44th Parallel Photography’s Photo of the Week is Queen Anne’s Lace. It’s in full bloom so grab your camera and get shooting. You won’t be disappointed!
Click on the image below to see the Photo of the Week.
During dinner tonight, I was thinking about today’s blog post on wildflowers, realizing that I hadn’t spent nearly as much time photographing our local wildflowers as I usually do. It’s just been that kind of year – lots of challenges and distractions and as a result, fewer photo opps. I noticed during dinner that the evening light was approaching golden and that now was the time to get out and shoot. And so I did! It was time to practice what I was preaching, which is practice, practice, practice! I have to say that I’m glad I followed my own advice. The wildflowers on our property won’t be here forever. The species in bloom now will go to seed soon and others will bloom in late summer and early fall. But if I want photos of daisies and brown-eyed susans and the like, now’s the time.
Here is a selection of photos from tonight’s shoot. They range from quite literal to completely abstract and everything in between. All I can say is, man, that was fun! 🙂 I hope you enjoy my images.
Can you tell daisies are the most abundant flower on our property? 😉
My commute to work 3 days a week is 1 hour and 20 minutes each way (the other two days of the work week, I telework from home). Thankfully, an hour of my commute is on two lane country highways. The back roads, I call them. Although my commute is long (by other people’s standards. I think it’s ok), I love my hour-long drive to the outskirts of Ottawa. At 5:45 am, there isn’t a whole lot of traffic on the road. And I get to admire the scenery along the way. Let me tell you, when the sun is only just up, the scenery can be superb!!
One of my favourite things about the commute, this time of year, is slowly watching each of our local wildflower species appear. Some are native, some are introduced. Some are even considered invasive, such as Purple Loosestrife. But they are all beautiful and now part of our eastern Ontario landscape.
The Yellow-eyed (or Ox-eye) Daisies are out in full force, along with the Brown-eyed Susans. These are my two favourites. Not only are they pretty flowers, but they remind me of childhood, when I used to go for walks down the dirt road at our cottage and come back with a bouquet of wildflowers for Mum to put in the vase on our kitchen table. Those are fond memories.
Eastern Ontario and the northeastern U.S. offer a burst of wildflower blooms that starts in early summer. As soon as the temperatures warm up and the humidity increases, we see the beginning of the summer parade. Different species of plants have differently flowering phenologies, or timing of flowering. So at certain times of the summer, we see different species in bloom.
This is the start of a wonderful time for flower photography. The spring wildflowers that inhabit our mixed forests are done for the year. But the diversity of blooms that inhabit meadows, forest edges and roadsides are just beginning. This leaves us with no end of subjects for our flower photography. Right now is the perfect time to get out with your camera and macro lens to photograph the Daisies and Brown-eyed Susans. Vulper’s Bugloss is in bloom now. So are various species of Campion and Chicory. The plants of Queen Anne’s Lace and Yarrrow are big and busy and will soon burst into bloom.
This is a great time to experiment and let your creative juices flow. Shoot flowers from different angles. Sure, the blooms look pretty from above. But you can also get some great shots from side-on. I also love lying on my back, under the blooms, and shooting up from the base of the stem. Explore all kinds of different angles. Remember, if you’re shooting digital, you can afford to experiment. If you don’t like some of the images you made, simply hit the delete button and try again. It’s practice and only practice that will make you a better photographer. So capitalize on these abundant flower subjects to hone your skills.
Wildflowers are great subjects for trying your hand at photo-impressionism. Using a macro lens, you can get in tight and shoot through the blooms, which causes some of them to be out of focus. This can create a lovely, soft, even etherial feel to your image. If you’d like more information on some of the techniques you can use to create artistic and abstract flower images, please go to my website and download a free copy of my e-booklet on Fine Art Flower Photography. For more example of my flower images, visit my 44th Parallel Photography flower image gallery.
By mid summer, the Purple Loosestrife is in full bloom in meadows across eastern Ontario. Sadly, it is a very damaging invasive species that has outcompeted native vegetation in our wetlands. One of the things that contributed to its spread is its beauty. A few decades ago, some garden stores actually sold spikes of Purple Loosestrife that they had dug up from a nearby meadow. The delicate purple flower spikes are very attractive. Soon, many people had planted this beautiful flower in their gardens and from there, it spread across the province like wildfire. Thankfully, the sale of Purple Loosestrife has been outlawed. And the MNR had made great headway into reducing Purple Loosestrife abundance by importing and releasing a beetle, which eats the plants back in its native Asia. But because this beetle is not native to Canada, it has to be introduced. This carries with it, its own risks. And because the beetle has not evolved in our climate and plant communities, it typically has to be released a number of times in order for populations to establish and eat their host plant. I remember coming back to eastern Ontario in the late nineties and noticing that the beetles had done their job in reducing Purple Loosestrife populations. I don’t know whether the control programme still continues, but it seems that this plant is nearly as abundant as it ever was. Despite its role as a damaging invasive, the plant is here to stay. And in mid to late summer, it can create spectacular shows of purple and pink in our meadows.
