"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Late Spring Blues (1 of 2)

Late Spring Blues (1 of 2)

From “Some Questions You Might Ask” in Blue Iris: Poems and Essays by Mary Oliver:

“What about the blue iris?”

From Irises: Their Culture and Selection by Gwendolyn Anley:

“As for the blue irises there is greater variety still, and a base of colour more susceptible of beauty. There are the shades that suggest blue fires and should be discussed in synonyms of fire or flame, the ice blue, sky blue, those derivative of the blue waters, campanula and delphinium blues, and many others. Among them a particular place is due to the irises that are of orchid or cyclamen colours, for they have a subtlety and delicacy of their own and can be among the most beautiful of the whole genus. They can be as rich and rare as orchids, or possess that especial cyclamen quality which is as though they were growing in an enchanted woodland … above a blue promontory or island-studded sea.”

I’ve written before about how interesting it can be to work with images of flowers where the dominant colors are in the blue-to-purple range (see Clematis Variations: Gallery 2 of 2) — and these batches of iris photos (from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens) proved to be no exception. Even as I was preparing to take the photos, I noticed that the apparent color varied depending on where I stood, and on the direction or intensity of light: stronger light made the flowers appear more purple than blue, the effect actually created by warmer color tones in brighter sunlight.

If you look at these photos (especially those in the first two galleries below) on a device that offers “night shift” — a setting that reduces blue light emanated by the screen — the colors in each of these pictures will shift toward purple because the blue color is muted. Sunlight variations produce a similar effect, as does selecting different white balance settings in the camera or in Lightroom.

Here, for example, is a screenshot of the second photo in the first gallery, with a warmer white balance applied to the image:

One approach I’ve adopted when working on photos where the subject is blue or purple is to pay attention to other colors in the scene as a clue to the “correct” (though highly personal and subjective) tones for the whole image. In this screenshot, for example, the green leaves look too yellow to me: iris leaves are a very rich green that typically doesn’t appear to have much yellow color when the plants are in their prime. And since green doesn’t “trick” the camera (or the eye) in the same way that blue or purple do, I know that the overall color of the image is too warm (or too yellow) so make adjustments to remove yellow tones from the photo — which in turn shifts the purple pixels to blue.

Flowers, of course, aren’t made of pixels. The flower petals have far more colored cells than my camera can individually pixelate — real life being infinitely more complex, nuanced, and detailed than its digital representations. In post-processing, I chose to emphasize the blue color in these images over the purple also because that’s how I remembered them; and because that provided greater tonal range (deeper blues with subtle purple highlights, instead of purple-purple) that better emphasized each blossom’s shape and texture.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


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