The gallery below features fifteen images of new blooms on three Blue Billow hydrangeas that I planted toward the end of April. The three plants were a gift from a friend of mine; friends who buy me plants are my favorite kind! The plants had two weeks to establish themselves before they were subjected to a ten-day heat wave with daily temperatures in the upper 90s, no clouds anywhere in sight for that entire period, and of course not a drop of rain. May is normally a time of moderately warm temperatures here; and it’s during May and June that plants push out most of their new growth, strengthen their stems, and expand their root systems — which typically puts them in good shape for the onset of summer. They don’t expect to be shocked by temperatures 15 to 20 degrees above normal for nearly two weeks in the spring!
If you’ve ever owned hydrangeas, you have probably seen how stressed they get with too much sun and heat: the leaves lose their color, turn slightly translucent, and begin to wilt. No amount of watering ever seems to change that; though it does help them recover color and strength to weather another hot day. Even though these hydrangeas were well shaded, most of the blooms shriveled up and fell off; but the plants seemed to have survived and are continuing to spread out in the garden.
I took the photos in this gallery over several days prior to the heat wave, catching each bloom in slightly different angles of sunshine and adding supplemental lighting of my own. I was definitely experimenting with light, shadows, and contrast here: I again used an LED light attached to my camera, kept it at a high intensity, moved in as close as I could without falling into the plants, and under-exposed each of the photos by at least two stops just to see what would happen. While I often try to expose for dark backgrounds behind my subjects, I don’t usually try to create photos with contrast as high as these. After underexposing in the camera, I only added a fraction of the exposure back in Lightroom and reduced most of the highlights — which is where the starker contrast and emphasized shadows seemed to come from. I do like the extra detail that this approach brought out: it revealed lines and textures in the opened blooms that you don’t really see with your eyes — but I think I would try to diffuse the light more if I ran this experiment again.
I sequenced the photos to show how the colors changed as the days went on: as the buds grew and the flowers opened, the petal colors shifted away from green and yellow, to white or light blue with swatches of green, to end out mostly white with a very slight blue cast or occasional flashes of purple. I think that’s one of my favorite things about closeup and macro photography of plants and flowers: you get a look at color variations that just don’t register to your vision, but once you see them your awareness of color is enhanced by that knowledge. The shift to white seems to be a function of the age of the bloom more than the size: even the tiniest flowers turned bright white when they were a few days old — which may suggest that the plant was signaling its attractiveness to pollinators once all the yellow and green faded away.
Select the first image to view larger versions in a slideshow. The first of these four hydrangea galleries and some additional notes on how these photos came about is here: Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 1 of 4.
Thanks for reading and taking a look!