Because of its abundance in old fields and meadows across eastern Ontario, you can also experiment with use swaths of colour to create geometry in your compositions. Spend the time scouting, looking through your viewfinder to locate parts of the meadow that show patterns of colour. In the image below, I isolated alternating bands of purple, green and white from the Purple Loosestrife and Queen Anne’s Lace and other plants in the field.
These fields of Purple Loosestrife also provide a fun opportunity to play with techniques such as multiple exposure, to create a very abstract image.
Don’t forget to get out in all kinds of weather. Dull or rainy days will result in increased colour saturation and really make the colours pop!
And don’t be afraid to have fun with creative filters as well. Remember, you’re the artist! Make the images that you like. If you do, your passion will show and most likely, others will find your images attractive.
Don’t forget that there are also many non-flowering plants around that make great photography subjects. I love photographing our native ferns.
Whatever it is that grows along the roads in your area, I hope you get out to soon to photograph the various wildflowers and plants in bloom. For the next month or so, there will be no shortage of flowers to enjoy.
My answer is: I didn’t stick around long enough to find out!!
Ok, so now you’re probably wondering what the heck I’m going on about. But bear with me. I did (inadvertantly, I must stress) put my head on a big snake while out photographing this past weekend. Ah, the joys of nature photography.
This is what I set out to photograph:
But instead, this is what I ended up photographing:
Ok, so here’s my tale….
Last weekend we finally had nice, sunny, reasonably warm weather. This caused a rapid blooming of the forest wildflowers, which have been in bud for a while and I swear, have had their feet in the starting blocks, just waiting to take off when the weather warmed up a bit. And they did. They took off! So clearly, I needed to get out with my camera since the blooms will likely be short-lived this year.
I went to a place down our road where I had seen a native woodland plant, Dutchman’s Breeches, in flower. I really wanted to photograph them because, although I’ve seen them many times throughout my life, I have never had the opportunity to photograph them. So out I went.
I find one of the easiest ways to photograph wildflowers and other small things is to use a beanbag. I use an Apex bean bag. They are great for supporting your arms, head etc. when you’re in a tight spot, doing macro photography. Under those circumstances, I find a tripod way too unwieldy. They just make me grumpy because they constrain my image making too much. I either can’t get close enough to the ground or at the right angle or whatever. They make me growl. But I digress…
I put my bean bag in a little hollow on the ground, right beside a nice clump of flowers. The forest floor is still covered with crunchy, dead leaves from last fall. I put my bean bag on the forest floor, just on top of this hollow, filled with dead leaves, and then proceeded to lie down on the ground, on my side, and put my head on the bean bag. I then held my camera very tight and rattled off some shots of the flower heads, taken from side on. I’d rattled off about 15 shots when for some completely unknown reason (well, unknown at the time….), I jumped up like a shot! I have NO idea what cued me in to do that. I don’t remember hearing or feeling anything. I just remember concentrating very hard on holding the camera steady and getting my flower shots. And then all of a sudden, something in my mind told me to get the hell up, and fast! And so I did.
Once I was up, I stood there, scratching my head and looking at my bean bag, wondering what the heck had just happened. About 3 seconds later, a big snake poked his head out from under my bean bag and began slithering along the ground and up a nearby tree.
I grew up in Ottawa, Ontario. The most common snake we have here is the Garter Snake. They are beautiful little snakes. Little snakes. Maybe about 18 inches at most. The snake that I had apparently been inadvertently using as a pillow was one I am very familiar with from my cottage days, back in the 70’s and 80’s. Our cottage was not far from where I live now, so I know they are in the area. The snake was an Eastern Gray Rat Snake (Pantherophis spiloides). Or Black Rat Snake, as we used to call them. There are only two populations of them in Ontario. The population here, on the Frontenac Axis, is listed by COSEWIC as threatened. The Gray Rat Snake is a beautiful snake. And also one of the biggest in Ontario. Perhaps the biggest. I know there is a small, isolated population of Massassauga Rattlesnakes up around Georgian Bay, but I think the Grey Rat Snake still takes the prize as the biggest in Ontario.
So HOW big? Well, the snake that I’d been lying on was 4 feet long and nearly 2 inches in diameter. For most Ontarians, that’s a BIG snake! Thankfully, Gray Rat Snakes are very docile (unlike Northern Water Snakes which are simply put, cantankerously inclined). So this big guy simply slithered out from under my bean bag, slithered along the ground and onto a nearby tree. Gray Rat Snakes are tree climbers. They eat bird’s eggs and baby birds, but will also eat frogs and mice and other tasty morsels that they can get their lips on.
