As the sun neared the horizon during my evening prairie walk in Missouri last week (see last week’s Photo of the Week post) I had to be more selective about what I tried to photograph. The low light intensity and the light breeze that was kicking up made it difficult to photograph flowers or insects – or anything else that moved or swayed very much.
I found two last opportunities before I gave up and headed back to the hotel. The first was a close-up photo of a compass plant leaf that was backlit by the sunset. The initial challenge was to find a leaf that was positioned so that I could set up the camera with the lens parallel to the leaf (which allowed me to get the whole leaf in focus). I also needed the leaf to have shadows behind it so that the background, as seen through the spaces between the lobes of the leaf, would be dark and uniform in color/texture. Once I found an appropriate leaf, I played around with exposure until I found the right balance between light coming through the leaf and the shadowed background. Fortunately, the leaf was low enough to the ground that the light breeze didn’t move it too much.
The second shot was simply a silhouette of a compass plant against the setting sun. By shooting right at the sun, and not caring if the foreground went fairly dark, I was able to use a fast-enough shutter speed to freeze the slightly swaying compass plant. The trick was to find an exposure that preserved some color in the sky but also enough detail in the foreground to make the photo interesting. I was able to do a little correction in Photoshop to accentuate both, but in order for that to work, I still had to capture both the light and detail in the original photo.
It was a great evening. Thanks again to the Missouri Department of Conservation for the invitation, and to Len Gilmore and Matt Hill for the tour of Taberville Prairie. I look forward to going back sometime to see more of the beautiful prairies in southwest Missouri.