Swamp Milkweed seed pods – the engineer’s approach

Alessandra has recently posted a couple of examples of very artistic images of Swamp milkweed seeds and that reminded me of a walk I made around a small lake in Northern Virginia way back in 2013, and I was amazed to see these large pods on the ground which, when opened, showed a dramatic array of delicately laid out seeds. Being a newcomer to the USA, I had never seen anything like that, and being a photographer, I knew I just had to capture some images of them. Being an engineer by trade, I knew I had to take them home and work on them in my studio – I had no hope of capturing what I had in mind in the field.

Highly detailed macro image of a single seed pod from Swamp Milkweed flower Asclepias incarnata which has wispy windblown feathery strands attached to brown seeds that are carefully aligned in the shell. Prints available in my online store
Highly detailed macro image of a single seed pod from Swamp Milkweed flower Asclepias incarnata

I could immediately see that I would have trouble getting things into focus. Of course, I could take the artistic approach and with a wide aperture, just get some key details in focus and the rest will gently fade into a bokeh heaven. But I’m a techy guy and need to see everything! So, I carefully placed the lightly disturbed seeds on a black piece of glass, set up my flash guns and camera on a tripod and started to shoot. My first attempts used a small aperture of F18 on my macro lens, but I was conscious of potential diffraction issues and so I opened up to F14 and focused on the closest point of the pod and got my first image. A slight change in focus deeper into the frame and number two was in the bag. I think I had 10 images in the end to go from front to back and get all the tiny strands in focus. I edited one, copied the develop changes to them all, and then combined in Helicon Focus to get my first view of the entire seed pod.

Highly detailed macro image of the seed pod from Swamp Milkweed flower Asclepias incarnata which has wispy windblown feathery strands attached to brown seeds that are carefully aligned in the shell
Highly detailed macro image of the seed pod from Swamp Milkweed flower Asclepias incarnata which has wispy windblown feathery strands attached to brown seeds that are carefully aligned in the shell

I decided that the reflection didn’t really help and so this has been removed in Photoshop to set the seed pod against a pure black background. I tried a vertical format version with the reflection more separated from the subject because of the angle of the shot – I think this works better:

Now the world was my oyster – I tried different configurations, extracted the whole stack of seeds from one of the pods to capture this view of the marvelous arrangement of the seeds:

Seed pod from Swamp Milkweed flower Asclepias incarnata which has wispy windblown feathery strands attached to brown seeds that are carefully aligned in the shell
Seed pod from Swamp Milkweed flower Asclepias incarnata which has wispy windblown feathery strands attached to brown seeds that are carefully aligned in the shell

My first printing of this was with the seeds horizontal in the frame – pretty central and surrounded by black. A judge at my local camera club competition criticized it for being too static and suggested that more of a diagonal twist would help – so this is the version that is currently on my wall at home!

This next attempt shows me at my more artistic – an arrangement of individual seeds laid out on some black velvet. Only one exposure was needed for this although I have always struggled to get a pure black background without spots of dust and hairs and so this has had the Photoshop treatment to remove those flaws.

Arrangement of the seeds from Swamp Milkweed flower Asclepias incarnata
Arrangement of the seeds from Swamp Milkweed flower Asclepias incarnata

I tend to find a subject, take as many different views as I can think of and then move on. Checking my local files from 2013, this is all that I find. My interest obviously had moved on!

And so that is the story of my seed pod adventures. Without a doubt, both the artistic and the technical approaches have a lot going for them and the choice is in the eye of the beholder. My prints are available on both Fine Art America and also Pictorem. If you are interested in more of my ramblings, I write frequently about the stories behind my images at BackyardImage.com

Published by Steve Heap

After a career as a senior technology manager I embarked on a new direction - to earn my living as a photographer - mainly in creating and selling photos. Along the way, I became an author, writing a book about how to get started in selling your images online and have continued to travel and take images for my portfolio - which you can see at steven-heap.pixels.com

8 thoughts on “Swamp Milkweed seed pods – the engineer’s approach

  1. Nice work, of course.

    In the next-to-last photograph it’s interesting how much like a pine cone the left half of the seed array looks. Probably the milkweed seeds are packed into an array that conforms to the Fibonacci sequence, as do the elements on a pine cone.

    In contrast to your guest photographer, this Steve does return to some favorite subjects year after year in the quest for new ways of portraying them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Steve! Yes, the arrangement of those seeds probably does follow that sequence – it is amazing how they are aligned so perfectly in their shell. I haven’t seen any of these pods in the past few years – we moved to West Virginia and haven’t seen the plants. And there is always something else to see and photograph!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the third image the most although all are appealing. I know that harvesting them has its challenges so kudos for having an almost perfect cluster to work with.
    I can understand your interest waning for the particular shoot but there are still so many possibilites to continue the project. I tend to shoot in situ but photographing these as you did offers so many other compositions and combinations.

    Like

    1. Is everyone called Steve here? I don’t think it is waning interest as much as a continual search for something new. I’m a stock photographer by trade (now) and so the trick is to constantly think of something to illustrate the latest story. I am evolving into more of a wall art photographer so more time on artistic ventures might be in my future!

      Liked by 2 people

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