Spring 2020: April Colors 7 (Clematis in Bloom, 3 of 3)

From The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

“Before recorded history, all cultures collected, used, and admired flowers not only for utilitarian purposes, but for their elusive fragrances and ephemeral forms that, ironically, symbolized recurring vigor and even immortality. They have enthralled and seduced us, exploiting entire civilizations to enhance their sex lives and spread their seeds. We give and receive flowers as tributes, and to commemorate life’s many triumphs and everyday events. Flowers accompany us from cradle to grave. As spices, they flavor our foods and beverages. We harvest their delicate scents, combining them into extravagantly expensive mixtures, for perfuming our bodies to evoke passion and intrigue….

“Flowers inspired the first artists, writers, photographers, and scientists, just as they do today on street corners, in florist shops and farmers’ markets, in books, paintings, sculptures, and commercial advertising. They moved online with ease.”

From Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Spring comes, the birds sing in the trees once again, leaves return to the trees which lost them, flowers bloom in the high meadows and on the slopes, streams overflow with waters of melting snow. Through it all, the mountain continues to sit, unmoved by the weather, by what happens on the surface, by the world of appearances…. As we sit holding this image in our mind, we can embody the same unwavering stillness and rootedness in the face of everything that changes in our own lives over seconds, hours, and years.

“May we continue to give ourselves over to what is deepest and best in ourselves, over and over and over again, encouraging those seeds of our truest nature to grow and flower and — for the sake of all beings near and far, known and unknown — nourish our lives and work and world from moment to moment, and from day to day.”

Here we are, on the last day of the month … we made it through April, mostly hunkered down but with occasional outdoor excursions, observing the birds that still sang, the trees that waved to life in their varied shades of green, and of course the plants and flowers that unrolled Spring 2020 like a blanket of color, texture, and shape. What will May bring? More uncertainty, more unknowns, probably more confusion … and, for me, new collections of irises, wisteria, and spiderwort — from photos I’ve taken over the past few weeks — along with more photos of any other flashes of color that catch my eye.

For this last clematis collection, I altered variations of images from the previous two posts to remove the background — something that creates nice contrast with the purple, violet, and magenta colors prominent in these blooms. For the first gallery, I used Lightroom brushes to patiently paint the backgrounds black, following (in slow motion!) the outer lines created by each petal. For the second and third galleries (showing a Bernadine Clematis), I used radial filters instead of brushes, to create the impression of light fading from the center of the bloom to each petal’s edge.

The previous posts in this series are:

Spring 2020: April Colors 6 (Clematis in Bloom, 2 of 3): and

Spring 2020: April Colors 5 (Clematis in Bloom, 1 of 3); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 4 (White, Orange, and Red-Red); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 3 (Purple and Yellow (and Yellow and Purple)); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 2 (Catawba Grapevine); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 1.

Thanks for reading and taking a look! See you in May!


Spring 2020: April Colors 6 (Clematis in Bloom, 2 of 3)

From The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

Most open by dawn’s first light or unfurl their charms as the day progresses. Others unwrap their diaphanous petals, like expensive presents, after dark, waiting for the arrival of beloved guests under a radiant moon. We know them as flowers. They are nature’s advertisements, using their beauty to beguile and reward passing insects or birds or bats or people willing to attend to their reproduction. The beauty of their shapes, colors, and scents transforms us through intimate experiences in our gardens, homes, offices, parks and public spaces, and wildlands. Importantly, flowers feed and clothe us. Their fruits and seeds keep the world’s 7.2 billion people from starvation. Flowers represent our past along with our hope for a bright future.

So what is the point of a flower exactly? Have you ever wondered about that? I know I have, so I started reading Stephen Buchmann’s book The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives (I am just on page ix) and the quote above is from the book’s preface. Normally I only include quotes here from books I’ve already read, but since I’ve got gobs and gobs of flower photos still to process and post (and more to take!), I think I’ll work through the book as I progress through the photos — and post about both. About halfway through the book is a section called “Flowers in Literature, Art, and Myth” that I imagine will be especially interesting to me as I often poke around trying to find references to flowers in fiction, poetry, art books, and photography books. I’ve never really puzzled that much about why I even like taking pictures of flowers (and plants and trees more generally); but like many things that stick to us as we grow up, I think that interest stems (at least partly) from exploring forests near my family home. I still remember the first time I came across a batch of tiny pink lady slipper orchids growing among shed needles of large pine trees while I was out wandering one day, and being fascinated by their delicacy and shape, and the luminous color woven throughout the shade of the trees.