I watched in aw as this huge snake nonchalantly slithered slowly up the tree trunk and into a cavity in the tree, where a big branch had once broken off and rotted out. Cool! He happily curled up in there, with just his head poking out occasionally, to see if I was still hanging around.
Of course, I was snapping shots like crazy! Once I regained my composure after what happened, it was clear I couldn’t let this moment go unphotographed. I had my macro lens on my camera and there was no time to change lenses. So I couldn’t get much of a full body shot or any perspective on how big the snake actually was. But I did get some nice shots of his head and upper body. They are truly beautiful snakes. I read that young Gray Rat Snakes have a more mottled pattern rather than being more solid black or grey in colour. All I can say is that if this snake, based on his colouring, is ‘young’, I hate to see how big he’ll be when he’s ‘old’! The literature says they can grow to be 2 meters in length, which is over 6 feet. And we have seen the grand-daddy of all Gray Rat Snakes before – back in the 70’s, when we were building our cottage. We thought it was our 3 inch black PVC pipe connected to the foot-valve down in the lake. But nooooo, it was about a 6 foot long Gray Rat Snake. It was huge! Way bigger than the guy I saw. Several people in our cottage area saw him (and screamed!). He was nicknamed “Black Joe”, after the black joe tar paper people used when building their cottages.
I have a real soft spot for these snakes. Partly because of my history of encountering them at the cottage when I was a kid. And partly because they are a threatened species. Studies have shown that Gray Rat Snake habitat in the Frontenac Axis has actually increased in the past 100 years and yet the Frontenac Axis population is declining. It is thought that this is partly due to road kills. The snakes are so long that they often straddle the entire width of a dirt road and sadly, are run over by vehicles. So please, if you are traveling this summer in the Perth-Westport-Kingston area of Ontario. PLEASE, brake for these snakes. And well, please brake for ANY snakes you see on the road. If you don’t like snakes, you don’t have to get out of your car and pick them up to move them. But please don’t run over them. I’m appalled by the number of dead snakes and turtles I see on Ontario roads every summer. And I have personally watched people swerve to intentionally run over them. It’s disgusting and inexcusable behaviour. Snakes and turtles aren’t cute and cuddly animals. But it doesn’t mean they are any less important to our ecosystems or that they have any less right to live. So please drive carefully. You may not want to give a snake a hug. But at least….give a snake a brake. 🙂
Our snow is gone, the days are warming quickly and soon, our woodland wildflowers will be here once again.
So here we are, in the depths of winter. I had to work from home today due to the ice pellets, freezing rain, rain and snow we’ve had in the last 18 hours. Yup, we pretty much got it all! At least it’s snowing right now, which for me, sure beats winter rain. I personally love winter. Yes, I receive a lot of hate mail and snide comments when I make that statement. Not all of my friends, family and colleagues share my love and enthusiasm for winter. But to each, his own….
For those of you that don’t enjoy winter or just find it long and are longing for spring, when everything is vibrant green, here is an image for you. A little something to keep you hopeful that yes, winter will end and spring will come again. In the not too distant future, we will again be surrounded by the lushness of spring. In the meantime, enjoy this image. It is an image of Horestail and grasses, that grow together on the edge of my lawn. I took this with my Nikon 105 mm lens. A beautiful lens. Crisp, clear and a joy to work with. For this image, I got down low and focused on part of the Horestail, pushing my lens right up to the grasses. This, and a shallow depth of field, create a soft, dreamy look.
I hope it makes you think of springtime, which really isn’t all that far away. The songbirds start to migrate back in March and well, we’re on the cusp of February already.
In the meantime, I hope you get out to do some winter photography. Get out late in the day when the light is cool, casting blue and purple shadows on the white snow. To me, that is magical lighting and definitely the time to get out your camera.
Recently, I wrote about the abundance of wildflowers in August and the incredible photographic opportunities it presents. I’d like to continue on that theme here. It’s been a long time (several years, in fact) since I last had the opportunity to wander around the countryside in August with my camera. I spent nearly 6 years in New Zealand (which was great but August is COLD there) and for the past two years that I’ve been back in the Ottawa area, my time was (very willingingly) consumed with being with my Mum, who was very ill. So, in essence, this is really my first August back home, where I’ve had the opportunity to stop and look around me. And I must say, that looking around me puts a big smile on my face.
I love August! What a great month! And so much to photograph! So what’s so great about August? Well, the weather is beginning to change, in a good way. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t handle the heat and humidity well. Although we still get hot days in August, the humidity tends to be lower. And as the month progresses, we tend to get more of those days (what I always called the quintessential August day) where the temperature hovers around the low to mid 20’s, but the humidity is low and there’s a cool breeze in the air. The skies are blue and filled with puffy, white cottonball clouds. Now that’s an August day, to me. I love it!
