another comparison could be to a photograph last fall in which I purposely reduced the color saturation. […]

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