"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Big Blue (and Black and White) Hydrangea Blooms

Big Blue (and Black and White) Hydrangea Blooms

From 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells:

“The big pink or blue garden hydrangea is as common in America as blue-haired old ladies, and has the same feel of dyed unreality.”

From Hydrangeas by Naomi Slade:

“[Many] hydrangeas have a ‘preferred’ colour, and they will lean towards this, regardless. Simply, some would rather be … blue….”

I started out assembling photos for this post with this image of two very blue hydrangea blooms. At first I didn’t mind the green leaves behind the petals, but after a while they got on my nerves and the hydrangea bones in the background made me nauseous (exaggeration alert!) … so…

… I removed the background, ending up with two floating flowers…

… and then created five virtual copies in Lightroom so I could crop the blooms as four separate photos at different sizes, plus a fifth large crop (of the first, most symmetrical bloom). Notice that in the fifth image, it’s more apparent that these blue blooms have purple-brushed petals… which is almost always the case with blue flowers of any type.

Side-eye note: These five images demonstrate one of (to me) the best things about shooting raw files, that you can crop out large sections of an image with little or no loss of detail, which is well maintained even after exporting the photos for uploading to a blog or website. As you may know, WordPress blogs compress images and reduce quality slightly; but if you click here to view the last image at full size, you can see that despite selecting only about a third of the image during cropping, it’s full of sharp detail.

Such was my delight at these big blue blooms that I thought it might be fun to do something else to the images.

I passed them in and out of the Nik Collection a few times, and while they looked fine with filters that converted them to sepia tones, or an antique look, or to an old film style, none of those renditions appealed to me that much. Funny how that works: you have an idea you want to do something creative with an image (without necessarily knowing what), and certain things strike you but many do not.

I then took several different approaches to converting them to black and white in Lightroom; and again didn’t like the results at first as they just looked like black and white variations of blue flowers.

Tools like Lightroom and Nik Collection of course provide the potential for endless possibilities and results. Yet I always try to think of that differently, as a way of exploring how we create and how we sense that something we create has reached a satisfactory “end state” — “end state” in itself being an ambiguous condition, never quite answering the question: am I done yet?

Whenever I feel a little stuck, I try two different mental tricks to change the way I’m thinking. First, in Lightroom, I try extreme changes for various exposure and color settings — which basically means moving Lightroom sliders to the far left or far right in different combinations to see what happens. Second, I consider what I usually do to an image, what changes I typically make (we tend to follow similar patterns or processes when creating pretty much anything), and try to break out of that pattern. In my former tech life where part of my job consisted of software quality assurance, such an approach would have been considered exploratory testing of edge cases to try and break the software; in photography post-processing it translates (for me) to experimenting with methods I don’t usually use to see what new potential is exposed.

Black and white conversion in Lightroom is initially a button-push, which typically renders a fairly flat (as in dull) variation of the original image — but many of the same exposure and color options (color in this case meaning the red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple, and magenta colors in the original image) are still available. Adjusting the black-and-white renderings of those color channels not only teaches you more about how color is represented in photos, but it can also produce surprising effects. For all five of these images, I discovered that the tiny pin-buttons at the center of each four-petal flower cluster — which initially appeared as dark black dots — actually contained red, orange, and yellow; and increasing those three colors to their highest value (an experiment with “extreming” the settings) changed the overly prominent black dots to white or light gray instead. Before adjusting the red, yellow, and orange, my eye kept getting drawn to the dots; afterward, the dots blended with the rest of the flower and weren’t such a distraction.

In addition to the Sharpening tool, Lightroom has two other tools for enhancing detail: Texture and Clarity. With a black and white image, a bit of extra sharpening (even though I had already applied sharpening to the original color image), adds a little sparkle to highlights around edges without creating jagged traces that you sometimes see in over-sharpened images.

While I use the Texture tool frequently, adding more than was in the color image didn’t have much of an effect. I hardly ever use Clarity to add detail (preferring Texture’s more subtle enhancements instead); but in this case, I broke from my typical approach and played around with Clarity to see what would happen. Lowering clarity reduced detail and produced a uniform softness in the flower petals, while also adding a bit of brightness — and the combination of softness and brightness appears as a bit of glow throughout the blooms. An illusion, perhaps; but your eyes will see what they want to see… or maybe what I, The Photographer, want them to see. Ha!

Finally, I used Color Grading to add a bit of blue color back into the shadows, highlights, and midtones; that produces a light silver effect on whites that I like and, to me, is more appealing than flat white.

The End!

If you read all that, bless you! Treat yourself to some ice cream!

My previous hydrangea posts for 2021 are:

Baby Bluebird … Hydrangeas (1 of 2)

Baby Bluebird … Hydrangeas (2 of 2)

More Bluebird Hydrangeas! (1 of 2)

More Bluebird Hydrangeas! (2 of 2)

Pink Mophead Hydrangeas (Five Variations)

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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