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Posts Tagged ‘Sigma 135-400mm telephoto zoom lens’

There is something magical about the moon and I have been seeing it more often this month in the frigid early morning hours, as I let the dog out in the backyard or pick up my newspaper from the front stoop. I took this shot of a sliver of the moon a few days ago, when the moon phase was somewhere between the last quarter and the waning crescent. I know I should use my tripod, but that would mean getting dressed warmly—it’s much too tempting to grab a few quick shots and to rush back into the comfort of the heated house.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The moon looked amazing at 7:00 this morning when I went out to get my newspaper from my front steps. It was still dark and in the opposite direction, the sun was just beginning to rise. I rushed back into the house, put some socks on my sandaled feet, and ran outside with my camera to get some shots.

I used the longest lens that I have, a Sigma 135-400mm lens, and leaned it against the roof of a parked car to stabilize it.  I was surprised at the detail that I managed to capture of the craters near the dark side of the moon. (I think the full moon was a few nights ago.) Click on the photo to see it in higher resolution.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Before long, the White Egrets (Ardea alba) will leave this area for more temperate locations, so I was happy to get a few shots this past weekend of one of them at Cameron Run, a tributary of the Potomac River.

The egrets like to roost in trees that overlook this stream and the first shot shows an egret relaxing in a tree after I inadvertently flushed him. I am deliberately underexposing the image in an effort to keep from totally blowing out the highlights of this very white bird, but it is still very hard to capture any details on the body.

The second shot shows the egret out of the water and its pose reminds me of a dancer, with its slim body and long elegant neck.

If things follow last year’s course, the blue herons will remain in my local area for most of the winter, but the egrets and green herons will soon depart. I’ll be looking for more photo opportunities with them before they leave.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The Great Blue Heron stealthily moved into position and leaned forward, preparing to strike. Would he pull a great big fish out of the water? The second photo provides the answer.

The catch was relatively modest, a tiny fish, dwarfed by the size of the heron’s bill. The heron obviously did not believe in the “catch and release” policy used by most fisherman for such small fish. Turning his head back a little, the heron had no trouble swallowing the little fish. He even seemed to smile a little as he did so, content that he had been successful in his fishing.

Having consumed his appetizer, the heron got back to fishing, hoping to catch a more substantial dinner.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you ever take shots and find that you like the way that the background turned out even more than the way the subject looked?  That was the case with this image of a male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) that I photographed this past weekend.

The lighting was a bit harsh and the pose is pretty ordinary, but I love the two-tone background, caused in part by the use of my 135-400mm telephoto zoom at its full extension.

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Do Northern Water Snakes (Nerodia sipedon) blow bubbles in the water for fun, like I used to do as a child? Does it help them to attract prey? Are the bubbles simply a result of the snake remaining semi-submerged in the shallow marsh water as it waits for its next victim?

Whatever the reason for the bubbles, I spent some time yesterday observing this snake, hoping that I might see a successful hunt. In the end, I came up empy-handed, as the snake’s patience outlasted mine.

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Do Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) have a sense of humor? What would prompt one to burst out in laughter?

Maybe one of the many turtles surrounding the heron’s feet decided to tickle them. (Click on the photo to get a better look at the turtles).

Perhaps he is preparing for an audition for the reality television show America’s Got Talent. What’s his talent? Judging from his appearance, I’d say this heron might have a future as a stand-up comic. I might have captured hims as he was trying out new material on the turtles, which are notoriously tough as judges—you have to be really funny to be able to penetrate those thick shells.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Some of my favorite images are almost minimalist in their approach, like this shot of a male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia).

The composition is simple, the color palette is limited, and there is a pretty good amount of negative space. The subject is not unique and unusual—its name even indicates that it is “common.”

I managed to capture some of the details of the dragonfly, though, like the “hairs” on the legs (click on the image to see a higher resolution view), though the image is not super sharp. The shadow of the wings on the green leaf adds an additional touch of visual interest to the image.

The photo is not spectacular and showy, but I find a real beauty in its quiet simplicity.

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Usually it is hard for me to find frogs, because they blend in so well with their surroundings, but that certainly was not the case with this bright green frog. Doesn’t he realize how much he stands out in that environment? I was able to spot him from quite a distance away.

