More from the yard. Everything was shot with the legacy OM 90mm f2 macro except for the amanita.
My husband is used to it by now. If I see something, I can’t sit still until I shoot it. Sometimes just a new idea about how to shoot something will obsess me until I do it. Or the light will change and something will lure me off my chair. Our hanging out on the deck time is often punctuated by me coming and going with the camera. Just the other day though, we had a visitor –
I decided to leave the manual 90mm macro on just to see if I could work with it and a moving subject. It was challenging, but not impossible. The detail at this ISO (1000) is pretty amazing. Some of the softness is grass extremely close to the lens and out of focus. I just wasn’t able to get a lot of that out of the way for fear of scaring it. Never before have I had such an easy time with a garter snake. It was aware of me, but not frightened. I didn’t shoot it the whole time, but just watched it move and investigate a small section of my yard.
Some of our visitors join us right on the deck, like this little shieldbug –
Isn’t he great? The colors just knock me out. Check out his little pink legs! You know you’re a photographer when a bug lands on the deck and you run in for the camera. Another shieldbug came by yesterday, but it was too active to shoot – it crawled all over the place then flew off, crashed into the house, bounced off and landed in the lawn. Who knew bugs could be so entertaining? This earlier one posed for me quite happily though. When I was a kid we called them stinkbugs.
Then there was this mayfly that came by in June –
I love the detail in this shot. All the different structures and formations. I learned that mayflies do not have mouth parts and thus do not eat. The adults exist only to breed. And to serve as models for fly fishermen. The golden mayfly is the largest of the species and from head to the base of the body (not including that long whippy tail) it’s about 1 and 1/4 inches. It stayed on the screen door for more than 24 hours before I decided to send it on its way. I mean, no other mayflies were hanging out so it needed to find where the party was.
The mushroom population is a little thin this year, but this beauty is gracing us with its presence now. I’m no expert, but I think it might be an amanita farinosa.
This next shot is a couple weeks old. It’s a very common weed, but like many plants we call weeds, it can be very beautiful (especially after it rains, which was when I took this image). This one always catches my attention because the yellow is so very pale and soft. Not like garden loosestrife, St. John’s Wort, Butter-n-eggs and some other yellow flowers.
But nature isn’t all wonderful all the time. It’s rough out there for some. When I first spied this tiny bird’s egg by my walk, I was delighted. I love finding signs of new life and activity. Then I turned over one section and found the yolk still intact. Instant sadness.
It is all part of a much larger cycle though and within a few hours all traces of the yolk were gone. Ants found it and made short work of it. Some of those ants will feed a bird or two or other creatures that birds eat.
What kind of egg is it? I thought it would be pretty easy to ID, but lots of little birds make tiny speckly eggs. My best guess is titmouse. It’s about the size of my thumbnail – a little larger than a dime.
Yesterday I found something very cool in the yard, but I haven’t photographed it yet, so you’ll have to wait for the surprise.
Yesterday on the return leg of a hike up some small mountains in southern NH, I spied this beauty on a striped maple. It’s a rare and wondrous luna moth and the backlight was a bonus. Judging by the bushy and feathery antennae, it’s probably a male. It had newly emerged from the cocoon and was at its most vulnerable stage; pumping up those glorious wings. It was so fuzzy that I wanted to touch it, but didn’t. Just look at those purple legs! Tremendous. I felt so privileged to have found and photographed him.
I was so excited because it’s only the 2nd one I’ve ever seen. A bit of research turned up the usual fact of human poisoning of the world and they are now an endangered species in my state as a result. Hopefully our last-minute conservation efforts can bring them back from the brink.
Another thing I learned is that they are only found in the eastern half of North America and, depending on the latitude, have one to three broods each year. In the north, the first brood is in May while in the south it is in March. Each brood is marked by a change in color to the upper and lower borders of the wings. First broods usually being pink or lilac, second and third more orange or yellow. The southern specimens are smaller than the northern whose wingspans can reach 4 1/2 inches. They only fly at night.
One of the more puzzling and intriguing things about them is they seem to exist primarily for their larvae stage, since the adults only live about a week and have no mouths and thus cannot eat. I wondered for a while just where this beauty came from since it’s early in the season and since it’s obvious the adults could not possibly have over-wintered or migrated anywhere. The cocooned caterpillar did the overwintering. If it pupates too close to winter it waits until spring to emerge where it will eat and eat and eat, eventually going through 5 separate instar stages before the final transformation into the stunning adult.
Nature always surprises and enchants me, but somehow this also made me sad, thinking of those mysterious night fliers, doomed to their short lives. It shouldn’t, but it does.
This idea has been rolling around in my head for some time. Months maybe, certainly weeks. I like the idea of it even though my back does not. Have you heard the term before? I think I must have picked it up somewhere since I’m not the type to go around coining phrases. It has definite parameters for me though. A solid definition.
For example this is a microscape
and this is not
Do you see the difference? No? Kinda?
Well it’s the inclusion of the ground, certainly. Like a true landscape a microscape needs to include land. Also like a good landscape, it must have depth. Foreground, midground and background. A path for the eye to travel. Scope. Perspective. It all plays a part. A mere close up (I do tons of these, so I’m not dumping on them, just differentiating) isn’t the same. See?
