I spent a few days this past week in Vermont with my sister. The house is surrounded by trees near and far. I love that every window reveals a rich diversity of plant life. The view through the window screens still looks like spring even though summer arrives this week. New tender leaves contrast with older established foliage. Warblers, vireos, and thrushes sing from their territories, a hawk slips silently through the branches, and a distant loon ululates.
A little fun with the Leonardo app on my iPad.
The irises in front of the junior high are in full bloom. Irises are a famous subject for painters, notably impressionists like Van Gogh and Monet. The beauty of irises is at all scales of view, from very close up to the scale of a garden landscape or even larger. How can the camera capture this beauty in an abstract way? I fitted out my 24-85mm lens with a sunglasses (0.6 plus 0.9 neutral density filters) so that I could set the shutter speed at ¼ second without having to use a terribly small aperture (which would show the dirt on my sensor as spots). My apertures ranged from 4.5 to 14. Then began the dance. With a shutter speed of ¼, which is pretty long, moving the camera too fast and too far created pure blur or more abstraction than I wanted, so the movements had to be smaller and/or slower. I wanted to go for garden scale shots, with irises, the white flowering bush behind and a tree above all in the scene, ideally with a sense of depth–irises close and other elements further back.
I would be glad to have feedback! Which is your favorite?
In this one I was interested in the iris plants’ leaves and I gave the camera a slightly twisting motion as I tried to move in parallel with the tree branches. I don’t always like the vortex look but this one was fairly minimal.
I think I was moving the camera in a small tight curve for this one. I suspect there was a pivot point between the end of the lens and the sensor (vs moving the whole camera with the lens axis always orthogonal), so the camera movement effect is different for the foreground (irises in focus but shifting) and the back ground (relatively large arcs moved by points of light). The single iris in the lower right seemed a candidate for removing by cropping at first, but that eliminated the perception of depth in the scene.
Same deal for the next one, with different effect for foreground and background, but the camera movement created a Van Gogh-like effect, especially in the background. I like the dissonant angles between the white flowers and the purple irises. Do you?
This one is just kind of fun, with the little circles. You can tell it is a scene with a tree, but the white flowers jump forward and make the distances hard to see.
Here the little circles are not quite so pervasive and there is a contrast with the pointy iris leaves.
The Van Gogh effect again, but no dissonant angles.
May is, of course, the time for Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum). These odd-looking plants are spring ephemerals that grow under the woodland canopy. They emerge and flower when the trees do not yet have leaves, then set fruit and vanish by midsummer.
Mayapples form clonal colonies–all of the stems in a group are genetically identical. These photos are of a colony on the Lake Forest College campus, just opening their deeply dissected, umbrella-like leaves (one or two leaves per stem), some producing a single flower bud. Mayapples contain podophyllin, a cytotoxic substance used to cure warts.
The morning was foggy and the December landscape was monochrome. I had a recent realization that the trees I have been photographing are really the dominant presence in the landscape, but we don’t see them as such. So I thought I would see if I could make some images to show the trees as the main subjects, in their suburban setting.
Many of the trees in my neighborhood are large and old, some older than most of the houses. They were here first.
It is easy to overlook the beauty of a tree if you don’t look up, past the streets and houses.
The streetscape is defined by elms, ashes and oaks that were there from the beginning, not planted by human hand, but also by towering evergreens that were planted a few decades ago as small ornamentals.
This tree dwarfs the small house that was built next to it.
City planners created a tree-lined street with sidewalks and a greenway, but the sidewalks detour around a few trees that were there first.
Look up to appreciate the beauty of a tree.
This is the November period when the colorful fall leaves are mostly a memory (but keep looking–they are still hidden in a few pockets) and the promise of snow’s transformation is upon us. The world around is often dark and monochrome, yet there is still beauty to be seen in the forms of the denuded trees.
These images created using the Slow Shutter app for iPhone.
It is also the time of year to light up the darkness, as is the common custom of many. So I worked over a late green flower bud (now doomed to become frozen solid before opening, according to the weather forecast) using the algebra of Photoshop to transform it into an image of brightness.
As I peer upward into trees, I have been noticing squirrels. In part this is probably because they are in the midst of a busy season of eating, preparing and storing food and engaging in sex-driven chases. Our street has many black walnut trees, and I hear the squirrels when they drag a nut into a tree and begin loudly gnawing at it. Perhaps the gnawing sound is also communication. I don’t know if they are removing the outer hull before returning to ground to bury the nut. Like some other hoarders, squirrels are supposed to be able to remember where most of their nuts are buried. Small animals can have amazing savant-like cognitive capabilities, but I have to wonder if they also use certain rules-of-paw or even scent to locate buried food later.
This squirrel was hanging out head down, flattened against the tree-trunk in a sunny spot. I suspect it was catching some warm rays of sunshine on a chilly morning.
A gingko tree holds on to one of its fallen leaves. On a frosty morning as the sun warms the tree to just above freezing, a small layer of ice melts between petiole and twig, causing many leaves to let go and fall at the same moment in a whirl of gold.
An update from my Japanese maple tree (see posts from May 15 and June 3). Now ready to fall, the leaves have crinkled and twisted into freakish forms that remind me of monsters, sea creatures, spiders ready to strike.
Years ago, I planted a perennial garden in a narrow strip next to our driveway and haven’t done much to it besides remove the worst of the weeds. Year by year the plants grow, multiply and die and the garden changes. Some spread and thrive, some do poorly, and some have disappeared. A few years ago a wave of grayish caterpillars ate the Yellow Loostrife down to the stems. They returned again this year. At first the Echinacea (Purple Coneflowers) were barely hanging on as the Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susans, also a kind of Coneflower) threatened to push them out. The past few springs have been cooler and wetter and the fortunes of these plants have reversed, with waves of purple expanding year by year. Right now the Echinacea are at their peak and I appreciate the sight a whole convocation of them. Looking closely, though, and each one is individual, evoking human responses in the viewer.
Part of the convocation
Elegant to the end
View the whole album: Convocation of Coneflowers
If you want to see more of my Unfurling images, check out my Flickr album