Photo of the Week – December 3, 2010

A dragonfly in the early morning - Pawnee County, Nebraska

One of the great things about close-up photography is that you don’t have to travel very far to find subject matter.  This photo was taken in the backyard of a house near Steinauer, Nebraska.  We had rented the house for some graduate students to use as part of a research project in southeastern Nebraska.  I was visiting the students to help set up some vegetation survey work, and found this dragonfly while I was waiting for everyone else to finish breakfast.

The morning was ideal for close-up photographs.  The sun was just coming up, and there were diffuse clouds along the horizon that kept some of the intensity out of the light but didn’t remove the warm color.  Most importantly, there was almost no wind.  I was walking along the yard, following a fenceline between the yard and an adjacent pasture – looking for anything interesting.  There was a small depression filled with wetland vegetation just inside the fenceline, and I found several dragonflies perched there, waiting for the day to warm up.  Despite the cool morning, a couple of them managed to rouse themselves and fly off as I approached them.  This one, fortunately, was not worried about me or my tripod (or was too cold to care) and the sun was just starting to hit it.  I was able to swing my tripod around so that the yard was behind the dragonfly – simplifying the background – and took a series of photos as I crept ever closer to it.  This was the last one I took before I backed away and left the dragonfly in peace.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
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3 Responses to Photo of the Week – December 3, 2010

  1. James C. Trager says:

    I need to learn how to use a tripod to such a good end with bug photography. I almost always shoot hand-held, because I tire of lugging around an implement I find gets in the way a lot, or seems unwieldy. Any tips?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      I can’t imagine shooting without one! Sometimes when I’m chasing flying pollinators from flower to flower I’ll hand hold the camera, but I’m almost never satisfied with the depth-of-field I can get, and don’t feel like I do as well with composition and background control. I have two tripods, both with ball heads. One is a small lightweight bogen that is easy to carry on long walks and good for macro work, but too short for many landscape shots and too light to handle heavy wildlife lenses. The other is a heavy gitzo that works for the latter two and I find myself carrying it more and more, even when I’m just doing macro work. It’s so solid…

      I can see that they can be unwieldy at times, but I think you just have to get used to using them. I can set up and adjust so quickly with mine that I rarely feel like I miss shots because of that. Biggest issue in prairies is probably trying not to let the legs bump stems that are connected to the stem/flower my target bug is sitting on!

      Another great help is a Bogen SuperClamp – originally designed to hold flashes, you can order it with an attachment that lets you screw your tripod head right to the clamp. Then you can clamp your tripod head anywhere on the tripod legs you want (or to other things) and get right down to the ground easily for shots of cute little ants, etc.

      I’ll try to post something soon on macro photography and include an article I wrote for NEBRASKAland magazine with some other tips…

  2. James C. Trager says:

    Looking forward to that…

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