Winter Shapes: Hydrangeas and Japanese Maple Leaves in Black and White

From “Structure” and “Tonal Nuance” in Black & White Photography by Michael Freeman:

“Image possibilities that contain a strong potential for structure notably include elements of line and shape, almost always heightened by some form of contrast….

“Black and white enhances these possibilities by taking away the distraction of colour, forcing more attention on the contrast across edges….

“Physiologically, our visual system responds more sensitively to some hues than to others, which is why yellows and yellow-greens are brighter to our eyes. But more than this, there is our psychological response to different hues. One simple example of this is that ‘hot’ colours around orange are readily associated with flame and burning, and also the production of light. Most people feel these to be inherently brighter than, say, blues, which we tend to associate with water, coolness, and dim light.

“Take this away, and the tonal scale simplifies dramatically. What this allows is a clearer, purer concentration on the subtleties of transition between shades of gray.”


Hello! A few days ago I posted a some photos of hibernating hydrangea and Japanese maple leaves; here are the same photos, rendered in black and white, and modified with various filters in the Nik Collection to create additional contrast and detail, add a bit of glowing softness, and shift the black-and-white tones to a touch of silver-blue.

At the end of this post, there is a before-and-after gallery, if you would like to compare the color and black-and-white versions.

Thanks for taking a look!






Here are the before-and-after images; select the first one to compare versions in a slideshow.


Winter Shapes: Hydrangeas and Japanese Maple Leaves

From Expressive Nature Photography: Design, Composition, and Color in Outdoor Imagery by Brenda Tharp:

“It takes practice to get the look you want, and each situation is unique in what it presents in terms of light, color, and pattern. The best way to determine a reference point for this type of picture is simply to experiment and see what you get.”

From Light on the Landscape: Photographs and Lessons from a Life in Photography by William Neill:

“When trees are bare, their graceful forms are starkly revealed. The tones of beige and gray or black and white form a subtle palette in the landscape. The lines of grass and shrub, ice and fallen leaves, display themselves in simple, elegant designs, like a drawing or etching…. Winter photography offers us options at all scales.”


Hello!

I liked the first quotation above because it accurately expressed what I was trying to do with the photographs in the galleries below. Winter color in my part of the southeastern United States is often an odd mix of monochrome interspersed with bright whites, pale yellows, and greens from those hardy plants that don’t mind temperatures in the forty-to-fifty degree range; so some days I go hunting for washed-out colors and other days I look out for hidden bits of bright color instead. These photos are from a mostly-monochrome day.

The first five photos show the remnants of Japanese Maple leaves still clinging to their branches; and the six that follow are desiccated hydrangea leaves and flowers — all with some color and luminance adjustments (among other things) and with their backgrounds “painted” black.

Given the fine details within each of these photos, Lightroom stumbled a little at automatic subject selection; and I ended out spending quite a few hours carefully mousing around the edges of these leaves and branches to get the look I wanted. In the end, there were only a few photos in this set that I was satisfied with, but decided to post them anyway since that’s what experiments are all about: seeing (and in this case, sharing) what you get. I may take a shot at converting some of these to black and white; they might look good that way, and help reduce what (to me, at least) appear to be flaws in these renderings.

The last gallery, at the end of this post, shows the before-and-after versions of each of the five maple leaf photos and six hydrangea photos.

Thanks for taking a look!





Here are the before-and-after images; there were a lot of details to paint! 🙂


Winter Shapes and Forms (1 of 3)

From Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit:

“We tend to consider the foundations of our culture to be natural, but every foundation had builders and an origin — which is to say that it was a creative construction, not a biological inevitability. Just as a twelfth-century cultural revolution ushered in romantic love as first a literary subject and then a way of experiencing the world, so the eighteenth century created a taste for nature without which William and Dorothy Wordsworth would not have chosen to walk long distances in midwinter and to detour from their already arduous course to admire waterfalls….

“This is not to say that no one felt a tender passion or admired a body of water before these successive revolutions; it is instead to say that a cultural framework arose that would inculcate such tendencies in the wider public, give them certain conventional avenues of expression, attribute to them certain redemptive values, and alter the surrounding world to enhance those tendencies….

It is impossible to overemphasize how profound is the effect of this revolution on the taste for nature and practice of walking. It reshaped both the intellectual world and the physical one, sending populations of travelers to hitherto obscure destinations, creating innumerable parks, preserves, trails, guides, clubs, and organizations and a vast body of art and literature with almost no precedent before the eighteenth century.”

From The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals by Dorothy Wordsworth:

“What a beautiful thing God has made winter to be by stripping the trees & letting us see their shapes & forms.”


This is the first post in a three-part series about … what Dorothy Wordsworth wrote above!

I was a little puzzled at first about the phrase “shapes and forms” since my dictionary and thesaurus seemed to treat the words interchangeably; but, guess what, shape is shape and form is form! See The Difference Between Shape and Form or Shape and form (visual arts) if you, too, would like to be unpuzzled about these words.

These desiccated hydrangeas (probable either oakleaf or bigleaf hydrangeas) seem to keep many of their spent petals for the entire winter season, at least here in the southeast. I took these photos in late February, after quite a few winter rain and windstorms, yet their dried blossoms are mostly intact. Hard to shake the feeling the one of more of these is a cluster of moths (or bees!); and I half expected them to flitter away before I finished taking the photos.


The five photos below show the remnants of bluebird and blue billows hydrangeas, plants with fragile flowers that barely make it through the dog-days of summer here yet keep a few bleached-white, slightly shiny petals hanging around through fall and winter. These are from my garden (which is why I know their names) and it was fun to position them suspended in my macro lens against the muted backgrounds.


I’ve not yet identified these tiny yellow flowers, one hanging near the tip of a branch … and one in a black hole!


Japanese Maple trees and shrubs produce the most delightfully shaped leaves throughout the year, even in winter when they keep their fall color for a couple of extra months, shrivel up a bit, yet are still fascinating enough to capture my camera’s attention. The third photo below shows where the first two closeups came from: the branches of one maple hanging over a thick batch of English Ivy, which covered the length and height of a long, four-foot high stone wall. English Ivy is everywhere in my neighborhood (and much of Georgia, including many homeowner’s yards (like mine)), and is often used in place of grass (especially on homes built in the early 1900s) as a hardy, low-maintenance alternative to grass. Many people say you can take some cuttings, throw them on the ground, and they’ll root and grow — though I did try that and it didn’t work.

The leaf color below may appear a bit unnatural, but it’s what English Ivy looks like here in the early morning, after a night with below freezing temperatures. It will stay that way for a few hours, unfazed by the cold except for the color change, until the sun warms it back to a brighter, greener-green.


Thanks for reading and taking a look!