Confessions of a Data-Starved Scientist/Photographer

Here’s a sign that I’ve been spending too much time in meetings, and not enough time working on science projects.  Apparently, I’m getting a little desperate for some data to analyze…

The other night, I found myself idly wondering how many photos I take in a year.  “What the heck,” I thought, and went back through my files and counted the number of photos I took in 2012.

.     Total # of photos taken in 2012 = 11,151

This image of prairie four o'clock (Mirabilis nyctaginea) was one of about 310 photos I took on June 7, 2012.
This image of prairie four o’clock (Mirabilis nyctaginea) was one of about 310 photos I took on June 7, 2012.

Then, because I’m a huge dork, I looked at the “data” in a few different ways..

.     70 photo batches from 2012

.     # of photos per batch ranged from 2 to 469.

.     Average # photos/batch = 159

Of course, not all of those photos were good enough to keep.  I often take 3-4 shots of a particular composition to make sure I get the light, depth of field, sharpness, etc. just right.  I also often try several different compositions of each subject because I’m not sure which I like best at the time.  As a result, I end up doing a lot of sorting through photos to pick out the ones I actually like enough to keep and use for publications or other projects.

.     # of “keeper” photos in 2012 = 1,071

Here's another photo from the same day as the image above.  June 7 was a good day.  I ended up with 62 keeper photos - about a 5:1 ratio of photos shot to keepers.  (Can you believe I went through the trouble to figure that out??)
Here’s another photo from the same day as the image above. This one is a dogbane beetle on a dogbane plant.  June 7 was a pretty good day – not only did I shoot over 300 images,  I ended up with 62 keepers – about a 5:1 ratio. (Can you believe I went through the trouble to figure that out??)

The ratio of all photos to keeper photos in 2012 was about 10:1.  Interestingly, I think that’s about the same ratio as when I first started getting serious about photography in the early 1990’s.  I was shooting slide film then, and always figured I was doing pretty well if I could get 3-4 publishable images out of a roll of 36 slides.

Since I was on a roll, and weirdly enjoying the process, I decided to look at how many “keepers” I’d taken in a couple other years – to see if the number was similar between years.

.   # of Keeper Photos from:

.        2011 – 957

.        2010 – 913

.        2009 – 1,113

I did NOT go back and count ALL the photos I’d taken in the years 2009-2011. (That would just be crazy.)  I also didn’t take the time to graph the results – – though I admit to considering it…

What does all of this mean?  Not a dang thing, really, but it gave my data-loving brain something to occupy it for about an hour.  Maybe tonight I’ll count how many times I chew my food at supper or something…

Boy, I hope the field season comes soon.

If you want to see a sample of some of my favorite “keeper” photos from 2012, you can click here to see my December 19 post, which included my best photos from the year.

Frosty Morning Walk

We got our first real snow of the season last week.  Early Friday morning, I braved the icy roads and made it to our Platte River Prairies in time for a sunrise walk.  It was a beautiful morning.  The temperature was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but there was only a very slight breeze, so it didn’t feel cold – especially after walking through 2 foot snow drifts for a while.

Snowy prairie in the pre-dawn light.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.
Snowy prairie in the pre-dawn light. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

I walked across snow-covered prairie to one of our restored wetlands, where a dozen or so ducks flushed off a small bit of open water.  A real duck biologist would have been able to identify them by their calls, but their silhouettes against the pink horizon didn’t give me enough to go on.

Not much else was moving around.  I didn’t even see many tracks in the snow, apart from those of a few small birds that had been feeding on fallen seeds from sunflowers and prairie cordgrass.  I walked around the wetland as the sun came up, enjoying the quiet and taking some photos of frosty wetland plants.

Frost-covered wetland plants stick out from the ice on a frigid but pleasant winter morning.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.
Frost-covered wetland plants stick out from the ice on a frigid but pleasant winter morning. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

As I walked back to my vehicle, I thought I heard sandhill cranes calling in the distance, but I might have been imagining things.  There have been a few thousand cranes hanging around this winter, but I haven’t seen them for the last week or so.  An immature eagle flew overhead, flapping steadily as though it had somewhere to be and didn’t want to be late.  Just a few feet away, a meadowlark flushed out of the snow and flew about 30 yards to a short perch in the grass.  I bent down to see where it had come from and found a meadowlark-sized hole.  The hole led into a “den” formed by an air pocket in the snow beneath a clump of tall grass.  I took my glove off and put my hand down into the still-warm hiding place.

Eventually, I reached my parking place, shucked off my snow-crusted coveralls, and picked up my cell phone to join a conference call – only a few minutes late.  It was time to get back to work.

Here are a few more photos from the frozen wetland.

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