Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

An archaeology of light

with 32 comments

An adage says “Out of sight, out of mind,” and yet the saying’s first two words could just as well be replaced by “in.” Familiarity breeds a sort of visual contempt in which ordinary objects might as well be buried.

To let light uncover those everyday objects around the house is to practice an archaeology of light.

On the technical side, I took the first two pictures with my “real” camera
and the third with my iPhone. I prepared this post in 2020 but kept postponing it.

And here’s a thought about photographic esthetics: “Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going out for a walk.” — Edward Weston. A bunch of different wordings occur on the Internet. Research leads me to think this one is the most likely to be authentic. I came across a version of the quotation in an article by David duChemin called “Are Your Photographs Poetic?“, which I recommend to you.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 26, 2021 at 4:46 AM

32 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Cool light and shadow play! Perfect examples of Chiaroscuro. 😀 The lampshade is my favorite of the 3.


    July 26, 2021 at 8:10 AM

    • What could be more fun for a photographer than playing with shadows and light? Another way to put it is that chiaroscuro isn’t at all obscure to a player with light and shadows. The lampshade picture is the simplest of the three, compositionally speaking, though it may well get more eye-grabbing power from that simplicity.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2021 at 8:23 AM

  2. The first image is very appealing. A while ago I was introduced to the book “pictorial composition” by Henry Rankin and that’s when I realized that the composition guidelines we learn from photographers are in fact the result of oversimplification and oftentimes misleading interpretations. Painters have to learn composition well because they start out with a blank canvas. “Duh, where do I put things” is always on their minds. I must confess that I did enjoy irritating my photo club panel by putting the subject of my photos right in the middle of the frame because they firmly believed that one should NEVER do it. So many elements play in composition, for instance color, tone, selective sharpness, etc. Most photographers are not really equipped to judge the technical aspects of a composition but when we “nail” it, even though we might not know how we did it, the resulting image is so harmonious that we don’t have to ask the question, “is this a good composition?”

    Alessandra Chaves

    July 26, 2021 at 10:17 AM

    • It seems to be a part of human nature—or at least some humans’ nature—to get into a mindset where certain things must be done in certain ways, and only those ways; or must never done in a certain way. I understand your mischievous fun in centering a subject, much to the consternation of photo club members. (I imagine you’d also take joy in refusing to “decenter whiteness.”)

      As you pointed out, in one way painters have it harder than we photographers do: they have to start with nothing. On the other hand, they have a freedom we don’t: they can put anything anywhere, while we (short of Photoshop) have to deal with many things that are where they are and can’t be moved. In those cases all we can do is move ourselves to find the best vantage point.

      And then there are those occasional magic moments you mentioned at the end when everything just comes together in a photograph with no special effort or planning on our part.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2021 at 11:01 AM

      • In my case, those occasions when all emements magically come together are rare and then, if I try to repeat the photo … Failure! 😉

        Alessandra Chaves

        July 26, 2021 at 11:39 AM

        • I agree that it’s usually best not to consciously try repeating a success. Even without conscious intent I too often find myself falling into a well-worn pattern.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 26, 2021 at 12:18 PM

  3. I’m absolutely in love with every single one of these!

    Michael Scandling

    July 26, 2021 at 11:09 AM

    • L’amour, toujours l’amour!
      Window blinds are a great asset, not usually for their own sake but for the shadows they cast.
      And of course abstraction is a joy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2021 at 11:25 AM

  4. These aged well. All good examples of finding images where you live and the unnecessity of travel. Of course, while maybe not necessary, travel is enjoyable and offers many possibilities. I like all three but the second one, with that rogue beam of light, is my favorite.

    There is another Edward Weston quote that has many versions. The one I think most accurate is “Anything more than 500 yards from the car just isn’t photogenic.” I’ve been practicing that one too frequently lately and need to hike a bit more.

    Steve Gingold

    July 26, 2021 at 2:46 PM

    • We enjoy cheese that’s aged for a year, so why not postponed posts? As you implied, that rogue beam of light is what made the second picture worthwhile. I can relate to the Weston quotation you cited, especially now that it’s so sweltry in Austin. Things here typically don’t start to cool down even a little till two months from now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2021 at 3:08 PM

      • It’s hot here also albeit not as hot as Texas and it is all relative as well. I am sure our hot nights seem less so there.

