Playing with Light – Teasels

This morning I had hoped to see and photograph a Green Heron that was reported to be just a few miles from where I live, Green Herons aren’t common here so it would have been fun to photograph it. While I was waiting I took images of other birds in the area but there weren’t all that many that were close so I looked around for more subjects.

Teasel - Lit frontally- light backgroundTeasel – Frontal light – light background – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f14, 1/100, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Large groups of Teasels (Dipsacus fullonum); an introduced “weed”, caught my eye in the early morning light and rather than just wait around for the Green Heron to show up I started focusing my attention on the plants. I know that they are weeds, I know that many people hate them but I find their shape, texture and structure interesting and I decided to play with the light to see what results I could achieve.

The image above had frontal light plus a light-colored background. I set my aperture at f14 hoping to get the two closest Teasels sharply in focus, the depth of field didn’t quite work because the smaller teasel is some what soft.  I probably should have gone with f18 but I like the resulting image.

Teasel - Frontally lit - dark backgroundTeasel – Frontal light – dark background – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f6.3, 1/750, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Then I looked around and selected a group of Teasels that had a darker background with frontal light and happened to find one with a bee on it. Since the two main Teasels were about in the same plane of focus I selected an aperture of f6.3 which resulted in both of them being in focus. I quite liked the darker background in these frames.

Teasel with very dark background

Teasel – Frontal light – very dark background

This Teasel then drew my attention, it leaned away from the main group and thus is was easy to isolate plus it had a very dark background with frontal light which appealed to me so I moved my tripod again. I really liked what I saw through my viewfinder.

A stand of Teasel - Back litTeasels – Back lit – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f8, 1/320, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I know that many photographers are taught to shoot with the light behind you and that many of them wouldn’t consider taking back lit images but I kind of enjoy the challenges difficult lighting conditions and the rather dramatic results that can be obtained. I also will; whenever the mood strikes me, ignore the advice of “shoot with the light over your shoulder” and just do what I want to do.

This image is a bit on the busy side but I enjoy the textures of the Teasels, the bright bristles along the stem and the specular highlights in the background caused by the rest of the bristles on the stems of the other plants.

Back lit TeaselTeasels – Back lit – dark background – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f8, 1/320, ISO 400, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The Green Heron still hadn’t shown up so I kept photographing the Teasels, I searched out a group of back lit Teasels with a dark background. The back lit spiky flower heads and the whisker-like bristles along the stems seem to glow when the light is from the back. I really wanted to run my fingers over them to see what they felt like, I’m not sure why I didn’t. You can bet I will next time!

Back lit Teasel - Bright backgroundTeasels – Back lit – bright background – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f8, 1/350, ISO 400, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

My eyes fell on this clump of back lit Teasels with a brighter colored background and I knew I just had to move my tripod over to them to see what I could create, I’m glad that I did. I like the mood the brighter background lent to this image and how it accentuated the egg-shaped flower cones.

The Green Heron never did show up this morning and although I wish that it had, I still had fun… Playing with Light!


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Hi! These are the weeds my mother made into dry flower arrangements! these ,Bittersweet and Michigan Holly and different pine branches! My father was mad at mom for bring them home. the next year the weeds came on & on our farm and we never ever got rid of it either. Ha ha Oh well you did a great job catching them in all kinds of light! Thanks for the memories of my home and family!

  2. Mia, I know this is rather late, but I just wanted to comment because I too, love to photograph these, as well as thistle! For some odd reason, I find myself drawn to them. They have something interesting to offer in all seasons!

  3. Unlike related herons, the green heron is much smaller by comparison and unobtrusive. While I am not familiar with teasels, these photographs give me an excellent idea of what one is.

    • Mathew, the Green Herons do seem to blend in to their habitat very well, sometimes I can’t see them until they make a tiny movement. I’ll look for this one again. Thank you very much for your comment on these Teasel images.

  4. Mia, first, the last three shots are what I aspire to capture when I’m photographing grasses and weeds. Truly. The backlit shot … amazing! I find that the lens softens any value judgment because, as you say, you’re looking at the inherent beauty, texture and interest of the shot. I feel the same way about photographing ostensibly “ugly” industrial scenes. Great post.

  5. Those Teasels do make great subjects! Love the back ligthing!

  6. Refreshing choice of new subject Mia..and great lighting, detail and colors.

  7. Mia, These pictures are a real delight! I love the colors, in fact the green tones are my favorite.

  8. These are gorgeous images Mia. You caught that light just right to enhance these cuties. Carol

  9. Gorgeous! I love the dark backround image and the backlit one. You have talents yet untapped!!

    • Thank you Kathy, I used to enjoy photographing flora a lot but after the birds became my passion I didn’t take the opportunities as much. I couldn’t resist the Teasels though because they are so striking.

  10. Geez, and to think that I was standing right there with you and never popped off a shot of these striking plants… Well seen and executed Mia.

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