Photo of the Week – May 17, 2019

Spring is slowly progressing. I helped the Platte River Prairies crew build some fence yesterday in 94 degree weather, which seemed incongruous with the continuing (relative) scarcity of flowers. Puccoons (Lithospermum spp) are blooming, along with ragworts (Senecio plattensis) and a few other species, but many others are still keeping their buds tightly closed. Hopefully, we’ll start seeing more color within the next few weeks. Most grassland breeding birds have finally returned, though we’re still awaiting the arrival of dickcissels.

Bobolink male. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies. (Cropped liberally from the original image…)

I was out hiking this morning and the light was nice, but since the breeze made flower photography difficult, I resorted to wildlife photography. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I lack the patience to sit for hours in a photography blind in order to get good wildlife photos, and I don’t have a big telephoto lens. Instead, I rely on finding less wary (less smart?) individual animals that let me get close enough to take reasonably good photos of them.

This cottontail hid in a patch of tall grass as I drove through one of our prairies in my truck. It let me creep up close enough (in the truck) to get a few photos before it finally had enough and scampered off.
Killdeer are not shy about announcing their presence, both when trying to lead interlopers away from their nest and just as a general rule. This one was no exception (to the general rule) but also let me sidle up to it awkwardly (in my truck again). Again, this photo is cropped fairly significantly.

This last photo is from a couple weeks ago. I was at our prairie, cutting down some locust trees and generally enjoying the day while a thunderstorm rolled past to the north. As the storm receded into the eastern sky, the trailing clouds made for some attractive landscape photo opportunities. Here is one of my favorites from that evening.

The Helzer Family Prairie in early May.

Square Meter Photography Project – Next Steps

Many of you followed along last year as I set off on what turned out to be one of the most fulfilling efforts I’ve ever worked on – my Square Meter Photography Project. When I came up with the idea of photographing everything I could within a square meter of prairie, it was just meant to be a fun little project and a way to provide fodder for this blog. I had no clue that it was going to become a personal obsession and a (hopefully) powerful outreach tool for prairie conservation.

Here’s my square meter project selfie. This is me at my plot, but if you notice, I’m using the wrong hand to manipulate my camera because my right hand is holding a cell phone… I need to find some friends.

The year-long project wrapped up in January, and I’ve been giving presentations on the project to various audiences. The response has been tremendous, and reinforces the idea that I need to figure out how to better package this and share it widely. I’m working on a book that will hopefully come out this winter sometime, and we are exploring options for a traveling gallery show of some kind. However, there are a lot of other ways to get this in front of people, and many of those are outside of both my comfort zone and realm of experience. I need some help.

Because I’ve heard the recommendation from so many people, I spent time this weekend putting together a short video, set to music, that features my favorite photos from the project. My intent was to highlight the diversity of images that came out of the project – the 113 species I photographed, but also just the tremendous beauty I found when I took the time to explore my tiny plot. I’m presenting my first draft of that video here because I’d really like your feedback.

I’m a still photographer, not a film maker, and video is not a medium I’m comfortable with. I also don’t have access or experience with the kind of software I should really be using for a project like this. Nevertheless, I used a combination of PowerPoint and Movie Maker to cobble together something I hope will be a first step toward where I really want to go with this. It is set to music, but the music doesn’t start until after the first several slides.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the video, as well as other ideas you have about how this project can be used to help inspire people to care more about prairies. So far, the project has been featured in a few blogs and on-line publications, and there will be more coming. The book should be helpful, and I’ll keep giving presentations in person, as I have time. Beyond that, I’m hoping a video like this, along with some accompanying materials, can be used as a table-top display at events, and I’d really like to see some kind of interactive touchscreen display that could live at nature centers or other facilities. It would be great to package it somehow for use in schools as well, but I’m not yet sure how best to make that happen.

Thanks in advance for your advice and input. Please feel free to distribute the current video, understanding that it’s a first attempt and I’ll hopefully get some professional help to make the next version better.

Here’s the link to the video, in case the above window doesn’t work on your particular device.