"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Paperwhites, Quince, and Camellia in Black and White

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

“Until color film became reliable, many great photographers brought to light the beauty they saw in nature using black-and-white imagery. Some of them stayed with black and white their entire lives. While Ansel Adams used color in his early commercial work, he chose black and white to express the natural world that he loved. Black-and-white work has long been considered to be art photography.

“Working in black and white will actually strengthen your ability to compose pictures, and to see and use light. In the absence of color, we can see the shapes, lines, forms, and textures that light reveals in the landscape. Color can seduce us away from those things, if we let it. I maintain that you can work in both color and black and white and do well, if you are looking at the elements for their graphic representation and paying attention to tonal values. I still think in color, and I understand the language of color, after so many more years devoted to it…. But the digital darkroom has allowed me to explore black and white more easily again, and now, when I create a black-and-white image, it’s because the color isn’t doing it for me, while light and contrast are.”

“It was a dark and stormy day….”

Actually it wasn’t that stormy until a few minutes ago, but it has been unusually dark — dark gray winter dark — all day long, so despite my camera begging me to take it on an outing, I opted to stay in, keep it dry, and convert a few of my previously posted photos to black and white.

I probably don’t do these conversions often enough, especially since I do find the exercise interesting — more interesting than just pushing the “Black & White” button in Lightroom. The button-push creates a very literal interpretation of the image with the color replaced by gray tones that look pretty flat and lack contrast. The fun comes when you realize that in the color photos the white blossoms aren’t just white but contain blue, aqua, and sometimes yellow or orange; the stems contain green, red, yellow, orange, and a bit of purple; and the backgrounds (for those where I hadn’t already removed it) contain every color Lightroom lets you work with: red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple, and magenta.

Playing with the “Black and White Mix” in Lightroom lets you adjust various color channels to bring in more contrast; in this case, I could brighten up the flower petals, dim the backgrounds and stems, and create little black dots or other shapes in the center of those blooms that had yellow or orange filaments in the color photos. After doing that with these photos, I then used Lightroom’s Color Grading to add a little silver/blue to the midtones, shadows, and highlights — which is just something I like (and previously described here, here, and here). For these photos — especially the camellia’s, the last two images — I added more softening than I usually do using Lightroom’s Texture and Clarity adjustments, because they seemed to work well on those big white petals.

As I was working on these, I started wondering if I would have composed any of the images differently if I intended them to be black-and-white images instead of color. I already know that I often compose with the idea of removing backgrounds in mind, so it would seem that I might do something different on a shoot if I was intentionally trying to produce grayscale images. Like many people, I suppose, I shoot in color because Lightroom lets you convert color to black-and-white, but not black-and-white to color. Theoretically, the camera captures more shadow and contrast variations by shooting in color then converting; but I’ve never tried it so I think it might be worth switching the camera to black-and-white mode to see what happens. Also, creatively speaking, sometimes it’s good to work within an artificial constraint like this just to learn from it.

Below are the black-and-white images, paperwhites followed by quince then two camellia blossoms. After that, I’ve included a single gallery showing the color and black-and-white versions for comparison.

Thanks for taking a look!

Happy New Year!

From Miracle on 10th Street and Other Christmas Writings by Madeleine L’Engle:

“New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day come not out of the church year but out of the dawn of human life. To our ancient forebears… the stretching nights of early winter and the shortening days were terrifying. Was the night going to swallow up the day? Was the life-giving sun going to slide down the western horizon and be lost forever? It must have seemed a real possibility to those dwellers in caves or tree houses, who knew nothing they could not see with their own eyes about the movements of the suns and the stars.

“So, when it slowly became apparent that the sun was staying in the sky a minute longer than it had the day before, and then a minute longer, there was great rejoicing, and feasting and fun…. But it was more than fun. It was spontaneous gratitude that the world was not coming to an end.”

From The Complete Works of Henry David Thoreau by Henry David Thoreau:

“[What] shall be my new-year’s gift, then? Why, I will send you my still fresh remembrance of the hours I have passed with you here, for I find in the remembrance of them the best gift you have left to me. We are poor and sick creatures at best; but we can have well memories, and sound and healthy thoughts of one another still….”

From Beautiful at All Seasons: Southern Gardening and Beyond by Elizabeth Lawrence:

“As the New Year comes around I always wonder what flowers will be here to greet it….”

Hello! Hello!

I always like to find some white flowers blooming during the last week of December, to post here on New Year’s Day. Below are this year’s galleries: some paperwhites, white quince, and white camellia, followed by renderings of a few of the quince and camellia flowers on black backgrounds.

Thanks for taking a look, and…

Happy New Year!  

Snowdrops and Snowflakes, Daffodils and Tulip Leaves

From “The Onset of Spring” in A Garden of One’s Own by Elizabeth Lawrence:

No matter how closely you watch for the snowdrops, you never quite catch them on the way. One day the ground is bare, and the next time you look, the nodding buds are ready to open!

From “February (Winter Blooms)” in Through the Garden Gate by Elizabeth Lawrence:

English snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), called Candlemas bells, or Mary’s tapers, are the emblem of hope. They are not often seen hereabouts, as their place is taken by the snowflake, which grows so much better with us, but I have had them in my garden by the second of February or before….

“One of the stories of the garden of Eden is that it was snowing when Adam and Eve were driven out, and the Angel, touching the flakes, turned them to flowers as a sign that spring would come.

Below are five views of a snowdrop I found growing in the filtered light provided by a large maple tree, at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. I couldn’t decide if I liked the partially darkened background (in the last three shots) better than the others … so I included all five photos.

I took the photos below in the same area, thinking they, too, were a kind of snowdrop … yet imagine my surprise to discover that they aren’t.

I’ve mentioned before here that I often use a site called Plantnet Identify to help me figure out the names of various plants and flowers that I photograph. I typically use the site as a research-starter, since it takes a picture you upload and returns the names and images of possible matches, which I then chase down some googly rabbit-holes to see if I can confirm the plant’s identity. I uploaded one of the three pictures below, and here’s what Plantnet said:

Loddon-lily? Spring snowflake? — what? not a snowdrop?

Turns out many people (!!) get confused by these two plants, enough that there are articles describing how they’re different. See, for example: What is the difference between snowdrops and snowflakes? Or just remember this: snowdrop flowers have petals that look like helicopter blades with only one flower on a stem; snowflakes look like tiny bells and will often produce multiple flowers, clustered near each other, at the tip of each stem.

If you would like to learn more about the differences between these two plants, see Galanthus (the snowdrop’s plant family) and Leucojum (the snowflake’s plant family). The history and cultural references for the snowdrop, in particular, are interesting to read.

Here are the first three snowflake photos:

Here are three more snowflakes, produced with a little more grain in the images because they were nestled in a very shady spot so I used I higher ISO — which rendered the images a lot softer in focus, but not entirely unpleasant to look at. 🙂

Here are five views of one of the early daffodils I found, one of the few hardy enough to produce two large flowers during these late-winter, early-spring days. The five views were taken at decreasing focal lengths; and for the last two, I used a shallower depth of field to blur the backgrounds more but retain some of the surrounding purple, gold, and blue colors highlighted by a bit of reflected sunlight. The background colors in all five photos come from pine bark and leaves that fell around the hibernating daffodils during late fall and early winter.

Sometimes nature just likes to surprise me with its deceptively simple yet elegant forms. Here’s a batch of tulip leaves, just a few inches high, soaking in some mid-day sunlight, probably waiting a few more days to send up some blooms.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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