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Archive for June, 2013

Cabbage White butterflies (Pieris rapae) may look very ordinary at first glance, but when you look more closely, you find that they have amazingly beautiful, green speckled eyes.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Damselflies have such narrow bodies that it’s often hard for me to get my camera to focus on them, but I love to chase after them, hoping to capture some of their beautiful colors. I was happy that I managed to get this shot of mating damselflies with enough detail to see some of the differences in coloration between the male and the female. I don’t dare try to explain the physiology of the mating process—I don’t really understand it and will leave that to the experts.

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Click on the photo to see a higher resolution view of it.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The water lilies at one of my local gardens seem to be blooming a little late this year, but two of them finally were in bloom yesterday. Here’s a shot one of them and if you look closely you’ll notice a damselfly perched on the water lily. The image is not in his style, but water lilies always remind me of Monet, one of my favorite painters.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I just can’t get enough of the Blue Dasher dragonfly. Here’s a shot I like of a male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) on an unidentified green plant that I took at Hidden Pond Nature Center here in Springfield, VA. Often I will try to go for maximum possible sharpness and realism, but I like the composition of this image and it has a kind of an “artsy” look that appeals to me.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The response was so positive to my recently posted photos of a bee on a lavender plant that I decided to post a couple more of my favorite images from that session. Unlike my previous shots that attempted to capture a bee in flight, these ones were taken while the bee was busily working. The light was starting to fade, so both of these were shot with my pop-up flash and I am happy that the flash did not totally blow out the highlights.

Using flash is an area that I have not paid much attention to, but it looks like it’s worth spending some time learning more about it and experimenting with different ways of adding additional light to my photos.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Today there seemed to be a lot of small hover flies buzzing around the flowers, so I decided to try to get a shot of one of them. As their name suggests, these flies spend much of their time hovering, but fortunately they land sometimes, which gave me a chance to get an image of a hover fly.

Hover flies, which are also known as flower flies and syrphid flies,  are part of the insect family Syrphidae. There are quite a few different species of hover flies and I find it difficult to tell them apart, so I’ll merely identify this one as a hover fly.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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My normal instinct is to move in really close to my subject, whether it is physical movement with my macro lens or virtual movement with my telephoto zoom, but when I saw this dragonfly, I consciously pulled back in order to bring more of the stalk of the lily into the image.

This is a new species of dragonfly for me and I think it is probably a Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta). I love the contrast between the dark blue color of the dragonfly’s body and the orange shade of the lily.  This dragonfly’s muted colors give it a somewhat more sophisticated look that the more garishly colored Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) that I also photographed that day. (Check out my previous posting to see the contrast between the images of the two dragonflies in similar positions.)

In addition to the colors, I like the composition of the image and the water in the background blurred out pretty nicely too. In the next few weeks, I’ll be off trying to catch some shots of dragonflies on lotus flowers and waterlilies—it’s that time of the year again.

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Have you ever tried to take photos of a bee in flight? In the past, I have managed to get a few such shots accidentally, when a bee took off as I was shooting.

However, a few days ago when the light was fading in the early evening, I decided to try to photograph a bee in flight using my pop-up flash. I knew that timing would be critical, because the time required for the flash to recycle meant that I would get only one shot each attempt, and not a burst. It was a fun little challenge, even though most of my shots were out of focus.

I especially like the first image, in which the bee appears to be attempting to hover in mid-air. The second shot makes it look like the bee was free-falling, waiting for the optimal moment to deploy his tiny parachute.

It’s easy to get ultra-serious about photography and get bogged down thinking of settings and exposures and composition—it’s nice sometimes to just have fun and then share the results of the fun time.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As the summer temperatures have soared, I have been seeing fewer birds and therefore I was surprised when a Green Heron (Butorides virescens) flew in and perched on a log in the middle of a small pond where I was photographing dragonflies.

I saw his arrival from a distance and at first thought it was a duck, but as I crept closer, it became clear that it was a Green Heron. Most of the times when I have observed Green Herons, they have been intently focused on catching prey. This heron, however, seemed to be content to check out the area and apparently didn’t like what he saw, because he did not stay very long.

I really like the contemplative look of the heron in both of the images here. Something must have caught its attention in the second shot that caused the heron to extend its neck and look upward—Green Herons almost always look down toward the water. I like the way that the heron has cocked its head.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When I get the urge to take some photos and don’t have much time, I like to walk over to a neighbor’s house and take photos of the bees that are usually buzzing around the lavender plants there.

