There hasn’t been a lot of opportunities to go out and find beautiful, wintery landscapes to photograph recently. Temperatures have also been staying quite cold so I’ve taken this opportunity to capture more snowflakes under the camera lens whenever a few flakes have fallen and have been having a lot of fun doing it. A previous post with more snowflake photos can be found here.
Some snowfalls don’t produce much for interesting snowflakes while at other times there are so many to choose from that they can’t all be photographed before blowing away or disappearing. Yes, they disappear even in very cold weather. I can only assume it’s due to the very dry air near the ground causing these delicate ice crystals to evaporate.
The many different shapes and make up of these ice crystals continues to amaze me with each one I see. Some are so sharp and pointy while others are more rounded. It’s also fascinating to see the different stages of development of different snowflakes in each photograph that surrounds the larger one focused on. In some cases you can see the center of a developing snowflake that has fallen before growing larger. Other times seeing the different fragments that have broken off from a snowflake during its journey to the ground provide some great shapes.
At times there are multiple snowflakes frozen together such as in the picture above. On the longest branch there is the center of another developing snowflake frozen to the larger snowflake. In addition, the branch next to this one you can see the beginning of the center of another snowflake. One theory indicates these snowflakes collided on their trip from the clouds and merged together. I wonder if it’s possible these centers formed at the tip of these branches. Fun to discover regardless of how they were created. I hope you enjoy viewing these and also find it fascinating to see the different shapes they develop into.
Over the past couple of weeks snow has began to fall creating a beautiful white blanket covering the landscape. When looking out at this landscape it just looks like a white fluff everywhere that we have to shovel and drive over. Examining this white that covers everything shows some amazing micro formations, each one different from one another. Once again I’ve been trying to capture these snowflakes with a camera hoping to reveal the incredible structures many of these ice crystals possess.
Photographing them can be a bit of a challenge as it can be difficult to find a single snowflake in the camera among so many others with a macro lens because it is out of focus until the camera and lens are at just the right distance and then its unique and amazing shape begins to reveal itself as long as there is enough light reflecting from it. Once I find it in the camera it’s time to set up the tripod and again get the camera as close as I can and have the snowflake be in focus. These are sometimes difficult to get in sharp focus because their clear ice crystals so you don’t always realize if the snowflake is in focus or the sharp focus is behind it. And it’s such a small subject anyway which always makes things more challenging.
Before taking too many pictures it’s a good idea to make sure the snowflake is positioned correctly so the camera can pick up the detail in each segment. Once positioned well the camera needs to be adjusted to bring it into focus and stabilized so there is no movement in either the ice crystal or the camera otherwise everything becomes a little blurry. With everything finally set up its time to take the picture. Using the camera timer or remote shutter is a good idea as just the act of pushing the shutter button will most likely result in a little movement and a blurry photo.
One other element to photographing the incredible ice crystals is that is has to be done in the cold. This alone presents challenges. You need to acclimate the camera and lenses to the cold otherwise they can fog up and your out of luck getting good pictures so a little preparation ahead of time will help. Also you need to make sure you stay warm in order to successfully accomplish the fine movements necessary to capture a beautiful snowflake without breaking it. In addition what ever surface your using to hold the snowflake must be cold or it will melt before you can take the picture. Even with that wind can ruin the shot. Snowflakes are a subject that requires fairly quick reaction as they begin to break down within a short time of landing on the ground giving an hour or two to capture this great architecture created in the sky. With all of these challenges, snowflakes are a great source of amazement to view after they’re gone making them worth the effort to capture.
Temperatures begin to plummet and all that is living becomes brown and lifeless to the north in November. There begins to be less motivation to go out and enjoy the great outdoors in the cold without much to see at this time of year in Minnesota, however, there is one sight worth dressing up for the cold to see and that is sunrises and sunsets. We’ve had some spectacular days of both of these as November comes to a close. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to photograph many of these due to extra time at work but I’ve at least been able to spare a moment or two watching silently as the incredible colors begin to move across the sky. These photos may seem touched up but they are anything but. They are straight out of the camera so are as the camera interpreted them at that time. Sunsets and sunrises are just that colorful and vibrant at times in the fall months of the year.
At this time of year, with the sun so low in the sky, the show doesn’t end with this yellow source of light going below the horizon. In fact often it is just beginning! I did a post about this a year ago if you want to see how our fall sunsets progress. For sunrises the progression is reversed with the amazing rainbow of colors splashing across the sky ending with the sun rising above the horizon. In November it can begin about 45 minutes before the sunrise or end about 45 minutes after it sets in the afternoon. Yes, here it is still afternoon when the sun sets around 4:30 pm. One of the reasons for these colorful sky paintings has to do with having at least some clouds much of the time which reflect some of the suns light as it fades into night along with the low position of the sun in the sky. This happens quite quickly when we’re fortunate to have the right conditions so once the show begins it doesn’t last long.
