“Light and shadow should be considered. Most irises look best in full sunlight, but a few (as, those with bluish color) look equally well in light shadow….
“The point of view should receive attention. Some irises are very beautiful when seen close at hand, but much less so when seen from a distance, and colors should therefore be chosen which will carry well the distance from which they will usually be seen…. “Delicate colors will be effective at a greater distance if they have a solid background to be outlined against.”
While there are no references to photography in Walter Stager’s 1922 book Tall Bearded Iris (quoted above), I thought it was interesting that his planting advice strikes such a visual chord: what he recommends for stylized planting of irises works equally well for photographing them.
Most of the images in the galleries below are from the same photoshoot as my previous post (Late Spring Blues: 1 of 2) — but processed with black backgrounds and cropped (in some cases) to embiggen the flower. The first two are new to this post: other random iris and shrubbery bits had photo-bombed the pictures, so these two worked best blacked-out.
“As for the blue irises there is greater variety still, and a base of colour more susceptible of beauty. There are the shades that suggest blue fires and should be discussed in synonyms of fire or flame, the ice blue, sky blue, those derivative of the blue waters, campanula and delphinium blues, and many others. Among them a particular place is due to the irises that are of orchid or cyclamen colours, for they have a subtlety and delicacy of their own and can be among the most beautiful of the whole genus. They can be as rich and rare as orchids, or possess that especial cyclamen quality which is as though they were growing in an enchanted woodland … above a blue promontory or island-studded sea.”
I’ve written before about how interesting it can be to work with images of flowers where the dominant colors are in the blue-to-purple range (see Clematis Variations: Gallery 2 of 2) — and these batches of iris photos (from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens) proved to be no exception. Even as I was preparing to take the photos, I noticed that the apparent color varied depending on where I stood, and on the direction or intensity of light: stronger light made the flowers appear more purple than blue, the effect actually created by warmer color tones in brighter sunlight.
If you look at these photos (especially those in the first two galleries below) on a device that offers “night shift” — a setting that reduces blue light emanated by the screen — the colors in each of these pictures will shift toward purple because the blue color is muted. Sunlight variations produce a similar effect, as does selecting different white balance settings in the camera or in Lightroom.
Here, for example, is a screenshot of the second photo in the first gallery, with a warmer white balance applied to the image:
One approach I’ve adopted when working on photos where the subject is blue or purple is to pay attention to other colors in the scene as a clue to the “correct” (though highly personal and subjective) tones for the whole image. In this screenshot, for example, the green leaves look too yellow to me: iris leaves are a very rich green that typically doesn’t appear to have much yellow color when the plants are in their prime. And since green doesn’t “trick” the camera (or the eye) in the same way that blue or purple do, I know that the overall color of the image is too warm (or too yellow) so make adjustments to remove yellow tones from the photo — which in turn shifts the purple pixels to blue.
Flowers, of course, aren’t made of pixels. The flower petals have far more colored cells than my camera can individually pixelate — real life being infinitely more complex, nuanced, and detailed than its digital representations. In post-processing, I chose to emphasize the blue color in these images over the purple also because that’s how I remembered them; and because that provided greater tonal range (deeper blues with subtle purple highlights, instead of purple-purple) that better emphasized each blossom’s shape and texture.
“It is not to be expected of the [brown and sepia irises] that they should have the same opacity as the blue irises, that the petals should have the same translucence, the spicing or sugaring, as it were, with gleaming fibers or particles which are nothing less than the flesh of the pure blue iris, so much so that the inadvertent tearing of a petal may seem like the harming of an animal.”
I’m working through the last of my spring iris photos (moving on to summer irises (if I find some) and late-blooming lilies soon), and for the last batch I’ve collected those images where the dominant colors are shades of blue, to post over the next few days.
When I finished post-processing for the iris below, I couldn’t stop thinking that its shape resembled the head of a giraffe. Anthropomorphism, of course, is the attribution of human qualities to nonhuman entities, usually animals, and very often domesticated animals. I don’t know if there’s a variation of anthropomorphism where humans (me!) find animal qualities in plants; I just know I saw this iris as a giraffe.
So I thought it would be fun to pretend I’d discovered a new iris: the giraffe iris. Imagine the fun I was planning to have with this little pretense, all sorts of shrieking blog words and hand-clapping about my great find.
Turns out someone already created a giraffe iris, noted not so much for its animal-like shape but for coloration that resembles a giraffe. See here — where you will find photos of the delightfully named Giraffe Kneehiz (knee-highs??) and a summary of its characteristics and hybridization.
I am happier for their presence, Groups of lavender and blue, For their lavish gifts and treasure, And their ways so fine and true — Gifts of beauty without measure, Gifts of fragrance all so rare; And we thank the one who gives us Glorious sunshine, flowers fair.