Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘macro

Portraits from our yard: episode 8

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In a comment on an earlier post showing a Turk’s cap flower (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) in our yard on July 15th, Gallivanta asked whether the characteristic long central column is always upright. The fact is that while most of those columns do grow straight, some curve and some eventually fall off or get broken off. Today’s post shows you those two situations.


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There’s no “official” name for the beliefs that constitute a large part of current leftist ideology. Some people use the term “wokeism,” others “illiberalism,” and still others “critical race theory” (CRT). By whatever name you care to call that ideology, the American educational establishment is increasingly pushing it into our public schools. When opponents of that indoctrination call out the educational establishment for their illiberal beliefs and practices, some of the people in charge have resorted to the sophistic defense that what they’re promoting is not CRT. That’s what the head of the second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), did on July 6th: “Let’s be clear: Critical race theory is not taught in elementary schools or high schools. It’s a method of examination taught in law school and college that helps analyze whether systemic racism exists.” But as Shakespeare reminded us in Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The lady in question is named Weingarten.

Shakespeare also wrote, this time in Romeo and Juliet: “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”—only in this case, that which teachers unions refuse to call critical race theory, by any other name would be as foul. When we consider recent utterances by people in the teachers unions, as well as recent documents they’ve produced, it’s clear that they are pushing transgressive beliefs. (You’re welcome to read a student’s confirmation.) The largest American teachers union is the National Education Association (NEA). Look at this New Business Item from the period June 30–July 3, 2021:

The NEA will, with guidance on implementation from the NEA president and chairs of the Ethnic Minority Affairs Caucuses:

A. Share and publicize, through existing channels, information already available on critical race theory (CRT) — what it is and what it is not; have a team of staffers for members who want to learn more and fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric; and share information with other NEA members as well as their community members.

B. Provide an already-created, in-depth, study that critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society, and that we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.

Aside from the jargony crock pot of crackpot shibboleths enumerated in the last paragraph, notice the irony in the largest teachers union wanting to “fight back against anti-CRT” and to “oppose attempts to ban critical race theory”—the very thing they claim they’re not teaching!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 9, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 2

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From July 23rd, look at the flowers and buds of western ironweed, Vernonia baldwinii. I’ve often found that species difficult to photograph because the parts of its inflorescence don’t generally fall close to a single plane, so I was happy to get as much in focus as I did with this portrait. Using flash was the key; it let me stop down to f/16.


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One of the principles of the scientific method is falsifiability. It means that the scientific community won’t even consider a conjecture unless the conjecture is capable of being disproved. For example, Aristotle believed that heavy objects fall faster than light objects. On its face, that might be true or it might be false, and there’s a way to find out. Surprisingly (or not), only a millennium and a half later did someone put Aristotle’s claim to a real test. In the late 1500s Galileo simultaneously dropped (or is said to have dropped) two dense objects of different weights from the Tower of Pisa and found that they hit the ground at the same time, thereby falsifying Aristotle’s long-believed claim. (To give some credit to Aristotle, his notion had seemed true because of air resistance, which makes a feather and a leaf drop much more slowly than a rock.)

In contrast to that checkable conjecture about falling objects, suppose someone claims the existence of a substance having the property that whenever you try to detect it it becomes undetectable. Do you see that by its very nature a proposal like that can’t ever be disproved? As a result, it lies outside the realm of science.

I bring up falsifiability in science because it reminds me of something going on in the world of the “woke,” where apostles and acolytes of that new religion accuse white people, especially white men, and even more especially old white men, of having “white privilege.” If a white person answers “No, I don’t have any such privilege,” then the true believers snap back and say, “The fact that you deny having white privilege shows your ‘white fragility’ and it proves that you do have white privilege.” Honest, some of them really “think” that way. By that kind of “reasoning,” whenever anyone accused of a crime goes into court and pleads not guilty, the judge would have to find the defendant guilty by virtue of having pled not guilty! It’s downright Kafkaesque.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 31, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Different horsemint portraits

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In contrast to last time’s sharp portrait at f/18, the pictures in today’s post represent a limited-focus approach (f/2.8 and f/3.2) to photographing a horsemint, Monarda citriodora. The yellow behind the subject came from a Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera. To show how much an image depends on the way it gets processed, compare the portrait below, which I took about a minute later than the first one, and which I processed with a darker tonality. Remember that neither view accords with that you’d have seen with your eyes and brain if you’d been there in person.

These pictures date from June 2nd at the Junior League of Austin,
which was looking good but not as fabulously floriferous as in the spring of 2020.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 10, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Time again for mountain pinks

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Flowers and bullet-like buds of Zeltnera beyrichii on June 18th in Cedar Park.
Thinks to Kathy Werner for tipping me off to the location.
(In return I tipped her off to the location of some bluebells near there.)


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A few days ago I finished reading Douglas Murray’s excellent book The Madness of Crowds, in which he pointed out something I’d begun noticing, too: the hits that come up in response to certain searches on Google are biased. Murray gave several examples, one of which was that when he searched for “straight couples,” many of the pictures that came up in Google Images showed gay couples. His book is from 2019, so I tried that experiment for myself last week to see what sort of results I’d get in mid-2021.

