Wordless Wednesday: Hibiscus, Hibiscus, Bug

Before and After: Tiny Bubbles

Every now and then I like to prowl around in my photo archives to see if there are some images I’ve forgotten about that capture my imagination, freshly. The photos I posted on Wordless Wednesday last week (Wordless Wednesday: Five Found Flower Photos) came from one of those prowling expeditions, when I discovered a folder containing about 200 photos that — despite all the photo rework I had done for my Flickr Reboot project — I had overlooked. They were all taken nearly a decade ago, one fine spring day, when many of the flowers were in bloom, and include bee balm, butterfly bushes, coneflowers, hibiscus, lantana, and mandevilla. I’m working through them all now, and will upload a few galleries throughout the week, but I finished this set of lantana blossoms that all had tiny bubbles in common, and decided to post them now.

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I think these are photos of Mozelle Lantana — though I’m not entirely sure. I’ve grown many lantana varieties, some perennial, some annual, and some that were technically annual but came back for a couple of years anyway. If I could tell from the photos where on my property they were taken, I’d know for sure; but, as you can see, there is no defining background detail so I’m guessing the plant’s name based on the variety of colors in the blooms. I had just watered the garden, and when I noticed how the water droplets attached to the flowers as little glassy bubbles, I abandoned my gardening chores and brought out the camera instead.

The first gallery shows the final versions of these eleven images, after processing them through Adobe Lightroom and the Nik Collection. Select any image to see larger versions; and if you would like to read more about how the photos were processed, scroll down.

The second gallery shows the before-and-after versions of the eleven images above. I like to write these before-and-after posts (which are now assigned to their own category on this site) to help me think about what I’m doing with image processing and give me practice explaining it. One of the key things I’ve learned from all this practice, though, is this: subtle changes can improve a photo as much as drastic ones, but the cumulative effect of a set of subtle changes can be pretty dramatic.

Cropping and straightening are the first two things I do to every image in a set I’m working on, to set the images to 16×9 aspect ratio if I didn’t take them that way in the camera. Once that’s done, I use Lightroom’s automatic tone adjustments, letting Lightroom adjust exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks. I then apply the same level of sharpening and noise reduction to every photo.

These initial adjustments establish a starting point for the rest of my workflow in Lightroom and the Nik Collection. After completing them, I refine Lightroom’s automatic adjustments, typically reducing exposure slightly if it looks like Lightroom has over-exposed the images. With these photos, I also darkened both shadow levels and blacks, which emphasized color in the flowers without adding saturation or luminance.

Since it was High Pollen Season in Atlanta when I took these photos, the before images show a yellow cast from the pollen dust as well as artifacts that collected on the camera lens and the flowers — which present as dark dashes (if on the lens), black spots (if in the shadows) or white spots (tiny-bright “light catchers” from the sun). I removed some of the yellow color cast by adjusting white balance to a cooler (more blue) setting, then used spot removal to clean up the artifacts and dust. As a final step in Lightroom, I adjusted the sharpening mask, which has the effect of applying more sharpening to the image foreground and less to the background, reducing the appearance of background noise. In Lightroom, you can press the right-slash (/) key to compare the before and after versions of any photo you’re working on, so I used that to perform a quick visual check on each one, to make sure I hadn’t strayed too far from the original image with my adjustments. Then I selected each image for processing with Nik Collection’s Color Efex Pro.

From all my practice with Color Efex Pro, I’ve settled on a handful of filters that I apply to photos when I’m trying to enhance realism but not necessarily add creative effects. To make the process more efficient, I have a recipe set up in Color Efex Pro to apply the effects to each photo simultaneously, then work through them to adjust settings on individual photos:

  • White Neutralizer, which brightens whites without altering any of the other colors.
  • Brilliance/Warmth, which increases saturation and has a setting called “perceptual saturation” that enhances the three-dimensional or depth-perception character of the image.
  • Tonal Contrast, which I use to soften backgrounds if I want to further reduce background detail beyond Lightroom adjustments; or Pro Contrast, if I want contrast adjustments but want to retain background detail.
  • Darken/Lighten Center, which I use to shift visual focus to a specific area of the image and create additional background shadowing.
  • Remove Color Cast, to remove any color cast that has been created by the other adjustments — which, for these photos, consisted of ridding the photos of too much yellow or green shading.

