Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for December 2020

Monochrome Monday and more

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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

North Fork of the San Gabriel River

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On November 30th we spent some time on the North Fork of the San Gabriel River near Tejas Camp in Williamson County. For lack of rain the river had gone down a lot, revealing bedrock that’s more often hidden. The dropping water level left some algae draped over a rock, which the sun did a good job of spotlighting:

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2020 at 4:35 AM

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

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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

A second round of frostweed ice this season

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After I awoke yesterday morning and saw that our outdoor thermometer showed exactly 32°F (0°C), I knew that after the sun rose I’d be heading down to Great Hills Park to find out if the frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) had gone through a second round of their famous ice trick. The view from where I parked didn’t look promising, but once I walked down the slope to the frostweed plants, I saw that there’d be enough ice to work on. In fact I ended up spending a little over three hours there.

I took the third picture at almost 11 o’clock, when the temperature
had risen to 45° and the frostweed ice was slowly melting.

If you’re not familiar with this unusual phenomenon, what happens is that when the temperature drops to freezing the frostweed plant draws water up from underground via its roots and extrudes it through the splitting sides of its stalk as delicate sheets of ice, mostly close to the ground. You can learn a lot more about the science of frostweed ice in an article by Bob Harms.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2020 at 4:34 AM

When red becomes orange

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Another reliable source of colorful fall foliage in central Texas is the small tree known as rusty blackhaw, Viburnum rufidulum, whose species name means ‘reddish.’ You see it exemplified in the photograph above, taken in Great Hills Park on December 15th. As a reddish color came over those leaves, curiosity came over me, and I wondered what sort of pictures might be possible from behind the tree looking in the opposite direction. Cautiously I worked my way in there and got low to aim partly upward. From the other side the leaves looked more orange due to the sunlight shining through them and perhaps the blue sky beyond:

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 17, 2020 at 4:43 AM

Sumac fruit

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Of the three sumacs native to Austin, here are the fruits of two of them. Above you have evergreen sumac, Rhus virens, from Far West Blvd. on November 3rd. Below you see prairie flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, from Arterial 8 on November 8th. From these fruits some people make sumac-ade, which I’ve tried and liked.

And here’s a closer look at another cluster:

You might also find it fruitful to check out the the winning photographs from the 2020 Siena International Photo Awards.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 16, 2020 at 4:41 AM

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Texas persimmon trunk

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Call it chiaroscuro or yin-yang, this is the most abstract and minimalist portrait I’ve ever made highlighting (literally) the trunk of a Texas persimmon tree, Diospyros texana. As an article on the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center notes: “This well-shaped, small tree is valued primarily for its striking trunk and branches, which are a smooth, pale greyish white or whitish grey, peeling off to reveal subtle greys, whites, and pinks beneath.” Today’s photograph is from the Zilker Nature Preserve on November 17th.

The picture reminds me now of the stylized serpent that people imagine they’re seeing at Chichén-Itzá’s Pyramid of Kukulkan during the spring and fall solstice.

And here’s a relevant quotation for today: “Wo viel Licht ist, ist starker Schatten.” “Where there’s bright light there’s a dark shadow,” or more loosely “The brightest light casts the darkest shadows.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the play Götz von Berlichingen, 1773.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 15, 2020 at 4:26 AM

Way up there on the GAIN scale

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Way up there on the GAIN (great appeal in natives) scale for our grasses is gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), which turns a delicious pink in the fall. It grows as close to Austin as one county east, but landscapers are understandably fond of planting it here. That’s why I could photograph these specimens along South Lakeshore Blvd. on November 17th. Texas is at the southwestern edge of gulf muhly’s range, which I was surprised to find tapers off in the opposite direction through Long Island, where I grew up, and into southern New England. The second picture offers a closer look at the pleasant disarray. In both images I used the contrasting blue sky to set off the pink of the grass.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2020 at 4:32 AM

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Anniversary of our Coron island-hopping tour

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A year ago today we went on our Coron* island-hopping tour
in the Philippine province of Palawan, which neither of us had ever been to.

Can you tell that the first two photographs offer different views of the same nature-sculpted promontory?

The final picture includes the kind of outrigger from which I photographed all these scenes.

* Who knew that just a month later we’d begin hearing and worrying about something else
whose first five letters happened to be Coron?

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 13, 2020 at 4:40 AM

A green not seen

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There have been several times when I’ve walked close to a snake I didn’t see, including a rattlesnake in Palo Duro Canyon a couple of decades ago. The latest walk-by occurred on December 7th in Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metro Park. The Lady Eve, walking behind me on the path, caught sight of a slender green snake maybe a foot long that I’d passed, and she called my attention to it. That’s why you’re getting to look at this portrait of what seems to have been a rough green snake, Opheodrys aestivus.

Our word serpent goes back to the Latin verb serpere, which meant ‘to creep, to crawl.’ Similarly, reptile traces back to the Latin verb repere, which meant the same thing. In contrast, our word snake is native English, with the modern form having developed from Anglo-Saxon snaca. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the figurative sense of snake as ‘a treacherous person’ was first recorded in the 1580s. Treacherous people have been around for a whole lot longer than that.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 12, 2020 at 4:36 AM

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