What wondrous life is this I lead! Ripe apples drop about my head; The luscious clusters of the vine Upon my mouth do crush their wine; The nectarine and curious peach Into my hands themselves do reach; Stumbling on melons as I pass, Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less, Withdraws into its happiness: The mind, that ocean where each kind Does straight its own resemblance find; Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds, and other seas; Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade.
This is the second of two posts with photos of grapevines from my garden, taken in April, 2022 and recently discovered entangled the backlog of my Lightroom library. The first post is Plant Entanglements (1 of 2). As with the previous post, the first batch of five photos shows the tendrils and leaves of a Concord grapevine; and the rest are from a Catawba grapevine.
Hmmm… I’m thinking I might sling a few of these grapevines onto black backgrounds just to see how they look; although — given the very tiny and fine details in some of the images — this may take some time….
“Left to their own devices, your plants’ vines will branch and rebranch and then rebranch some more, crisscrossing each other while growing several inches a day into a wrist-thick spaghetti of vinery. The plants will also want to develop lots of leaves, which are as big as serving platters and hover above the vines on two-foot-tall stems. Your vines will also want to produce many small (relatively speaking) fruits that can hide under those leaves…
“A rampant tangle of vines and leaves means some leaves will shade others, and shaded leaves are slacker leaves when it comes to the business of gathering sunlight. So it’s your job to go into the patch every day and prune, arrange, and stake, the rapidly growing vines so that they conform to your ideal….”
I stopped the car to let the children down where the streets end in the sun at the marsh edge and the reeds begin and there are small houses facing the reeds and the blue mist in the distance with grapevine trellises with grape clusters small as strawberries on the vines….
In a previous post (see Found Blooms! (1 of 2)), I mentioned that I had been tidying up my Lightroom library at year’s end, and found a couple of sets of photos of cherry blossoms from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens and some photos of grapevines from my back yard. The grapevines have appeared here before (click this link if you’d like to see all the versions), and that may be why I didn’t attend to them last spring — you know: so many plant photos, so little time! I took the photos in this post (and the next one) last April, and spent a bit of time last week polishing them up and trying to give their leaves and tentacles a bit of flair. I’ll likely take another set of similar photos in a couple of months… however….
The historic winter storm that created havoc throughout much of the U.S. in the days leading up to Christmas brought about four days of below freezing temperatures and below-zero windchills (brrrrrr!) to much of Georgia — something that hadn’t happened since the 1980s and therefore not since I’ve lived in my house. The extreme cold for that extended period severely damaged a lot of plants that normally continue to grow (though more slowly) over the winter. My front yard and about half of my back yard, for example, are covered in carefully-curated English ivy, and nearly all of its thousands of tiny green leaves have turned black and crumble in your fingers if you touch them. Many other “evergreen” plants have done the same; on my property alone, azaleas, boxwoods, autumn ferns, holly ferns, jasmine, and fringeflower bushes have all turned black. It’s all very strange and somewhat disconcerting, even moreso when I walk around the neighborhood and see that yard after yard has turned dark gray or black. These plants are all perennials, though, so I guess it will be interesting to see how well they regenerate — and to photograph new life when it pushes out the dark, dusty remains.
Since the grapevines take winter naps anyway — losing all their leaves and turning their vines to sticks in October or November — I won’t know until late March if they survived the storm. I’m hoping they did, of course, since I’ve had them for so long — and I’m guessing they will since the ground didn’t freeze. I could replace them, naturally, but there’s something delightfully nostalgic about having the same plants coming back every spring for so long — for over a decade, in the case of these grapevines. I’m sure I’ll be out there with the camera, should the first swatches of green appear in about eight weeks.
The first seven photos below are the tendrils and early leaves of a Concord grapevine; and the rest are the tendrils and leaves of a Catawba grapevine. With these photos, as I remember it, I tried to frame the subjects to create a little elegance and drama around them — to the extent that that’s possible with plant photographs — by making deliberate choices about framing the subjects.