That’s it! Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Wordless Wednesday: Five Found Flower Photos

Fringe Flower and Holly Fern: Five Views Each

Fringe Flower:

Holly Fern:

Thanks for taking a look!

Wordless Wednesday: Rainy Morning Stick Study

Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 2 of 2)

The galleries below contain the second series of photos I took last week, of signs of spring life that are starting to appear in my gardens.

The first post and a bit about how the photos were taken and processed is here: Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 1 of 2).

Thanks for looking!


Gallery One: Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing Hydrangea is often seen growing as a showcase flowering vine on large trellises, but mine are in two four-foot tall urns with lattice supports on opposite sides of my courtyard. Planting them in pots was one of my gardening experiments: the plant — while producing only a few flowers — grows wonderfully with a few hours sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Most of the leaves drop off in the fall after turning bright yellow (see the third image here: Wordless Wednesday: Fall, Fading) but then regenerate from these tiny buds every spring, the buds often starting to appear in late January or early February.


Gallery Two: English Ivy

English Ivy has achieved the distinction of being common, pervasive, and often, invasive. Some people believe that if you take cuttings and throw them on the ground, they’ll grow right where you threw them. While I tried that and it didn’t work, I think it could if the soil was damp and soft; I’ve put a few strands in a jar of water and seen them generate long roots in just a couple of days.

Many of the homes in my neighborhood were built above street level on lots held in place by three-foot retaining walls. As you walk through the neighborhood, it’s very apparent that the same landscaping style was established at about the same time, as the retaining walls were created from similar stone that has aged to nearly identical colors and textures. The front yards, including mine, were planted with English Ivy instead of grass, and the ivy is typically encouraged to cascade over the walls. Near my sidewalk, front porch, and front gardens, I keep the vines at bay with pine bark; trimmed back and bordered by the bark, it’s not hard to keep it from consuming the gardens (and the house!) because the sticky fingers it produces are easily detached from the bark chips.

It grows all year round, though much more slowly during the winter, and isn’t a bit intimidated by frost or freezing temperatures. Once a year, in late February or early March, it puts on a show with a blanket of new leaves in luminous green or yellow-green, similar to the smaller leaves in the last two photos. Then, after about a week, the leaves get larger and the colors blend into a darker green, and rapid spring growth begins for real.


Gallery Three: Catawba Grape Vine

The Catawba Grapevine winters with these tiny, hard, darkly colored nubs that are just starting to show signs of growth. The Catawba was previously featured here on my post Secrets Inside a Grapevine.


Gallery Four: Bluebird Hydrangea

Bluebird Hydrangeas — like many hydrangeas — can always be counted on to over-winter some buds and push out new ones as early as January, even if it’s a little cold. It’s almost hard to believe that from a couple dozen stems like this, a fully leaved five-foot wide blooming shrub will fill one section of my garden. Bluebird Hydrangeas were featured on this blog last year, here: Bluebird Hydrangeas from My Garden.


Gallery Five: Honeysuckle

I have one honeysuckle in my garden, due for replanting from a pot to soil this year, or at least to a larger pot. Honeysuckle produces clumps of multicolored flowers in a variety of complex shapes and sizes; this one opens blooms in orange and light purple — colors similar to the bud in the last photo — that look like tiny trumpets suspended from the branches. At this early stage, the new leaves push out from various points along the plant’s woody stems, starting out as sage or blue-gray in color, then gradually changing to contain more and more green as the leaves mature.


Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 1 of 2)

In the past few days, we’ve bounced from chilly Winter Evening Silhouettes to something that faintly resembles spring. It may not last — who knows what the next six weeks will bring? — but since it’s here for a few days, I spent a couple hours on Friday crawling around in the back yard, poking my camera among the plants and their pots, looking for signs of emerging spring. I do something similar almost every year, periodically getting snapshots of the tiny greenery and flower buds as the garden comes to life and the southeastern winter subsides. I plant mostly perennials and experiment with one or two new plants each year, so there are always some surprises. Photographing the early buds gets me to pay attention to what’s happening in the garden and gives me a chance to practice my closeup photography.

