Photos of the Week – January 9, 2023

During our annual holiday break visit to the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Kim and I spent some pleasant time together. We cooked, watched movies, hiked around, and just hung out. In addition, we spent time apart while she was doing some long training runs and/or working on a quilt project and I was out chasing light with my camera. That light was a little less accommodating than I would have liked for most of our visit (overcast and dark) but there were some (ahem) bright spots too.

One of those nice windows came on the morning of December 30, which was also the day we were planning to head home. I got up early enough to be halfway up the ridge north of the river before the sun rose. It was the weather I’d been hoping for all trip – sunny, light winds, and frosty, on top of snow that was still present, though much reduced from several days earlier. I started out with my wide angle lens, watching the sun slowly rise above the distant horizon. You can see below how quickly the landscape changed color from a bluish cast to brighter and warmer tones within a very short time.

A frosty early morning scene just as the sun started to peek above the horizon. Tokina 11-20mm lens @11mm. ISO 400, f/13, 1/60 sec.
A similar scene, but with more light and a warmer cast as the sun started to shine more brightly. Tokina 11-20mm lens @11mm. ISO 500, f/13, 1/50 sec.

Once the sun was up, I switched to my macro lens and started exploring the frosty landscape for little jewels. Blue grama seed heads were sticking up through the snow all around me, so they were easy targets. However, EVERYTHING was covered in frost, so narrowing my choices was one my biggest challenge.

Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and frost. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/9, 1/2500 sec.
Blue grama and frost – a closer look. Nikon 105mm macro lens. IS0 500, f/20, 1/500 sec.
Shell leaf penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus). Nikon 105mm macro lens. IS0 500, f/16, 1/640 sec.

I took a quick break to send the drone into the air. I’d packed it on the 4-wheeler with me when I left the cabin and felt like I should fly it a little to justify bringing it along. Plus, the river had some great patterns of ice, frost, and open water that were worth capturing from above.

Drone photo of the Niobrara River in late December.
The (mostly) frozen river from straight overhead.
The ridge north of the Niobrara River covered with snow.

It was a quick flight, though, because I was aware of the increasingly bright light and knew I had a lot more frost to photograph before the light became too intense. I started working uphill, figuring that would both take me to some new close-up opportunities and maybe give me a better vantage point for potential landscape scenics. Unfortunately, the higher I climbed, the less frost I found, so I retreated downhill and (mostly) gave up on scenics in favor of frosty macro photos.

Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) and frost. Nikon 105mm macro lens. IS0 500, f/20, 1/500 sec.
Dotted gayfeather (Liatris punctata) and frost. Nikon 105mm macro lens. IS0 500, f/16, 1/400 sec.
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and frost. Nikon 105mm macro lens. IS0 500, f/16, 1/640 sec.
Looking downriver on a cold frosty morning. Nikon 18-300mm lens @170mm. ISO 500, f/9, 1/1250 sec.
More sideoats grama. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/10, 1/1600 sec .
Sideoats grama and frost again. Nikon 105mm macro lens. IS0 500, f/16, 1/640 sec.
Smooth sumac leaves and frost. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/16, 1/60 sec.

When I finally broke out of my frosty reverie, I looked at the time and more than two hours had passed since I’d left our cabin. Knowing we needed to get on the road, I hiked back down to my ATV and headed back to help Kim clean up and pack everything for the trip home. The morning had been a perfect punctuation on a quiet, restful trip to a beautiful place. It was also a great way to end the year.

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.

8 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – January 9, 2023

  1. Loved this. We were able to be at our Camp getting photo’s 9 miles upstream on the Niobrara. Arrived Dec 31 through the 8th. The NC borders our camp on the south river bank’s.
    Stop in on your next visit love to visit more about your adventures in the Niobrara Valley.


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