        Steve Gingold

        July 26, 2021 at 3:20 PM

        • The important thing is to come back with hot photos.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 26, 2021 at 3:25 PM

          • Cool works too.

            Steve Gingold

            July 26, 2021 at 3:30 PM

            • You make the good point that hot and cool can be used figuratively to mean more or less the same thing.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 26, 2021 at 3:34 PM

              • That reminds me of the adage that there are lots of examples of a double-negative meaning a positive, but no double-positives that mean a negative…yeah, right. This is a fun one and I too am glad that you decided to post the postponed.


                July 26, 2021 at 7:25 PM

                • I’m glad you caught my playing around with the idea of a post postponed. I photographed so many things happening in nature last year that I kept bumping this non-nature post down the line. This year I’ve continued taking lots of nature pictures so eventually I figured I’d better just show the post now.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 26, 2021 at 8:02 PM

                • Kind of a more laid-back, well-considered version of post-haste. I like it.


                  July 27, 2021 at 3:26 AM

                • Instead of a Post It Note I went with a Post It Now.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 27, 2021 at 6:32 AM

  5. Very nice 👍

    Best regards


    July 27, 2021 at 1:53 AM

  6. I really like these – they make something special from the ordinary. I enjoy David duChemin’s writing and podcasts, so I’m off to see if I’ve read that essay yet… 🙂

    Ann Mackay

    July 27, 2021 at 8:11 AM

    • You’re ahead of me in knowing about David duChemin, who shows the way(s) to photography.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2021 at 8:45 AM

      • I’ve been listening to his podcasts on ‘A Beautiful Anarchy’ for a while now – usually when I’m doing basic photo-processing. He’s very down-to earth and encouraging.

        Ann Mackay

        July 27, 2021 at 5:36 PM

  7. I suspect an experienced photographer consults the rules of composition subconsciously by relying on previous experiences, much like each mortal relies on the fact that gravity has kept us, and will keep us, from floating untethered through the universe.


    July 27, 2021 at 8:00 PM

    • You’re probably right that techniques and a sense of composition get internalized through experience. That’s why we practice, practice, practice. As for floating untethered through the universe, that sounds like it might be fun (provided we could breathe and wouldn’t die from radiation and frigid temperatures).

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2021 at 8:03 PM

  8. One thing I’ve noticed about light patterns is that they’re as ephemeral as a spring flower. Some weeks ago, I noticed an interesting pattern of light circles on the floor, also created by window blinds. I thought about photographing them, but by the time I got around to it — in only a week — they were gone, thanks to a different sun position. If the universe holds together, they’ll be back in six months. I like the fern-like structure of your first photo, and grinned at the ‘light sabre’ in the second. The shadows of the leaves in the third brought memories of our most recent solar eclipse, and the fantastic patterns created then.

    One of my readers, Charles Prokop (who happens to be from Bandera) introduced me to David duChemin some time ago, and I subscribed to his postings. I don’t always read them, especially the ones that are devoted primarily to equipment, but he’s straightforward and engaging. In fact, much of his advice echoes that in the photography ‘textbook’ I’ve depended on for years: your own set of pointers.

    I’ve occasionally talked about duChemin’s way of drawing parallels between writing and photography with Otto. In fact, duChemin’s selection of the quotation from Chekhov — “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass” — has served me fairly well as a writing ‘textbook.’

    Ironically, that well-known quotation has its own history, as the Quote Investigator revealed.


    July 30, 2021 at 7:05 AM

    • Light-and-shadow patterns are ephemeral indeed, as are sunsets and sunrises. Your “if the universe holds together” is pertinent, and incidentally an appropriate response to so much impertinence around us.

      So the guy from Bandera flagged David duChemin for you. I haven’t read his posts lately so I’ll take another look. It’s gratifying to hear a certain “textbook” of pointers has served you well.

      The Quote Investigator article seems familiar, so I’m pretty sure I’d read it once before. You may even have pointed me to it, given your fondness for that site. I’ve also referred people to its articles several times.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2021 at 7:36 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: