The Whites of March (1 of 2)

From Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History by Diana Wells:

Some Asian pears, notably the Bradford pear, were cultivated in the West not for their fruit but as ornamentals. The Bradford pear was so popular it once threatened to dominate American streets, with its pyramid form, lovely fall foliage, and beautiful blossoms. It was planted everywhere, but the upright branches break easily, especially with snow on them, so it isn’t used as much now as it once was. It got the name Bradford from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s director.

From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram:

[Meaningful] speech cannot … be restricted to the audible dimension of sounds and sighs. The animate earth expresses itself in so many other ways. Last night while I lay sleeping [the old tree] in front of the house quietly broke into blossom, and so when, in the morning and still unaware, I stepped outside to stretch my limbs, I was stunned into silence by the sudden resplendence….

The old tree was speaking to the space around it…. The whole yard was listening, transformed by the satin eloquence of the petals.

From Through the Garden Gate by Elizabeth Lawrence:

It has been more than ten years since I stood there and looked down on those white flowers growing gently among the green leaves.


In the first gallery below, I’ve isolated a few individual Bradford Pear blossoms from the hundreds that the tree in front of my house produces each year. Like Elizabeth Lawrence says in the quote above, I, too, have watched this tree for over a decade as it grew from a ten foot spray of a dozen spindly branches to a behemoth that shades half of my front yard. Bradford Pear fragility, however, is noteworthy: on this one, an telephone-pole-sized section of the tree split and slid down the trunk, then jammed against a few branches last summer — and had to be extracted with a crane by city workers. But maybe that’s what it needed; now that new branches have grown in and the short-lived blossoms have been replaced by leaves, you can’t even tell that a chunk of the tree disappeared.


These delightful little creatures are a variety of spirea, featuring delicate white flowers about a quarter inch in diameter, waving on thin branches in a mid-morning breeze.

Select any image to see larger versions in a slideshow (then select View Full Size if you would like to see more detail).


Thanks for taking a look!

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Inside Looking Out: Bradford Pear Blooming in the Rain

Guess what? It’s raining here again … as it did yesterday and the day before and the day before that, and is supposed to tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and part of next week. Sure does put a dent in one’s nature photography … doesn’t it?

However!! A Bradford Pear tree in front of my living room window…

… started blooming recently…

… and I felt like it needed its picture taken before the flowers get washed away. So I opened up the shutters and got a few shots from inside looking out, along with a few from my front porch. With all this rain, I guess I’ll need to come up with more indoor photo projects: stay tuned for some galleries featuring my sock drawer (or not!).

This Bradford Pear is technically a nuisance tree that I really need to have cut down: it splits and drops branches all spring and summer long, so has outgrown its welcome … yet these enchanting white flowers get it a stay of execution every February or March. So, once again this year, here are a few photos of its early blooming.

Thanks for taking a look!

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Before and After: Bradford Pear, Blooming in Black and White

From Black & White Photography: The Timeless Art of Monochrome by Michael Freeman:

At the risk of oversimplifying, subtracting colour from imagery allows the other graphic elements and dynamics to increase in importance….

Colour is so integral to our experience of the world, and of imagery, that most people (and most photographers) do not separate it in their mind’s eye from everything else that is going on. In order to understand what happens when we take it away and work in monochrome, we need to know how it fits in to the total range of image qualities; also, how it differs from the other elements in its effect. [Colour] elicits subjective and emotional responses in a way that other image qualities do not…. The subjective response to colour is powerful and pervasive, and as a result, takes over viewer response to many photographs. If the colour component in an image is strong, rich, unusual, or simply noticeable, there is a good chance that it will swamp the attention….

And because colour triggers emotional responses, there is also usually an unquestioned assumption that it works on a scale of beauty, or at least attractiveness. To say “what a spectacular sunset”, or “look at how blue the water is”, or “that gray really sets off the pink”, or any of the many other common value judgments on colour, is to acknowledge that the effect of colour can be likeable — and for most people should be likeable. This gut reaction to colour is by far the most common, and in this way it stands apart from the other formal graphic elements….

There are a number of ways of subdividing the graphic components of an image, but the most generally accepted are: point, line, shape, texture, and colour. In the way that these are used and interact, there is contrast, balance, and dynamics (or vectors). Subtracting colour enhances those remaining. In practice, this means that the components and qualities most affected are the graphic ones of shape, the graphic structure of the image, and the gradation along the gray tonal scale, as well as the three-dimensional ones of volume and texture.

One Wordless Wednesday back in January, I processed and posted a series of color photos of a vintage camera; then a couple of days later, converted the images to black and white and wrote about the workflow I used. That was my first attempt at color to black-and-white conversion with Lightroom or the Nik Collection, and it was fairly easy to get the results I wanted since the color images leaned toward monochrome and the primary subject was mostly black and silver.

After posting some photos of a Bradford Pear blooming in front of my house on last week’s Wordless Wednesday, I wondered how those multi-colored images would look if I turned them into black-and-white. The budding blooms are a key image element and they vary from light green to bright white, depending on how much the blooms had opened. I wanted to see if I could create black-and-white versions that emphasized the opening blossoms, reducing — but not eliminating — background elements that provided additional context (spring!) to the images. My goal was to elevate the quality of the photos by making the blooms, regardless of whether they were opened or not, “pop” out of the image in shiny bright white.

All of my adjustments to create these images were completed in Lightroom; this time, I didn’t use any Nik Collection filters at all. I’ve been trying to better understand where the two tools overlap, when to choose one over the other, and when to use both. For these images, I converted to black and white in Lightroom — which created the flat-looking versions you can see in the middle column of the second gallery below — then made basic image adjustments (to exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks) to emphasize the blossoms and fade the backgrounds. I then worked through the individual color channels in Lightroom’s Black and White Mix panel to balance the blacks, grays, and whites in each image, mostly by adjusting green, yellow, and red channels to create that balance.

I also applied quite a bit of sharpening to the images, which, surprisingly, didn’t create any apparent distortion but helped bring out the textures, patterns, and highlights of the individual blooms — probably because the sharpening tool mainly had whites and light grays to work with. As a final step I experimented with split-toning — a Lightroom tool I haven’t used very much but want to learn more about. For these photos, I used split-toning to shift gray in the shadows from a warm to slightly cooler color, which provided the silver-white brightness I was looking for when I started this workflow.

Select the first image to view larger versions; then, if you are interested, take a look at the second gallery showing the transitions.

Below are three steps in the transition of these photos from color to black and white. The first column shows the processed color image from my original blog post; the second column shows the color image after conversion to black and white but with no other adjustments; and the last column shows the final version, with adjustments to exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks, the individual color channels, sharpening, and split-toning.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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