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Posts Tagged ‘autumn’

During a recent morning walk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I came across some spiderwebs in the fields that glistened in the sunlight thanks to rain the previous night. Many of the webs were only partial webs and I wondered if perhaps the torrential rain had ripped them apart.

Light was mostly coming from the front, which made it a little tricky to get a correct exposure, but that kind of backlighting is the reason why the webs are visible.

The backgrounds were different for the different webs and most of the time I had to deliberately underexpose the images to have the webs “pop,” which meant that the backgrounds looked really dark. I was thrilled when I managed to capture the first image below with a background full of autumn colors.

autumn web

autumn web

autumn web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I drove through the gates at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past Friday, a thick fog (or mist) was hanging low over the fields. The sun was just beginning to rise and it was still pretty dark. Although my goal for the day was to photograph birds, I decided to make an attempt at capturing the feeling of the moment and quickly realized the difficulty of that task—it’s a real challenge to capture the delicate nuances of light and shadows and the subtle shades of the rising sun when there is so little available light.

I felt a bit uncomfortable as I was shooting these images, a clear indication that I was way outside of my comfort zone, but I think it is good to try new approaches and subjects in order for me to keep on growing and learning as a photographer.

 

misty morning

autumn mist

autumn path

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Some very creative people must work at the local pumpkin patch at Nalls Produce Center in Alexandria, Virginia. As I wandered about, I encountered numerous mini-scenes celebrating farm life and/or Halloween.

One of my favorites featured a crazed–looking cat in overalls conversing with a cow. I also really liked the jack-o-lantern made with all natural materials. I can’t recall ever before seeing a jack-o-lantern with hair.

Halloween

Halloween

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you capture the beauty of autumn? If you live in a location where there are broad expanses of trees full of brightly colored leaves, it would be pretty easy, I think. In Northern Virginia where I live, the colors tend to be muted and isolated. There are patches of colors here and there, but it seems like many of the leaves go straight from green to brown.

On some recent trips to Huntley Meadows Park, my favorite shooting location, I tried to capture some glimpses of the changing season using my telephoto zoom lens. The colors and patterns of the fall foliage turned into abstract patterns when viewed through a telephoto lens.

Here are some of my favorite shots as I focused in on the autumn foliage. I am also including a final image that attempts to capture the feeling of walking down a trail in the crisp morning air with fallen leaves crunching underfoot.

fall foliage

fall foliage

fall foliage

fall foliage

fall foliage

autumn trail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some folks might be surprised to learn that I continue to spot dragonflies, despite the cooler weather of late November. Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) are a particularly hardy species and in past years I have observed these tiny red beauties into December.

One of the challenges for the Autumn Meadowhawks is to warm up and I have noticed that they sometimes like to perch on one particular sign at Huntley Meadows Park, the county-run marshland park where I take many of my photos. The sign is angled to make it easier for viewers to read, making it perfect for a basking dragonfly.

In this image I was able to capture a favorite portion of the text on that sign and a cooperative Autumn Meadowhawk added a useful accent to the message. The last sentence sums up pretty well my view of nature and my aspiration during my visits to walk lightly.

walk lightly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the trees have given up their colorful leaves by now, but one hardy young tree refused to do so and looked almost like it was on fire in the early morning yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park.

The tree really stood out and grabbed my attention and I wanted somehow to capture its beauty. Many of you know that I have very limited experience with landscape photography and I simply wasn’t sure how to approach this atypical subject.

My first instinct was to zoom in closely and fill as much of the frame with the details of the tree as I could. That’s my favored approach with both my macro and zoom lenses.  I was shooting over a field of cattails and across a pond and my first series of images looked like this one.

fiery tree

I moved further down the boardwalk and decided to try to capture more of the surrounding environment by shooting in landscape mode. I also tried to get a clearer view of the beautiful reflections my moving beyond the cattails.

fiery tree

In order to get a different view, I climbed up the observation deck and took some shots like this one with various objects in the foreground and some reflected sky showing at the bottom of the image.

fiery tree

I presented the images with only a slight amount of cropping to give you an idea of what I was going for as I “worked” this subject. How did I do? In my view, the middle image is by far the best and serves as a reminder to me that stepping back and zooming out can be beneficial. More importantly, perhaps, I can see the benefits of trying out different approaches and different subjects as a way of stretching and learning and, hopefully, growing in my skills as a photographer.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The dragonfly population continues to decrease as we move deeper into autumn, but my little winged friends seem to have been replaced by grasshoppers. Whenever I walk through the fields of my favorite marshland park, I am preceded by mini explosions of insects. Most of the grasshoppers hop far away, but yesterday one of them chose a nearby stalk of grass and posed for me.

grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The autumnal equinox arrived yesterday, marking another change of seasons. I love the autumn, but there is something a little wistful about it, as so many of the bright summer colors begin to fade and the leaves dry out and fall off of the trees. Somehow for me it is a reminder of the inexorable passage of time and of the fragility of life.