These grebes may not be the most colorful of fowl but they are certainly an agile and active bird making for some entertaining bird watching. They’re almost always in motion weather they’re diving under water making the observer guess where they’ll surface next or preening their feathers providing a show to those watching. If there’s a flock of ducks around, there’s probably a grebe or two in the mix as well.
Spending some time sitting quietly will bring these birds a little closer so you can watch as they contort into positions that appear quite uncomfortable or even a little painful. These birds can amaze the observer with how they can fluff their feathers in an effort to dry them further after diving. It almost looks as though they are just out playing around in the water.
From time to time I would watch as a grebe spread its wings while swimming. Is this a simple act of drying them after spending time underwater, using them as a sail to move across the surface of a pond, or do they think they’re flying while swimming? A fun grebe game perhaps.
At other times a grebe would begin flapping its little wings so hard water would begin flying everywhere. Again I wondered why it would do this. Is it taking a shower this way or just playing around and motor boating? Maybe it’s showing off for other ducks around it. Either way it provided some interesting entertainment.
It wasn’t until I saw one of these grebes surface with a fish in its mouth that I realized what they eat. Often ducks dive for aquatic plants so that’s what I thought these were doing. They eat so fast it can be hard to tell what’s in their mouths. Fortunately cameras can photograph rather quickly allowing me to capture the photo below confirming that they eat fish. A grebe is certainly an interesting bird to watch for awhile if the opportunity presents itself. By the way, I believe these are Pied billed Grebes however their distinctive bill color is missing during the migration.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been in pursuit of ducks beginning to move south stopping by local lakes to rest and feed before moving on. In this particular area there have been flocks of hundreds of ducks making it very enticing to set up the camera and wait for them to move closer.
It’s been fun to photograph them and then try and identify what type of duck it is afterwards. This particular flock of ducks has included Widgeons, Gadwall, Mallards, Wood ducks, and one immature pintail. They sure are pretty to watch with the different colors and patterns as well as listen to. Each with a unique sound identifying the species further.
While most of the ducks on this particular lake seem to be widgeons there are some gadwalls mixed into the flock. I wasn’t sure at first if it was a different duck or if it was just an immature widgeon still coloring up. Looking further I noticed the bill on the gadwalls is darker than with widgeons. Also the white spot on the back of the duck is different and the head has slightly different colorations confirming a different species later identified as gadwalls. Ohh and they make a different sound which helped figure this out.
Included in all these ducks are, of course, mallards which tend to be very plentiful on most bodies of water in Minnesota and elsewhere. One of the nice things of having mallards around is other ducks see them and figure it’s a safe place to land with food available so join them. The mallard below was shaking off water after spending time under the surface looking for food.
One of the unique ducks in this particular flock is an immature pintail. I wasn’t completely sure of this immediately because the coloration is different from the others but not as well defined as the photos I was comparing it too. A couple of things that helped I.D. it was when it tipped into the water in search of food the tail was more of a point and more pronounced than the widgeons and gadwalls but still lacked the characteristic long pin tail giving these there name. Also the colors on it’s head, while not completely developed, still matched well with the pictures I was comparing it to leading me to figure out this is a young pintail. This duck has continued to stay with this flock for the past couple of weeks with no other pintails in sight.
I’ve definitely been enjoying photographing each of these different species and hopefully will be able to catch a few more before these lakes freeze over.
As fall has taken a strong hold of the Upper Midwest there are still some plants blooming away providing much needed food for bees and migrating butterflies. Mums are probably the most well known of these and are springing to life with their cool weather colors on a beautiful sunny day.
Another of fall’s splendors are cold hardy sedums producing small individual blooms massed together to form striking clusters of flowers able to attract pollinators from longer distances away.Their pointed petals and long anthers blend together giving a much softer appearance to those viewing from a distance.
Showing off their beautiful pinks and purples are asters coming to life this time of year bringing smiles to those searching for the few remaining blooms of the growing season. These seem to withstand the coldest of temperatures before succumbing to winters dominance arriving soon after. While the trees seem to be confused with ample rain and warmer than average temperatures combined with decreasing sunlight, the fall flowers are certain it is their time to bloom.
Another method of macro photography is to use a larger telephoto lens and zoom in until you get the composition you’re looking for. For the photograph above I set up a tripod with the camera and focused on this grouping of flowers. After taking a few test shots to make sure I liked the composition and the lighting was adequate for a fast enough shutter speed I just waited for a bee to come along in the exact position I was looking for. Seems simple enough, right?
But there’s a little more to the story. In order to get a picture with this composition the lighting needed to be right which only occurred for about an hour just before sunset so it took me two nights of setting up in this location to accomplish my goal. Setting up involved getting to this location about an hour before the light would hit these flowers, hiking into this spot which took about 15 minutes, and getting the tripod, camera, and lens put together in the same location with the right height. Above you see a test shot to make sure I liked the set up.
