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Annual Struggle

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

The Corn lily plant is a favorite photographic subject, but I find it a challenge to get a successful composition. This year was no different.

Close up of Veratrum californicum on a rainy day in mid-July. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

Each year that I am in the mountains in early summer, I am drawn to photograph the corn lily plant (Veratrum californicum). It is a sturdy-looking green plant with a tall stalk and a spiral distribution of coarsely-ribbed leaves. The corrugated appearance of the shapely leaves makes good subjects for abstract photos of form and texture. I have a number of photos of the plants over the years, but I am still trying to get a composition that satisfies me.

The plants are best photographed soon after they get a couple of feet tall, but before the bugs begin feasting on the leaves. Getting abstract photos generally requires moving in close to the plant, or using a long lens. Both approaches create depth of field problems.

The shallow depth of field in this composition demanded an interesting form as the center of focus. It nearly succeeds, but I think more needs to be done in post processing to achieve better separation in the central leaf. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

In mid-July of this year, the new growth of Veratrum looked clean and fresh. On a cloudy day, I found several clusters of plants to study, moved close to them, and sat and kneeled on the ground to look for compositions. Unfortunately, a storm was moving in. Before long, the wind increased and it began to rain.

Focus bracketing was a problem with the breeze, so a single exposure (with very shallow depth of field) was used for most compositions. Soon, the rain increased and it became too wet for my digital camera, so I packed up and returned to the car.

During my short time with the plants, I managed to get a few successful compositions, but none that I am perfectly happy with. I did return to the mountain after a couple weeks of hot and sunny weather, but the plants looked pretty ratty by then—yellowed, with insect holes and caterpillar feces in the leaves.

I guess I'll have to try again next year.

In one rare several-minute period of calm wind, I managed to bracket the focus and get a greater depth of field—which I think helps this photo. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes


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