Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Two quite different portraits of the same rain-lily

with 25 comments


The last few days of September gave my northwestern part of Austin some 5 inches of rain, so it’s not surprising that on October 2nd in Great Hills Park I found some rain-lilies (Zephyranthes drummondii) budding and even flowering. The very different looks in these two portraits of the same rain-lily are due to the fact that in the top one I used flash and an aperture of f/22, which led to a black background, while in the view at the bottom I went with natural light and a broad aperture of f/5 for a softer effect. The three bands in the second picture’s background also served that portrait well; the middle band came from a sunlit area.



© 2021 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 9, 2021 at 4:31 AM

25 Responses

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  1. i’ve never heard of rain lilies and i like their simple and beautiful lines


    October 9, 2021 at 6:28 AM

    • It’s those simple and beautiful lines that lend themselves to abstraction and that keep me making portraits of these flowers year after year. They’re called rain lilies because they spring up and flower several days after a good rainfall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 9, 2021 at 6:34 AM

      • i so understand that, and thanks for the name background


        October 9, 2021 at 6:38 AM

        • Sure thing. As rain lilies spring up quickly, so they last only a few days and soon are gone.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 9, 2021 at 6:40 AM

  2. Both photos are stunning, Steve. Nice work!


    October 9, 2021 at 7:14 AM

    • Thanks, Ken. Rain-lilies lend themselves to minimalist abstractions, and I keep working to see what new variations I can come up with.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 9, 2021 at 7:17 AM

  3. The second one is a winner. That especial light.

    Alessandra Chaves

    October 9, 2021 at 8:42 AM

    • Sometimes soft is the way to go. Here it brought out many shades of gray that are absent in the starker, more contrasty view.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 9, 2021 at 8:50 AM

  4. Nicely done! Both are lovely and it’s interesting to see them paired.


    October 9, 2021 at 8:51 AM

    • I took pictures of several rain-lilies in that location. It’s fortunate that I happened to try two such varied techniques on the same specimen, as opposed to different specimens. I only noticed it at home later.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 9, 2021 at 9:29 AM

  5. It is truly amazing how you created two images of the same flower captured at the same distance and perspective so different in style and beauty.

    Peter Klopp

    October 9, 2021 at 8:56 AM

    • I was happy with how differently these two versions came out. Flash was a big factor. Of course even with natural light the camera “sees” things differently from the way our eyes and brain do. Beyond that, software offers an unlimited range of processing choices.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 9, 2021 at 9:37 AM

  6. That second photo is so unusual. You see gray, while I see lavender (and olive). On the other hand, the first image certainly shows off the textures: even down the stem.

    I had to laugh when I saw this post. I’d say we’ve reached peak coincidence at this point. Kim Conrow asked me to submit some images for tonight’s presentation slides, and the one she chose for the final slide was the ‘filigree’ rain lily.


    October 9, 2021 at 2:53 PM

    • The second picture pleases me because a flower that we tend to think of as bright white (at least until magenta creeps in with age) shows so much gray—or lavender. And happy rain lily coincidence vis-à-vis NPSoT. Your filagree should be full of glee.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 9, 2021 at 3:55 PM

  7. I love both images, but I am so partial with that blue that seems to shine with an inner light.

    Lavinia Ross

    October 9, 2021 at 6:40 PM

  8. The first is nice enough but I really like pretty much everything about the second. It’s always nice to see a hint of color in an ordinarily all white flower. And the background is very pleasing. I’ve a shot for tomorrow with a slightly similar background. The flower seems more blue than gray although both at times can be taken for the other. Maybe it’s just my display.

    Steve Gingold

    October 9, 2021 at 6:56 PM

    • Glad you like these, especially the second. There’s something to be said for white not looking white.
      As for how people see colors online, so much depends on displays, as you said, and on individual eyes and brains.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 9, 2021 at 7:26 PM

  9. Like both portraits. Second one brings out the color in context, with hues merging subtly across the photo, while the first almost looks like it was shot in black and white. You could probably use a grayscale filter and there would be little difference (one hypothesizes). Have you any shots of Rain Lilies fully opened with sunlight behind the petals, with their translucency making them glow? (I got one, once. Even a blind squirrel, etc. …).


    October 10, 2021 at 2:26 PM

    • You’re right that with just a fleeting glance the top picture might pass for black and white. A sustained look reveals traces of the characteristic pink that increasingly suffuses the white as these flowers quickly age.

      I’ve taken so many hundreds of rain-lily pictures in the past two decades that I figure I must have done at least a few with backlighting that emphasized translucency and created a glow. The closest to that effect I could find in a quick search was this:

      We had rain

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 10, 2021 at 3:52 PM

  10. Fascinating differences between the two. For myself, I very much like the second image. The softer light and the background really work well to highlight the lily.

    Todd Henson

    October 15, 2021 at 3:11 PM

    • If I’d presented the first version by itself, more people probably would have found it a good portrait. The second, softer view ended up stealing attention from the starker approach.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 15, 2021 at 4:00 PM

  11. WOW … very different images and plant! I would name it ghost lily.


    October 18, 2021 at 1:19 PM

    • In one sense you’re not far off: rain-lilies are ephemeral, springing up several days after a good rain and last only a short while. In other words, they quickly “give up the ghost.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2021 at 2:19 PM

  12. […] we normally and understandably focus on the flowers of rain lilies (Zephyranthes sp.), I considered myself lucky on December 21st to at least find the […]

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