In Living Color

A few weeks ago, I published a post that asked, “Who Needs Color, Anyway?“, showing beauty in black and white. The premise suggested that we find beauty in form, texture, and contrast; that color was just window dressing.

This post suggests that premise was a bunch of hogwash; that color is intrinsic to beauty, and the living colors of nature are exhibit A.

The Biltmore Estate is much more than the fancy house we showed off in the last post. It is contained within 8000 acres, most of which we did not explore beyond drive-by gawking.  But one area we did explore was the gardens near the house, and especially the conservatory.

Part of the gardens, with conservatory in the rear.
A sea of yellow.
I’m guessing Black-Eyed Susan. Or maybe her cousin Brown-Eyed Bertha.

While the outside gardens were impressive, especially for October, it was in the conservatory where the flora really put on its fancy go to meeting clothes.  There were things in there you wouldn’t believe.

I have no clue what this plant is.  Its business end was a red, somewhat tulip-shaped enclosure about the size of a small fist.  It was watertight, and contained a small pool of water with a green mat of, um, well, maybe you can tell me.


That was strange enough.  But there were three or four of these puzzlers scattered around the conservatory, and some of them had even more intriguing adornments.


Within a fire engine red “flower”, we had a self-produced bed of green, which in turn produced tiny sub-flowers of white, magenta, and purple.

Not quite the effect you’d get in black and white.

Who knows why this “flower” evolved to such a level of sophistication.  Is the swimming pool this miniature flowerbed calls home also an acidic insect trap?  Is the whole thing an elaborate sexual come on, flora style? Talk about layers of makeup.  What pollen bearing beastie could resist?

Would it bother if the whole tableau didn’t have all the fancy colors?  Do bugs care? What color spectrum do they see, anyway?


For human beasties, colors can add feeling.  Reds add drama and emotion. Yellows and oranges add warmth and comfort.  Blues add coldness.  These are generalizations, and mix and match can change the tune.  Your mileage may vary.  You tell me.  Do browns give you the blues? Does neon green make you see red?

Some things can look good in both color and black and white.

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Others, not as much. These violets and magentas would show as middle greys, without the contrasts the colors bring.


With a little practice, you can guess what colors will look like in black and white.

But hey, today we’re all about color.  Let’s wallow in it!



Still, even if the colors jump out and grab you by the optic nerve, shapes and textures are still there.  Take a close look at the details, and all those fancy-dancy colors get even more interesting.


Are you feeling it?


Maybe you remember this next one, when I showed it in black and white in Who Needs Color.  Is it better now?


Either way, it wears its dress like a Spanish flamenco dancer, polka dots and all.


Enough visual gluttony in the conservatory.  There’s a whole ‘nother world out there.


Who needs a flower bed when you got ponds?


And colors?  If you were to look at these water lilies and drink in their colors, you might say it’s the color that gives them their soul.


Or does it?


53 thoughts on “In Living Color

    1. I talked of moods some of the colors could convey, but black and white are colors too and they have their own moods. It seems like the more contrasty they are, the more drama.


  1. Dave, you’ve persuaded me, I’m definitely coming down on the side of…staying on the fence. The B&W do seem to let our minds consider the forms and structures, but the color pictures are, well, colorful! The final two, that lily pad looks just great, and the B&W one looks interesting, but a bit somber. And all those exotics, the colors & patterns are amazing.
    I’ll be interested to learn what the swimming-prickly-blossoming-cucumber thingy turns out to be. What an amazing estate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d likely end up somewhat astraddle the fence, but with one calf and foot on the monochrome side and the rest toppling towards color. But B/W will always have a special spot for me given all the darkroom hours I spent as a teenager, longer ago than I care to admit to myself.
      As for the mystery plant, I’ve done more research, and it turns out it’s a variation of Bromeliad called Neoregelia. The pictures are from the inner cup of a much larger plant.

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  2. Those gardens are a marvel both in person and here in your photos. For me, color wins almost every time. The pinks and fuchsias, in particular, just have to be seen in their full-colored glory!

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  3. Hi Dave, Love your flower close-ups. Some of them are quite unusual looking. The Biltmore is a wonderful spot. As you know, I’m a huge fan of black and white photography, but you’re right, there’s a place for each. A photo has to have certain qualities (tone, contrast etc) to work well in monochrome. I love water lilies in B&W…that one works really well.

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  4. I’ve tried to love black and white, and I certainly have come to the point of appreciating its finer points. But it’s color that stirs my emotions; black and white can interest me, but color makes me happy. This certainly is a place where color is shown to its best advantage. There are some true oddities here, and what especially intrigues me are the flowers that combine colors in strange and marvelous ways. I always wonder how and why they evolved as they did — so many mysteries!

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    1. Isn’t botany amazing? And it’s the colors it seems like only flowers bring to the game that makes them an evolutionary marvel. As for those colors stirring the emotions, I guess it’s not by accident a gift of flowers is considered romantic. (Maybe for the bugs too… 😉 )


  5. I think there are a few reasons to choose one or the other. I see people post images done both ways and I have done a couple of flowers in both and they do work well. These two are an example and of course you just saw another recently. I linked to the one because that flower is gorgeous in color but a good example that some can work otherwise.Other flowers such as water lilies, like yours, and predominantly white blooms are good candidates too. It’s a choice that comes down to how you want folks to be affected-admiration of form and line or the beauty of color. Of course, lots of other subjects fall into the same category even without boisterous tones such as the beautiful flowers you have shared. I’ve seen online pronouncements that it has to be one or the other. I beg to differ. 🙂

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  6. For sure, Dave. Color is the part of beauty that hits you over the head; but, form, contrast, and texture seem to better describe the subtle qualities that make an object beautiful. Do you think that it is more difficult to get an outstanding photo in color or black-and-white?

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    1. I think black and white is more difficult. Fewer things lend themselves to a photo because we’re more dependent on luminance and contrast to bring out the textures and shapes. And it can be hard to tell upfront when a certain orange shade and a certain blue shade (for example) will render identically in b/w. But it can also focus the eye more, as there are less distractions.

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  7. Beautiful! I love seeing the difference between the B&W and color.

    What I remember from my college botany class, just about everything a flower does is for sexual reasons. It’s quite scandalous, actually, and that red one with the pistons is being an absolute harlot! 😲

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    1. Color makes things more interesting. Black and white has its place, but would get boring after a while. Have you ever seen a movie called Pleasantville? Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon find themselves embedded in a 50s black and white TV sitcom, and their more modern sensibilities gradually add color and chaos to the b/w settings and characters.

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      1. It’s still too cold here, but Ken can’t wait for the flowers to come out too. He went for a drive the other day to take some pictures from the car, but he said everything was still too brown and gloomy!

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  8. J.D. Riso

    I remember your black and white post, how stunning they were. But I gotta admit that these color shots are more mesmerizing. That red flower macro reminds me of a fat caterpillar lounging on a bed of velvet. All of the images are just beautiful.

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