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Photo/Haiku of the Day – Prairie Ghost

The Prairie Ghost

Swift ghost of the prairie

shepherding harem and young

As winter’s despair beckons

Pronghorn Buck - Antilocapra americana

Custer State Park’s famed “Wildlife Loop” never disappoints, but it’s just after dawn when the magical moments occur. Pronghorn are often seen in Custer State Park, but they are typically easier to spot in the early morning hours, before most visitors start to arrive in the park. On this morning, a harem of perhaps 6 females and their young-of-the-year surprised me by cresting a nearby hill. They then slowly worked their way towards me as they grazed, unconcerned about the photographer in the parked car. Last to crest the hill was the big male, the protector of the little band. I watched for 15 minutes as the herd fed in the adjacent grasslands. As they slowly moved on down the hill, the trailing buck paused for a moment to give me a stare.  I evidently passed his judgement, and he then trotted off after his harem as they disappeared around the bend.  The grasslands were still lush from a wet and bountiful summer and forage was good, but the leaves were beginning to change, and a harsh South Dakota winter was just around the corner.

Macro Mania

As a bird photographer I don’t put on my macro lens very often, but I got it out this afternoon to take some macro photos of the batch of Mexican Crazy Lace agates that I got this past week. Before I started tumble polishing them, I wanted to record what they look like in their natural state. When you zoom in extremely close like this, you can really see the beauty. It boggles my mind that these gorgeous patterns are all made by nature…such variety, such cool patterns, such wonderful colors.

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace AgateMacro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace AgateMacro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

More Macro Madness

Someone told me there are still creatures out there.  Beautiful creatures, flying around.  With feathers.  I believe these creatures are called “birds”. When I’ve gone out to take photos lately, every once in a while as I’m staring intently at a tiny patch of ground or scouring an individual leaf for a buggy critter to photograph, I hear one, or even see one. Maybe someday I’ll try taking a photograph of one.

In short…I’m still having fun with my new macro lens! One of the things that attracted me to birds when I first started in photography 15 years ago was the sheer variety.. Particularly as a “new” birder and photographer, you just never knew what you might come across on a given trip.  That’s obviously the case with macro photography.  I’m finding I never go more than a few miles from our house, and indeed, many times I never leave our yard.  There’s just so much to explore and photograph when you “think small”.

Some more recent macro photos below:

Non-biting Midge, Genus Axarus, Species Group festivusHarvestman speciesSpotted Cucumber Beetle - PhotoLeaf Beetle - Paria Species - PhotoMonarch Butterfly Caterpillar - PhotoPhoto of Ambush BugLeafcutter Bee - MegachileCarpenter Ant, tending aphidsPhoto of Garden SpiderPhoto of Clouded Plant Bug - NeurocolpusClouded Sulphur - Butterfly - PhotoCoenagrionidae DamselflyTiger Crane Fly - Nephrotoma

 

The “eyes” have it!

Insect eyes

The “money shot”, getting critical focus and attention on an insect’s head and eyes. This is a crop, showing a small part of the entire image, yet you can still see incredible detail in a feature on an insect’s head that can’t be more than a millimeter or two in size.

Eye contact.  There’s just something about photography, and eyes.  Many times you can have the most technically perfect photo possible, but it still may fail in the eyes of a viewer if the main subject isn’t making eye contact with the camera.

It’s awfully hard to tell whether an insect is making eye contact with you!!  However, the success or failure of a macro shot of an insect is also heavily influenced by how well you captured the eye. I have a friend at work who is also heavily into photography.  He doesn’t shoot birds or macro, yet when I started showing him photos of what I’ve been doing with the new lens, he immediately said “zoom up, let’s see the detail in that eye!!”.  When shooting macro, you have such a tiny, tiny depth-of-field (the portion of the image that’s in focus).  In most cases, the photographer needs to decide what part of the photo is going to have critical focus, and what parts are going to be blurred.  And in most cases, the choice of the photographer is easy…put the critical focus on the eyes and head.

Thus, the choice to show a variety of buggy eyes for this morning’s post!  Many of these insects are tiny little critters, half an inch long or less, so these photos don’t represent the full-frame shot from my Canon 70D and Canon 100mm 2.8L IS lens.  These are all “cropped” shots, yet it gives you some indication of the detail you can extract with this set up, when a zoomed-up, cropped photo of an insects eye shows such good detail.

As always, click on any photograph for a larger view.

Insect eyes Insect eyes Insect eyes Insect eyes Insect eyes

A macro kind-o-day

A hover fly on a thistle bloom.  These guys aren't very big, but it gives you a good idea of the kind of image you can get with just the "base" Canon 100mm 2.8L IS lens, with no additional extension tubes, teleconverters, or close-up filters.  A real joy of a lens to use!

A hover fly on a thistle bloom. These guys aren’t very big, but it gives you a good idea of the kind of image you can get with just the “base” Canon 100mm 2.8L IS lens, with no additional extension tubes, teleconverters, or close-up filters. A real joy of a lens to use!