A little over a week ago, I did a posting that had a super close-up shot of a bee. Today’s shot was taken from farther away and has the blurry background that I really like, with the bee still in pretty sharp focus in the foreground.  I like the way that the image shows the way the lavender droops a little from the weight of the bee and I also like the the second stalk of lavender standing tall in the mid-range area of the shot.

It’s a pretty simple composition, but the result is a pleasing image of a bee happily at work.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I couldn’t believe my luck when this male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) perched on one of the orange lilies at the edge of the pond.

The lily had not yet bloomed, making it a perfect place for the dragonfly to land, and I had positioned myself to take this shot, but I was a little doubtful that a dragonfly would cooperate.

The green of the background complements the blues of the dragonfly, but it is the orange that makes this image pop for me.

I am happy with the image.

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The last time I posed a question about using flash to photograph a spider, the majority of readers said that the spider looked much better in natural light, but the case is not so clear for this Barn Spider (Araneus cavaticus) that I spotted in the garden yesterday.

The spider was in a web that stretched across the path in the garden, about chest-high, and was in subdued light. I really wanted to shoot at an angle to give the spider some dimensionality, but it was tough to do so, because of the web, and depth of field was an issue. To make matters worse, a breeze would kick up periodically, making slow shutter speeds a bit problematic.

There was no question about whether to use a tripod or not—it was obvious that I needed it. Initially, I shot at f/10 in aperture priority, with a shutter speed of 1/13 of a second, resulting in the second image. Although parts of the spider are blurry, the head and eyes are pretty sharp. I then raised the shutter speed to 1/200 and used my pop-up flash and got the first image. The background turned almost totally black, but I was happy that it did not blow out the details in lighter areas of the spider and the eyes remain pretty sharp.

I like the image with the black background better this time and like the look of the background. Which one do you prefer? (Clink on this link to see the posting from March when I initially posed a similar question.)

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Last summer I confessed to being obsessed with Red Milkweed Beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) in one of my postings and initial signs this summer suggest that the fascination remains strong.

This past weekend, I spotted several of my little red friends when visiting Green Spring Gardens, a local county-run historical garden, and I stalked them like a paparazzo, trying to get a good shot. I particularly like this image, in which the beetle is staring down at me from a partially eaten leaf. (I don’t know if it was the one that chewed up the leaf.)

The colors of the photo may suggest Christmas, but I am not sure that there would be much of a market for this as a Christmas card image.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Do you ever have days when you crave solitude, but others just won’t stop bothering you? That may be how this male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) felt today, when other dragonflies harassed him from the back and from the front.

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It was exciting for me to spot a new dragonfly this weekend, a male Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa).

I really like the brown and white pattern on the wings, which was distinctive enough that it also helped me in identifying it. According to Bugguide, the species name means sorrowful or mournful, perhaps because the wings of both male and female seem to be draped in mourning crepe.

The weather has turned hot and humid, which is typical for the Washington D.C. area, which seems to be great for the dragonflies, so I’ll be out as often as I can tolerate the heat, searching for new dragonflies to photograph.

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I didn’t go to a lot of trouble to set up a really cool backdrop, but did manage to get a shot yesterday evening of the supermoon. It was amazing to see how much light it put off and I had no trouble handholding my camera to take a shot, even with my 135-400mm zoom lens. I decided to add a little visual interest to the shot by shooting the moon with the shadowy outline of an electrical tower of some kind in the foreground.

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Some bees seem to be really tidy when they are gathering pollen, but this bee was a total mess, with pollen sticking all over its legs and underside. The bee looks to be some kind of honey bee, although the striped markings on its lower body seem a little unusual.

Often when I am shooting a macro shot, I am so worried about the technical aspects of the shot that I forget that photography is also an art. This image helps remind me that photography remains a creative pursuit, a fusion of art and science.

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Male Blue Dasher dragonflies (Pachydiplax longipennis) assume this handstand-like position, called the obelisk posture, when they feel threatened or want to minimize exposure to the sun. I was leaning a little closer than normal to this dragonfly, because I had a 100mm lens attached to the camera and not a longer zoom lens, so maybe that caused him to be a little alarmed. As the weather warms up and more dragonflies appear, I am sure that I will be getting a lot more shots of Blue Dashers, which were my favorite dragonflies to photograph last summer.

