Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘abstract

A predilection to turn red

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The leaves of smartweed plants (Polygonum sp.) tend to turn yellow and red. On August 25th I positioned myself with the sun in front of me so that its light would transluce this smartweed leaf and saturate the red. Cameras don’t like looking into the sun—which is to say photographers generally don’t like it—because the light bouncing around off the lens elements can create unwanted artifacts. That’s how there came to be orbs at the top of this picture. Technically it’s a defect, and I could easily remove it, but you may find it’s a smart look for a smartweed leaf. The plant’s stems also noticeably have red in them:

The answer to yesterday’s question asking which independent country has the lowest population density is Mongolia, with only about 2 people per square mile. Eliza Waters quickly came up with the right answer, and Peter Klopp soon followed.

When we look at a globe of the world, we’re accustomed to seeing countries represented in proportion to their areas. For a change, you may want to check out a map that represents countries according to their populations (click the map there to enlarge it). You’ll notice some countries appear smaller or even much smaller than you’re used to seeing them (e.g. Canada, Mongolia, Australia, Ireland, Russia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia), and others larger (e.g. Nigeria, India, the Philippines, Japan, Bangla Desh).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 21, 2020 at 3:51 AM

Limited-focus abstract views of Clematis drummondii strands

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On August 22nd I went to Great Hills Park and spent quite a while among a group of Clematis drummondii plants that had produced their characteristic strands. Because of rain the day before, some of the strands had stuck together, especially at their tips. In both of today’s pictures limited focus led to abstract portraits that are pretty different from the many other pictures of this species that have appeared here over the years.

Instead of a quotation or a fact, how about a question? Okay, that was already a question, but not the one I had in mind. Here it is: which independent country has the lowest population density? (I included the word independent because Greenland, which is the least densely populated geographic entity, is a territory of Denmark.) You’ll find the answer at the end of the next post.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 20, 2020 at 3:50 AM

Spiderwebbed Mexican hat seed head on a sinuous stalk

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After photographing a broomweed plant silhouetted by reflections of the rising sun in a pond along The Lakes Blvd. on August 19th, on the same property I made a portrait of this spiderwebbed Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) seed head on a sinuous stalk. The year of the Mexican hat, which is a name I conjured up for one focus of my photography earlier in 2020, had continued.

The fanciful name Mexican hat reminds me that German refers to a thimble as a Fingerhut, i.e. a finger hat. Another thing you might cover fingers with is a glove, which German calls a Handschuh, which is to say a hand shoe. The next time you’re in a department store, try asking a clerk where the handshoes are. I bet the reaction will be quite different from the answer you’d get if you asked where the handbags are.

As for the white webbing on the Mexican hat in today’s photograph, I recently mentioned that spider actually means ‘spinner,’ based on the webs that spiders spin. And that leads us to our quotation for today: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave,/ When first we practise to deceive!” — Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, an 1808 historical romance in verse by Sir Walter Scott (who really was a Scot).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 17, 2020 at 3:55 AM

Bull Creek reflections

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There are times when a reflection of something is more interesting artistically than the thing seen directly. When I wandered in Bull Creek Regional Park on the morning of August 26th I felt that way about what you see in the first photograph. Not far away, the edge of a flat, irregularly shaped rock also got reflected in the creek; I find that the reflection in the second view plays an important role in the picture’s attractiveness.

Below, the reflected limestone strata add to the allure of the strata themselves.

Here’s a much-quoted statement by Sherlock Holmes, which is to say by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet”: “It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” In the 2014 book How Not to Be Wrong, mathematician Jordan Ellenberg amended the statement by adding some extra words to make it more accurate: “It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth, unless the truth is a hypothesis it didn’t occur to you to consider.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 15, 2020 at 4:44 AM

A new way of looking at broomweed

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In the recent post about experiments in zooming I mentioned that the fountain at the Lakes Blvd. and Howard Lane hadn’t gotten turned on by 7:10 in the morning, so I left and did other things. One of the first was to see what sorts of images I could make with the disc of the rising sun reflected in a nearby pond. I used those bright reflections to silhouette a broomweed plant, Amphiachyris dracunculoides.

Here’s an unrelated thought for today: “The notion that nothing might be anything is quite something.” — S.S.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 10, 2020 at 4:47 AM

Mottled

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As the pads of a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii) die, they often become
mottled in ways that are bound to intrigue a nature photograph—or at least this one.

I made these portraits on September 3rd near the Sierra Nevada entrance to Great Hills Park. The overcast skies preceding rain led me to use flash for a change, and that had the advantage of letting me stop down in all three of these pictures to f/14 for good depth of field and crisp details. In the last picture the drying needles and little fruits had fallen from an Ashe juniper tree (Juniperus ashei).

