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As Annoying as a Splinter

Sometimes a small annoyance is a big distraction.

April 11 Close Ups / Wildflowers

Ever get a splinter in your finger tip? You may not see it at first, but you know it's there every time you bump the darned thing.

That's what an errant leaf in the background of the original version of this photograph was for me. Every time my eye bumped into it where it touched the bloodroot's leaf, it was a visual ouch. (See the second photo below.)

Bloodroot after an annoying background leaf was removed in Photoshop.

The wayward leaf (seen in the image below) didn't really touch the right-hand side of the flower's leaf, but the visual overlap made the tones of both leaves blur together in an unpleasing way. Photographers call this a "tonal merge" and once you spot one, you can't get past it.

The original image where a background leaf makes a tonal merge with the foreground leaf.

Sometimes all it takes is a slight change of the camera's position and you're rid of the problem. Or maybe you can gently move the unwanted element out of the way while you make your composition, because harming the distracting plant is not in your nature.

Since I couldn't carefully do either, I knew I'd have to deal with it in the digital darkroom. So later I did a little Photoshop "gardening" and erased a portion of the offending foliage with the Clone Stamp Tool. After a few attempts, I manufactured a bit of background where the two leaves seemed to touch.

This created some breathing room between the two plants (see the image below). Now my eye could travel around the bloodroot's profile uninterrupted. The visual trip went from ouch to aahhh with a few clever clicks of the mouse.

After some space was digitally created between the two leaves.

The satisfaction didn't last long. After looking at the image a few more times, the whole background leaf became a splinter. It was a distraction I couldn't get beyond. It called for the kind of digital gardening I would never do in the real world.

I employed Photoshop's Lasso Tool and pruned away the violating greenery. Then I used the Clone Stamp again and pasted sections of the upper-right background into a new composite background where the leaf was. A little work with the Spot Healing Brush Tool smoothed out the rough spots and edges. Now the photograph (the one at the top of the page) looked almost as pleasing as I envisioned it would be when I was crouched behind the camera and tripod in the forest.

Was all the effort to remove the annoying tonal merge really necessary? Isn't it an infinitely minor thing? So is that little sliver of wood in your finger tip, but, oh, what a relief when it's gone.


SUBJECT: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in deciduous forest, northern Indiana.

CONDITIONS: Slight overcast, calm, 60 degrees F

EQUIPMENT and SETTINGS: Nikon D850, 200mm f/4 micro-Nikkor, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff ball head, electronic cable release, no polarizing filter; Aperture-priority exposure mode, Matrix metering, auto-focus back button, mirror lock up

EXPOSURE: 1/60 sec. at f/11, ISO 400

Do you wonder why all the fuss about one, lowly wildflower? That seems like a reasonable question, so here's my perspective.

Bloodroot is not an endangered plant. It is native to the eastern deciduous forests of North America east of the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic seaboard, from the Gulf coast to Hudson Bay. But the woodlands are always endangered by population spread and global warming, so this places bloodroot on the list of vulnerable plants.

The more-immediate reasons for my attention to this single bloodroot is that it's a perfect specimen at the right stage of blooming in a perfect setting in the right light during the right weather conditions and I'm here and ready to photograph it.

It may not be this way tomorrow. Or even this afternoon. Once the flower is fertilized, the petals start dropping without any sign of fading first. So to find one of these ephemeral spring wildflowers that's ideal in every way is a big deal.

I've missed them in the woods for many years -- I'm either a day early or a day late. That even happens in our small woodland garden at home where I can watch them daily. Just when I think I'll get a perfect flower, it rains, blows or snows so hard that the blooms and my hopes are dashed.

So now you can understand my devotion to the flower in the photograph. You don't have to agree with it, but maybe you get it. If not, maybe you live a fuller life than I do. I get that, too.

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