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Dragonflies are super-predators, according to a posting today by one of my favorite bloggers, Sue of Back Yard Biology, thanks to their agile flying ability and incredible eyesight, but predators can also become prey. You should check out that posting for a wonderful explanation of dragonflies’ visual acuity and some beautiful dragonfly images.

The Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) in this photo has captured a male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) that appears to be struggling to extricate itself from the grip of the bird. In the second shot, the swallow is offering its prize to its mate, which pokes its head of the nesting box and takes a bite of one of the wings. (If you look carefully at the first shot, you’ll see that it was taken after the second shot and part of one of the dragonfly’s wing seems to have been bitten off.)

Predator or prey? There always seem to be some creature above you on the food chain. It’s no wonder that so many of the birds, animals, and insects are so hyper-vigilant and skittish when we try to take photographs of them—their survival may depend on it.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Do you have a favorite insect? I realize that’s a strange question and, if pressed, most people would respond with the name of a beautiful butterfly or perhaps a ladybug, but my favorite is a very special katydid.

Last summer, though, I fell in love with a multi-colored grasshopper-like insect called the Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum). I was absolutely thrilled yesterday to encounter and photograph a tiny insect that is almost certainly one a juvenile Handsome Meadow Katydid.

Although its colors are pretty distinctive, it’s the blue eyes that make it really stand out. The eyes really draw me in, even if they do look a little cartoonish.

Each time I visit the marsh, I will now be on the lookout for these insects, which actually grow more handsome as they age. If you want to see what they look like as adults check out my previous postings called Neon-colored grasshopper; More Handsome Meadow Katydids; and Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back.

Be forewarned, though, that you too may fall in love and end up with a new favorite insect.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Before going out to the marsh park to shoot this morning, I decided to check out my neighbor’s garden and came across this bumblebee, hanging from the side of a a beautiful Small Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro).

I took some initial shots and then began to wonder if the bee was still alive, because it was not moving at all. When I blew gently on its face, however, it moved a little, so I figure that it was probably just sleeping. I carefully set up my tripod and got as close as my lens would let me get, which caused the bee to fill a substantial part of the frame.

I managed to capture some details that normally I do not see, like the little lines on the antennae and the hairs on the bee’s face. The bee was still sleeping when I departed—I didn’t want to risk the possibility that bees get angry if you wake them up prematurely.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As you walk through certain areas of my local marsh, the air is filled with the fragrance of the wild roses, probably Virginia Roses (Rosa virginiana), which, according to Wikipedia, are native to eastern North America.

I stooped down closer to draw in the perfumed air and my eyes were attracted to the bold pattern of a beetle that was gathering nectar from the flower.  It appears to be a kind of Flower Longhorn beetle,  which I have tentatively identified as a member of the species Strangalia luteicornis. 

Check out the entry in Bugguide, one of my favorite on-line sources of information on insects, if your want additional information on this species.

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I chased around this beautiful female Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis), hoping in vain that she would land on something more natural-looking than the composite boards of the marsh boardwalk. Several times she took off and circled around a bit, but returned each time to the boardwalk.

Shooting from a high angle, I was able to capture some of the details of the dragonfly that I do not usually see, like the little hooks at the end of the hairy legs. I really like her pose as she seemed to lean toward me, without seeming threatening in any way.

As always, I was struck by the strikingly beautiful emerald color of the females of this species. It’s even more impressive in real life.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The little skipper butterfly found a dandelion to be particularly appealing and I like this simple image that captured their brief encounter.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Continuing my quixotic quest to photograph dragonflies in flight, I went boldly out into the wild, armed with my trusty 100mm macro lens, and managed to capture this cool image of a dragonfly as it hovered over the water.

In previous attempts, I used longer telephoto zoom lenses, which increased the number of potential subjects but gave only mixed results. Using a shorter, fixed focal-length lens, I had to change my strategy a little and try to get closer to the subject.

I noticed this dragonfly hovering about the water to the side of the boardwalk on which I was walking. I crept as close as I could and tried to shoot as close to straight down as I could (the boardwalk was at least a foot (30 cm) above the level of the water and it looked like the dragonfly was hovering almost level with the boards of the boardwalk). I was really sensitive to my shadow, because I have learned that nothing scares away an insect faster than casting a shadow on it.

