“Iris is, after Rosa, the most genetically complex hardy plant genus. An overview of it presents several oddities:
– No other genus of cultivation includes plants from such totally different habitats, from desert to waterside marginals….
– Flower colour range is exceptionally broad — basically yellow or blue/purple in nature, but with pinks and many very dark purples to almost black now available…. Indeed, the genus is named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow.
– Very few natural species are in cultivation — nearly all garden plants are hybrids.
– Species or varieties with a broad habitat tolerance are few and far between; many are quite particular about conditions, or are relatively high maintenance. Most could be described as connoisseur plants.
– Flowering season tends to be short. No breeder has come up with a gene for long-flowering… yet.
– The flower shape is broadly universal, with standards (the true petals, standing upright in the centre) and falls (petal-like sepals facing down and out). The inner part of each fall is covered by an additional petal-like structure, the style arms, which have evolved from the style. There may (or may not) be a beard of hairs at the top of the fall.”
From the short quotation above, we learn a little bit about the biology of irises, and that the two distinct parts of the plant’s flower are called standards and falls. The irises in the galleries below — from the same general area in Oakland Cemetery’s gardens — exhibit white standards (with blue or purple veining), and falls that are predominantly purple but also seem to reflect back every color of the rainbow, from purple and blue to orange and yellow in the beard.
Over the next few days, I’ll post the rest of the series — where I took my photographs of these flowers (and a few others) and converted their backgrounds to black.
“There is no flower which reflects the changes of light so sensitively as the iris….
“In the pale light of early morning as the sun lifts over the distant woodland, the colours wake and come to life out of the dusk of night. There is something wraithlike about them at this hour, a pearly beauty which passes almost before it is realized. At noon the flowers are at the height of their glory: imperial yellow, royal purple, wine red and tender blue, lavender and soft pink — a wealth of colour which cannot be surpassed by any other genus.”
“Iris [in Greek mythology] was the messenger of the gods and the rainbow linking earth with other worlds. She escorted souls along her iridescent bridge to another life, and she herself used it to join the thoughts of gods and men. She was that longed-for connection to those whom we love intensely, but who are suffering without our awareness, and it was she who was sent to tell Alcyone, still praying for the safety of her husband Ceyx, that he had already drowned.”
“The flag iris is supposed to have saved the life of the sixth-century Frankish king Clovis, who then succeeded in conquering much of France under the Christian banner. God, or common sense, showed Clovis, trapped by the Goths at a bend in the Rhine, flag irises growing where it would be shallow enough to cross the river and so escape. In gratitude he adopted the iris flower as his emblem, and it became the symbol for the kings of France. Irises were on Louis VII’s banner during the Second French Crusade (1147) and were called fleur de Louis, which in turn became fleur-de-lis….”
Irises are blooming!
Actually, they’re about done blooming; I’m working through photos I took during the week of May 2, and here are the first ones (from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens). With storms that came in during the weeks that followed, I was glad to have gotten to the irises before they suffered rain- and wind-damage, and will be posting additional photos soon.
This purple iris was in its late days, its petals fully unfurled and topped with a crown about the size of a baseball by itself. From that comparison, you can get a sense of the overall dimensions of the flower — about five baseballs, perhaps one of the largest irises I saw on my photoshoots and replete with a variety of colors, including shades of purple, blue, orange, and bits of red. “At noon the flowers are at the height of their glory” — from the Anley quotation above — certainly seems about right: I took these photos just before noon on a sunny day, which helped me capture the full range of colors this iris can exhibit.
I think this gallery and the next one show the same variety of yellow flag iris, the first one featuring very typical iris shapes…
… with this one showing some dramatic variations during its early stages of opening. I took these photos at about the same time as the purple irises above, snagging all the yellow and orange color shades that the flower can display. My favorite image is the second one — which is especially fun to look at in its full-sized version: here.
