Photo of the Week – October 3, 2013

I found this robber fly perched in the prairie early Monday morning.  Although it was fairly breezy, the light was good enough to attempt a photo.  I’m glad I decided to give it a try.

Robber fly.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Robber fly. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.  You can always click photos to see a sharper version.

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have even considered attempting this photo.  When I was shooting with slow speed slide film, I loved the saturated color of Fuji Velvia, but every time I clicked the shutter it cost me about 34 cents in film/processing.  That kind of cost made me pretty leery of trying to photograph something like a flower that was blowing around in the wind.  A shot that came back blurry because the subject was moving too fast cost me just as much as a nice sharp image, so I couldn’t afford to “miss” very many times.  I would often take 3-4 versions of the same shot to make sure I got the exposure and focus correct, but even that was costing me about a dollar per good image.

This week, I photographed the above robber fly for about 5 minutes.  Within that time, I took 162 images.  The vast majority of those were blurry because the wind was swinging the fly and its perch so much I couldn’t focus and shoot fast enough to keep up.  I ended up with only a few sharp images in three different compositions.  Ten years ago, taking 162 photos would have meant about four and a half rolls of slide film and would have cost me about $44.  This week, it just meant I had to sort through 162 images to find the good ones – something that took just a few minutes.

Digital photography can sometimes make me a little lazy because it’s tempting to let some of the fundamentals of exposure and composition slide and try to fix things later with digital processing and cropping (though I usually don’t do much of that, and there’s still no substitute for getting it right in the field).  On the other hand, digital photography allows me to take risks that would have been unthinkable (or at least really expensive) in the old days.  Blurry photos don’t cost a thing now, and can often be deleted in the field.  Just as important, I can make sure I’ve got the shot I want before I leave, instead of discovering it days later when my slides come back from being processed.  Overall, it’s a pretty good time to be a photographer.

Just for fun, here are some of the other images from the brief photo session with the robber fly.

This one ended up relatively sharp...

This one ended up relatively sharp…


...but I had 30 more that looked like this.

…but I had 30 more that looked like this.


This one (like many others) was pretty fuzzy...

This one (like many others) was pretty fuzzy…


...but this one isn't too bad.

…but this one isn’t too bad.


This entry was posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

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.

8 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – October 3, 2013

  1. Good point about the digital advantages! Then again, the up front cost of the cameras can be steep. I would never have gotten into photography if it weren’t for digital, as I can afford occasional extravagances, but on my budget processing and developing costs would not be doable.

  2. I enjoy your blog and particularly the pictures, but hardly ever comment. Just wanted to say, I love the fuzzy pictures; it’s nice to know everyone has those problems sometimes!

  3. I liked the post more than I liked the pictures. The pictures were well placed but the discription about film cameras and digital cameras and how much easier it is to get a good shot was really fascinating.

  4. What a fun post! I thought I took lots of photos of the same things over and over, but you have me beat on that. ;o) I am always excited when I come across the photos that turned out clear, and have trouble deciding which to keep in my iphoto library, which to delete, and which to post. I love these photos, by the way! It’s fun when all those details are so clear.

  5. Chris, I have been reading your blog for a year or so now. I just wanted to thank you for providing the interesting and scientifically relevant reading. I love the blog. Keep it up. Thank you – John in Grand Rapids, MI


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