Thursday, September 15, 2011

A photo at every turn

Whenever I get a free moment I often grab my camera and go for a walk. I head out not knowing what I'll be shooting, let alone what I will find. A recent outing to a local environmental reserve proved to be very prosperous for several reasons. Beginning with the abundance of photo opportunities and culminating in the idea for this article.

The Osborne Kellogg homestead is a local museum and historical garden with an adjacent environmental preserve in Derby, Connecticut. The majority of the property has become a public park and in one section there are hiking trails that wind around a small pond. On first look the land looks overgrown and unkept. High grasses and wildflowers abound, obscuring the narrow trails that wind into and through the grounds.

I have never hiked these trails before and with camera in hand I headed onto the path. Since my goal was to spend no more than an hour, I decided to travel light. All I took with me was my Canon 7D with Sigma 120-400mm telephoto zoom lens. I also brought my trusty Manfrotto monopod with me which proved to be handy on several occasions.

The first thing I noticed was the sound of the birds in the trees. While I could hear them, I could not see them. It took me some time to acclimate myself to the surroundings before my senses shifted gear from city-slicker to nature hiker. Within a short time though, I found myself picking up on other sounds. I soon realized that there were lots of bees doing their thing in the flowers around me. There were literally millions of them all over the place.

Now that I was getting into my surroundings it was time to start taking pictures.

Ten feet into the property there were plenty of wild flowers growing all over the place. I took a few shots -- ehh -- moved on. Further up the trail I noticed some bird houses and snapped a few frames. I checked to see if there were any occupants but sadly they were empty.

Aside from the bees I also noticed there were plenty of grasshoppers jumping about. I got lucky as one of them jumped in front of me and landed a few feet away in the tall grasses. I crouched down and took a few exposures, carefully creeping in closer to get this shot.

As I was crouched there I happened to turn around and came face to face with some flowers. The light was coming in from behind them and I trained the camera on them. This is the resulting image from that encounter.

Duck_181Besides the bees and grasshoppers, the only other insects I spotted were butterflies. There were a couple fluttering around and after giving up a few time I was able to finally get a shot.

By this time I am now approximately a hundred yards into the property. The bees are busy, the grasshoppers are jumping and the birds are singing. I catch sight of a grasshopper as he jumps in front of me. I try to position myself to get a closer shot and in the process I scare it off. As grasshoppers tend to do, it jumped at a crazy angle away from me and as I followed it's path away from me I spotted this little black and yellow creature...

Duck_183Beyond the fields, the path entered into some wooded area. A large fallen tree blocked the path, a victim of hurricane Irene. Using my mono-pod for balance I climbed over the obstacle and proceeded through the trees.

Not liking the light caused by the tree canopy, I moved quickly through the woods until the path came out onto the field of wildflowers again. I now found myself on the other side of the pond.

Duck_184Right outside the tree line I paused to capture these little flowers draping down. A little further a yellow butterfly was flitting from flower bunch to flower bunch. After chasing it a while I was able to get this nice profile shot.

Duck_186Turning around I found this bee making his way along these little yellow flowers. After taking this shot I stood up to stretch and look around. As I was surveying the area I caught sight of something on my shoulder. Apparently on my way through the woods I had picked up a hitch hiker--a small black and yellow caterpillar.

Duck_185I took him off my shoulder and found some tall grasses to place him on. I watched in fascination as this little critter made his way along the stems, feeling his way on these ridiculously thin plants. I finally snapped out of my stupor and took several frames. Then this little guy made this awesome and daring reach outward and, after several attempts, caught hold of an adjacent grass stem. I think this is my favorite image from this whole expedition.

Feeling self satisfied I headed out of the field toward the entrance. It was here that I noticed there were may dragonflies buzzing back and forth, back and forth, over the wildflowers. I tried in vain to get some good shots but by this time I was feeling the heat of the sun. I also made the mistake of not taking any water with me. Talk about being prepared... But in my defense, I had intention on spending that much time out in the fields. It just happened that I got caught up with all the activity.

Having failed at getting the dragonflies, I decided to get back to my truck. Up to this time I had been concentrating on the small world of insects. Once I had cleared the fields and was back among the shade trees I startled some birds from their roost. Stopping to gather my thoughts, I slowly made my way along the path, camera to eye, lens to the trees. I was rewarded by several great shots of the birds playing in and among the branches of the trees along the pond's banks.

Overall I spent about one and a half hours on this hike. Within that short amount of time I came away with more photos than I expected. Realizing what I had come away with I felt this experience was a great lesson to share with my readers. So next time you think you have nothing to photograph, simply head outdoors and take a closer look at your surroundings. You'll be amazed at the abundance of life you will find there.

On a technical note, all these photos were taken using only one lens. It's a great way to become familiar with your equipment and a great way to find a workaround to the limitations of only having one lens. The long focal range and tight field of vision of the Sigma lens offered its own challenges. Rather than worry about what the lens couldn't do, I played to the lens's strengths. I hope you enjoy the results.

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