Another couple from Pawnee Buttes

Storm over Pawnee Buttes
Infrared at Pawnee Buttes


Passiflora incarnata (passionflower, maypops) Image composed of a focus stack of 27 exposures.

Recently, I’ve taken the plunge and given some serious efforts into focus stacking in macro photography. This method allows the photographer to increase the depth of field in a scene by combining multiple exposures, each focused on a separate plane of focus. Afterwards, the different exposures are combined using powerful processing software on the computer. This particular image was built from 27 photos all taken at an aperture of f/8.

I will definitely miss our yard full of native plants when we make our change in residence, including the passionflowers. Maybe I’ll get to harvest this year’s crop of fruit one more time to make my own juice.

Although I don’t share in these beliefs, I really can appreciate the connections and story that the Christian thinkers put upon the Passiflora when they were introduced to these new world plants. Here is the story they used to connect this interesting group to Christian symbolism.


In Search of Tinytim

The WGNSS Nature Photography Group headed west early on a lovely day in early April with hopes of finding one of Missouri’s rarest plants – Geocarpon minimum, commonly referred to as tinytim, or earth-fruit. Geocarpon minimum (C=10) is a plant in a monotypic genus known for its diminutive size and rare status. It is listed as federally threatened and as endangered by the state of Missouri. The primary reason for its relative scarcity is its habitat needs; G. minimum requires sandstone glade habitats in Missouri as well as saline “slick spots” where it typically occurs in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. A fine balance must be the goal for managers of these areas. Competition and shading by native or exotic competitors is the primary limiting factor of this species and therefore, continuous disturbance is necessary for its continued success.

Geocarpon minimum “tinytim”

This plant’s life cycle is short, lasting only 3-6 weeks. Our objective was finding these plants in flower, but there were no guarantees we would find them flowering, or find them at all. Our first and primary hope for finding these plants was at Bona (pronounced Bonnie) Glade Natural Area. Here, our botany leaders, Casey Galvin, John Oliver, and Steve Turner showed us the microhabitat in which to find the plants and were able to point at the first few plants we found. With search images in mind, the group spread out and found the plants throughout the area. Better yet, we found the population in the early stages of flowering! As you can see in the accompanying photos, these are perfect subjects for the macro/micro lens.

In case you wondered how this species earned its name

After grabbing a late lunch together, a few of us decided to return to Bona Glade. Ted MacRae and I were unsatisfied with earlier images we had taken with our Laowa 15 mm macro lens and we were eager to improve the photos using this specialty lens that, when used successfully, can showcase the plant within its specific habitat.

Geocarpon minimum growing from rock/sand substrate

We photographed the plant on the couple of substrates that we found it on and in the various stages of its development.

Geocarpon minimum growing from moss substrate
Ozark Bill getting low to meet Geocarpon at “eye level”. Photo by Ted MacRae

Finding and photographing this plant was a long-held goal of mine. It was a very special day spent with friends and newfound acquaintances. I am thankful for those who helped us find this plant and spent time with us. Hopefully future WGNSS members will continue to find tinytim in its Missouri homes for decades to come.

Tinytim hunters. From back row starting on left: John Oliver, David Seidensticker, Deb Tyler, Adam Rembert, James Faupel, Steve Turner, Front row starting on left: Bill Duncan, Evelyn Luecke, Casey Galvin, Anh do Galvin, Ted MacRae.


Greater Prairie Chickens at Dunn Ranch Prairie – 2019

It’s been quite some time since I’ve shared a blog post. This has primarily been due to being in a residence move that is seemingly never going to end. But, I have been finding time here and there to make new images and even get some post-processing done. I have switched themes in this blog, picking a theme that should allow me to create a “portfolio” page to showcase my stronger photos. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to figure out how to do this in WordPress. So I have not gotten far in this endeavor.

My goal is to post more frequently, just to share photos. There may not be a lot of accompanying text, but will depend on the subjects, my amount of free-time and my mood.

Greater Prairie Chicken in golden light

The images in this post were taken back in April of 2019 during a WGNSS Nature Photo Group outing to Dunn Ranch Prairie. This visit was close to the end of the lekking period and was the latest date that the MDC was keeping the blind open. This was different than our previous visit when we visited in the earlier part of the season and had pros and cons associated.


Visiting the lek later in the season created better chances for better light (clear skies) and warmer weather. However, what we didn’t expect was that the females typically choose the dominant males to copulate with in the earlier days of the season and will often be nesting come the later days of the lekking season. This is what we had found during this visit. We did not see a single hen during this visit.

The standoff

Because there were no hens to compete for, the males had no heart for the competition. We had very few opportunities to photograph the action we had witnessed during our first visit to the lek two years prior.

One of the few opportunities to capture a fight between males

The light, however, was spectacular – we had no reason to complain and we all made memorable portrait style photos of these birds booming, dancing and cackling.

Never a disappointment, hopefully this Missouri population somehow continues to hang on so that WGNSS members can continue to enjoy this spectacle in Missouri.

So long!


