"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Cherry Blossoms on Black

From “White, Black, and Gray” in The Art of the Photograph by Art Wolfe and Rob Sheppard:

“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.”

From “Making Pictures” in Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature by Alva Noe:

“[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!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Found Blooms! (2 of 2)

From “Cherry Blossom” by A. E. Housman in The RHS Book of Garden Verse by the Royal Horticultural Society:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
     Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
     Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
     Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
     It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
     Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
     To see the cherry hung with snow.


This is the second of two posts featuring (recently found) photos of cherry tree blossoms from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens, taken last spring. For the first post, see Found Blooms! (1 of 2).

Thanks for taking a look!

Found Blooms! (1 of 2)

From Another Day Not Wasted: Meditations in Photography, Art, and Wildness by Guy Tal:

“[You] may train yourself to find value in the process, and not only in the products, of creative work — in activities such as mindful exploration, experimentation, tinkering, and pursuing whatever ‘what if’ may come to your mind. In adopting such a mindset, even if you are not always successful in terms of producing a good photograph, the time you dedicate to the pursuit of photography will always be rewarding.”

From The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard:

“Great images have both a history and a prehistory; they are always a blend of memory and legend, with the result that we never experience an image directly. Indeed, every great image has an unfathomable oneiric depth to which the personal past adds special color. Consequently it is not until late in life that we really revere an image, when we discover that its roots plunge well beyond the history that is fixed in our memories. In the realm of absolute imagination, we remain young late in life.”


After about a week of freezing weather right around Christmas and a series of rainstorms drenching the southeast on the first few days of the new year, The Photographer hasn’t had much of a chance to head out into nature and snap some new snaps. However — when finishing some cleanup in Lightroom on one of the rainy days — he did recently stumble across a small collection of blooming trees from early last spring, and a batch of photos featuring slinky grapevines from the garden from last summer that, for some reason (nobody knows why!) were never processed and posted. He’s still working on the grapevine photos, but here is the first of two posts with the blooming trees.

The trees in the first five photos are, I believe, cherry trees with their cherry blossoms; and the last four are a hibiscus variety (Thanks, Ann!). The final photo co-stars what can only be described as a busy, happy, tiny wasp.

I don’t necessarily remember the outing during which I took these photos; the trips run together and become indistinguishable after a while. But Lightroom tells me I took them in March of last year and used one of my favorite lenses from the olden days: a 100-300mm Minolta Maxxum XI Zoom lens, originally produced in 1991. Given its zoom range, it’s not one that would typically be used for closeups of flowers, yet even at 300mm it manages to produce some well-focused and richly colored images, where my favorite part is the very lovely background blur behind the subjects — evident especially, below, on the five photos of the cherry blossoms. As with all the old Minolta lenses, they were originally designed for film cameras, and therefore, on a camera like the Sony SLT-A99ii, capture full-frame RAW images that clock in at a whopping 85 megabytes each, filled with trillions (possible exaggeration!) of pixelly globlets that are fun to manipulate in Lightroom. And, for sure, it’s a pleasantly nostalgic experience to bridge a 30-year gap in the history of photography by clicking a 1990s lens to a recent digital camera. Gives me thrills and chills, every time….

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

New Year’s Day 2023: Happy New Year!

From “Winter Hours” in Winter Hours by Mary Oliver:

“Light streamed from them, and a splash of flames lay quietly under their feet. What is one to do with such moments, such memories, but cherish them? Who knows what is beyond the known? And if you think that any day the secret of light might come, would you not keep the house of your mind ready? Would you not cleanse your study of all that is cheap, or trivial? Would you not live in continual hope, and pleasure, and excitement?”

From “Journals (1858)” in The Complete Works of Henry David Thoreau by Henry David Thoreau:

“Each new year is a surprise to us. We find that we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird, and when we hear it again it is remembered like a dream, reminding us of a previous state of existence. How happens it that the associations it awakens are always pleasing, never saddening; reminiscences of our sanest hours?

“The voice of nature is always encouraging.”

From A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz:

“In each little life, we can see great truth and beauty, and in each little life we glimpse the way of all things in the universe. If we allow ourselves to be enchanted by the beauty of the ordinary, we begin to see that all things are extraordinary. If we allow ourselves to be humbled by what we do not and cannot know, in our humility we are exalted. If we allow ourselves to recognize the mystery and the wonder of existence, our fogged minds clear….

“Thinking clearly, we follow wonder to awe, and in a state of awe, we are as close to true wisdom as we will ever be.”


Here are a few photos of some sparkly grasses — in color and even sparklier black and white — that Nature waved in the air to help us celebrate the first day of 2023.

Happy New Year!

Autumn Remnants (2 of 2)

From “December” by Christopher Cranch in Three Centuries of American Poetry edited by Allen Mandelbaum and Robert D. Richardson:

No more the scarlet maples flash and burn
Their beacon-fires from hilltop and from plain;
The meadow-grasses and the woodland fern
In the bleak woods lie withered once again.

The trees stand bare, and bare each stony scar
Upon the cliffs; half frozen glide the rills;
The steel-blue river like a scimitar
Lies cold and curved between the dusky hills.

Over the upland farm I take my walk,
And miss the flaunting flocks of golden-rod;
Each autumn flower a dry and leafless stalk,
Each mossy field a track of frozen sod.

From “Wordsworth’s Mountain” in Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver:

“There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning….

“The field I am looking at is perhaps twenty acres altogether, long and broad. The sun has not yet risen but is sending its first showers over the mountains, a kind of rehearsal, a slant light with even a golden cast…. The light touches every blade of frozen grass, which then burns as a particular as well as part of the general view. The still-upright weeds have become wands, encased in a temporary shirt of ice and light… Neither does this first light miss the opportunity of the small pond, or the groups of pine trees. And now: enough of silver, behold the pink, even a vague, unsurpassable flush of pale green….

“It is the performance of this hour only, the dawning of the day, fresh and ever new.”


This is the second of two posts featuring the last of my autumn color photos for this season. The first post is Autumn Remnants (1 of 2); and three related posts are Autumn Dreams of Christmas (1 of 2); Autumn Dreams of Christmas (2 of 2); and Seven Days to Christmas: When Nature Does the Decorating.

That’s it for me for 2022! See you on the other side! Of New Year’s Eve, that is.

Thanks for taking a look!

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