Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Textures of different kinds

with 21 comments

At the Doeskin Ranch in Burnet County on March 24th I focused on textures of different kinds. The photograph above reveals a prickly pear cactus pad from which all the outer covering and inner cells and water had passed away, leaving only the sturdy structure that once supported them. In contrast, the picture below shows a rounded, colorful patch of lichens on a boulder.

For those interested in the art and craft of photography, I’ll add that the first photograph exemplifies point 4, and the second one point 15, in About My Techniques.

* * * * * * * * * *

A theme I’ve been pursuing here for a week now is that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense,” which is a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense can be shown not to be true.

Here’s a simple example from the everyday world of buying and selling. Suppose an item in a store goes up 50% in price and later comes down 50% in price. A lot of people would say it’s “common sense” that the rise in price and then the fall in price by the same percent would bring the item back to its original price; in this case the +50% and the –50% would cancel each other out.

Alas, that bit of “common sense” isn’t true. To see that it’s not, let’s give the item in question a specific price, say $40. After that price goes up by half (+50%), it’s $60. After the $60 price gets reduced by half (–50%), it drops to $30. The new price is less than the original $40 price, not equal to it.

Now let’s go a step further. In the real world, switching the order of two actions usually leads to different results. For example, mixing the ingredients for a cake and then baking them will give a very different cake than the one you’d get by baking the ingredients first and then mixing them. Waiting for an empty swimming pool to fill up and then diving head-first into it is recreational; diving head-first into an empty swimming pool and then waiting for it to fill up could well be fatal.

With those examples in mind, it seems “common sense” that if we go back to our example of prices and reverse the order of the two equal-percent changes, we might well get a different result. Specifically, what will happen if this time we first apply a 50% decrease to a price and then a 50% increase? Last time the final price ended up lower than where it started. By reversing the order of the changes, might the price now end up higher than where it started? As I used to say to my students: when in doubt, try it out. Beginning once again with a price of $40, if we reduce it by half (–50%) the new price is $20. If we now increase that $20 price by half (+50%) the final price is $30. The result comes out exactly the same as before: the original $40 price will still end up getting reduced to $30. Unlike many things in the real world, in this situation reversing the order of our actions makes no difference.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 14, 2021 at 4:28 AM

21 Responses

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  1. Doeskin Ranch (I love that name) has offered you many photo opportunities. I have never seen a prickly pear pad broken down like that. It’s beautiful. Lichen is always a favorite of mine to observe. The brilliant colors are stunning.


    April 14, 2021 at 8:08 AM

    • Now that you’re aware of the structure inside a prickly pear pad, you may begin to notice it in some of the dead cactus pads you see around you. I usually see partially exposed inner frameworks, but the one at the Doeskin Ranch was unusually revealing. It’s not the first time I’ve taken that sort of picture and it probably won’t be the last. Even more so for lichens, which I come across a lot more often. And yes, the Doeskin Ranch has been a good source of pictures over the past two decades. I go there at least once a year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2021 at 10:17 AM

  2. Textures and patterns are an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Great photos, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    April 14, 2021 at 8:38 AM

  3. Excellent shots, that prickly pear architecture is really kind of beautiful in a way.

    Robert Parker

    April 14, 2021 at 10:17 AM

  4. That is a very colorful, busy lichen! The first photo looks like an ornate silver sculpture, and I like the dark background which shows it off nicely. Both are beautiful compositions.

    Lavinia Ross

    April 15, 2021 at 9:52 AM

    • Thanks for appreciating them. As many times as I’ve photographed lichens (and no doubt will again), this lichen formation was different from any I remember previously coming across.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 12:35 PM

  5. Your maths examples have left me frowning. I follow you, but I would love everything to be intuitive. Perhaps you could explain the reason why quantum scientists say there is no such thing as time and if you think that is true. I tried reading a book on it recently but the last three chapters were too mathematics based for me to follow.

    Your pictures, on the other hand, delight me. I was photographing lichens the other day – though nothing so colourful – and reading about them this morning, so we could say your post was very timely… if time existed.


    April 15, 2021 at 1:39 PM

    • You’ve got a clever last sentence here. I’ll reply to your comment, and I’m pretty sure my reply exists, even if time doesn’t. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the quantum world to explain it, even to myself. I should probably read more about it. Sorry the math examples left you frowning; at least the pictures compensated and defrowned you. Lichens are such a good subject for abstract photographs that I inevitably stop to photograph them when I come across attractive or unusual ones.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 1:58 PM

      • Now I am definitely defrowned. Though spellcheck tried to make that ‘defrosted’.


        April 15, 2021 at 2:30 PM

  6. When I stopped by the El Capote Ranch near Monthalia to see how their magnificent prickly pear at the gate had fared during the freeze, it was a sad sight. They’d simply turned to mush. I’ve never seen a whole pad exposed like this. I remember your previous photo(s?), and how much I liked them. It brings to mind a fishing net, or a string market bag.

    The second photo is great. I’ve never seen lichens like that. While looking at it, I developed a bit of a hankering for a tostada.


    April 15, 2021 at 7:32 PM

    • A tostada: what a good likeness you’ve come up with.
      I’ve heard accounts from around Texas of prickly pear pads turning to mush. Still, most of the ones I’ve seen look pretty normal. I assume the one in the top picture got that way well before the February freeze.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 9:26 PM

  7. Sometimes going out and just focusing on one theme is a fun exercise.


    April 16, 2021 at 12:03 PM

    • Yes, it is. On this outing I also got some good wildflower pictures, which I showed in separate posts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 16, 2021 at 1:25 PM

  8. I love to see leaf-skeletons but had never imagined seeing a prickly pear pad as a skeleton. It looks like a delicate piece of textile of some kind.

    Ann Mackay

    April 16, 2021 at 7:00 PM

    • Now you’ve made me wonder whether anyone has made a sculpture or textile along the lines of this bare prickly pear pad structure.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 16, 2021 at 8:16 PM

  9. […] Rising and falling prices […]

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