“[Far] from a universal march towards more colourfulness, there is now a significant and growing reverse flow in photography, towards the new black and white. It’s new because it’s created from colour with processing software that makes the experience a delight, which means that you don’t even need to decide at the start that it’s a black-and-white image you’re after. You can even trawl your archives with a reconsiderate eye and look for images that might work more powerfully, or at least differently, in the single range called grayscale.
“So … what is this persistent appeal of black and white? There are some semi-practical answers, and a trawl of internet opinions throws up emphasis on form, shape, line and texture, as you might expect. Basically these all have the root argument that removing the distraction of colour allows you, actually compels you, to concentrate on other things. There is also the corrective argument — when the colour is somehow spoiling your idea for the shot, just switch. However, it seems to me that there must be deeper reasons, maybe not all of them easy to pin down. In fact, the underlying appeal of black and white ought to be difficult to describe, because surely any art form that has the potential to move people must have some enigma to it.”
“One recognised darkroom master was Ansel Adams, and he also wrote extensively on the subject. His 1982 book The Print is not just a classic of photo instruction, but peculiarly relevant to contemporary black-and-white digital processing. Peculiar because it confines itself to the wet darkroom and shows none of the technology that we now all use. Relevant because it deals with the fundamentals of turning [an] already-taken shot into a final image….
“Adams was at pains to insist that this wasn’t all about technique by any means. There is, he wrote, ‘great latitude for creative variation and subjective control’, and the process involved ‘endless subtle variations which are yet all tied to the original concept’.
“The reason why Adams and other serious printers made plans — actual physical plans on paper or on a work print — was that the clock was running, literally, whilst the paper was on the easel under the enlarger. Any dodging and burning had to be done in a finite and short space of time. In his book … Adams details the printing of one of his best-known photographs, ‘Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park’, shot in 1944. The basic exposure was 10 seconds, during which time the dodging had to happen — holding back areas that needed less exposure to make them lighter. Burning was always easier — adding exposure to darken areas — although it meant taking care not to let light leak onto any other part of the image….
“Burning was done in stages — a few seconds concentrating on one area, followed by another few seconds somewhere else, all of this typically done with a timer on the floor with a foot-operated pedal…. Dodging tools were typically metal circles, ovals, and oblongs at the end of thin rods, often painted red, to which colour the silver bromide paper was insensitive. Burning tools were most commonly your hands, cupped and shaped. Otherwise you cut holes in large sheets of black paper or card. Adams made a distinction between the umbra (shadow) and penumbra (the soft surround), as the latter helped smooth the transition during dodging or burning so that this manipulation would not be noticeable in the final print….
“The modern digital equivalent is called feathering, as on a radial filter.”
For this post, I selected nine photos of each type of grapevine and converted them to black and white. I’ve done a little bit of black and white work before, but converting these grapevine photos seemed like a new experience nonetheless. Because green and yellow colors dominated both the foreground and background of these photos, there was little to differentiate the main subject from the background once the photos were changed to grayscale. So I used Lightroom’s radial filters to remove most of the background, allowing its feathering to leave mostly subtle hints of light around or behind the subject. In some cases, eliminating the background meant that the subject was quite small for the size of the image frame, so I cropped the images to enlarge the subject (though not enough to create excessive noise or loss of detail).
Once I was satisfied with the background appearance of each image, I used Lightroom’s brush tool to add highlights to the more prominent leaves, along with a bit of extra texture and sharpening to increase details. I don’t do that very often with color photos (I typically reject and delete photos that require sharpening to make them look like they’re in focus), but I’ve noticed that when working in black-and-white in Lightroom adding a bit of texture and sharpening has a neat side effect: it brightens the highlights further, creating tiny pixels of light without giving the subject an over-sharpened look. As a last step for each photo, I used Lightroom’s color grading tool to add a bit of silver tone (emulating the matte-finish side of a sheet of aluminum foil) — which is actually done by just slightly increasing the color blue in shadows, midtones, and highlights.