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Every clematis bloom that appeared and drifted away since early April has been replaced by a tiny mophead.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!

Wordless Wednesday: The Many Colors of Early May

Godzilla in the Garden: A Photoshoot

Early this morning, I was out in the garden taking more pictures of plants I’ve already obsessively photographed, when this tiny lizard yelled at me from inside my Concord Grapevine and asked about doing a photoshoot. This was a very unusual thing: these lizards are often skittish around humans and typically scurry out of camera range, but this one wanted to hang with me and pose for a few shots. He said he was after a greater social media presence and for some reason thought I might be able to help.

He was a little shy about the camera at first (aren’t we all?) but quickly got into the swing of things and watched me, warily, as I moved around the vine, got closer and closer, and click-click-clicked. I was experimenting with an inexpensive (but very functionable) LED unit attached to my camera’s flash shoe, and his eyes kept following the light. He may have been a bit dazzled… you know: bright lights, big city, fifteen minutes of fame, and all that jazz….

Anyway… he stayed among the grapevine leaves for close to an hour and I took about fifty photos. He approved these nine for public release. Now he wants to be on Instagram….

Wordless Wednesday: Tiny Leaves and Berries