Earlier this week I saw a faded male Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) that put me in a pensive mood, remembering how this boldly-patterned species really stood out in the spring. Now he has has almost become a part of the background, less notable, less distinctive, less likely to attract attention.

How many of us are like that? Our society worships youthful beauty and older people are often pushed out of the spotlight in favor of unblemished youths. It’s nice to have memories of the way we were, remembering our youthful beauty and capabilities, but I think it’s important to celebrate who we are and who we are becoming.

So here’s a look at that male Twelve-spotted Skimmer and a female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer that I observed last week. Wouldn’t you agree that they are still beautiful despite (or perhaps because of) their senior citizen status.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever tried to photograph a living subject—or even worse, a pair of them—perched on one of your knees? Depth of field is a huge challenge and even trying to frame the subject is complicated, especially when you have a 180mm macro lens on your camera.

Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) are the most friendly dragonflies I have ever encountered. I don’t know what attracts them—perhaps it’s curiosity—but I found out last year that they are prone to perch on me.

Surprisingly, they will even perch as a pair when they are still in tandem, the position that this species uses when the female is ovipositing, i.e. placing her eggs in the water after mating. The male hangs on to the female by the head, presumably to keep other males from interfering with the process.

In my initial attempt to get a shot of the couple, I focused on the male, and the female is completely out of focus.  For the second attempt, I tried to twist myself around to photograph them from the side and almost fell over in the process. The female is more in focus, but the male is now slightly out of focus.

As the season progresses, I’ll see if I can find some even more cooperative Autumn Meadowhawks and try to get a shot of one perched on one of my fingertips, as I did last year.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Later in the day, a male Autumn Meadowhawk landed on my leg and I had much better success in getting some clear shots. I used a similar approach, taking the first shot from above and the second one from the side. My pants are a solid tan color and it is interesting to see how it almost looks like I was wearing a seersucker suit.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As the days grow colder, I am trying to capture images of almost any insect that I can find.

I was particularly happy this weekend when I came across this little flower fly (also called a hoverfly or syrphid fly) on a beautiful reddish-purple leaf. The leaf made for a simple backdrop that lets you see some of the details of the fly’s body, including the incredible compound eyes and the antennae.

I was also pleased that the out-of-focus area behind the lead is a orange-red color that seems appropriate for this autumn season.

flower fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many of the other dragonflies are gone for the season, but the Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) will be around for quite some time, possibly even into December. Autumn Meadowhawks like to perch on the ground much of the time, but yesterday I was happy to capture one in what I consider to be its natural environment, perched among the colorful leaves of the autumn foliage.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How can I show the beauty of the autumn foliage? As I was pondering that question, I glanced down into the waters of a small pond at my local marshland park and found my answer.

Impressionist autumn

The combination of the light, the reflections, and the ripples enveloped me in an impressionist world, where the forms were blurred, but recognizable. I love the art of Monet, and somehow the autumn reflections brought his works to mind.

Impressionist autumn

As i moved about, the scene would change, as different elements were reflected in the water.

Impressionist autumn

I’m often at a loss when trying to photograph landscapes—I am so used to focusing on the details of a subject that I have trouble seeing the big picture. Somehow it seemed easier when I concentrated my attention on the limited expanse of the water in the pond.

Impressionist autumn

Here in Northern Virginia, we usually don’t have the really vivid colors that I remember from my childhood days in New England, but the subdued colors are beautiful nonetheless. I find in these more restrained shades a kind of melancholic reminder that the days are gradually fading into winter.

Impressionist autumn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Fall foliage is great at this time of the year, but I am also finding beautiful colors as I walk deeper into the woods. I can’t identify these different fungi, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying their beauty. I especially enjoy the rainbow shapes in the shades of autumn, with such a wide range of oranges and browns.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It won’t be long before my bird photos have the colorless backgrounds characteristic of winter, so I am photographing as many birds as I can find with autumn colors in the background, like this House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) that I observed last Sunday. As I noted in a posting last month, these birds are non-native (introduced from the Old World) and sometimes crowd out native birds. Still, I find them to be beautiful, especially when they pose like this. This pose is one of my favorites, when I get to look down the tail toward the head turned to the side.

house_sparrow_autumn_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The autumn colors may be fading fast, but the remaining leaves still provided a colorful background for this Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) this past weekend.

