Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Yellow on yellow

with 49 comments

Probably the wildflower I’ve seen the most in Austin over the past few weeks is Thelesperma filifolium, known as greenthread because of its thread-like leaves. Unless you get up close, though, what you’re most likely to notice is the yellow of the flowers. On April 20th I set out to photograph a nice little greenthread colony I’d spotted a day earlier that had sprung up at a road construction site. For some of my portraits I used a wide aperture and exposed for the dark center of a flower head, knowing that the flower heads in the background would come out with little detail and probably overexposed. It’s an aesthetic that questions whether there can ever be too much bright yellow.

On one flower head I found a cucumber beetle, Diabrotica undecimpunctata*, at the tip of a ray, giving a second sense to this post’s title of “Yellow on yellow.”

* Latin undecim means literally ‘one-ten,’ i.e. ‘one plus ten,’ or eleven. This species of beetle has 11 spots.

* * * * * * * * *

Did you know that Austin has recently been the fastest growing metropolitan statistical area in the United States? The second fastest is Raleigh (North Carolina), where my oldest friend in the world now lives; I think we met when we were two or three years old. We grew up in Nassau County (New York), which during some of our years there I seem to remember was the fastest growing county in the country. And I’ll hasten to add that fast is one of those strange English words that can mean opposite things. If you run fast you move quickly, but if you stand fast you don’t move at all. Can you think of any other self-contradictory words?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 28, 2021 at 4:33 AM

49 Responses

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  1. I love the second picture with the bug, he makes the yellow complete 🙂


    April 28, 2021 at 4:58 AM

    • It takes someone like an outdoor photographer to feel that a beetle makes a color complete. That’s a good way to put it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2021 at 6:38 AM

  2. A beautiful flower with a beautiful, colour-coordinated beetle. 🙂

    Ann Mackay

    April 28, 2021 at 5:04 AM

  3. These are great, Steve! an excellent dose of radiant sunniness. And I can’t believe that yellow beetle figured out your theme and posed for you, what a nice little guy.
    One of the self-contradictory words that always comes to mind is “sanction.” It’s in the news a lot vis-à-vis Russia in the negative sense, and sometimes the vaccines, in the positive sense.

    Robert Parker

    April 28, 2021 at 5:22 AM

    • If this were a post on your blog we’d be hearing how you had to bribe the cucumber beetle with a Starbuck’s gift card before it would agree to pose on the greenthread flower head. But you probably wouldn’t mention how I tried to bribe you to use the phrase summer sunniness, which has the same initials I do, and how you would be only partially bribed into radiant sunniness, picking up a word from my post two days ago.

      It’s good to see you’re aware of sanction, which is a classic English contronym, as such words have been called. I’ll wait a couple of days before giving a link to an article with more of them, to give people time to think of some other contronyms.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2021 at 6:57 AM

  4. Absolutely adore these photos! Have shared a link via twitter: https://twitter.com/ExploringColour/status/1387356998006575107

    Ms. Liz

    April 28, 2021 at 5:47 AM

    • Thanks for the share, Liz. Yellow seems inherently so cheerful. I’ve often thought it’s my favorite color.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2021 at 7:04 AM

  5. Very cute beetle and flower! I can’t come up with contradictory words but will be reading the comments for them …

    Alessandra Chaves

    April 28, 2021 at 7:39 AM

    • Being an entomologist may incline you to find insects cuter on average than other people do. I assume every language has a few words that are self-contradictory; if you think of any in Portuguese, let us know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2021 at 7:47 AM

  6. Yellow is just what we need up here this morning, with gray and rain in our forecast for the next twenty-four hours. Yellow on yellow is just the dose of sunshine and happiness to put a smile on my face… and that little bug is a cutie!


    April 28, 2021 at 7:46 AM

    • We’re sharing the same broad weather system down here, so the yellow’s a welcome sight in both places. You’re the second commenter in a row to find the cucumber beetle high in cutitude. Maybe you can popularize the phrase “as cute as a cucumber [beetle].”

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2021 at 7:53 AM

  7. Oooh, I really like both shots! They’re quite the wake-up, aren’t they?


    April 28, 2021 at 9:13 AM

  8. Stunning! What a joy to wake up to! Sanction was the only self contradictory word that I could think of. Oh the only thing I can find related is the fact that a double negative makes a positive. But can you think of a double positive that makes a negative? Yeah, right.

    Michael Scandling

    April 28, 2021 at 11:15 AM

    • Happy yellow. I thought about your work yesterday when I got in close to some rain lilies and experimented with soft abstract views that played up whiteness.

      As far as multiple positives making a negative, I thought of a situation like that. When I come across writing with too many laudatory and fancy words in a short span, I react negatively and figure I’m being conned. Among people guilty of that sort of hype, educational bureaucrats and people who create infomercials are at the top of the heap.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2021 at 12:30 PM

  9. I’ve been told (or read somewhere) that yellow flowers are difficult to shoot in sunlight. Did you use any shading techniques in getting these stunning shots? or were they lit by pure sunlight? Fast, of course, has another meaning, besides movement and standing still or being steadfast. Some blood laboratory test require one to be on fast for 12 hours. After the blood is drawn, then one can break fast. Another word with two different meanings in English is “egregious.” “I’m seldom egregious, but sometimes some people find my comments egregious,” for example.