Alright this is too fun.  As I often do, I slipped out of the house very early Sunday morning to get a little birding in.  The plan was just to stay in the local area, hoping to find some migrating shorebirds.  I headed west of Sioux Falls, and while there were shorebirds scattered around in various locations, I wasn’t having a speck of luck in terms of photographing them.

Macro to the rescue!  Not wanting to come home empty handed of photos, I spent an hour or so photographing little critters.  While birds may or may not be cooperative, depending upon the day, I’m quickly finding that it’s pretty easy to find a willing subject shooting insects with my macro lens.  About 5 minutes after I decided to try to shoot macro, I came across a patch of purple flowers (aster(?), along with some scattered thistle and clover) growing along the side of the road.  I pulled over and ended up spending most of the next hour sitting along the side of the road by one small patch of flowers.

Consperse Stink Bug

A (Consperse?) Stink bug on a thistle bloom. A week ago, before getting the new macro lens, I never would have imagined I’d be out on the internet, trying to identify the exact species of stink bug I was seeing!

Given that I’m still new to shooting buggies, I’m sure I’ll adapt in terms of the kinds of areas I choose to shoot, but for now as I’m learning, it’s hard to beat a nice patch of flowers.  There are of course all the different pollinators, and I’m also quickly learning just what a variety of pollinators there are! I’m having a hard time putting a name to a lot of them at this stage, other than “honeybee”, “bumblebee”, or…”buggy-like thing”.  The diversity, color, and beauty of these little critters is certainly blowing me away though.

It’s not just pollinators I’m trying to shoot.  I’ll gladly take any willing subject that crosses my path.  This same flower patch also was chock-full of very young grasshoppers, of at least 2 or 3 different species.  Milkweed bugs were around, as were a few other beetles, stinkbugs, ants, and others.  A cornucopia of photography subjects!  And for the most part, such willing subjects compared to birds!

What started out as a birding and bird photo day, saved by macro buggies!  Click on the images for larger views.

BeetleGrasshopperDifferential GrasshopperHoneybeeMilkweed BugEastern Forktail

New Toy! And a new brand of my hobby?

Blowfly and flower

Literally one of the first few photos I took with the new lens. WHAT A LENS. The sharpness is wonderful, and I was thrilled beyond belief to be able to get such a “close” photo my first time out with it.

I have a Canon 70-200mm 4.0L lens that I’ve had for probably 10 years.  It’s an awesome lens, extremely sharp, particularly given that zooms typically aren’t as sharp as prime lenses.  The problem is that I never use it!  Well, rarely ever.  Given that I mostly shoot birds, I nearly always have my 400mm lens on the camera.  On the rare occasion I shoot landscapes (or people!), the 70-200 is too long, so I typically have on my wide angle.  The 70-200 thus only really gets used on rare occasions that I should large animals other than birds, like when we go to Yellowstone.

Well, we live 14 hours away from Yellowstone, and while we have been there a few times in recent years, it’s not exactly an every day occasion!  The lens may be 3 years between being used!  I had always wanted to try macro shooting, so finally wised up, put the 70-200mm out on eBay, and bought a Canon 100mm 2.8L IS macro lens.  I had dreams of getting some wonderful insect photos like I’ve seen other people shoot with macro!  Given what my first bird photos looked like when I started 15 years ago though, I expected there to be a very steep learning curve.  I expected my initial images to look, well…pretty bad, until I got used to the new lens and learned how to use it.

Bumblebee on bloom

A bumblebee on a flower. This isn’t even close to as close as I could have been, but I didn’t want to get too close shooting this guy. To give you some idea of the capabilities of this lens, later I tried a little sweat bee, and was able to use the lens to get close enough to have a sweat bee fill a big chunk of the frame. I didn’t expect to be able to get such small bugs in such detail.

The lens came today, and I went out in the back yard in search of insects to try it on.  All I have to say about this lens is…HOLY CRAP!  For someone that has never shot macro, the capabilities of this lens have blown me away on day one!  It has a reputation of being one of the sharpest lenses Canon offers, and I certainly have no complaints after my first photos with it.  I knew the lens was a “true” macro lens, capable of 1:1 photos (capturing a real-life object at the same size on the image sensor), but WOW, I didn’t expect to be able to get such great, close, detailed photos of small insects, without the use of extension tubes, close-up lenses, or other attachments people often use for macro.

I’m not a “buggy” person, in that I do NOT like insects or spiders in my house!  But tonight I was in hot pursuit of whatever I could find.  I ended up just sitting in the grass next to a flower bed, and trying to shoot what came by.  I’m pretty sure the species of fly shown here is some kind of blowfly?  Shooting like this sure opens up a new world.  Bugs may be “icky” to many (including me most of the time!), but I was kind of blown away by the subtle beauty and detail that I was able to get with this lens.

I already have WAY too many hobbies.  I fear that after today, macro photography may join bird photography as a hobby.  The nice thing about it…at least outside of winter, you’re ALWAYS going to have some creepy-crawlies right in your own yard that you can shoot!  I’m really looking forward to more use of this lens, and seeing what it can do.

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