The delightful flower below is a Bernadine Clematis, which made its first appearance here last year (see Clematis Variations: Gallery 1 of 2). One of the two plants I bought didn’t survive an unseasonable May 2019 heat wave; and the second while diminished in size quite a bit, sprang back enough to produce a small cluster of blooms. The first gallery below shows the blooms on the morning they opened, and the rest of the photos follow the blooms for a few days as they reached full size.

The previous posts in this series are:

Spring 2020: April Colors 5 (Clematis in Bloom, 1 of 3); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 4 (White, Orange, and Red-Red); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 3 (Purple and Yellow (and Yellow and Purple)); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 2 (Catawba Grapevine); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 1.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


What Remains: Clematis Transformations

Clematis Season has pretty much come to an end here in Southeastern America; that is, the version of it that goes on in my back yard is almost over. I had written earlier about hoping to get another shot at taking some other shots of my President Clematis, since — when I wrote that post — there were a few unopened buds that looked like they would bloom up real nice. Unfortunately, however, we had several over-the-top hot-hot days in a row in April, and one afternoon when I wasn’t looking almost all of the buds … melted.

One did remain for a few days after the heat blast, so I got these three photos for a final presidential gallery … until next year:

The two Bernadine Clematis vines I added to my garden this year continued to bloom for a few weeks after the President dwindled. I had already taken quite a few photos of those blooms, so didn’t spend too much more time on that … except to assemble these three as a last look at Bernadine for 2019:

Every clematis bloom that appeared and drifted away since early April has been replaced by a tiny mophead. All of these seed pods — there are a dozen or more on each of the Bernadine vines — have a diameter about the size of a quarter or half-dollar, and they’ve already outlasted the flowers. The filaments are highly reflective, transitioning in color from silver to gold as the sun rises and moves to its noon-time high.

I took these photos the day after a couple of thunderstorms, which washed away most of the pollen that had collected on the filaments. My first attempt at a photo gallery — a few days before those storms — gave me a couple dozen photos so full of pollen dust that they weren’t usable. Normally I don’t mind spot-removing flaws and re-blending colors on my macro photos, but picking hundreds of pollen spots from these thin strands didn’t seem like a good way to spend my time. I deleted that first batch of images once I saw how much more photogenic they were after the rain.

Four of my clematis vines (all except the President) are in pots on my back steps, so I see clumps of these vibrant mopheads through my back door and every time I head into the garden. They make me smile quite a bit: they remind me of Truffula Trees from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss or the spiky clover from Horton Hears a Who. And yes, you guessed it: If I sit for a bit on the steps and lean in, I can just barely hear “We are here! We are here!” as the tiny residents of Whoville try to get my attention.

This may or may not be true. 🙂

Select the first image for a slideshow; thanks for reading and taking a look!


Before and After: Bernadine Clematis, An Illusion

From Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images by David duChemin:

“The camera will create an illusion the moment we release the shutter; if we want a hand in creating that illusion, we need to understand it. That illusion is created by every element in the photograph and every decision made. Elements and Decisions: that’s what we have. It’s what you do with what you have, as it is with every art.”

From On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.”

In April, I posted a series of photos of a Bernadine Clematis, a new addition to my garden for 2019. The last image from that post was my favorite: the composition appealed to me because of the balance created by the two prominent blooms and the intrusion of large petals from a third bloom in the upper right corner. You can see the photo on that post, or view a large version here.

This is what that photo looked like coming out of the camera:

The blossoms, just a few days from blowing away, were nearly spent and — especially on the foreground petals — showed evidence of deterioration in the form of rusty-looking stripes. This rust — as well as other dark spots on all the petals — barely registered when I looked at the plant in “real life” but created an overpowering distraction in the photograph. Funny how that happens. Because I liked the composition, though, I wanted to see if I could create a version I was satisfied with by using some of my Lightroom skills and a few magic potions from the Nik Collection.