Normally mockingbirds sing all of the time, but this one was curiously silent the entire time as I moved around at pretty close range, trying to get the best possible background for the shots. From time to time, the mockingbird would turn its head, almost like it was striking new poses for me. This was my favorite pose, a serious portrait in profile in which the mockingbird looks unusually stern.

mockingbird_autumn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If you germinated 600 seeds from a single ginkgo tree, how many would grow up to be male trees and how many female? Some of you may have come up with an answer already, but I am still struggling with the question. Can trees really have a gender? Apparently ginkgo trees, like holly, persimmon, and some others have a gender. Who knew?

In 1929, Dr. Orlando White at the Blandy Experimental Grove of the State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce, Virginia decided to do an experiment and hypothesized that the sex ratio would be 1:1. Dr. White’s intellectual curiosity resulted in the Blandy Ginkgo Grove that I visited last weekend, one of the largest collections of gingkos outside of the tree’s native China. You can learn more fascinating information about ginkgos and about this grove by downloading this brochure, my source for the historical information about the grove.

I was struck by the beauty of the ginkgo leaves. Fossils of these leaves date back to 270 million years ago, meaning this plant was around with the dinosaurs. A ginkgo, which means “silver apricot” in Chinese, doesn’t form fruits, but has fleshy seeds about the size and appearance of a small apricot, seeds that you can see in some of my photos. I should warn you, though, that ginkgo seeds do not smell as nice as apricots—they smell like a cross between vomit and dog excrement.

I am including a variety of shots to give you an idea of the beauty of the ginkgo, ranging from a view of part of the entire grove down to an image of a single leaf.  I have never used the gallery feature with WordPress, but decided to put the photos I selected for this posting into a gallery and see how it works out. Let me know if you have any thoughts about whether you like this approach, vice using single photos.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My eyes caught a flash of bright blue yesterday as I was walking through Huntley Meadows Park, my local marsh, and I pointed my telephoto lens at the tree in the distance.

As I composed this shot, I was initially a little confused by what I saw. The reddish-brown color of the breast and the fact that there were some blue feathers made me think that it was an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), but the bird’s body didn’t seem blue enough. After doing a little research when I got home, I realized that most of the bluebirds that I had seen previously must have been adult males—as is the case with many other birds, the female Eastern Bluebird is more subdued in color than the male.

I didn’t have a lot of time to frame this shot, so I was happy that I managed to center the bird on the dark spot in the background and to surround it with some colorful fall foliage. All of the orange color in the image really helps the blue on the wing to pop, which is not too surprising since, if I remember color theory correctly, orange and blue are complementary colors.

bluebird_autumn_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past weekend I traveled with some friends to photograph a large grove of ginkgo trees at the Blandy Experimental Farm of the State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce, VA. It was a beautiful day, with bright blue skies, and I took some shots that I will probably include in a more extended post, but I wanted to give you a sneak preview of the really-cooling looking leaves of the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) tree, a tree that dates back at least 270 million years, judging from ginkgo leaf fossils that have been uncovered.

GInkgo Vertical blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I haven’t seen many big spiders this fall, but I did come across this spiderless web early one morning recently. The morning was damp and foggy and the droplets of water on the web made it easier to spot in the cattails of the marsh. Using manual focusing, which is still a challenge for me with my DSLR, I was able to capture this image of the web. If you click on the image, you can see the beads of water that look like tiny strands of transparent pearls.

web_fall_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I love to photograph cardinals throughout the year, but I was really excited when I saw this male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) land on a tree with colorful fall foliage in the background. There were a lot of branches, but I somehow managed to get a facial shot with an interesting expression.

The cardinal seemed to be staring at me, silently criticizing my behavior. It reminded me of the expression that parents sometimes adopt when they want to publicly communicate their displeasure to their offspring without uttering a single word.

cardinal_autumn_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When a scope-toting birder told me that there was a cuckoo in a tree in the distance, I had not idea what to look for. My parents had a German cuckoo clock when I was growing up and somehow I thought the cuckoo would look like the little bird that popped out of the clock each hour.

I could see the white breast of the bird, so I pointed my telephoto lens at the tree and focused as well as I could. I had to crop quite a bit, but the bird I photographed is definitely identifiable as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). What shocked me the most was the length of the bird’s tail. According to my birding guide, this cuckoo is about 12 inches (30 cm) in length.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, these birds like to eat large quantities of hairy caterpillars. Those readers who follow my blog know well that there have been lots of hairy caterpillars recently at my local marsh, so it makes a lot of sense that these birds would be present.