What’s not shown is there were multiple test shots where I adjusted the focus and shutter speed until I got to this point. While doing this there was a lot of second guessing. Would I even be able to get a bee in focus in the small area of focus to make this an interesting image? Was my shutter fast enough? How fast should it be? Do I want to stop the wings in flight or is it ok to have them blurry from their fast movement? Those questions were answered with a little patients. Once the sunlight moved to this area it didn’t take real long for a bee to make its way to these flowers. Using a remote shutter I started shooting away as the bee moved in and around these flowers. You can see it doesn’t take much to have the bee out of focus.
After reviewing those photos I determined I would stick with my setup and wait some more. Thankfully a few minutes later another bee entered my photograph and again it was out of focus plus this time it pulled the whole flower stem down changing the whole composition. I wasn’t going to adjust the camera for this because once this bee left and the flower stem bounced back up I would be going through the whole focusing again so I just waited for another bee.
Over the course of an hour several bees visited. Some where in focus and others were not but eventually I captured the photograph I was looking for – a bee hovering in front of an in focus flower. There was actually quite a bit of work involved but it was fun just to be out there amongst the bees and flowers watching as they moved from one flower to the next. It was also a good learning experience with a successful photo that matched what I had imagined ahead of time. In addition it was a nice summer evening on both nights and hummingbirds kept me entertained, or distracted depending on how you look at it.
Recently I’ve been out having fun with macro photography. Certainly this presents some different challenges but provides some great images. There’s multiple ways of accomplishing some of these close-ups and each provides a little different result. You can use macro lens designed for this type of photography or telephoto lenses zoomed in. Some people even use microscopes to get really close. My method of choice is to use a small telephoto lens with extension tubes for these images. Extension tubes allow you to get quite a bit closer to whatever you are photographing for some really close-up photographs.
Some of the challenges for this type of photography are getting adequate lighting, acquiring the right focus as the focus area becomes substantially smaller, and maintaining your desired composition. Lighting can be a challenge because your lens is so close to your subject that it blocks out light. Be careful of your camera placement or your own shadow may be in the picture.
For these images of Black Eyed Susans, here’s my setup: I move my camera around using the screen to compose a potentially interesting photograph until I find where I want to take the picture from and then I set up a tripod to position my camera in that location. Once I’m all set up I plug in a remote release so there is a little camera shake as possible and wait for good light as on this day there were clouds passing by. There was also some wind blowing around the flowers so I waited until they would stop moving after a gust. Also, I did this in the middle of the day as morning or evening light would reduce the amount of light for a sharp picture. I snapped the first photo and checked to see that the focus is where I want it. If it’s not, an adjustment to the shutter speed or aperture can help especially if your lucky and an insect enters the flower such as a couple of them seen here.
A few weeks ago the Perseid meteor shower was expected to peak providing a possible meteor every minute burning through the night sky. For the best viewing, the darkest sky possible is required so we took a road trip to the North Shore of Minnesota and settled in for a great, however short, astronomical show as a near full moon would be rising about an hour after total darkness descended across the horizon. As the sky grew increasingly dark I worked the camera to capture this annual event. Yes, the Perseid meteor shower occurs every summer near the beginning of August.
While taking in the meteors buzzing across the blackened sky I wanted to make another attempt at photographing the Milkyway as I’ve spent some time earlier in the summer trying to get a photo showing the arc produced across the sky by the Milkyway if there is enough darkness. Finally I successfully accomplished that with a photo that shows some of the amazing colors available in the night sky with the help of distant northern lights glowing on the horizon and a few city lights off in the distance.
While photographing the Milkyway, many of these photos caught a meteor or two and sometime more streaking across the sky. They may be a little difficult to see in these photos but if you look hard enough, especially in the one directly above here, you can see them. I can see as many as four in the photo just above but the sky is a little too bright to make them out easily. Unfortunately the best ones were not caught by my camera. There were a few that crossed almost the entire visible night sky leaving a trail of light for more than a second. In what seemed like a matter of minutes the moon began rising lighting up the whole star filled sky making it much more difficult to see these meteors however the brightest ones still left a bolt of light as they flew through the universe. While this may not produce the same excitement as a total solar eclipse it is still worth trying to view on a nice summer night. Just be prepared for mosquitoes if they exist where you are.
While getting ready to enjoy an evening of Fireworks to end the day of Independence Day celebrations another type of fireworks began. Storms off in the distance began displaying beautiful cloud lighting which became a distraction from fireworks being set off from the ground. It was a difficult choice deciding which one to watch as they were going off at the same time and both were interesting and beautiful to watch.
Most of the time I tried to pay attention to those being set off by nearby cities anticipating these approaching storms would continue after their fireworks were done. I did keep an eye on local radar just to make sure we weren’t in danger of storms catching us before the ground fireworks were complete. Once they ended I decided to drop off the family in the safety of our home and head out with the camera and try to capture this amazing display in the sky. Expecting rain to begin within 20 minutes of setting up I moved quickly to get the camera settings and focus correct and attempted to photograph some of this lightning. As it turned out the rain stayed away for over an hour while the lightning continued to flash in the sky resulting in some nice images.