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As I was walking along the boardwalk at my local marshland park, I heard some splashing in the shallow, muddy water and was surprised to see a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) emerging from the water with a fish in its mouth. I did not see the snake actually catch the fish, but by the time I caught sight of it, the snake already had a firm grip on the head of the fish. I suspect that the snake had moved onto dry land to make certain that the fish had no chance of escaping.

Fascinated and a little horrified, I watched as the snake opened its mouth wider, worked the obviously strong muscles of its throat, and gradually swallowed the small fish. In the series of photos below, you can see how the snake’s head and throat grew larger as more and more of the fish was drawn in.

After the snake finished its meal, it returned to the water and joined two other snakes searching for prey.  At times it looked like they might be working together to push the fish into the shallow water. That may have been my imagination, though, as I noted that the successful snake made no attempt to share his catch with the others.

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I had zoomed all the way in on this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), when suddenly he took a big stride, a stride that almost took him out of the frame.

Something must have caught his attention, because he started moving quickly after having been still for quite some time. Normally when a blue heron moves, he is striking, reaching down to pull (or spear) some hapless prey out of the water. His lateral movement caught me a little by surprise.

One of the challenges of taking photos of wildlife is to be ready for the unexpected. I’m learning that the more I study subjects like this blue heron, the more I can anticipate some of their action. It’s a whole lot easier to be ready for the expected than for the unexpected.

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I have always thought that Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) look a bit awkward on the ground, tall and gangly, but they are exceptionally beautiful in the air.

As I approached this blue heron yesterday at my local marshland park, it decided to take off. I often try to capture photos of birds in flight, though generally I’ve had only limited success.

I was pretty happy with this shot, taken shortly after the heron had taken to the air. The shaded woods make a decent backdrop and I like the blooming mallow flowers in the foreground. The focusing is a little soft, but I was able to capture some of the magnificent details of the visible wing.

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Can you spot the heron in this photo?

I think that you probably can pick out the Green Heron (Butorides virescens), which blends in pretty well with the vegetation, a little easier than I was able to do, when I visited my local marshland yesterday. The heron, which I think might be a young one, was foraging about in the marsh plants, unlike other Green Herons that I have seen in the past, which tended to stand near the edge of the water awaiting prey. If the heron had not moved, I might not have seen him, because it was so close to the ground.

I really like the colors of the Green Heron and its distinctive yellow eyes. The Green Heron may not be as big in size as a Great Blue Heron, but it has its own beauty—maybe I should begin a campaign to change its name to Great Green Heron.

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I never fail to be excited by the sight of a large, powerful bird soaring through the air.

Earlier this month, as I was walking along Cameron Run, a tributary of the Potomac River, I spotted a bird heading right toward me. It kept getting bigger and bigger as it approached and I suspected it was a hawk or an eagle—it turned out to be an osprey. Fortunately I had my largest telephoto zoom lens, a Sigma 135-400mm, already on my camera and, after a few adjustments, I started snapping away.

I was shooting almost directly into the sun, so much of the detail of the osprey’s body are hidden in the shadows, but I was able to capture some of the details of its amazing wings, with a little backlighting. Click on the images to see a higher resolution view of some of these details.

It may seem that I am photographing insects and spiders these days, judging from my blog postings, but I continue to enjoy photographing birds. In fact, photographing birds in flight is one of the specific areas in which I hope to improve, so these photos may be a preview of coming attractions once summer is over.

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Although I tend to use either my macro or my shorter telephoto zoom lens most at this time of the year, yesterday I decided to walk around with my longest zoom (135-400mm) and was happy about that decision when I encountered this juvenile Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus).

When I first saw it, the duck was sitting on a semi-submerged log  in the beaver pond of my local marshland pond, basking in the sun. I expected for the duck to be part of a group, but it appeared to be alone.

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I guess that I got a little too close, because the juvenile duck then slipped quietly off the log into the brown, muddy water of the pond and swam away a short distance. I like the concentric ripples in this shot of the duck slowly paddling away.

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I backed off and continued to observe the young duck, which decided to take advantage of being in the water to do a little grooming. After submerging itself, the duck rose up out of the water to dry off. The duck flapped its wings and I clicked my shutter and got this shot.

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There is a kind of playful feel to this shot that I really like. Somehow the duck reminds me of a friendly little dragon in this shot, with its feathers looking almost like scales and its wings and tail in an unusual position. I almost expected it to breathe a tiny burst of fire.

Maybe I should name the little duck “Puff.”

