"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
A Profusion of Irises: Iris No. 1

A Profusion of Irises: Iris No. 1

Haiku by Matsuo Basho in The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

Come on let us see
all the real flowers of this
sorrowful world.

After the dream
how real
this iris!

I’ve made enough progress with post-processing iris photos I took at Oakland Cemetery in April that I decided I would start posting some of them. Well, in this case, one of them. This beauty produced a huge blossom, about six inches across at its widest points; and if you stare at it long enough, you may feel like it’s in motion, the petals waving at you in a spring breeze. The colors — blends of dominant purple shaded with blue — are the most common iris colors, and this flower’s large size shows them off well.

Select the image to see a larger version; and try “View full size” if you would like to get a closer look at the color and detail.

Because many of the iris blooms were so large, I used narrow apertures (f/14 or higher) to get as much of the bloom (from front to back) in focus as possible. Doing so brings in a lot more background elements at the same time, of course, so as I’ve been working through the photos, I’ve made decisions about whether to keep the background as shot (which works well for an isolated bloom or a bloom and its leaves), blur it (which you will see in some future posts), or remove it entirely. The iris shapes and colors fare really well against total black, so I picked out about half of the 120 photos for background removal — despite how long it takes to “unmask” the twists and turns of the flower petals and get the final result right.

Below are side-by-side variations showing the original image of the iris, followed by the black-background version. I used Lightroom’s spot removal tool to repair some defects in the petals, though happily didn’t have to spend too much time deleting offending pollen bloblets from the flower. I also made exposure and color adjustments in Lightroom — and applied some contrast and detail filters in the Nik Collection — to lighten excess blue shades (partly a darkening or saturating effect from using narrower apertures) and add a bit of additional texture. To remove the background, I dragged a Graduated Filter across the entire image; set Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks as shown below; then used the Erase brush to reveal the bloom while leaving the background black.

Select the first image if you would like to compare the before and after renderings.

One down, 120 to go! Thanks for reading and taking a look! 🙂


  1. Beautiful color. The old folks around here usually call them “flags” but call the ones in the marshes “swamp iris.” I do like these pictures with the totally black background, sounds like you need a steady hand, to paint out the background.

    1. Dale

      I’ve heard people use the term “swamp irises” for some wildflower versions, but I had never heard them called “flags” before. Wikipedia lists three specific varieties as flag irises (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_iris) and I did see a few at Oakland with those shapes and colors, so that’s an interesting tidbit.

      Blackening the background goes pretty well around areas of sharp focus and contrast, but takes patience around other parts of the photo. It feels weirdly like real-life painting around a door or window frame where you’ve used painter’s tape for masking … sometimes the black seeps into “bumpy” areas and you have to pick it back off again. And sometimes you can’t tell that it happened unless you zoom in so much you’re not even sure what part of the photo you’re looking at. Takes about a half hour to do one; I’ve got fifty done so far so it’s turned into another little (as in not-little!) photo project!

      Thanks for the comment!

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