Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sunlight from behind versus flash from in front

with 27 comments

Behold two takes on flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, from November 1st along Spicewood Springs Rd. In the top view I took advantage of the sun in front of me for backlighting; in the other picture I used flash. You might say the second view isn’t “natural,” but then neither is photography.

Only when processing the pictures a couple of weeks after I took them did I notice some sort of translucent insect. You can make it out near the center of the lower photograph. Higher up you can also make out a tiny lacewing egg attached by a filament to one of the leaflets. Now that you’re aware of those two things, you can also see them in the top picture.

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The other day I learned about an important court case from 2008 involving free speech. It’s described in an Inside Higher Ed article and you can watch a half-hour video about it produced by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 29, 2021 at 4:31 AM

27 Responses

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  1. I always enjoy backlit sumac, as well as other leaves. As little autumn color as we have, it’s nice to see it intensified and glowing. On the other hand, flash did give the leaves an interesting, almost metallic, appearance that looks especially nice against that darkened sky.

    I laughed at the ads this morning. Apparently yon algorithm has been busy ‘learning.’ The health advice has been swapped out for Shutterstock and Sperry boat shoes. That’s just funny.


    November 29, 2021 at 8:44 AM

    • “Backlit sumac” sounds like it could be the common name of another species. As you pointed out, the lit-by-reflected-light-from-a-flash sumac and the concomitant darkened sky did make for a pleasant and somewhat novel portrait. When it comes to the newly imposed ads, I’m seeing one for Olay Regenerist Night Recovery Cream. Maybe people can use it to recover from any dark thoughts they’ve had during the night.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 29, 2021 at 10:15 AM

  2. I love the reds in the naturally backlit image best, but love that you found an insect and eggs using fill flash to open up the shadows.


    November 29, 2021 at 8:53 AM

  3. It is nice to see some autumn colours surfacing in your neck of the woods, Steve. I am told that a heavy frost brings out the fall colours. Perhaps this is the reason for getting such a magnificent display in the more northern regions.

    Peter Klopp

    November 29, 2021 at 9:27 AM

    • Interestingly, we haven’t even gotten our first frost here the way we often do by now. That doesn’t bode well for more bright colors this season, but we’ll see.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 29, 2021 at 10:16 AM

    • And yes, you’re right about the colder temperatures up north producing the most vivid fall foliage.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 29, 2021 at 9:37 PM

  4. I like the first one better, Steve, just because of the colours.


    November 29, 2021 at 10:49 AM

  5. Both are interesting. The top one is more uplifting; the second reminds me of a fabric design in its clarity.


    November 29, 2021 at 4:50 PM

  6. “You might say the second view isn’t “natural,” but then neither is photography.” Lol.

    Alessandra Chaves

    November 29, 2021 at 9:26 PM

  7. These made me realize that I was remiss this year with sumac, only making the one image. It has a lot to offer.

    Steve Gingold

    November 30, 2021 at 3:43 AM

    • It sure does. I don’t think a year has gone by since I started this blog that I didn’t show at least one and usually two or three flameleaf sumac pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 30, 2021 at 5:31 AM

  8. Autumnal! I’m thrilled that I now am growing a baby Flameleaf Sumac. Actually there are two of them, but next rain, the second goes to my sister-in-law next door. Mine actually has some color. Or, it’s dying…


    November 30, 2021 at 4:33 PM

    • Oh, I hope it’s not dying. Do you have a sense of how long it takes a sapling flameleaf sumac to mature?

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 30, 2021 at 6:40 PM

      • According to the LBJWC site, it’s “relatively” fast growing. I’m a little surprised that the two seedlings have done so well, though I don’t want to count my seedlings before they grow, because it’s been only 10 days since I dug them up and re-planted. Both came up with the main trunk and a cross root, making a T, with a few tiny feeder roots. I cut back the foliage on both and they seem to be settling in well. One of them is going to my SIL, so we’ll do that (hopefully) before the next good rain–whenever that happens! Fingers-crossed on their development.

        I bought an Evergreen Sumac and planted it, too. It’s doing quite well. I’m tickled to have both of these in this new garden and hope they’re happy.


        December 1, 2021 at 8:02 AM

        • Good luck. I often see both kinds of sumac in the wild when I wander around Austin, so they’re apparently happy with our soil and other conditions.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 1, 2021 at 8:07 AM

  9. Both are very bold and striking images – it’s interesting to see how different the same leaves can be made to look.

    Ann Mackay

    November 30, 2021 at 6:07 PM

    • We photographers don’t have as much freedom as painters to render reality in idiosyncratic ways, but hardware and software have increasingly let us alter the ways our subjects appear.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 30, 2021 at 6:42 PM

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