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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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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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Although I usually try to get close-up shots of dragonflies, there is something really peaceful about this longer distance shot of a male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) from this past weekend. I really like the arc of the branch and the reflection of both the branch and the dragonfly in the still water of the marsh. If you click on the image, you’ll see that there is a pretty good amount of detail in the dragonfly—I chose not to highlight those details in this posting.

Click the photo to see a higher resolution view.

Click on the photo to see a higher resolution view.

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Who hasn’t wished for an extra set of hands to get more done in this multi-tasking world?

When I first looked at this photo that I took of a male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), it looked like he had grown two extra sets of wings. Had a genie granted one of his wishes? Could he now fly faster than his friends (he is a male, after all)? Will this impress the ladies?

A close look at the image, however, reveals that the extra wings are merely illusions, shadowy reflections of a more ordinary reality.

That doesn’t mean, though, that he has ceased to dream and to wish from time to time for those extra wings.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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What happened to this swallow to cause it to be so drab looking? That was my first thought when I looked at these images.

The bird was perched at a location where I had previously seen a lot of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), but it looked more like a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor). However, all of the Tree Swallows that I have seen before have been a shiny bluish-green in color. Was this a different kind of sparrow?

It turns out that the answer to my mini-mystery is quite simple—juvenile Tree Sparrows are not the same color as the adults. I guess that I had been assuming that the young Tree Sparrows would be miniature versions of their parents.

The little swallow seemed quite content to pose for me and allowed me to get profile shots and head-on shots without any instructions. Perhaps a modeling career is in its future.

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How can you photographing a dragonfly while it is flying? As we have moved into dragonfly season, I have been thinking a lot about that question and earlier this week, I had some success in getting images of a female Blue Dasher dragonfly that I believe was ovipositing.

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Last year, I was content to photograph perched dragonflies (and still love to do so) and occasionally would capture one as it was leaving a perch. This year I am challenging myself and am actively seeking out opportunities to follow dragonflies with my lens and, if possible, to catch them in motion. They are so agile in flight, that the challenge is somewhat daunting. I have experimented with auto focusing and manual focusing. I have tried pre-focusing on an area and waiting and hoping a dragonfly would fly into it. I have had my best luck so far when I can catch the dragonfly as it is hovering.

This female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) approached this little clump of vegetation several times and would begin to hover. Then she would bend her tail forward and move it rapidly back-and-forth for a few seconds, which I think meant that she was laying eggs.

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I am definitely not an expert on dragonfly behavior and may be totally wrong about what she was doing. However, from a purely photographic point of view, this offered my best chance of getting some shots of this dragonfly in flight. As I recall, I got my best shots when focusing manually and snapping as many shots as I could when it looked like things were coming into focus.

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The Blue Dasher female (and you’ve probably noticed that the females of this species are not blue, despite their name) flew away and returned several times, but eventually was done with her business. I am continuing to observe the different species of dragonflies and hope to identify the types of behavior they exhibit that will maximize the chance of me getting some more shots like these ones.

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I have been seeing little brown butterflies (or moths) flitting about in the woods recently, but have not gotten a good look at any of them, so I was thrilled when a Little Wood Satyr butterfly (Megisto cymela) landed on a nearby leaf this past Monday and remained long enough for me to get some shots.

I am not a hundred percent certain of my identification, because there are a lot of similar butterflies and the distinctions seem pretty subtle to me at the moment. Please let me know if you can identify this little butterfly with greater precision.

This is another photo in which I took the time to use my tripod and to focus carefully, shooting at a focal length just short of 400mm. The focus is a little soft, particularly for the leaf, but I think that it helps to give the image a kind of dreamy feel, though it’s a little early for a midsummer night’s dream.

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Normally, I try to have an uncluttered background for my dragonfly shots, but the brilliant green body of this female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) really helps it to stand out (and this was the first pondhawk that I saw this spring).

Most of the dragonflies that I observe at my local marsh are either Blue Dashers or Common Whitetails, so I was really excited when a flash of emerald green caught my eye—the color is distinctive enough that I knew immediately what it was. Without paying too much attention to my surroundings, I moved forward to try to get a better angle on the dragonfly.  The next thing I knew, I was ankle-deep in marsh mud, but did manage to get some shots.

I haven’t yet seen any male Eastern Pondhawks, which are mostly blue, but I am keeping my eyes open and hope that it is only a matter of time until I photograph one this spring.