    April 28, 2021 at 11:19 AM

    • Part of the time I shielded the foremost greenthread flower head with my own shadow to cut down the harshness of direct sunlight. The flowers beyond that, not being shielded, came out very bright by comparison.

      I like your egregious example—and whether I italicize the word makes a difference in meaning there. As far back as 1828 Noah Webster explained the positive and negative senses:

      EGRE’GIOUS, adjective [Latin egregius, supposed to be from e or ex grege, from or out of or beyond the herd, select, choice.]

      1. Eminent; remarkable; extraordinary; distinguished; as egregious exploits; an egregious prince. But in this sense it is seldom applied to persons.

      2. In a bad sense, great; extraordinary; remarkable; enormous; as an egregious mistake; egregious contempt. In this sense it is often applied to persons; as an egregious rascal; an egregious murderer.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2021 at 12:36 PM

  10. Both images are beautiful!


    April 28, 2021 at 4:24 PM

  11. Beautiful shots, Steve – I love the beetle image especially.

    Eliza Waters

    April 28, 2021 at 8:14 PM

  12. A word that comes to mind is ‘handicap’. I never could understand how it’s used by golfers to describe their advantage…


    April 29, 2021 at 2:00 AM

    • That’s a good one. I’d never thought about the fact that a handicap, which we normally think of as a disadvantage, has been turned into an advantage given to golfers in compensation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 29, 2021 at 5:39 AM

  13. What a treat! Yellow on Yellow, so perfectly executed, Steve. Not being a native speaker, contronyms are good and fun for improving my English. Looking at the morning sun on the windowsill right now revealing the dust and another autoantonym.


    April 29, 2021 at 5:29 AM

    • Dust is among a group of words that can mean both to remove a certain thing and to add that thing. To dust a cake is to sprinkle something like sugar or powdered chocolate onto it, while to dust a windowsill is to remove the dust from it. Another similar verb is seed. If you seed a piece of ground you put seeds in the ground; if you seed mature cotton, you remove the seeds from it.

      Can you think of any contronyms in your native language?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 29, 2021 at 5:49 AM

  14. Given your fondness for the color yellow, I suspect you smiled at these sunny photos. I’ve seen greenthreads blooming in the same construction zone I mentioned in your post about the vernal pools; they’re obviously willing to shine even in hard circumstances. As for the shades of yellow in these photos, the backgrounds contain a touch of my favorite: what I call ‘lemon chiffon pie’ yellow.

    I enjoy cucumber beetles as much as I do lady beetles. I suspect it’s the spots that appeal, since Dalmatian dogs have the same effect on me.


    April 29, 2021 at 6:51 AM

    • I’d say more than “willing” to shine even in hard circumstances: downright enticed to do so. Sunflowers are also reported to favor disturbed ground. In Austin I often see greenthread flowering along the edges of highways, so I assume the breeze from passing traffic spreads the seeds parallel to the roadway.

      If it’s Dalmatians you’re fond of, you’d be happy with this oversize Texas fire hydrant:


      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2021 at 8:28 AM

      • That was fun. I especially enjoyed the historical notes, and the reason for the phrase ‘fire plug.’ I haven’t heard that in years, but I grew up calling them fire plugs: everyone did. There’s a fire plug that was carved from one of the hurricane-ravaged oak trees in Galveston. I’ll have to take a look.


        April 30, 2021 at 4:10 PM

        • Glad you enjoyed the excursion. In New York we always called them fire hydrants. Maybe New York skipped the phase with the water-filled cypress logs.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 30, 2021 at 4:31 PM

  15. […] I made these portraits on April 20th at the same place in Austin where I photographed a cucumber beetle and greenthread flowers. […]

  16. So does yellow and yellow thrill this fellow? Yup. Cucumber beetles are not all that popular but this one certainly is and is not at all cumbersome in your composition..

    Steve Gingold

    April 30, 2021 at 7:44 AM

  17. These have a nice feeling. The first one reminds me of the 70’s and flower power!


    May 4, 2021 at 12:50 PM

    • Though the 70s are long gone and “flower power” sounds archaic, Texas has never stopped epitomizing that phrase.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 4, 2021 at 12:55 PM

  18. I love your choices of composition and exposure. That out of focus yellow background works so well for the in focus flower (and beetle), almost giving the overall images a softer, more ethereal look, and yet we do have some great detail even with that look. Very nice!

    Todd Henson

    May 5, 2021 at 6:44 AM

    • Your first sentence made me realize that composition and exposure combine to make composure. I agree with you about the effects of the out-of-focus yellow daisies in the background. I purposely played off some sharp details in the foreground against the softness beyond.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 5, 2021 at 7:15 AM

  19. Beautiful flower Steve .. that is a super shot with the beetle 🙂


    May 6, 2021 at 4:18 AM

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