Finding the Beauty in Dandelions, Sewage Plants, and Manhole Covers


The author C.C. Vyvyan wrote, “As one grows older one should grow more expert at finding beauty in unexpected places, in deserts and even in towns, in ordinary human faces and among wild weeds.”

Which is one reason I’m glad I don’t take better care of my lawn.

The Dandelion

If I did have a manicured lawn, I would probably be less attuned to the beauty of weeds and wildflowers. Among my favorites are the dandelions that I have by the hundreds in my back yard. Dandelions may be the scourge of lawn fanatics, but to me they’re cheerful and bright, and the bunny rabbits love to eat them.

If you’ve never lain down in your lawn and looked face-to-face with a dandelion, try it–they’re amazingly intricate flowers. Amid the many layers of delicate yellow petals are dozens (if not hundreds) of little curly florets, or tiny flowers.

Most people, unfortunately, poison or weed-whack them into oblivion without really appreciating them.

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Photographing a dandelion is mostly a matter of lying on your face on the lawn and having a camera that enables you to focus closely. I took the shot above while doing test shots with the Nikon D90. I was using a 105mm Micro Nikkor, a macro lens that allows you to get very close to small subjects.

I realized while shooting the photo, however, that I would have preferred working with a zoom lens. When you’re limited to one focal length, you have to physically move closer or farther away to change the image (subject) size.

I’ve also photographed dandelions with point-and-shoot digital cameras and have gotten some great photos. Unfortunately, some point-and-shoots set the lens to a single focal length once you put it in the macro mode, so you have exactly the same issue as with a prime lens: you can’t zoom. Still, some point-and-shoots, like my old Olympus C5050 (and I love that camera), let you focus extremely closely — and there’s almost no flower too small to shoot.

Next time you’re thinking of killing off the dandelions, grab the camera and take a few minutes to photograph one first.

The Sewage Plant

I captured the image below just outside a sewage treatment plant. Until I encountered it, I had no idea this pretty stream was there.

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I had driven to a small park on the shore of the Housatonic River, just a few miles from home, as I continued to try out my D90. Unfortunately, the river was not inspiring me; I wasn’t finding much to shoot.

But there were some nice, tall phragmites (river grasses) growing near the edge of the parking lot, and so I drove over to take a look. Much to my surprise, I found this stream behind the tall grasses. I realized that this was water — hopefully cleaned and treated! — flowing from the sewage treatment plant into the river.

The light was fading fast, but I was able to pop off a few dozen different exposures, hoping to get a nice flow of water over the rocks. I shot this frame at 1/15 second at f/10 with a 70-300mm Nikkor lens.

So you never know where you’ll find a picturesque stream to shoot. Just don’t look too carefully for the source.

Manhole Covers

Almost everyone collects something, whether it’s books, baseball cards, old 45 rpms or — heaven forbid — pieces of burned toast with Elvis’ face on them.

The trouble with collecting actual things, of course, is that they take up a lot of room. I collect photography books, for example, and trust me, pretty soon either some of the books are going to have to go, or I’m going to have to add on another room.

But one way to collect things without actually storing them is just to photograph them. Then you can have a collection of something, and it won’t take up any room at all.

This method also allows you to collect things that you can’t necessarily run into a store and buy. I started collecting photos of unusual manhole covers, for instance — like this one that I found in Paris near the Eiffel Tower. I’ve learned that there are some really interesting and unusual manhole covers out there.

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I even discovered that the manhole covers on my street have the town name and the year they were installed engraved on them. I think that’s pretty cool.

As with all collections, the stranger or more esoteric the object is, the more fun it is to collect (and the more eccentric your friends will think you are). Finally, once you have an interesting collection going, you can print pictures of your prize possessions — and the only room it will take up is a photo album or two.

By the way, you won’t be the only person finding beauty where others don’t. A few days after I posted this image on my Flickr photostream, someone invited me to add it to their group of…you guessed it, manhole cover photos.


2 Responses to “Finding the Beauty in Dandelions, Sewage Plants, and Manhole Covers”

  1. I never would have guessed these would be your pictures based on the title of your post! It just shows that art is EVERYWHERE!

  2. I have a manhole cover which was obviously made for the opening of the Eiffel Tower. The design includes the Eiffel Tower and fleur de lis in a beautiful ornate design. Have you seen this before and do you know the value? Thank you. Ann

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