John Ehman


I have many favorite nature photos from this year, but here I've narrowed the field to only a top twenty. All were taken at the Longwood and Chanticleer gardens, with an Olympus OM-D E-M1ii camera and the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens. Focal lengths are reported in the traditional terms of a 35mm film format.

This lotus seed pod backgrounded by one of its large leaves is my pick as my number one favorite image from 2023 --for two reasons: First, the radial lines act to center the image and add to its aesthetic depth, suggesting (to me) that the pod is radiating some kind of energy, like a Van de Graaff generator. Second, the image essentially represents the photographic idea of carpe momentum: "seize the moment." I spotted the alignment of the pod and leaf and immediately took a photo before a breeze and the movement of the leaf in the water changed the relative position of the two elements entirely. Photography allows me to hold for appreciation the fleeting sights I am fortunate to see. This was taken at the Chanticleer pond on 9/15/23 at 240mm and f/10 at 1/1250sec.



The Siam tulips at Longwood are a dramatic presence each fall, and I had tried for years to capture their stalwart but mysterious character. However, it was only when I was able to isolate this lone flower against a shaded background that I found the photo I had been seeking. It's a good example of my technique of flower portraiture using only the natural light that nourishes a plant where its growing. This was taken on 9/14/23 at 212mm and f/10 at 1/640sec.



Over the years, I have come to appreciate leaves as much as flowers, and these milkweed leaves atop a four-foot stalk caught my eye for their elegance. The graceful symmetry of the pair of leaves was really only visible from one specific angle, and the asymmetry of the lower leaf somehow accentuated that effect, to my eye. Also, the upper leaves are backlit, with their transmitted light in contrast to the reflected light of most of the lower leaf, adding to the range of contrasts of greens, which are in further contrast to the red stalk. I found the mottling on the leaves and their serrated edges quite interesting details. A large shrub provided the dark background. This was taken at Chanticleer on 10/19/23 at 300mm and f/9 at 1/500sec.



Macro photography allows me to capture the delicacy of nature, and I was largely able to do that with this tiny spiderwort hanging low on a mid-sized plant. The flower was less than a half inch across, and its feathery center was remarkably fine and complex. The accompanying buds accentuate such intriguing beauty that could be discovered only by looking very closely. This was taken at Chanticleer on 10/4/23 at 300mm and f/10 at 1/1600sec.



The champagne-flute form of this calla lily conveyed great elegance, not to mention the stylish flash of the red interior and the small flourish of the very tip, all of which called to me with, "I'm ready for my close-up." Highlighting the singularity of the flower against a shaded area conceals that this was growing in a busy entranceway bed to Longwood, surrounded by a lot of other flowers. The angular morning sun created the dramatic lighting. This portrait was taken on 7/5/23 at 300mm and f/10 at 1/320sec.



I love narrow beams of sunlight that can act like a spotlight on a darkened stage. These feathertop grass reeds were two among many in a patch at Chanticleer, but for a brief moment only they were illuminated, showing off their soft intricacy. The distinction of their illumination is so stark here as to appear almost artificial. I like to think of everything in the garden being able to get a few minutes "center stage" at some time. This was taken on 10/12/23 at 300mm and f/10 at 1/200sec.



This begonia was just feet from the feathertop grass, above (#6). I had several weeks earlier taken a similar photo of a begonia after becoming fascinated by the unusual stamen, but that one I could not adequately set against a shaded area for a background. So, when I saw this one that I could photograph in stark profile to highlight the stamen cluster, I jumped at the opportunity. Begonias do not usually stand out as single flowers, but this one did, in bright sun. The photo was taken at Chanticleer on 10/12/23 at 300mm and f/10 at 1/1250sec.



Much of my photography tries to capture the luminescence of nature, inspired by the idea of how bugs may see their world from the underside of backlit flowers and leaves. This backlit dogwood at first grabbed my attention for its sheer brightness, but when I looked closer, I saw a miniscule white spider under it. The photo is a tribute to a bug's life under the dogwood canopy. While insect/arachnid photography has not been my focus, I am always aware the perspective of bugs in their interrelationship with plants. This was taken at Longwood on 6/4/23 at 300mm and f/10 at 1/2000sec.



I admire ferns, and this frond was hanging from an enormous rabbit's root fern, about five feet overhead. It not only presented a flat field for photography but was nicely backgrounded against a dark area. It also seemed particularly symmetrical, with the top pinnae branching out from the rachis from almost the same points, while the lower pinnae do not alternate too noticeably. The bright morning sun gave it a brilliant vibrancy. It was taken at Longwood on 1/4/23 at 300mm and f/9 at 1/2500sec, beginning the year of photography for me.



