Squash Blossom

Photographing squash blossoms

When you search for “squash blossom” Google will serve up a long collection of recipes for frying, stuffing, and preparing them in other ways.

Photographing them? Who would ever want to to that? Squash blossoms are fickle models. Not easy. Each blossom is open only once and then for just a few hours. The open early, before the daylight gets good enough for photography.

This was taken about eight in the morning. The EXIF says 2020:08:02 06:55:10-04:00, I keep my camera clock on EST.

An hour and a half later a bit of sunlight got through the trees.

Notice that the edges have started to curl up. The blossom does present a neat star-like appearance. (8:28 EST)

Another hour later, at 9:33 EST, the blossom has begun to look bedraggled.

Little creatures have discovered the offering. Not yet the bumble bees that are the main pollinators, just the local neighbors. This is a male blossom and it offers its pollen in the hopes that some of it gets carried over to a female blossom.

Data on the photo below: Focal length 90mm, f/11, distance 0.56 m, DOF= 20 mm Not that the depth of field isn’t enough to get the small flies into focus. The image is cropped. Full frame showed all of the  blossom.

One more hour and the show is over. At 10:32 the blossom has pretty much closed up and looks like it will fall off shortly.

There is more to my story. These blossoms are about 4 to 6 inch across and are also quite deep. That makes getting everything sharp a challenge. For my first photo all the way at the top, I used a lens at 120 mm focal length and f/8. This gave a depth of field of just 18 mm (0.7 inch) as reported in the EXIF data, my shooting distance was 0.79 m (31 inch).

Besides having to manage the DOF exposure poses another little problem. Yellow blossoms, especially these orange-yellow ones, will confuse the camera light meter.

The image on the left shows the photo on the camera. This demonstrates that “chimping”, reviewing the image on your camera, is a good thing. In this mode the histogram is displayed individually for the three colors. The red arrow (added afterwards, of course) shows that the red data has a peak bunched up to the right side, indicating clipping of red information. This can show as washed out detail. You can see the same information in the histogram on the ON1 Photo RAW editor display, on the right. The image of the blossom looks good on the screen, but the histogram says that some red data is clipped.

When I shoot yellow flowers I underexpose, for this photo by a whole stop. Here is the screen view of the ON1 editor for the underexposed photo.

Yes, the photo looks distinctly underexposed, but the histogram shows that I captured all the data. This allows me to make the best of this image in post-processing.

So, to recap. Squash blossoms are temperamental models, they are open for only a couple of hours early in the morning. Their size across and in depth makes depth of field tricky. Pick what you want sharp. Their bright color can fool the camera, underexposure is desirable.

When you see a bud looking like this, set your alarm!


.:. © 2020 Ludwig Keck



Contrast – Color vs. Black-and-White

When it comes to contrast, black-and-white photography has a decided edge. A B&W image can be much more easily manipulated without loosing the “photo-reality”. In color photography contrast is much harder to manage. Possibly the toughest color for contrast control is yellow. In part that is because of the way the human vision system works. The highest visual contrast is yellow on black. Seeing contrast within a yellow object, on the other hand, is “delicate” at best.

Let me illustrate with a photo of a buttercup flower. These little blossoms are an intense yellow with a shiny surface almost like glass. Here is a photo as it came right out of the camera (except for cropping):


A pretty enough photo, but it lacks “spark”, contrast, in the delicate structures. In fact, it seems quite washed out. The photo shows little of the delicate tiny parts or the structure in the petals.

Working with several tools my most satisfactory image is this (the cropping is a bit tighter also):

Buttercup -  A Very Yellow Spring Flower

This looked better to me, but already there are processing artifacts that will disturb discerning viewers.

Going for a black-and-white image opens the doors of more aggressive manipulation. Here is my version of this little flower in black and white:

Spring Flower

Now the emphasis is on the fine detail. The flower, set against the darker background, still feels luminous and bright. A very different presentation altogether. To me, the B&W photo is more the “wall-hanger” than is the color version. What do you think? The image links to a OneDrive folder which also contains a less aggressively processed version – you can compare the two by clicking the back-and-forward arrows.

This B&W image is also a “participant” in Monochrome Madness 2-5 by Leanne Cole.

Leanne does a marvelous job with these weekly collections of black and white photographs by a large group of contributing photographers. Be sure to check  this out!


© 2015 Ludwig Keck