Photos of the Week – February 17, 2023

Among photographers, there is a wide range of variability regarding the number of times they hit the shutter button as they attempt to photograph a particular subject. Some people will find a flower, take a photo or two of it, and then move on. More experienced photographers (broadly speaking) tend to spend more time with, and take a lot more photos of that same flower. Then, they’re likely to find other similar flowers nearby and try various compositions and perspectives with those as well.

I definitely fall into the second category. If I come across a potential photo subject, I usually dive in and test lots of ideas and angles as I strive to capture the essence of what initially caught my eye about the subject. That usually means I come home with hundreds of images of the same flower, insect, seed, or whatever. I have to spend a lot of time sorting through all those images, of course, to find the ones I like best, but it’s almost always worth it.

Often, the image I like best will be the 23rd or 57th one I took. It’s almost never the first or second. I could probably spend more time sitting back and thinking about possibilities instead of just shooting as I think, but for my particular brain, the ‘shooting-while-thinking’ method seems to work better. It engages my creativity in an important way. Here’s an example from this week of what that looks like:

A pappus (the fluffy part attached to the seed, but without the seed this time) that got hung up on a sideoats grama grass stem (Bouteloua curtipendula) at our family prairie. I initially thought this was from a thistle, but a savvy reader pointed out that the pappus isn’t plumose. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/11, 1/640 sec.

I took the above photo at our family prairie last weekend. It’s nice enough. But that image is only one of at least a hundred I took while lying on the ground next to that sideoats grama plant. The breeze was moving the pappus around, so I I needed multiple chances to catch it in an attractive ‘pose’, and also to make sure it was in sharp focus in at least a few photos.

Another very similar photo of the same subject. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/11, 1/1000 sec.
And another one. These are just examples of the images that were sharp. Most weren’t. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/18, 1/500 sec.

Eventually, I also tried lowering the camera even more (using my recently-modified tripod legs, of course) to get a little sky in the background. After I took several dozen shots from that angle, I tried a few more before eventually moving about 6 feet away to photograph some different sideoats grama plants.

Pappus, sideoats grama and sky. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/11, 1/640 sec.
Pappus, sidoats grama, and even more sky. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/20, 1/320 sec.

Later, I used a software application called ‘Photo Mechanic’ to browse through all those thistle/sideoats images, mark the ones that were at least sharp, and sort off and delete all the others. From the remaining 30-40 sharp images, I then sorted (using a color coded system) them again to find the handful that I liked the most. I didn’t worry about picking a single favorite – I just worked up (with Photoshop) and saved that handful. None of them are world-changing images, but I like them all pretty well. I’m glad I played with multiple ideas.

When I moved on to some other sideoats grama plants, I followed the same basic procedure, though I didn’t have to worry about the lightweight thistle pappus twisting in the wind anymore. I still took a few dozen shots of each seed head that looked interesting to me and sorted them all out later.

Sideoats grama. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/20, 1/250 sec.
The same sideoats grama, but a little closer. Nikon 105mm macro lens with Raynox 250 macro attachment. ISO 400, f/13, 1/800 sec.
A different sideoats grama plant nearby. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/18, 1/500 sec.
Another sideoats plant with a similar background. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/11, 1/640 sec.
Yet another sideoats grama stem. Two, actually. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/11, 1/800 sec.

There’s no right or wrong way to be a photographer, but if you’re someone who tends to take a photo or two of something and then move on, I’d encourage you to at least try staying longer and clicking away more. Doing so gives you a chance to evolve your thinking about how to best portray the scene. In many cases, it also helps ensure that you get at least one useable shot that isn’t blurry, especially when there’s a breeze.

Digital photography makes it much easier to justify all those photos because they don’t really cost anything. In the old days, when we had to buy film and get it processed, those multiple shots came at a price. I still took multiple photos, but certainly not as many as I do these days. Today, the biggest issue is forcing myself to delete the vast majority of my images. I always get rid of the blurry or otherwise, useless ones, but I do tend to keep more of the ‘decent’ ones than I’d really need to. I mean, who knows? Maybe I’ll use them someday! (I’m never going to use them.)

I eventually switched to my fisheye lens to try to capture the dormant prairie with a beautiful sky behind it. These are stiff goldenrod plants in the foreground. (Solidago rigida) Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 400, f/22, 1/320 sec.

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.

10 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – February 17, 2023

  1. Thanks for sharing your process Chris! I tend to find that about 1 in 20 of my photos is worth keeping, but I agree with the “shoot now and decide later” philosophy that digital photography has made possible.

  2. Beautiful photos, and I agree with the earlier commenter who also enjoys your process posts. One thing about the pappus shots interested me: I’ve never seen a thistle pappus that wasn’t plumose. Was this one from a species I’m not familiar with?

    • Well, now, you’ve got me there. I decided it was a thistle seed without thinking much about it because it was the only pappus I could think of being likely in that area. I didn’t even consider the plumosity of it! Now I wonder what it really was. Maybe dogbane? Hmm… Good catch!

      • I hadn’t thought about dogbane as a possibility, but that makes a lot of sense. At least around here, its seedpods (follicles) continue releasing seed all through the winter, so there could well be dogbane fluff hanging around in February!

  3. This is one of the reasons why photographers can make obnoxious hiking companions. I can spend 20 minutes lingering on a single plant before I realize the rest of my party has grown impatient and is now a quarter mile down the path.


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