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.
A Red-bellied Brown Snake sunning himself in the middle of the road.
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.
A Daddly Longlegs spider on Goldenrod.
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.
A stink bug (Pentatomidae) on a leaf. One of the many insects out and about in August.
An aggregation of aposematically-coloured caterpillars. Aposematism refers to the bright colours which are usually warning colours to tell birds and other potential predators that they are poisonous and not to bother trying to taste them.
Wolf spider (Lycosidae) on a fern.
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.
Get out the macro lens and get in close to highlight the shapes and textures.
Here's an example of image overlay - one in-focus image overlaid with an out-of-focus image, to produce a soft, ethereal feel to the image.
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.