Photo of the Week – August 12, 2011

As the sun neared the horizon during my evening prairie walk in Missouri last week (see last week’s Photo of the Week post) I had to be more selective about what I tried to photograph.  The low light intensity and the light breeze that was kicking up made it difficult to photograph flowers or insects – or anything else that moved or swayed very much. 

I found two last opportunities before I gave up and headed back to the hotel.  The first was a close-up photo of a compass plant leaf that was backlit by the sunset. The initial challenge was to find a leaf that was positioned so that I could set up the camera with the lens parallel to the leaf (which allowed me to get the whole leaf in focus).  I also needed the leaf to have shadows behind it so that the background, as seen through the spaces between the lobes of the leaf, would be dark and uniform in color/texture.  Once I found an appropriate leaf, I played around with exposure until I found the right balance between light coming through the leaf and the shadowed background.  Fortunately, the leaf was low enough to the ground that the light breeze didn’t move it too much.

A compass plant leaf lit from behind by the setting sun. Taberville Prairie, Missouri.

The second shot was simply a silhouette of a compass plant against the setting sun.  By shooting right at the sun, and not caring if the foreground went fairly dark, I was able to use a fast-enough shutter speed to freeze the slightly swaying compass plant.  The trick was to find an exposure that preserved some color in the sky but also enough detail in the foreground to make the photo interesting.  I was able to do a little correction in Photoshop to accentuate both, but in order for that to work, I still had to capture both the light and detail in the original photo.

Compass plant silhouette against the sunset. Taberville Prairie, Missouri.

It was a great evening.  Thanks again to the Missouri Department of Conservation for the invitation, and to Len Gilmore and Matt Hill for the tour of Taberville Prairie.  I look forward to going back sometime to see more of the beautiful prairies in southwest Missouri.

Photo of the Week – August 4, 2011

I just returned from a great week in southwestern Missouri.  The Missouri Department of Conservation invited me to come down and participate in a grassland workshop, and I was happy for an excuse to return to some prairies I’d last visited in 2007 – and also to see some new ones. 

Southwestern Missouri had almost no precipitation (and plenty of heat) during June and July this summer.  The nearly ubiquitous tall fescue pastures in the area were all crispy and brown, and the corn and soybean fields didn’t look much better.  Native prairies, on the other hand, while certainly drier than the last time I visited, still exhibited plenty of life.  I’ll report in more detail next week on some more detailed observations from the prairies and the patch-burn grazing being employed there.  For now, however, I’ll just share this photo of a giant grassland cicada (which is both the name and an apt description of this large noisy insect). 

A giant grassland cicada on compass plant - at the Missouri Department of Conservation's Taberville Prairie near Eldorado Springs, Missouri.

Much like during my recent trip to Indiana, the evening I chose to go off by myself and walk the prairie with my camera turned out to be scorching hot with little to no breeze.  Despite the heat, cicadas were both abundant and noisy, and after chasing several around for a while, I finally got one to sit still long enough for me to grab a few photos before it buzzed off once more.  This was one of the last shots I got before the sun finally sank below the horizon and I gratefully climbed into the air conditioned truck and headed for the motel.