Photo of the Week – August 12, 2011

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.

A compass plant leaf lit from behind by the setting sun. Taberville Prairie, Missouri.

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.

Compass plant silhouette against the sunset. Taberville Prairie, Missouri.

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.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
This entry was posted in General, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Photo of the Week – August 12, 2011

  1. Ernest Ochsner says:

    Chris, You might want to learn a bit about HDR photos for those late day shots. I have found that it is possible to nearly replicate what the human eye sees via HDR and it’s not too difficult with a tripod and auto multiple exposure which your camera is capable of. You do have to process in photoshop or some other software specific for HDR but I think it’s worth the extra effort.
    Ernie

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Ernie, yeah, I know. I’m still deciding how I feel about HDR. I’m cautious about how I create images since I’m still a naturalist first and photographer second. I don’t have a good reason to avoid HDR, but for some reason just am still not there yet. Not sure why other Photoshop processes feel ok, but that one doesn’t… Won’t surprise me if I get into it eventually.

    • Clarice Aaron says:

      I’ve found that working with a tripod really limits your capability of getting shots close to the ground so that they are out of the breeze or just that the leaf or insect that you need to shoot is close to the ground. To be close to the ground but still parallel to the ground or to one’s subject matter can be made much more difficult when one tries to work with tripod.

      • Chris Helzer says:

        It can be tricky sometimes, but a good tripod can make it easier. Tripods with legs that fold completely flat help, of course – especially when the legs are relatively short so they’re not splayed all over the world. Another nice trick is to use a Bogen SuperClamp with a tripod head attached – and just clamp that on a tripod leg as low as you need it. In the case of the compass plant photo, the camera was about 1 foot off the ground – not a problem, even with the big Gitzo tripod I had at the time.

  2. Nellie says:

    We are led by the light, the light isn’t led by us. You did well choosing your subjects.
    nellie

  3. Tom Prunier says:

    Parallel or perpendicular to the leaf?

  4. Ashleigh says:

    Hi Chris, really interest in speaking to you in regards to using an image in a book that is to be published in the UK this year, cannot find your email address to get in contact with you, but would be great if we could speak about this. Thanks, Ashleigh.

    ashleigh(at)du.st

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