WGNSS Nature Photo Group Outing – Swans of RMBS

ƒ/8, 1/1250 sec, ISO-320, 1120 mm focal length equivalent

In December, 2018 the WGNSS Nature Photography Group met at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary with hopes of making some memorable images of our giant white residents that spend their winters here. Trumpeter and Tundra Swans will spend their evenings at roost in the bodies of water at RMBS and will then typically leave to forage in surrounding agricultural fields, picking up the wasted grain from harvest.

A good strategy for placing yourself in the most appropriate position for making photographs of these birds is to pay attention to the direction of the sun. If the birds are found in Ellis Bay during the golden hours of morning light (during winter in St. Louis, this can be up to three hours after sunrise), then getting close to the shore with the sun behind you can produce some satisfactory results. Try getting closer to the ground and shooting the birds from a low angle. This will give your photographs an eye-to-eye perspective that is a much more intimate view into the birds’ world. Shooting at low angles will also tend to provide a more pleasing, out-of-focus background to your subject that will cause the bird to appear to be larger than life. We photographed both species of swan as they lounged in Ellis Bay for the first couple hours of the morning. Can you pick which is the Tundra and which is the Trumpeter Swan in these first two images?

ƒ/8, 1/800 sec, ISO-250, 1120 mm focal length equivalent

We then moved on to another place within the refuge that the Swans can often be found on winter mornings. At Heron Pond, these birds are typically too far away from the observation areas to get closeup photographs while roosting. However, the patient photographer on the ready can often be rewarded by standing and waiting around. During this morning, the Swans were a tad tardy in lifting out of Heron Pond, so our group was in the right place at the right time. Getting proper positioning with the angle of the sun is a bit more difficult here in the morning but is still critical. We placed ourselves in the best places available on this busy morning and took advantage of the swans as they left the pond, which often flew right over our heads.

Photographing these mostly bright-white birds on a bright sunny day is not necessarily simple. While on the ground or the waters of the bay, it is common to have the camera’s light meter expose for the darker and more prominent background. This will often lead to the white feathers of the birds being overexposed. Remember to check the histogram of your camera and use the “blinkies” while reviewing your images to ensure you are not clipping your whites. If this is the case, make the proper adjustments to your exposure. Saving your whites may result in your blacks and shadows being bunched up at the other end of the histogram. Since the big white bird is your subject of concern, this should be nothing to worry about.

ƒ/5.6, 1/1600 sec, ISO-160, 594 mm focal length equivalent

Changing directions and the angle of sunlight are challenging for proper exposure. Get as close as you can in the field – much can be recovered in post-processing.

Shooting these large birds in flight presents a different set of challenges. Although these birds move relatively slower than most other birds during flight, the photographer will still want a relatively fast shutter speed. This is particularly true the closer you are to your subject. I recommend no slower than 1/1000 of a second. Start at this setting and increase shutter speed if you notice blurring or softness to your image due to subject movement. As these birds get closer during flight, they will naturally fill more of your frame, thereby increasing the number of pixels seeing the bright white values. This can often lead to a case of the camera’s meter overcompensating, thereby causing an underexposed image. In this case, the birds may come out looking grey instead of white and the black colorations of their feet and faces will be much too dark and lack sufficient details.

ƒ/5, 1600 sec, ISO-200, 272 mm focal length equivalent

In the above image, a swan can be seen with a significantly crooked neck. I typically see one or two birds with this condition every season. I do not know how it affects the birds or what their ultimate fates may be.

In the case of constant sunny skies, fully manual exposure settings are most called for. Here I will present a good starting point for setting the exposure for capturing swans in flight. Shutter speed – As I mentioned earlier, start with a minimum of 1/1000 sec. This may likely be too slow to capture a sharp image, depending on what position the bird’s wings were captured. Often, shutter speeds of up to 1/2500 sec or higher might be necessary. Aperture – This will depend on how close you are to the swan. Remember, these are large birds and when shooting at a profile there is a lot of distance from wingtip to wingtip. If the bird is significantly close, or if you have multiple birds in the frame, you will be unlikely to capture the entire subject(s) in critical focus if shooting wide open. I recommend no wider than ƒ/5.6 – you may need to stop down significantly smaller. However, always remember that getting the animal’s eye in sharp focus is critical. Many images will work fine if other parts of the bird are not in critical focus. ISO – Remembering that photography is a compromise, shooting at a fast shutter speed and smaller apertures might require that a higher ISO value be needed to obtain the proper exposure. Several latest digital camera models have a useful “auto ISO” setting. I know, technically this is not fully manual, but ISO does not necessarily have the input it once did. Know the highest ISO setting for your camera that you are comfortable with and don’t be afraid to shoot there. This will vary by camera model and by the photographer’s taste.

Here is a photo of “crooked neck” as it flew directly over my head. In cases like this a telephoto-zoom lens is really beneficial for capturing birds in flight.

ƒ/5, 1/1600 sec, ISO-400, 216 mm focal length equivalent

The majority of this material was originally published in Nature Notes (The Journal of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society) February 2019, Vol. 91, No. 2.