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Walking along the boardwalk at my local marsh yesterday morning, scanning the surface of the water, I noticed some movement and suddenly a female Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) with eight little ducklings swam into view. They were pretty far away in the shallow water, amidst the plants that have sprung up, but I managed to get a few shots of the family. The female Hooded Merganser ducks cares for the young alone, unlike the Canada Geese families that I see at the marsh, in which both parents are present.

I was heartened to see this group of ducklings, because I had heard from others at the marsh of dwindling number of ducklings earlier in the season. I have no idea how many of these little ones will survive—they seem so small and vulnerable (not to mention cute) and the snapping turtles are huge in comparison.

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Walking through the woods today at my local marshland park, I managed to photograph my first damselfly of the spring, what appears to be some type of spreadwing damselfly, possibly a Slender Spreadwing (Lestes rectangularis).

My camera was already on my tripod, with my 135-400mm zoom lens attached, when the damselfly flew by and perched on a thorny vine right in front of me. I decided to try to get a shot and the first thing that I had to do was to back up, because the minimum focusing distance of the lens at full extension is 7.2 feet (2.2 meters). Secondly I had to switch to manual focus—the damselfly is so slender that my camera refused to autofocus on it. Finally, I had to adjust the aperture manually, when I realized that there was a lot of direct light falling on the vine and on the damselfly.

The two shots that I am posting may look like they were taken using flash, with an almost black background, but the damselfly was in a little pocket of light and the rest of the area was pretty heavily shaded.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Arriving at the marsh really early in the morning, I was finally able to get a relatively well-exposed shot of a Great Egret (Ardea alba) in breeding plumage, with wispy plumes on its back and a bright green color between its eye and bill (an area known as the “lore”).

Generally I have trouble photographing this beautiful bird, because its brilliant white color gets blown out pretty easily when there is a lot of light and using exposure compensation is often not sufficient. One obvious solution to the problem of too much light is to come at a time of reduced light. I switched to manual mode and, after a bit of experimentation, found a setting that seemed to work pretty well. I also had my camera on a tripod, which is a good practice any time I can manage to use it, which permitted me to use a slower shutter speed.

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Last summer, my favorite photographic subject was the Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) and I was really excited on Friday to see that they are once again present at my local marshland park.

It continues to be a challenge to get close enough to capture the wonderful details of the dragonfly and to manage the background so that it is not too cluttered. I am happy to have gotten a few good images of male Blue Dashers to start the season, with the promise of more shots to come.

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Temperatures were forecast to soar yesterday, so I arrived early at the marsh—about 6 o’clock— and was treated to many stunning examples of spider art. The early morning light and the dew made it possible to get these shots.

I had thought that it was a bit early in the season for spiders to be active, but I was thrilled to be proven wrong. I never fail to be impressed by the handiwork of the different kinds of spiders and how they are able to adapt their webs to the environment.

I shot some webs with my macro lens and others with a telephoto zoom. In virtually all cases, I focused manually and used my tripod.

Only a few of the webs had visible spiders and I chose to highlight one of those in the first image, which is a close-up of the web shown in the final shot. The webs themselves are not perfect and have gaps and breaks in some places, an appropriate metaphor for the lives that most of us live.

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A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) seems to be a regular visitor to the beaver pond at my local marsh (and may have taken up residence nearby), but usually fishes in an area in which it is tough to get a clear shot.

One recent morning, however, I was happy to see him in a closer area and was able to get these shots. The first one has a less cluttered background, which helps to highlight the heron’s head.  Sometimes, though, I like the second one better, in which the heron is tucked into the midst of the growth and is partially camouflaged.

Do you have a preference for one of the two images?

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It may be hard for this snapping turtle to climb the ladder of success, when he had such difficulties merely getting himself onto a floating log. It would be understatement to note that Eastern Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) are not exactly graceful when they pull themselves out of the water (and even in the water, they seem a bit clumsy).

I read somewhere on-line that snapping turtles—unlike most other turtles—generally do not bask in the sun out of the water. Therefore, I was a little surprised when this turtle swam up to the log and began his attempt to climb onto it. It was like watching a movie in slow motion as he struggled and strained to pull his body up out of the water.

The first image shows him taking a break after making it halfway to his goal. I love the details of his visible front leg and all of his wrinkles. In the second shot, he has achieved his objective and seems to be settling in for an afternoon nap in the sun.

I noted that the log is no longer floating out of the water as it was at the start.—apparently success weighs heavy on the victor.

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