From Self-Portrait with Dogwood by Christopher Merrill:
“The dogwood’s etymology is murky….
“One theory holds that the name descends from the Old English word for dagger, the wood being hard enough to fashion into goads and arrows as well as skewers and spindles. It furnished shuttles for the textile industry, which flourished in our village until the Civil War, when, as Kelby Ouchley notes in Flora and Fauna of the Civil War, the wood was used for ‘charcoal, engraving, mallets, tool handles, wedges, plane stock, harrow teeth, hames [the curved pieces of a harness], horse collars, ox yokes, wheel hubs, barrel hoops, machinery bearings, and cogs in various types of gears.’ Also gunpowder and toothpicks….
“There was no connection to dogs in the origin of the name, the canine element emerging only with a change in the language, when the a in dag became an o. Dog-tree, Dog-berry, Dog-timber, Houndberry — these names were coined, possibly because the bark was said to make ‘an excellent wash for mangy dogs,’ or because of the barking sound created by branches rubbing together in the wind.”
From “The Dogwoods” in Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems: 1968-1998 by Linda Pastan:
I remember, in the week
of the dogwoods, why sometimes
we give up everything
for beauty, lose our sense
and our senses, as we do now
for these blossoms, sprinkled
like salt through the dark woods.…
This is the second of two posts featuring dogwood trees blooming early this spring. The first post is Dogwoods with White Blooms (1 of 2).
At the end of this post, I’ve included before-and-after versions of four of these photos. Photographing large, bloom-filled trees can be an interesting challenge: there are often so many flowers in both the foreground and background that you end out with no apparent focal point for the images. I often address that by zooming in on individual branches and their flowers; but sometimes I want to include larger sections of the tree with multiple branches and blooms. Doing that, though, causes the camera to further merge foreground and background elements together, especially since I will likely use a higher f-stop, and that tends to flatten the appearance of the image and reduce any sense of three-dimensional depth. I may see certain branches and flowers as the photograph’s subject, but the camera thinks differently: it includes, at least partially in focus, all the elements of the tree that are within the range of the f-stop I selected.
So to give the image a better focal point — which you will perceive as the image’s subject — I use Lightroom’s masking tool to first select the background, a task it does with remarkable accuracy as long as some elements are in focus and they contrast well with the foreground. I then soften and smooth out the background by reducing texture, sharpness, and noise; followed by adjustments to highlights, brightness, and shadows to darken it just enough to create greater differentiation from the foreground. Since I’m effectively pushing the background farther away from you, I may also reduce saturation, because objects that are farther away from our eyes tend to be perceived as containing less color.
Before proceeding, I’ll turn the mask off and on a few times and verify that I’ve included all the background elements I want, and that unmasked areas represent what I will want in the foreground as the subject. For the last photo of the four, then, the masked background looks like this:
I want this background mask as precise as possible, and may adjust it with a brush if it’s included or excluded unwanted elements. I then duplicate and invert the mask (that’s why I wanted it to be so precise), which flips it from a background mask to a foreground (or subject) mask, to look like this:
I can now adjust the appearance of the image’s subject, which — in the case of these dogwoods — typically consists of decreasing shadows and blacks to subtly brighten the flowers, without making them excessively bright. I am generally doing the opposite of what I did to the background, including adding texture (instead of removing it) to give the flowers some additional detail. And since white flowers tend to reflect colors from their surroundings — typically, yellow and green from nearby tree trunks, branches, and leaves; or blue from the sky — I’ll reduce yellow, green, and/or blue from the image overall to whiten the flowers.
Thanks for reading and taking a look!