Photo of the Week – March 22, 2018

It’s always inspiring to hang out with other conservation photographers, especially when they’re really good at what they do.  As I mentioned in my last post, I recently spent an early morning in one of our crane viewing blinds and got to see a whooping crane right out in front.  My two companions that morning were Michael Forsberg and Melissa Groo, both of whom are incredibly talented and accomplished wildlife photographers, as well as passionate and effective advocates for conservation.

Also?  They have really really big lenses.  Like, intimidatingly large lenses.  And when there is a whooping crane hanging out on the other side of the river from you, a big lens is sure handy.  As a result, you should check out both Mike and Melissa’s individual Instagram accounts to see the photos they got from that morning.  I know Mike has already posted the amazing shot he took of the whooper stretching its wings, which turned out looking like a white angel in the midst of a dull gray mob of birds.  I don’t think Melissa has posted any photos yet from that morning, but she did post a shot of the same bird in a nearby field from a few days before.  (Check out their other work as well, you’ll be glad you did.)

Melissa’s lens was so big, you can’t even see Mike or his lens, which are right on the other side of her.

Good for them.  Seriously.  They had the right equipment for the job on that morning and were able to capture powerful images they’ll use for good purposes.  Me?  Not so much.  I spent my morning capturing the “atmosphere” of the morning, and enjoying my overall good fortune.  After all, I was hanging out great people, and looking at one of the few whooping cranes left in the world, along with four or five thousand sandhill cranes.  I was doing just fine.

The closest sandhill cranes were quite a ways from our blind, and the whooping crane was near the far bank of the river.  It’s not in this particular photo, but even if it was, you probably wouldn’t be able to see it!

With my cute little 18-300mm lens, I concentrated on capturing the overall feel of the morning, rather than individual birds.

Am I jealous that when I go out to take pictures, my entire photography kit, including the vehicle I’m driving, cost less than one of the lenses Mike and Melissa were shooting with?  Well, maybe just a little bit.  But mostly, I’m glad they’re successful enough to afford those lenses.  This is what they do, and they need to have the right tools for the job.  There are only about three or four days a year when I wish I had a longer lens.  The rest of the time, I’m usually looking down toward my feet for photo opportunities, not across a broad river channel, and I’m perfectly happy with that.  After all, it wouldn’t make any sense to have all conservation photographers capturing the same kinds of images, right?  Somebody has to chase little bugs around prairies, and I’m more than happy to help fill that role.

Speaking of photos near my feet, I’ve had a couple opportunities to practice my own brand of conservation photography in the days since my whooping crane morning.  I had a very pleasant walk through one of our recently burned prairies a couple nights ago.  Then, yesterday, I enjoyed an hour or so photographing prairie plants on what might be the last frosty morning of the winter.  Until my favorite subjects (bugs and flowers) start becoming more available, I’m feeding my appetite with whatever else I can find.

The prairies we burned a couple weeks ago have been popular feeding spots for hordes of sandhill cranes looking for underground invertebrates to feed on. Did I photograph those cranes on our burned prairies? No, I just found and photographed a dainty little down feather one of them dropped.

The brown scorched leaves of this shell leaf penstemon plant might give you the impression that it’s dead, but it will actually thrive this coming season because the cattle grazing in this burned prairie will help suppress its major competitors – grasses – growing nearby.

This penstemon leaf reminded me of a fish…

A frosty sunflower seed head. Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.

Indiangrass seedhead and frost.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to incorporate photography into my regular job.  It’s something I’m passionate about, and something I feel is critically important in order to help people understand and feel connected to nature.  I don’t often travel far from home to photograph nature, but I’m sure glad others do.  For example, I’ll likely never get to see the Arctic or Antarctic regions of this world, but I feel a strong connection to those places because of the photographs of people like Paul Nicklen.  In my own small way, I hope I can provide that kind of connection between people and the prairies I love – despite my tiny little camera lenses…

This entry was posted in Prairie Animals, 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.

11 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – March 22, 2018

  1. Hello Chris,

    I think it is so wonderful to get to see a whooping crane, albeit a lost one. I, too, saw one hanging out with sandhills while on a Florida trip, Paynes Prairie. This was taken March, 2017.

    I enjoy your posts very much.



  2. I naturally had to follow the link to Michael Forsberg’s Instagram and looked at a few of his other recent photos. Isn’t that a nice photo of the river otter?

  3. My daughter and I were in Grand Island earlier this week and visited the Crane Trust blinds both in the evening and the following morning–what an amazing experience! Our camera power was even less than yours (a cell phone and a small point and shoot with a little zoom!), but we did have binoculars. Not being able to take good pictures turned out to be positive: it forced us to abandon our attempts at photography and instead to be present in the experience without the distraction of a camera. And we enjoyed the photos taken by professionals that are displayed at the Crane Trust–a win-win.

  4. Some people take great photographs, others spend their time doing the work that make great photographs possible. You may not have long lens for your camera, but the work you do makes you no less of an artist.

  5. Chris, that morning we all shared was a gift, and so are you and the work you do. You are a damn fine ecologist, conservationist, photographer, and most of all, friend.

  6. I love your photographs with this piece; people need to spend more time looking closely at their surroundings, and perhaps not concentrate so much on big gorgeous distant pictures. I love reading your posts. And I hope you will take this next comment in the spirit of helpfulness in which it is offered:

    “The confusion of the possessive “its” (no apostrophe) with the contractive “it’s” (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian “kill” response in the average stickler. The rule is: the word “it’s” (with apostrophe) stands for “it is” or “it has”. If the word does not stand for “it is” or “it has” then what you require is “its”. “This is extremely easy to grasp. Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, “Good food at it’s best”, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.”
    –Lynne Truss, Eats Shoots & Leaves, p. 44
    I want you to keep writing for a long time, and I want to read your writing, so I hope that you will not be struck by lightnint!


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