Most landscapes include sky, too. Should a microscape? Can they? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Because of the perspective, many won’t and I think that’s ok. When a microscape can include sky though, it’s pretty damn great if I do say so myself.
What is micro anyway? How big a field of view should a microscape be limited to? Is it really perspective I’m talking about? For me it’s both. A real microscape can only be captured on the ground. If you can stoop, squat or stand it doesn’t qualify. Too much height. Too much background. I want intimacy. I want secretiveness. I want to be shown something I wouldn’t normally see strolling around. Remember that awesome scene in Glen Garry, Glenross when Alec Baldwin’s character yells at Jack Lemmon’s character to put that coffee down? (click here if you haven’t, it’s brilliant) Well, put that camera down! On the ground that is. For me, this shot shows the limit –
Simultaneously it is intimate and encompassing. It shows scale not only of the mushroom, but of the forest in which it lives. The perspective is ultra low, actually looking up at the mushroom, but includes no sky. Sure, I could have gone tighter, and I think some of those are on the discard pile, but this one conveys more story than just a narrow portrait of a mushroom from ground level.
As the outlines and confines of the microscape coalesce in my imagination I find myself on the fringes. As I go through my catalog to tag photos, I find the ones on the edge. Fence-sitters. Borderline cases. Almosts and wannabees. For example, is this a microscape?
It has land in it. It’s low to the ground. It’s certainly intimate. Alas however, the perspective is wrong. Oh sure you can have a successful landscape looking down from above, but a microscape, no. At least not to me. These are my rules I make ’em up.
What about this one? The perspective is right – it’s low down. It has a foreground and a background. It has sky. But does it have too much scope?
It’s definitely a borderline case. While I wouldn’t necessarily argue with you if you decided to tag it as a microscape, I’m not going to. At least not yet. As the concept evolves in my head, maybe I will.
Can wildlife be part of a microscape? Sure, but first they have to be tiny and second they have to be in harmony with the rules of the microscape. The ground needs to be there and the perspective, but also background. Showing the environment in which the creature lives is critical. I have plenty of close ups of spiders, moths and butterlfies, but precious few wildlife microscapes. These are basically the only ones I’ve found so far –
Why am I on about this? Well because I love doing them. I love the secret world just under our noses aspect of them. Here’s one I did the other day –
Yes, I know this is in the last post, but I think it’s marvelous for a couple of reasons. First is that foliage. Not what we usually picture when we think of fall foliage. Tiny trees change color, too. Second is the aspect…a miniature forest. Does it work like a full-scale forest? Does it have the equivalent of deer, squirrels and hikers? I have no idea, but I like imagining that it does.
I think it’s un-marvelous for a couple of reasons, too. Well kind of. One isn’t really a reason it’s a conflict. Is it too messy? I struggle with the messy nature of microscapes. On the one hand I think it’s inherent in wild areas and what makes them wild in the first place. These are not clipped, weeded, tended spaces. They just happen. Messy also keeps a microscape from being too twee if you know what I mean. Precious is another word for it. Cutesy, even. However, the other hand tells me that messy detracts from a photograph by distracting the viewer from the main subject. Yes, I’m guilty of removing extraneous debris from my close-ups and microscapes. As a photographer I’m compelled to do so. As an amateur naturalist I’m appalled by it. Why should I take it upon myself to distort, disrupt and alter what nature has so blithely arranged for me. For art? Is that what I’m making here? Art? Or is it a documentary? Just what the hell am I trying to convey?
Firstly I want to show what captivates me about these miniature landscapes. Why they fascinate me. Is neatening them up the photographic equivalent of a lie? Would a painter approach it the same way? Does adding things or removing things make the photo dishonest? Maybe, but not doing so can make for a bad photo and if it’s a bad photo no one will look at it or appreciate it for what it is and so mission not accomplished. So I guess I will be looking for balance in my future microscapes. Leaving what gives it authenticity, removing what distracts the eye.
Secondly I’m looking for my signature as a photographer. Everyone and their second cousin once removed is a “landscape photographer”, but how many of them are “microscape photographers”? Precious few. I couldn’t find one other person who used the tag on flickr. I’m sure there are pictures that qualify, but the term isn’t used. And I don’t know how many people work on them. I mean really work. Craft is perhaps a better term. Here’s one from earlier this year that I definitely crafted.
I moved sticks and leaves that created bright spots and distractions. I moved around and got just the right OOF background flower. I deliberately left the stick by the base of the main flower because I think it’s a strong natural frame. The aperture I used is mid-lens to blur, but not render unrecognizable the other flower. Overall it’s messy, but deliberate and I think it’s a strong image because of it.
Maybe it was my Lily of the Valley project that got me thinking this way. When I made a camera rest out of a couple bags of barley I could finally get the perspective I craved. Low. Mouse eye level. Not really macro photography in the purist sense, but close-up, intimate portraits of life down low. There are plenty of macro photographers out there hunting bugs and dewdrops, but that’s a different art altogether from what I’m trying to do. I guess I’ll have to wait to know if I’m successful.