And here’s a thought for today: You’ve probably heard someone say “You can’t prove a negative.” It depends. Some negatives can be proved. For example, take the question of whether a fraction exists such that when you multiply the fraction by itself the result is exactly 2. An infinite number of fractions exist, so you can’t multiply each and every fraction by itself to find out whether the result is ever 2. Maybe you’ll get close: for instance, 99/70 multiplied by itself gives 9801/4900, which is close to 2, but you can see that the top is just slightly more than twice the bottom. It turns out that no fraction has the property that when you multiply it by itself you get exactly 2. Maybe equally surprising is the fact that smart people were able to prove that negative as long ago as ancient Greece. Hats off to the ancient Greeks.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 5, 2020 at 4:34 AM

Powdery alligator flag leaves

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When I was out photographing powdery alligator flag flowers (Thalia dealbata) at the River Ranch pond on August 10th, I noticed bright red not only at the base of the inflorescence sheath but also on the stalk at the base of each leaf. You see that in the first picture, which also shows a purple bindweed (Ipomoea cordatotriloba) vine that had twined around the stalk.

I couldn’t help noticing that when the leaves in this species dry out they curl and fold in ways that have photographic appeal. I made several kinds of abstract portraits of them, two of which you see here.

And here’s a quotation for today: “On n’est jamais si heureux ni si malheureux qu’on s’imagine.” “We’re never as happy or as unhappy as we imagine.” — François de la Rochefoucauld, Maximes.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 4, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Zooms, not blooms

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A few other photographers I’m familiar with have recently shown pictures created with intentional camera movement, which often means sliding or swiveling the camera from side to side while the shutter is open. In this post’s pictures I took a different approach, holding the camera body as still as I could while zooming the lens during the time the shutter stayed open. In the first picture I zoomed my 24–105mm lens during a one-second exposure. The vine climbing the rough-barked tree trunk was poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), which caught my attention because the summer drought had turned some of its leaves red.

On the morning of August 19th while it was still dark I went back to the fountain you saw here recently, hoping to get some warm colors in the water at sunrise. Eventually the sun came up but the water never did—at least not by 7:10, when I left to do more-conventional portraits because it was already light out. The visit wasn’t in vain, though, because while I was hanging around waiting I experimented with some more zooms. The next picture, in which I zoomed my 100–400mm lens for two seconds, strikes me as intriguingly mysterious and abstract.

I also looked in the opposite direction from the pond, at the power lines and poles across the road,
which I portrayed in a three-second exposure that conveniently caught the layered colors of dawn:

And here are not one, not two, not three, but four similar and timely quotations from the founding era of the American republic:

“… Nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.” — Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, No. 1, published October 27, 1787.

“The common and continual mischief’s [sic] of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion.” — George Washington in his farewell address delivered to Congress on September 19, 1796.

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” — John Adams in a letter to Jonathan Jackson on October 2, 1780.

“If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would rather not go at all.” — Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Francis Hopkinson on March 13, 1789.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 1, 2020 at 4:43 AM

Two abstract cattail leaf portraits

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Many long-time artists try new things. In the first of two recent experiments, I played off a yellowing cattail leaf (Typha domingensis) against differently colored cattail leaves behind it that were parallel to one another but not to it. I held the foreground leaf in focus to convey its texture, while making the background leaves as free of details as possible. In the image below of a shallow cattail leaf arc, I channeled my inner Michael Scandling: barely anything is in focus, and the overall effect is of pastel colors.

Here’s a vaguely related quotation for today:

“L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature; mais c’est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l’univers entier s’arme pour l’écraser : une vapeur, une goutte d’eau suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l’univers l’écraserait, l’homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, parce qu’il sait qu’il meurt, et l’avantage que l’univers a sur lui, l’univers n’en sait rien.” — Blaise Pascal, Pensées (Thoughts).

“Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature; but he’s a thinking reed. It doesn’t take the whole universe up in arms to crush him; a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe did crush him, man would still be nobler than the thing that kills him, because he’d know that he’s dying, whereas the advantage that the universe has over him, the universe would know nothing about.” — Blaise Pascal, Pensées (Thoughts).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2020 at 4:34 AM

A torch-like take on a familiar subject

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If 2020 has been a good year for new takes on Mexican hats, it has also turned into a good year for novelty with Clematis drummondii. This portrait from July 29th on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin is unlike any I’d done in my two decades exploring the most prolific of our three native Clematis species. You can see that I played an opening bundle of silky fibers off against already loosened strands a little further away. Because the vertical bundle strikes this former New Yorker as rather torch-like, for today’s quotation let’s have the poem “The New Colossus,” which Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883 to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the giant statue* that France had given to the United States to commemorate the country’s declared independence in 1776:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities** frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

UPDATE: You can listen to the famous part of the sonnet set to music by an immigrant to the United States, Israel Beilis, better known as Irving Berlin.

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* The French title of the statue that sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi designed was Liberté éclairant le monde, Liberty Enlightening the World, but Americans know it as the Statue of Liberty.

** The twin cities were New York and Brooklyn, which weren’t consolidated until 1899.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 21, 2020 at 4:37 AM

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