I used autofocus and was a little surprised to see that my dragonfly is in pretty clear focus, although the shutter speed was not fast enough to stop the action of  the wings. I shot this handheld and really tried to pay attention to my technique, because my macro lens does not have any built-in image stabilization. As I thought about it afterwards, I realized that the auto focusing on the macro lens (using what Canon calls an ultrasonic motor) is much faster and better than the focusing on my Canon 55-250 or my Sigma 135-400mm zoom lens.

I have been having some difficulties identifying this dragonfly. The coloration of the tail looks a little like a female Blue Dasher, but the beautiful blue eyes do not seem right for the female. The tip of the tail should be a help, but I can’t seem to find one that matches it.

Although I can’t identify the dragonfly, it’s my best shot to date of a dragonfly in flight and I’m pretty content with it today, though my quixotic quest is likely to continue this weekend.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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With my macro lens on my camera on Monday, I was happily scouring every plant and flower for insects to photograph when I came upon this unusual-looking spider. Instead of having a rounded body like most spiders, it had a really elongated body and what appeared to be legs of varying lengths.

I have purposely attached a clickable higher resolution image to give you a better look at the details of this strange spider. For example, I think I can see at least two rows of tiny eyes in the middle of the photo.

Last year, I photographed a similar spider and I think that it is probably a kind of Long-jawed Orbweaver, though I can’t make a more definite identification.

What mental image do you have when you think of a spider? Perhaps this photo will help you broaden your perspective about what a spider might look like.

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As I was checking out the cattails that are growing like crazy at my local marsh, I spotted this little beetle chewing on the soft insides of a broken cattail.  I immediately recognized him as a Spotted Cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata), a species that I encountered numerous times last summer when photographing flowers.

I really like the texture of the immature cattail, both on the outside as well as on the inside, and the bold design of the beetle.  I think that those elements and the varied shades of green make for a cool, graphic image.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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One of the first rules of photography that I learned was the importance of keeping a subject’s eye in focus and I managed to accomplish that with this bee that I photographed yesterday. However, the depth of field turned out to be so shallow that only a few other parts of the bee are as precisely focused as the eye.

I was hand-holding my macro lens, which is not image-stabilized, and the sky was overcast, so I had to open up the aperture and keep the shutter speed fairly high to get a decent shot (f/6.3, 1/100 sec, ISO400). The bee was moving all around a patch of lavender in a neighbor’s garden, gathering nectar with its tongue, which is visible in the photo.

I stalked the bee for quite a while and a lot of my shots turned out to be blurry, but I ended up with a few that were ok. This is my favorite of the bunch and I think that the shallow depth of field, which is a shortcoming in many situations, is the primary reason that I like it.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Generally when I encounter Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), they are very focused. They seem willing to stand in one place for a long period of time, staring intently at the water, waiting for the optimal moment to strike.

In contrast, this heron seemed to be almost daydreaming as he gazed off into the distance. Had something caught his attention there? Was he merely taking a break? Was he thinking about something else, or imagining he was somewhere else?

I’ll never know the answer to those question, but I can be happy that he was willing to stay in one place long enough for me to get this shot.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Looking for spiders to photograph, I came across this one, which I think may be a Lattice Orbweaver spider (Araneus thaddeus). I tried a number of different techniques to get a shot of this little spider and think that this may be one of the ones on which I used my pop-up flash.

I especially like the way in which part of the web is visible against the dark background and the way the light seems to be shining through the jelly-like front part of the spider’s body.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When an unfamiliar dragonfly zoomed by me, one of my fellow photographers told me it was a unicorn, at least that is what I thought he said.

Sometimes when I am concentrating on a shot, I shut out my surroundings and I had had to ask him to explain his comment. It turns out that he said that it was a Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes), a type that he had rarely seen in our local marsh.

I extended my 135-400mm zoom to almost maximum range and it still was tough to get a clear shot. The dragonfly flew off and returned to his perch a couple of times, but the log on which he posed was so far away that my shot doesn’t permit me to say with great certainty that it is a Unicorn Clubtail. It is clear, though, that it not a Common Whitetail or Blue Dasher, the two types of dragonflies that I see most often.

Overall, I like the effect of the triple view of the dragonfly—the dragonfly, its shadow on the log, and its reflection in the water, which, for me, helps to compensate for the softness of the focus.

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