I made some typical adjustments in Lightroom to add saturation and brightness to the more subtle colors and to darken background elements, keeping those changes to a minimum since I knew subsequent processing in Color Efex Pro 4 would emphasize image colors and increase background fading. I then used Lightroom’s spot removal extensively — first to eliminate small (mostly circular) spots throughout the petals, then to remove larger rust-colored stripes. Spot-removal can be used for more than just dust spots, pollen spots, or lens dust: it can also be used to pick out larger areas of disinterest and blend them away by replacing one area with pixels of similar color and texture elsewhere in the image, usually pixels that are near the original and are … less flawful. 🙂

Here’s a screenshot from Lightroom showing the extent to which I used spot removal on the RAW image. You’ll see what looks like steel pin-heads (as opposed to circles like the one on the upper left side) that represent areas where I re-blended the colors and textures in order to remove the appearance of rust. It became a bit of a game: tracking down offending spots, zapping them or outlining them with the spot removal tool, then adjusting Lightroom’s chosen replacement when I preferred to use a selection of my own.

Here you can see some of these corrections for a magnified section of the photo. The before image is on top; the middle image shows how I defined an area to replace by dragging the tool around and creating a wiggly-shape, then selecting an area with better color and texture to replace it with; and the third image shows how this section looked after re-blending that area (as well as some of the areas nearby). Most of these changes had to be done at various zoom levels, creating a bit of dissonance where the overall composition seemed to disappear because I was focusing on areas of color and texture only. And at this magnification level, there were plenty of rust spots still showing … but I wasn’t done yet!

Here’s the image after I finished correcting many of the rusty flaws, at the point where I was done adjusting the RAW file in Lightroom and was ready to use the Nik Collection to apply some special effects.

In Color Efex Pro 4, I applied color and contrast adjustments using White Neutralizer, Brilliance/Warmth, Pro Contrast, and Darken/Lighten Center. The combined effect of these filters was to brighten whites and reduce yellows, enhance contrast, and further darken background elements to give the blooms greater presence. I also applied a filter I don’t use very often — Glamour Glow — which increased brightness and softness, and added luminosity to polish and shine the blooms.

These adjustments weren’t selective — that is, I applied them to the entire image — so they enhanced any rust spots remaining on the photo. Coming out of the Nik Collection, I found plenty of additional areas where I still wanted to blend out rust and spots. That effort — which I used to create more consistency among the colors and textures — looked like this:

After all that — about three hours worth of work — I got to the final version of the image, an “illusion” based on the original subject, here:

If you would like to see the transition from out-of-the-camera to the final version in three steps, select the first image below.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


Clematis Variations: Gallery 1 of 2

I’ve been having a lot of fun over the past few weeks taking pictures of emerging buds and blooms, especially those springing from several potted clematis vines in my garden … so much fun that on a recent trip to a local Home Improvement Store, I snagged two new plants for a pair of pots on my back deck.

The gallery below shows a Bernadine Clematis — a variety I had not seen before — already in bloom. The flower’s large petals range in color from pale blue to pale violet. The color variations among flowers on the same vine fascinate me, especially where you can see distinct beige or light yellow striping through the center of some petals, as well as a slight shift in the colors of the central structure. Since newly opening flowers don’t show either the striping or center color shift, I’m assuming the colors change as the bloom ages … but it will be a couple more weeks before I know for sure. Most of the larger flowers have fallen off and the new ones (like the first two below) don’t show the additional colors yet.

The last image in this gallery got some special treatment that I’ll write about in an upcoming before-and-after post. For now, I’ll just say the flower was pretty much spent, but a little creative magic restored its original character.

Another gallery featuring images of a President Clematis — whose rich purple and violet hues presented me with some new photo processing challenges that I’ll describe in that post — will be up in the next day or two.

If you would like to see the previous posts showing my clematis transitioning from vines to unopened buds to flowers, they’re here:

Clematis Preparing to Bloom: Gallery 1 of 2

Clematis Preparing to Bloom: Gallery 2 of 2

Wordless Wednesday: Clematis Blooming

Wordless Wednesday: Clematis in Full Bloom

Select the first image if you would like to see a slideshow. Thanks for taking a look!