The Concord displays more translucent colors than the Catawba, featuring mostly shades of yellow and green (with brief slashes of red) that glow in morning sunlight. The Catawba is less translucent and not as shiny, but all of its early growth shows many more colors. In the last couple of photos, for example, you can see yellow and green, as expected, but also streaks of red, orange, blue, and purple or magenta. The Catawba’s rainbow of colors — don’t you wonder why it evolved that way? — persist for about three weeks. As the plant matures, it gradually reverts mostly to yellows and greens, and even the tendrils — some of which will be a foot long — grow mostly in green by early May, though the backs of the individual leaves will still show silver or white for their entire growing season.
“White, black, and gray are neutral colors, meaning that they do not have a color! Okay, that’s silly, we know, but truthfully, these colors do not have hues of red, blue, yellow, and so on, and a hue is color. Some people define a neutral color as one that does not attract attention to itself, which isn’t a bad way to look at them. They tend to be colors that sit peacefully in a photograph without competing with other colors. Though an important aside is that spots of white anywhere in a photograph will often attract attention away from your subject….
“However you want to define neutral colors, they are important in photography because of their influence, which can be huge, on other colors. If you have a very colorful subject and put it against a black background or a white background, the color will look different. Color against black will tend to look richer and stronger…. Black will make even solid colors look like they are glowing. It is a dramatic way to use color. Color against white will tend to be less vibrant and more solid looking, such as the translucent fall leaves against a harsh overcast sky…. White can make pastel colors look even more pastel. White also gives a very elegant look to colors and is not as obviously dramatic as black.”
“[With] digital photography, it’s pretty easy, and pretty cheap, to make pictures. Making a digital snapshot can hardly be compared to drawing something painstakingly from life. But drawing and amateur photography do have this in common: making pictures… is a way of paying attention to what you are depicting. And so, it is a way of seeing. It is a special way of attending to what you see, just as dancing can be a special way of paying attention to the music you hear. Pictures are bound up with seeing, but not only with seeing; they are bound up also with thinking about what we see, and with the interest we take in what we see….”
For this post, I took a few of the photos from the previous two posts (see Found Blooms! (1 of 2) and Found Blooms! (2 of 2)) and processed them on black backgrounds. As I briefly mentioned previously (see Autumn Daisies (1 of 3)), I’ve been using Lightroom’s reimagined masking to create these black-background images. Lightroom’s ability to select backgrounds, subjects, and individual objects from the photo simplifies the process of converting them to black quite a bit, especially if the subject is clearly focused, well-colored, and distinct from the background. While it doesn’t completely eliminate the brushing needed to fine-tune the appearance of edge details, it does reduce it enough to move the process a long at a faster clip than in the olden days of earlier last year.
Software tools are at their best for us, though, if they prompt us to think differently about what we’re doing. With brushing reduced and the ability to select objects from the photo (to do so, you roughly scribble on the object with the mouse and let Lightroom create a mask for it), I end out re-thinking the content I want to include in the final image. The first photo below is a good example, where I selected the two leaves as objects, then the flower, then all of the remaining stems — then inverted them all so the background is masked instead of the plant. From there, it’s just a matter of reducing exposure, whites, and shadows to their darkest values and — tada! — the background is now black. With brushing, the most difficult section of this photo would have been the thin leaf and flower stems; with object selection, these elements are chosen by Lightroom with great accuracy and need only minimal cleanup with a brush to keep their detail intact.
As you might gather from the first quote above, I’ve been puzzling about whether or not to try some of these images on white backgrounds instead of black. The process would nearly be the same; yet when I experiment with it, I don’t like the results as much — though I’m beginning to see how some photos (with lighter colored subjects, more translucent subjects, or maybe those that are backlit) might work on white.
As the quote suggests, white shows through elements of the subjects more starkly and becomes distracting; and parts of the image that are farther from the camera (and therefore are darker or less in focus) that tend to fade out and blend with the black become more prominent, effectively flattening the appearance of the image and making it look like a cutout since much of what we perceive as contrast and depth is lost. On the very last pair of images below, I show the white background paired with an alternative: softening the image overall (using Nik Color Efex Pro) to reduce contrast between the flowers and leaves and the background, and adding a bit color behind the subject to make it slightly off-white instead of pure white. This seems to work better, in my opinion… and is a little easier on the eyes!