This clematis seed pod surprised and delighted me, as I had never noticed these before. It struck me as exotically wild, with the full energy of its life cycle at play even after the beautiful petals of the flower had dropped. It reminds me how much in nature makes me smile. The photo was taken at Chanticleer on 10/11/23 at 220mm and f/10 at 1/500sec.



I've taken many pictures of the emerging fronds of Mexican tree ferns, fascinated by their embryonic translucence and hairy covering. Exposure is tricky on these, and here I was able to hit a compromise between bringing out the translucence of the fronds and protecting the hairs from overexposure. These plants exude a sense of potential and are wonderful objects of meditation. The photo was taken at Longwood on 7/30/23 at 300mm and f/11 at 1/500sec.



This small ribbon bush blossom has enormous character, and it quickly became a personal favorite. It seems to me expressively bold and yet quite fragile. The color is marvelous and the structure rather curious. It was part of an otherwise dense plant, but this one flower captivated me, and I was able to find an angle to feature it. The photo was taken at Longwood on 11/2/23 at 300mm and f/9 at 1/1000sec.



I look for flowers whose shadows of one part embellish another part, as with this lily whose anthers cast a shadow on the translucent petals. This is often the case in bright morning sun and is one of the reasons I'm drawn to be out early in the day. The light also nicely outlines the anthers and hints at their deep reddish-orange color. The decision to cut off the full spread of the petals was to make this image about the stamen, with the petals serving largely as kind of projection screen for them. The photo was taken at Longwood on 1/16/23 at 240mm and f/9 at 1/1250sec.



This photo is a good companion to the one directly above (#13), as a different approach to focusing on the stamen of a lily. I usually chose a dark background, but occasionally I find a background with a complementary quality and the potential for pleasant bokeh. The colorful anthers on this lily originally attracted me, and then I realized how a far petal could create a sort of gothic arch design. In order to align the stigma with the far petal, I had to accept that the anthers would be a bit off-center, but I enjoyed the layered effect overall. The photo displays key dynamics of depth-of-field in close-up photography. It was taken at Longwood on 3/19/23 at 300mm and f/10 at 1/320sec.



Backlighting brings out a whole new side to plants. This tradescantia vine looked quite unremarkable from the side of reflected light -- in fact, it did not even look as though the leaves would be translucent enough for light to go through, but from the side of transmitted light it was practically electric in colorful intensity. I have learned to look at both sides of plants, as a general rule. I also look for how overlapping leaves can create patterns, and here the bright leaves are made all the richer by a trio of shadows. In addition, the one slightly crimped leaf appears to me to be more of a variation on a theme of the vine than an imperfection. The photo was taken at Longwood on 10/13/23 at 300mm and f/10 at 1/200sec.



While I typically try to clear the field of view as much as I can for the flower I'm photographing, in this case I decided to go with a thread-the-needle perspective for a singularly sunlit lily. I intended the surrounding stalks to act as context rather than interference. It was difficult find the right angle, but after some trial-and-error I ended up with this image, and I liked the slightly messy style of it. Note, too, the shadows of the stamen on the petals. The photo was taken at Chanticleer on 10/11/23 at 300mm and f/10 at 1/2000sec.



Though flowers had become sparse by the end of October, I discovered these clusters of red dragon persicaria with all the brightness of spring. They were a constellation of delicate beauty that invited a suitable group portrait. The photo was taken at Chanticleer on 10/28/23 at 300mm and f/10 at 1/1250sec.



This daisy growing up in front of rich red coleus leaves is a picture of glorious contrasts, though there is also a subtle similarity between the petal tips and the leaf edges. It appealed to me in the moment, and I have returned to viewing the image many times. It is always a joy to behold. The photo was taken at Longwood on 7/23/23 at 284mm and f/11 at 1/1250sec.



A cold front has just swept through overnight, and the Longwood meadow was chilly and partly cloudy, with a periodically strong breeze. However, when I spotted this knapweed flower, I waited for the wind to calm and the sun to shine, and when that happened I was able to take this photo that holds for me a spirit more of summer than fall. It was taken on 10/22/23 at 300mm and f/9 at 1/1600sec.



I am rounding out my "top twenty" with this kalanchoe blossom. These tiny flowers usually grow in tight clusters, and one is forming here, but this particular cluster was unique in the garden that day as having one blossom fully out while the rest of the cluster was still just budding. This image is paradoxically both simple and complex to my eye. Moreover, orange flowers do not seem to be as common as those of other colors in my experience, and I wanted to celebrate this one. This photo was taken at Longwood on 1/16/23 at 300mm and f/10 at 1/1250sec.