"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Sunflowers and Goldenrod (1 of 2)

Sunflowers and Goldenrod (1 of 2)

From “Sunflowers” in The Story of Flowers and How They Changed the Way We Live by Noel Kingsbury:

“For many of us, sunflowers are plants to grow for children. They are also important for the cut-flower industry, but are primarily an agricultural crop. Charred remnants of sunflower seeds from ancient Native American cave encampments have been pored over by archaeologists trying to work out when, where and how the plant was first domesticated. Current thinking is that this was in the region of the Ozarks (in the state of Arkansas), with hunter-gatherers collecting the protein-rich seeds to eat. Domestication reduced a large number of small heads to a smaller number of larger ones, and eventually to just one great big head. The plant spread across North and South America, and then, following the arrival of the conquistadores, by the sixteenth century it was in Spain and rapidly being taken up all over Europe — but initially only as an ornamental.”

From “Rough Goldenrod” in The Story of Flowers and How They Changed the Way We Live by Noel Kingsbury:

“Goldenrods — for many the quintessential autumn flower — were one among the many daisy-family plants introduced to Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By the end of the latter century, various forms of two particularly vigorous species, S. gigantea and S. canadensis, were thriving as late-season border plants; they were popular as cut flowers, too. Both species are very vigorous, and by the middle of the next century they had well and truly escaped. They began to cover areas of waste ground in Germany, while in Britain it was the suburban rail network that took them far and wide, helped by domestic gardeners throwing unwanted plants over the back fences of gardens that lined the railway cuttings.

“By the late twentieth century the plants were thoroughly unpopular, and had given the whole genus a bad reputation. That is a shame, because many are garden-worthy plants, such as…
S. rugosa, which spreads only slowly, looks very elegant and attracts butterflies in hordes…. There are many other species for a variety of habitats, and since all are good pollinator plants, their rehabilitation — particularly in the context of the current interest in native plants and ecological planting — seems well on the way and much deserved.”

From “The Garden in September” in The Poetical Works of Robert Bridges by Robert Bridges:

Now thin mists temper the slow-ripening beams
Of the September sun: his golden gleams
On gaudy flowers shine, that prank the rows
Of high-grown hollyhocks, and all tall shows
That Autumn flaunteth in his bushy bowers;
Where tomtits, hanging from the drooping heads
Of giant sunflowers, peck the nutty seeds;
And in the feathery aster bees on wing
Seize and set free the honied flowers…

From “Three Songs at the End of Summer” in Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon:

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.


Perhaps it’s because I’ve been trying to more accurately identify the plants and flowers I photograph — and also trying to learn about their history and distribution — but I just realized this year how so many plants in the Aster family (Asteraceae) mark the transition from summer to autumn. Here in the middle of Georgia and further south in the state, there’s very little fall color until well into November, the autumn reds and golds typically held at bay until temperatures remain low over several days or weeks.

The timing of Asters’ flowering seems quite intentional, as a result, with late coneflower, daisies, and Black-eyed Susans appearing in the last of August through early September; overlapped then followed by sunflowers and goldenrod; and those followed (with a few early exceptions) by legions of tiny asters that keep flowering into late November or even early December. For The Photographer, it’s an abundance of color that rivals spring and the early weeks of summer; and I’ve already accumulated several hundred photos of asters in purple, magenta, peach, white, and yellow colors that are patiently waiting their turn in Post-Processing.

From these collections, I pulled out the photos of sunflowers and goldenrod first, shown below and in the next post in this series of two. Many of the sunflowers were standing guard over large battalions of goldenrod, enabling me to produce some interesting combinations of foreground and background, with a single sunflower backgrounded by yellow-orange goldenrod. Much of the goldenrod seemed enormous to me, so I included a couple of photos showing it in front of an ancient Magnolia tree, where it stood as tall as five or six feet, with horizontal spans in the twenty- to thirty-foot range. For a plant that is often derided as a weed (how rude!) or as a wildflower — with its tendency to grow along roadsides or railroad tracks in expansive numbers — these cultivated batches of flowers and their thousands of dark green leaves are quite a sight to see.

I often find it challenging to develop an appropriate focal point for goldenrod photographs, simply because of the length and depth of their flowering stems and their voluminous leaves. To get larger sections of the flowering portions in front-to-back focus, I have to use aperture settings that also bring the backgrounds into focus, and I end out with somewhat flat-looking photos with too many distractions around the subject. Here, for example, is one of the images as it came out of the camera…

… where I imagine it’s apparent what I intend as the subject, but that subject is barely separated from the background. As a “first draft” for a photo like this, I’ll usually reduce shadows and increase contrast to try and pop out the subject; then reduce the saturation and brightness of the color green to create the appearance of greater distance in the background.

Together, those changes got me about halfway there with these images, but I followed them with two careful (very careful!) masks of both the background and the flowers so that I could adjust each separately, further darkening the background and adding color saturation and texture to the flowers in the foreground. I also removed a few visual distractions — like the yellow sprays in the lower left and upper right corners, as well as an intruder leaf toward the top left. Then I polished it off by using healing brushes to reconstruct a few of the goldenrod leaves that were bent or broken, disappeared some random rust spots or blurry pollinators, and ended out here, with the final version of this image…

… or here, where you can compare the two:

For all of the goldenrod and sunflower photos, I shifted the yellow color toward orange a little — partly because Lightroom detects orange in the flower petals but the bright yellow tends to hide it; and because — especially in lower light of a cloudy day — my eyes detect some warmer orange shades that seem to disappear when I adjust brightness and shadows. Or, in other words — I saw some orange so I’m showing you some orange too!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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