The background in the image is cluttered, but I like the bright colors of the autumn leaves, so I am not bothered by it, particularly because they do not conceal very much of the cuckoo.

cuckoo_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The early morning light from the side illuminated the bright fall leaves and the equally bright red male Northern Cardinal at my local marsh this past weekend.

cardinal_fall_blog

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All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray as fall arrives in my local marsh, but there are still occasional spots of bright color, like this beetle that I encountered yesterday, crawling down a withered leaf. I have not been able to identify it, but its bold pattern and colors remind me of the art and fashions of the late 1960’s, when no combination was too wild. I graduated from high school in 1972 and still recall wearing some pretty wild-looking clothes.

Somehow I think the pattern on the beetle’s back would work well on a necktie. I guess it’s a commentary on how my life has progressed that I now think more in terms of neckties than tie-dyed t-shirts.

colorful_bug_blog

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After a frosty start, today was the warmest it’s been in a while, partly sunny with highs above 60 degrees F (about 16 degrees C). As the sun was starting to set, I decided to be a little creative and see if I could highlight a single leaf with the colorful sky in the background. I found a suitable tree without too much problem, but finding a leaf at the right height with an unobstructed background was a little tricky. I happened to have my 100mm macro lens on the camera and decided to go with that. I knew that I would need to use a little flash on the leaf to keep it from getting lost in the shadows. I used settings of ISO 100, F32, and 8/10 sec to get the effect and tweaked the image slightly in Photoshop Elements, though I chose not to crop at all. Here’s a couple of shots of my experiment. (In case you are curious, the leaf is still attached to the tree, even though it looks like I am merely holding it in from of the lens.)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The leaf is back-lit and drops of dew glisten on its surface, a surface that is scarred and torn and unevenly colored with the tints of the fall. In its beautiful imperfection, this autumn leaf speaks to me in the simple, abstract language of lines and shapes, of light and color.

Abstract fall leaf

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The water level in the area of the marsh where I photographed herons and egrets earlier this summer is so low that it is now just a big puddle. Therefore, I was surprised early one morning this past weekend to see a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) wading in the water. The light was not very bright, but the surface of the water had a really beautiful reflection of the orange of the fall foliage. The heron was a pretty good distance away and I was on a boardwalk, so my options were limited for framing my shots. Here are a couple of my favorite shots of the heron, surrounded by the reflection of the fall colors.

Great Blue Heron in the fall at Huntley Meadows Park

Fall reflection of a Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Over the past month I have complained repeatedly about the lack of bright color in the fall foliage here in the Washington, D.C. area. The muted color changes just do not match up to my childhood memories of spectacular displays of red, orange, and yellow leaves in the trees of New England. As a result, I have not felt inspired to take up my camera and capture the changing season.

My attitude changed, though, when I read an article by Sparky Stensaas in The Photonaturalist entitled 10 Reasons NOT to Take Fall Leaf Photos. I encourage you to read the article (by following the link above) if you keep coming up with excuses, as I did, why you cannot photograph the leaves of the fall. The author summarized the article in this concluding paragraph:

“There you have it…A bunch of reasons NOT to shoot this fall’s gorgeous leaves…And a bunch of solutions to these common excuses. Now let’s get out there and shoot like crazy before all the leaves are gone!”

Feeling a bit more motivated, I set out yesterday determined to take some shots, among other things, of the autumn leaves. I tried a number of different approaches and am still sorting through my photos, but thought I’d post this one that caught my attention.

Fall leaves before they fall

I was walking through a path in the woods when I came into a small area where the sunlight was shining directly in my eyes, providing some backlighting for these leaves that were almost at eye-level. The leaves themselves are far from being perfect specimens, speckled as they are with brown spots. For the moment, the leaves remain attached to the tree, but inevitably they will drop to the ground to join the ranks of the fallen.  The colors, shapes, and textures of these leaves, however, serve as visual reminders for me of the beauty of the changing seasons, a beauty that may proclaim itself in bold swaths of spectacular color or speak with a quieter, more intimate voice.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper into autumn, I expect to find the colors orange and yellow only in the fall foliage or an occasional sunset. Yesterday, I was surprised to see this orange-and-yellow butterfly flitting from flower to flower, seemingly oblivious to the changing seasons. Doesn’t he know it’s almost October? Is it eternally spring for a butterfly?

Butterfly in late September

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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