Bold spider

This past Friday I spotted one of my favorite spiders, the Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax), in the reeds adjacent to the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park. The spider was pretty active and jumped a couple of times, but I managed to get a shot that highlights its multiple eyes and colorful “fangs.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”


Bold Jumping Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

As their name suggests, Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) appear later in the year than most other dragonflies. This past weekend I spotted quite a number of mating pairs, including this couple that I captured in an acrobatic position worthy of the Cirque du Soleil. The dramatic lighting and colorful background added to the theatrical feel of the image, as all the elements worked together to focus our attention on the performance.

Autumn Meadowawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Eye of a snake

It has often been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. I’m not sure what I can say about the soul of this Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon), but I recently had a chance to take a long, close look into one of its eyes.

As I was walking in my local marshland park last week, one of my fellow photographers pointed out the snake to me in the low vegetation. Most of the time that I see this species, it is in the water, where it is almost impossible for me to get a close-up shot. The snake started to move several times as I got closer and closer to it, but then it would stop, thinking perhaps that it would be invisible if it remained motionless.

Most of the time, my view to the snake was obscured by the vegetation, so I waited and tried to anticipate where it would move next, hoping that it would move to a more open area. Finally, I was able to get a relatively clear shot of its eye in a head-and-shoulders portrait, though, of course, snakes don’t really have shoulders.

Northern Watersnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

When I am trying to take a close-up shot of a dragonfly, I know that I have succeeded when I manage to capture some of the details of the ommatidia. What are ommatidia? Ommatidia are the up to 30,000 hexagonal facets that make up the incredible compound eyes of a dragonfly. For more information and a more scientific explanation, check out a posting entitled “Super-predators” that Sue did in June 2013 in her Backyard Biology blog.

Rather than think about science, today I would prefer to simply bask in the beauty of the blue-eyed Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) that I photographed yesterday as it perched on a fallen leaf at my favorite marshland park. The color of the dragonfly’s eyes completely captivate me.

As for the ommatidia, I’ve cropped a portion of the image and added it to the posting as a second image to make it even clearer what they look like. I chuckled a little when I examined the cropped image, because this dragonfly, like some others that I have photographed, has the sparsely distributed mustache and chin hairs that never fail to remind me of human teenagers who refuse to shave in a vain attempt to look older.

Blue-faced MeadowhawkBlue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Earlier this month, I was really happy to spot this Northern Rough Greensnake (Opheodrys aestivus) on the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park, my local marshland park. These snakes spend most of the time in the trees and in heavy brush, so I rarely get to see one, despite their very distinctive color and overall appearance. The Virginia Herpetological Society claims that this is a docile species that will not bite, but just to be safe, I took the close-up shot from a good distance away, shooting at 300mm on my telephoto zoom lens.

Generally I like to photograph my wildlife subjects in a natural environment and the “wood” on this boardwalk isn’t even natural—it’s some kind of synthetic material. In this case, however, the neutral color of the background helps to focus viewers’ attention on the colors and textures and shape of the snake. In the final two images, in particular, I really like the contrast between the sinuous curves of the snake’s body and the hard, straight lines of the man-made objects.

Rough GreensnakeRough GreensnakeRough Greensnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Pixel and Lobo

Do you post photos of only one particular genre or type of subject? Do you feel that you have to be specialized as a photographer? Are you afraid to post a photo that might be viewed as a cliché or hackneyed image?

This past weekend I was catsitting for a photographer friend, Cindy Dyer, who has two male cats named Pixel and Lobo. As she tells the story, she wanted to name them Pixel and JPEG, but her husband refused to let her name the cat JPEG, so she settled on Lobo.

Since I was going to be spending some quality time with the cats, I decided to take along my camera and see if I could capture a few shots of them. I quickly learned that cats are not very cooperative subjects—you can’t get them to pose when and where and how you want. I suspect that most of the best shots of cats are taken when someone catches them doing something they were doing anyways.

It was gray and overcast the day that I tried to photograph the cats, so natural light was pretty limited in the townhouse where they live. The pop-up flash was not really an option, because it produced the animal equivalent of red-eye in the one shot I attempted. I cranked up the ISO to 1600 and shot almost wide open, but even so the shutter speeds were below 1/30 of a second and many shots were blurred. In retrospect, I probably should have chosen a different lens for the task. I used my 180mm macro lens and often couldn’t get enough distance to capture even the entire head. Needless to say, I had no trouble filling the frame with my subjects.

Eventually I got some images I liked of Pixel, the striped cat, and Lobo, the gray one. I posted these images to Facebook so that Cindy and her husband could view them from Texas, where they were attending a photo workshop. In doing so, I added to the deluge of cat photos on the internet.

One of my fellow nature photographers, Walter Sanford, responded to the images with the comment, “If you persist in posting cat photos, then I’ll have to recommend the Society of Amateur Wildlife Photographers revoke your membership and ban you for life!” I’m pretty sure he was kidding, but it prompted me to think about the questions with which I opened this posting.

For me, I am on a journey into photography and I want to be free to explore and to share the results of my exploration. I don’t want to overspecialize and I don’t want to feel constrained to posting only “perfect’ images. I have no fear in posting imperfect images and have to come to appreciate the creative power of what others might view as inferior images.

So here, at last, are my shots of Lobo and Pixel—embrace the cliché and feel free to post pictures of your cats.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Migrating Green Darner

It’s migration time for Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) and last week one of my fellow photographers, Walter Sanford, reported a small swarm of Green Darners at my local marshland park.

I was walking in an entirely different area of the park from Walter and was surprised to see Green Darners, which are easily recognized thanks to their coloration and distinctive bullseye on their heads, flying up from the ground as I approached them. Rather than fly off into the distance, which is most often the case when I happen to disturb a dragonfly, these dragonflies moved only a short distance and came to rest again on the ground.

I don’t yet have the ability to interpret the movements of dragonflies, but it seemed to me that these Green Darners were conserving energy, as though they were resting in the midst of a long journey. I tried to be as quiet and stealthy as I could and moved closer and closer to one Green Darner perched near some green moss that was almost a perfect match for the color of the forward portion of her body. Judging from her overall coloration, I think this is probably a female.

My subject was amazingly cooperative and I was able to get shots of this beautiful dragonfly from a number of different angles. Although I normally try to have backgrounds that are must less cluttered than those in these images, I don’t find them to be too distracting here and they do help to show how well this colorful dragonfly blended in with her environment.

Common Green DarnerCommon Green DarnerCommon Green DarnerCommon Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


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