The other thing about August is that it is a month of transition – where we go from the relentless heat of summer to a cool breeze and a hint of what is just around the corner – fall. Animal activity increases as well. I always find July to be a ‘quiet’ month. You don’t see much animal activity in daytime because everything is hunkered down to avoid the heat of the day. In August, the cooler temperatures and knowledge that fall is not that far away, brings the animals back out. Squirrels and chipmunks start foraging actively, preparing for the long winter ahead. Birds become more active and I’ve already started to see some mixed species flocks as the birds begin their migration back south to warmer places. I’ve seen more snakes on the dirt roads around here than I have all summer. They’re out to soak up the warmth of the late summer sun and to fill their bellies before they start their long winter sleep (so be careful when you’re driving. Be sure to brake for snakes and turtles). Basically, August is a busy month for animals. Time to prepare for the approach of the chilly, rainy weather and eventually the cold, snowy days of winter.
As I mentioned in a previous post, fields are filled with beautiful wildflowers. If you stop to have a closer look, you’ll see that those wildflowers are a-buzz with insects of every kind! The yellow-orange Goldenrods are literally buzzing with bees, wasps and flies, all eager to collect the copious pollen these plants produce. Spiders, such as the cryptic Crab Spider as well as an assortment of species of Daddy Longlegs are very abundant this time of year. If you’re careful to creep up on them quietly, they don’t move much and so make excellent subjects for great macro shots.
If you check carefully on the undersides of leaves, you’ll be amazed what you’ll find! I turned over a leaf only to find two Stink Bugs hiding. I managed to coax them out for a photo. And on the underside of an Oak leaf, was an aggregation of caterpillars. I still have to look these guys up in my bug book to see what these brightly coloured caterpillars are, but they are pretty cool! How did I find them? I noticed that several leaves on the young tree were eaten – some were skeletonized while others looked like they were made of mesh – evidence of something that had been chewing the cells out from between the upper and lower surface of the leaf. So I began turning over leaves until I happened to find the one with the caterpillars.
The ‘backyard’ right behind our house used to be forest. But the pervious owner (unfortunately) cut most of the trees down. But the remnants of the forest are still evinced by the abundance of ferns in our backyard. It’s been a dry summer and so many of the ferns have already started to turn brown and die off. The variations of green and brown are wonderful and the patterns they create are a lot of fun to photograph. I particularly like putting on the macro lens and getting in tight for a more abstract shot. One of my favourite things to do with subjects like this, is to use image overlay. Nikon cameras have this as a menu option and it’s great! I’m not sure if Canon has it, but I’m definitely glad Nikon does. To get a beautiful soft, ethereal effects with image overlay, take a shot of the subject in full focus. The image should be sharp. Then throw the scene out of focus and take another shot. Go to the shooting menu of your camera and choose Image Overlay. You will then get a window that lets you choose the images you want to overlay. It doesn’t work well for everything, but for certain subjects it creates a beautiful soft effect. And with digital, it is well worth the experimentation. You can always delete those images that you don’t think worked very well.
So grab your camera and get out there while the Goldenrods are still in flower and crawling with insects. There are lots of great images to be made by getting out and looking closely for those small things that we often overlook.
I absolutely love this time of year! Why? Because the meadows and roadside ditches are brimming with great things to photograph – wildflowers! The Daisies and Brown-eyed Susans are pretty much done, but ’tis the season for Queen Anne’s Lace, Milkweeds, and Purple Loosestrife. And the goldenrods are not quite at full bloom, but are nearly there. Wow! A photographic smorgasbord! When we hit wildflower season, I’m out as often as I can, in any weather, to try my hand at capturing images that convey what I love most about this time of year and all of the wildflowers in bloom.
It’s tempting to drive up to a field filled with Purple Loosestrife and Queen Anne’s Lace and take a photo of the meadow. And sometimes that works well, especially if you can look for the ‘geometry’ in the colours created by the patches of wildflowers. But what I love is to get creative and try doing very different things, such as using a soft-focus approach, or using a long lens to isolate only a small patch of flowers. I love abstracts and photo-impressionism and so for me, this time of year is pure heaven! Try some multiple exposures or image overlays. Wildflowers are the perfect subjects for these techniques.
The other great thing about having all these beautiful flowers around is that they attract a multitude of insects. This is especially true of the yellow Goldenrods. We have some growing along the margin of our front lawn and they are just crawling with insects – flies, wasps, katydids, ladybugs, and phymatids – these prehistoric and angry-looking little armored insects that lie in wait and ambush their prey (such as flies and wasps) when they come to collect nectar or pollen from the flowers.
Here is a collection of images from my field forays to photograph wildflowers.