Photos of the Week – November 12, 2020

Tuesday morning, we woke up to a glazed and slippery scene. Thick ice coated trees, fences, lawns, and (urgh) windshields. We had a decent-sized branch down in our yard, but felt lucky compared to some of our neighbors with much bigger clean-up jobs. Once we got the kids to school, I sat down at my computer to get some work done – while keeping an eye on the sky outside. The forecast called for some sunshine after lunch and, if that happened, I wanted to take my camera Lincoln Creek Prairie before the ice melted.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and ice in our backyard prairie garden. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/200 sec at f/13.

At about 9:30 AM, I convinced myself the sky had brightened somewhat and that I should probably at least do a little photography in the yard in case the ice melted before the sun actually did come out. I got a few decent photos in the prairie garden, but I had a hard time finding enough contrast and texture to make me happy. I needed sunshine. I went back to my computer and tried to focus on a couple projects. Finally, at about 11 AM, the clouds started to thin for real and I grabbed my camera and drove (carefully!) across town to the prairie.

I played with this little patch of black-eyed Susans in our yard for a while because the little bit of color helped counteract the dim light from the cloudy sky. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/640 sec at f/13.
One more from the yard. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/640 sec at f/13.

When I got to Lincoln Creek Prairie, I had to give myself a quick pep talk. From prior experience, I knew that ice storms like this create so many photo opportunities, it is easy to start acting like a dog when you throw him three pieces of popcorn at once. You know, except with a camera. And photo opportunities. Never mind.

I took a deep breath and started walking slowly along the trail, trying to pick out the most spectacular, or at least interesting, close-up images.

Indiangrass seeds (Sorghastrum nutans). Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/1000 sec at f/10.
Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium). Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/640 sec at f/11.
There were a billion examples of this same shot and I captured a decent percentage of them. Here’s one… Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/800 sec at f/16.

I ended up shooting largely from the mowed trail, which is unusual for me. Normally, I wade into the tall vegetation in search of the best photo subjects. On this particular morning, I quickly discovered that heavy ice makes ‘wading’ a lot trickier. Every step I took started a domino-like cascade of ice-weighted grass stems and all my photo subjects crumpled and fell. Even setting up my tripod became a test of agility as I tried to very gently extend my tripod legs down through the fragile frozen plants without knocking any down. I don’t even want to think about all the great photos I missed because a leg (either mine or the tripod’s) barely bumped ONE STEM and caused an entire patch of plants to fold agonizingly down to the ground.

Once I forced myself to slow down and stay (mostly) on the trail, I had better luck, though I still had to be really careful. I quickly started homing in on seed heads of Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Indiangrass was great because it had a nice golden color. Switchgrass was a little less colorful, but had fantastic drooping chandelier-like branches of seeds. Rather than showing you the dozens of Indiangrass and switchgrass photos from my hour or so at the prairie, I tried to narrow them down to a few favorites.

Indiangrass. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/640 sec at f/13.
More Indiangrass. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/1250 sec at f/11.
Switchgrass. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/1250 sec at f/13.
More switchgrass. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/800 sec at f/16.

Just before the cloud canopy closed back up again, I found a beautiful stalk of pitcher sage (Salvia azurea) – one I’ve probably already photographed several times this year in various stages of flowering and seed production. By playing with angles, I was able to find a perspective that captured some of the last bits of blue sky in the ice. Then I packed my camera back in the bag and crunched my way back to the truck. The sun didn’t reappear during the rest of the day, but neither did the temperature rise enough to melt the ice. As a result, I got to make a return trip to (another part of) the same prairie on Wednesday morning at sunrise. I’ll save those photos for another post!

Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea). Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, 1/500 sec at f/14.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized 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.

7 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – November 12, 2020

  1. Pingback: Photos of the Week – November 20 2020 | The Prairie Ecologist


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