“One unwelcome side effect of the myriad transfers of plants and seeds around the world is the translocation of ‘invasive’ species. Plants arriving on foreign shores with an agreeable environment and a lack of predators have often quickly become naturalized. Those also encountering a ready pollinator or suitable means for dispersing seeds have been able to spread rapidly. In some cases, the new conditions have made the plant much more successful in its new locale than in its indigenous habitat. When a plant becomes disruptive to native flora in a particular location, it is deemed invasive….
“The brightly colored flowers of Lantana camara made it a popular garden flower in Europe when it arrived there from Central and South America. As the colonial powers expanded into the tropics it, too, became widely dispersed. Today, it is considered a problem in at least 50 countries. Since it was introduced to South Africa in 1880, it has invaded natural forests, plantations, overgrazed or burnt veld (grassland), orchards, rocky hillsides, and fields….
If you spend any time researching lantana, you’ll quickly find that in various parts of the world, it’s considered a seriously invasive species — owing in part to its rapid growth, entangling brush, and how its brush becomes woody and hard to cut as seasons progress and it spreads. The quotation above from Carolyn Fry’s The Plant Hunters above is one example, where she describes how it has impacted the Galapagos Islands flora, and it was my first encounter with a description of the plant’s potential impact on a avian species, the seabirds known as petrels.
As I’ve photographed and written about lantana each year, I’ve tried to learn a bit more about it with every post. If you’d like to peruse my other coverage of its invasiveness, its appearance in literature and film, and different ways I’ve photographed it, this tag — lantana — will take you to all my prior posts.
“The first order of business for a flower is to attract the attention of potential pollinators…. To attract pollinators, flowers use visual and/or chemical bait, or often both. Both chemical and visual cues can be outside our human perception, but technology can help us ‘see’ and ‘sniff’ like a pollinator.
“Visual cues include flower color and movement. Often the contrast of the color against the foliage is important, along with the contrasting colors within the flower. The vision of the animals plays a role in the evolution of flower colors. Hummingbirds have vision similar to ours, but bees do not. Bee vision is shifted toward the shorter wavelengths, so they see UV but not red. Research has shown that bees have a preference for blue flowers, which they see very well. Hummingbird-pollinated flowers are often in shades of red, which means that the flowers are mostly ignored by bees (although honey bees can learn to forage on red flowers). Hoverflies prefer yellow flowers. Flowers pollinated by nocturnal animals (bats, hawk moths) are typically white, which shows up well in the dim moonlight….
”Some plants supplement the color display of their inflorescences by surrounding their flowers with colorful bracts as in poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and dogwood (Cornus florida)… Others supplement the display by holding onto old flowers, but to prevent pollinators from visiting these spent, unrewarding flowers (and depositing precious pollen), pollinated flowers turn a color different from that of virgin flowers. Pollinators quickly learn the difference….
The word “lantana” always reminds me of the word “banana” — but I’m not convinced that there are any members of this plant family properly called “Lantana Banana” even if it seems there should be. I did purchase two shrubs of an almost-banana annual variety called Lantana Bandana Red in May and potted them both, but they never produced any photographically suitable flowers. It may have been too bloody hot for too long, even for heat-tolerant lantana. Maybe they’ll try again next year; annual lantana sometimes comes back here, often for two or three seasons before they decline to return.
If there was such a thing as “Lantana Banana”, I could imagine it being incorporated into The Name Game song, as “Lantana Banana bo-bana, fee-fi-mo-mana” and so on. You’re probably familiar with The Name Game — originally written and performed by Shirley Ellis — which was incorporated into an American Horror Story episode by the same name. A delightful song-and-dance performance by the cast took place in an insane asylum, led by Jessica Lange as her character was prompted out of a stupor by another character — one named “Lana Banana!” I mean, that’s SO close!
These lantana are from one border of my courtyard, in a spot that gets plenty of morning sun and some filtered light in late afternoon to early evening. They’re Mary Ann Lantana (officially Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’) — and I’ve had them for more than a decade. I didn’t know if they’d survive the freezing temperatures we had over the 2022 Christmas holidays, but the plant did bounce back if a bit smaller than usual, producing about a dozen clusters of their late summer blooms.
I was intrigued to find the quotation above about lantana color changes and what that means to pollinators. I always wondered why some of the flowers faded from multicolored to soft pink (reducing the number of colors and making sterile or previously pollinated flowers less visible to pollinators) — and now I guess I know!
“Things show up for us as colorful and noisy. But this is all false appearance, a consequence of our particular makeup and local perspective. The qualities of objects we seem to see wouldn’t get cataloged in the final description of absolute reality. For they are merely effects, in our minds, of processes that are, in themselves, without color and without sound…. Everything we know in the world around us — from mountains to ice creams to sunsets to rose petals to the sun and the earth — is made up of physical parts that are made up in their turn of parts that are made up of still smaller parts. It’s pure matter… all the way down.”