The top row of hits I got for “straight couples” contained seven pictures. The first showed a lesbian couple. The second showed a gay male couple. The third showed a male-female couple. The fourth showed a lesbian couple. The fifth showed a male-female couple. The sixth and seventh both showed lesbian couples. In summary, only two of the seven pictures in the top row matched the search string “straight couples.”

It’s practically impossible for a set of hits so different from the search string to come up by chance. To understand why, imagine all the pictures of couples out there on the internet; billions of them have been posted. Now imagine that you searched for pictures of couples without specifying any particular kind of couple. Using the estimate that 5% of couples are same-sex, I did the calculations to find out how often a random grab of seven pictures of couples would yield an assortment with five gay couples and two straight couples. The arithmetic shows you can expect that to happen only 0.14% of the time, or approximately 1 out of every 700 times. And remember, that’s without specifying what kind of couple you’re after. The fact that I searched specifically for straight couples makes the 5-gay-and-2-straight result I got much less probable than the already tiny 0.14% we’d expect if we didn’t specify the kind of couple.

The only conclusion possible, in fact the one Douglas Murray came to, is that Google is cooking the books—and since Google is a search engine and not accounting software, cooking the books means rigging the search algorithm to distort reality. And this from the company whose original motto was “Don’t be evil.”

Oh, and just in case anyone feels an overwhelming ad hominem urge to label Douglas Murray homophobic for pointing out what he did about Google, he happens to be gay.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 28, 2021 at 4:27 AM

Ten years

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Today marks 10 years since I put up the first post on Portraits of Wildflowers. Even after a decade I’m happy to occasionally bring you native wildflowers that haven’t appeared here before, like the snake herb you saw the other day and now this yellow passionflower, Passiflora lutea.* Less flashy than some other passionflower species, it puts out flowers no more than about 3/4 of an inch (18mm) across—meaning that the image of this one is significantly larger than life, thanks to my trusty macro lens. Looking only at the flower, could you have predicted its buds would be bullet-shaped, as confirmed by the two in the upper right? I took this photograph on May 21st in a thankfully undeveloped (but more often mowed than I’d like) lot on Balcones Woods Dr. a couple of miles from home.

* While it’s true that you’ve never seen a flower of this species here before, I did show an abstract portrait of a tendril way back in 2012.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 4, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Rain-lily bud and flower

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Zephyranthes drummondii; April 27 in my neighborhood.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 10, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Coral honeysuckle flower and buds

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A couple of months ago I discovered a picture in my archives that I’d never shown, so here it is on the 10th anniversary of the date I took it. You’re looking at a coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) flower surrounded by buds along Great Northern Blvd. Unfortunately construction along Mopac and the building of a sound-mitigating wall have destroyed or blocked much of the strip where I used to photograph native plants.

And here’s a quotation for today: “… [A] copy of the universe is not what is required of art; one of the damned thing is ample.” — Rebecca West, 1928, in the essay “The Strange Necessity.” Quote Investigator offers more information.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 10, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Late takes on Clematis drummondii

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I didn’t expect to be photographing one of my favorite subjects so late in the year: Clematis drummondii, a vine known endearingly as old man’s beard. The last times I’d taken pictures of any were late July and early August. In the first week of December I noticed a fluffy colony on the west-side embankment of US 183 just south of Braker Lane, a corner I often drive past as I leave my neighborhood. After telling myself several times that I should check out the Clematis, I finally did on December 10th. The first picture gives you an overview of the colony. You’ll be forgiven if a first glance made you think you were seeing a black and white photograph.

The backlighting that made the colony stand out in the first photograph also served me in the second, a macro view in which you’re seeing a span of maybe 2 inches. In the third picture I took a softer and less contrasty approach. Don’t you love the chaos in the two close views?

And speaking of chaos, did you know that it gave rise to the new word gas? Here’s the explanation in The Online Etymology Dictionary:

1650s, from Dutch gas, probably from Greek khaos “empty space”… The sound of Dutch “g” is roughly equivalent to that of Greek “kh.” First used by Flemish chemist J.B. van Helmont (1577-1644), probably influenced by Paracelsus, who used khaos in an occult sense of “proper elements of spirits” or “ultra-rarified water,” which was van Helmont’s definition of gas.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 24, 2020 at 4:44 AM

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Time again for ladies’ tresses orchids

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Last fall I found exactly zero Great Plains ladies’ tresses orchids (Spiranthes magnicamporum) at a site in northwest Austin that I’ve been going to for over a decade to photograph them. This year, tipped off by Meg Inglis on October 19th that the ladies’ tresses in her area a little west of Austin had already been coming out for a while, I went to “my” property on October 24th and soon located a dozen or so, even though it was unusually early in the season for me to expect any there. I photographed several of the orchids from the side, which is “normal,” but I also had the urge to do some limited-focus portraits looking down from above for a change. The brown around the spike of spiraling flowers came from drying leaves on the ground.

UPDATE. It occurred to me that you may not know what a ladies’ tresses orchid looks like, so here’s a conventional view taken at the same site six years ago. Within that post is a link to a more esthetic view from the side.

And here’s a relevant quotation for today: “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” — Elliott Erwitt.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 30, 2020 at 4:26 AM

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

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