Photo of the Week – October 3, 2013

I found this robber fly perched in the prairie early Monday morning.  Although it was fairly breezy, the light was good enough to attempt a photo.  I’m glad I decided to give it a try.

Robber fly.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.
Robber fly. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.  You can always click photos to see a sharper version.

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have even considered attempting this photo.  When I was shooting with slow speed slide film, I loved the saturated color of Fuji Velvia, but every time I clicked the shutter it cost me about 34 cents in film/processing.  That kind of cost made me pretty leery of trying to photograph something like a flower that was blowing around in the wind.  A shot that came back blurry because the subject was moving too fast cost me just as much as a nice sharp image, so I couldn’t afford to “miss” very many times.  I would often take 3-4 versions of the same shot to make sure I got the exposure and focus correct, but even that was costing me about a dollar per good image.

This week, I photographed the above robber fly for about 5 minutes.  Within that time, I took 162 images.  The vast majority of those were blurry because the wind was swinging the fly and its perch so much I couldn’t focus and shoot fast enough to keep up.  I ended up with only a few sharp images in three different compositions.  Ten years ago, taking 162 photos would have meant about four and a half rolls of slide film and would have cost me about $44.  This week, it just meant I had to sort through 162 images to find the good ones – something that took just a few minutes.

Digital photography can sometimes make me a little lazy because it’s tempting to let some of the fundamentals of exposure and composition slide and try to fix things later with digital processing and cropping (though I usually don’t do much of that, and there’s still no substitute for getting it right in the field).  On the other hand, digital photography allows me to take risks that would have been unthinkable (or at least really expensive) in the old days.  Blurry photos don’t cost a thing now, and can often be deleted in the field.  Just as important, I can make sure I’ve got the shot I want before I leave, instead of discovering it days later when my slides come back from being processed.  Overall, it’s a pretty good time to be a photographer.

Just for fun, here are some of the other images from the brief photo session with the robber fly.

This one ended up relatively sharp...
This one ended up relatively sharp…

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...but I had 30 more that looked like this.
…but I had 30 more that looked like this.

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This one (like many others) was pretty fuzzy...
This one (like many others) was pretty fuzzy…

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...but this one isn't too bad.
…but this one isn’t too bad.

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Conservation Photography in the Digital Age

Conservation photographers play a critical role in world of conservation.  They combine nature photography, photojournalism, and advocacy to draw the public’s attention to the most critical environmental issues in today’s world.  Unfortunately, it’s getting harder for conservation photographers to make a living.  That could have serious consequences, especially in light of the growing urbanization of the general public.

Conservation photography can be a lonely profession, but plays a critical role in conservation.  Ty Smedes at The Nature Conservancy's Broken Kettle Grasslands - Northwest Iowa.
Conservation photography can be a lonely profession, but plays a critical role in conservation. Ty Smedes at The Nature Conservancy’s Broken Kettle Grasslands – Northwest Iowa.

In some ways, photography is getting easier, and it’s certainly accessible to more people than it used to be.  Today’s cheap digital cameras have many features that, just a few decades ago, were found only on very expensive high end cameras.  As a result, novice photographers can often capture great photos from situations that used to flummox the most veteran of photographers.  In addition, of course, nearly everyone carries a camera with them, nowadays – most often in their phone – so being in the right place at the right time (with a camera) is a much more common occurrence than it used to be. 

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