“[When] excitement about subject matter goes deep, it stirs up a store of attitudes and meanings derived from prior experience. As they are aroused into activity they become conscious thoughts and emotions, emotionalized images. To be set on fire by a thought or scene is to be inspired. What is kindled must either burn itself out, turning to ashes, or must press itself out in material that changes the latter… into a refined product….
[Elements] that issue from prior experience are stirred into action in fresh desires, impulsions and images. These proceed from the subconscious, not cold or in shapes that are identified with particulars of the past, not in chunks and lumps, but fused in the fire of internal commotion…. Through the interaction of the fuel with material already afire the refined and formed product comes into existence….”
Of all of the photos I’ve converted to black backgrounds, these are the most complicated. As is implied by the quotation from Strange Tools above, Iris domesticais a fine example of something that seems to reveal smaller and smaller parts and pieces, the more you look at it. Here, for example, is one of the photos from my previous posts…
… where you would see the two flowers in the center as the subject of the photo, despite the presence of many other elements. This is correct of course, and I guided your eyes toward seeing the photo that way by Lightroom adjustments that created greater visual distinction between the subject and background, by dimming and softening the background so the pair of orange-and-spotted flowers became more prominent.
Converting a photo like this to one with a black background can be a challenge. Last year I did something similar — see Leopard Flower Variations (On Black) from September, 2022 — where I used Lightroom brushes to paint the backgrounds black, limiting myself mostly to the flower blossoms because brushing around the plants’ thin stems, leaves, and seedpods was too time-consuming. Shortly after that, Adobe introduced enhanced masking tools with the ability to select objects, subjects, and backgrounds, which I’ve been using as much as possible since they became available.
Updates to our post-processing tools serve us best when they open up new possibilities; and with these Lightroom masking enhancements, I’ve tried to take on more complicated variations. Instead of just brushing out the backgrounds around parts of an image as I did in the past, I can now use a combination of masks to get better results. With object selection, I can choose different parts of an image that I want to retain as the black-background version’s overall subject, then invert all those selections, then change the background to black.
Here, for example, is an interim step in this approach. I selected parts of the image as individual objects in a single mask one at a time — the flower petals, the seedpods, and the stems — then inverted the mask (shown in dark green). Lightroom’s object selection got a lot right; but as you can see — look to the right of the flower — some of the stems appear disconnected from the rest. This happens when selected objects are close in color to the background colors, and will also happen where there are similarities in sharpness or contrast between foreground and background.
If I stopped here and converted the background to black, the gaps in the stems would be apparent, as you can see here…
… or, up closer, here:
I often compare the next steps (in my own head, at least) to painting different colors on walls and window trim, where you have to pay attention to the boundaries between two objects (the wall and the window frame) and two colors. If you slip with the paintbrush and one color intrudes onto the other, corrective action (!!) is warranted, along with, perhaps, a bit of cussing and extra bits of patience. But you have to fix it because you know it won’t look right if you don’t.
When adjusting masks that have started out coarse as shown above, I’ve learned that I need to remember that elements of any image tend to be brighter where they’re closer to the camera (or to the eye), and darker toward the back. This light-to-dark, front-to-back brightness variation is one of the ways that we perceive two-dimensional images as having depth, and it applies to even the smallest details. In Lightroom, the masks appear to become “fuzzier” when they partially cover darker, toward-the-back elements. If I adjust the masks too much, I lose the front-to-back appearance of depth and leave the image looking flat — and something as small and thin as a flower’s stem would look like a two-dimensional geometric line, instead of a living portion of a plant. At the same time, I have to deal with an illusion: the more I zoom into a photo, the more tiny pixels appear to need adjustments. It took some practice to keep in mind that front/light-to-back/dark contrast helps us perceive something as “real” and avoid adjusting the masks more than I should.
Since I have to pay close attention while working on the masks, I’ve noticed how familiar I become with the subjects of the photos and all their details. For most of my photos, this means that — even if it’s unintentional — I’m constantly observing the structures of plants and their flowers. This in turn helps me shoot with different expectations about what I see, what I can show, and what level of focus or what kind of light I need, especially if the photos might end out with black backgrounds. This is another valuable characteristic of the software tools we use: they not only offer expanded possibilities, but they help us see something we might overlook, as we envision different ways of taking photographs and enhancing them.
Here you see the corrected mask — where the stems (just to the right of the flower) are no longer disconnected from the rest of the plant. I used a “subtract brush” to erase the black background from areas where it intruded on the plant’s stems.
Now I can turn the mask overlay off, and I’ve got a completed black background. Select the first image below if you’d like to see a larger version, and I’ve included the original starting point for this image for comparison.