I took 99 shots with my sexy macro lens, using ISO 100 or ISO 200, manual camera settings, manual focus, and no flash for all the photos. No tripod, either, because the three extra legs make me fall down. I’ve learned from practice that with this lens I can use a shutter speed as low as 1/30 of a second and get images I’m satisfied with, handheld and holding my breath, relying on the camera’s continuous shooting of three frames to get me one that’s sharper than the others; and relying on underexposing some and letting Lightroom recover the exposure and detail when I process the RAW images. The continuous advance for macros might be a crutch, though; I may stop doing that since I end out with three times as many images to import and review in Lightroom and I’ve noticed recently that in most cases I keep the first image and throw out the second and third duplicates. It makes sense when you think about it — at least for stationery subjects — that my grip is steadiest on the first of a series of shots taken from a single press of the shutter.

After cranking up Lightroom and reviewing results, I discarded the typical two-thirds of the photos, marveling — as always — about the ones that looked great in the camera’s viewfinder but looked like crap when seen on the monitor. A photographic mystery, that! Adjustments to the photos included some cropping and straightening; basic contrast, brightness, and minor color adjustments; and a quick run through the Nik Collection to add saturation, remove color cast, and shift (your) focus to what I wanted (you) to see. I exported the photos and created nine small galleries by plant type; below are the first four and I’ll share the remaining galleries in a second post.


Gallery One: Clematis

Clematis is a fast-growing flowering vine that turns thin and brittle toward the end of each growing season as the leaves dry and fall from the plant. The spring growth that appears on the woody stems looks like emerging leaves, but is typically the tips of new vines that will stretch their way out of the old ones. You never know where the new growth will appear, so I always leave the hibernating vine intact, only trimming off dead wood when the plant has started blooming. In these photos, the slight purple cast on the plants or in the background comes from the burgundy color of the stairs leading to my back yard, where I have these clematis vines growing in two pots.


Gallery Two: Lamb’s Ear

Lamb’s Ear is a mounding and spreading plant, notable for the soft white fluff on leaves that vary in color from green to blue-green to very light blue. The bulk of the plant dies off with the first frost or freezing temperatures, with new growth popping out from the roots and stems that remain. The red in the backgrounds — especially in the last image — comes from the brickwork in my courtyard.


Gallery Three: Wisteria

The tiny buds below are from one of two wisteria vines in my garden, one growing on a trellis and this one growing in a large pot. The earliest leaves produced by the vine will have a slightly fuzzy texture that is apparent even at this stage. As the vine matures, it grows so fast you can almost see it get bigger as you stand near it; it easily adds six to eight inches of growth every day in June, July, and August. With adequate sun, it will produce clusters of purple blooms in April or May; but even without blooms, the vine grows beautifully.

As a rookie gardener fifteen years ago, I thought it was amazing how the one on a trellis on my deck pulled its way along the trellis and up the side of the house, until I realized one day that it had grown into the attic through one of the roof vents. Pulling out twenty to thirty feet of the vine was quite a chore as it twists firmly around anything it can get a grip on. It’s no longer allowed to grow that much; I keep it trimmed and mostly off the deck, because if I ignore it for even a few days, it tries to take the attic back. It’s sometimes considered an invasive species … why am I not surprised? 🙂

As with the Lamb’s Ear, the background red comes from the bricks in my courtyard.


Gallery Four: Hot Stuff Sedum

Who can resist a plant with “Hot Stuff” in its name? In late summer, sedum produces tiny, delicate flowers in clumps, but for most of the growing season, shows as repeating leaf mounds pushed up from the soil that shrivel and fall off in the early fall. Miniature versions of the mature leaves appear in the fall or early winter, after most of the summer growth has started to die off. They stay pretty much like this all winter, then start to grow out in April or May. I’ve had two of these for about five years, in pots that they’re starting to outgrow, so they’ll get new homes in a few weeks. Individual leaves are barely a half-inch wide and have a thick, rubbery texture, reminiscent of a soft cactus.


Thanks for reading and taking a look! More soon!

Wordless Wednesday: Winter Evening Silhouettes