Backyard: Macro Photography

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

Being all-but-stuck in my own backyard for the better part of two weeks during a health crisis has provided me with ample time to enjoy my own small bit of nature.

It has also reminded me —what with the bumble bees, wasps, ants, ladybugs, butterflies, spiders, flies, and so on — that there is a lot of critter life to be found in a couple hundred square meters of suburban backyard.

Photographing backyard bugs was one of the big — ahem, small — reasons I bought myself a macro lens a decade back and really got into taking pictures of little fauna crawling around the variety of flora I’d nurtured.

As of this afternoon the blossoms are just appearing on the trees and the population of dandelions seems to be doubling daily. The sky might be a bit cloudy, but that doesn’t seem to have much sway on the action of the various insects crawling and flying around me little backyard workspace.

Capturing photos of those critters takes a particular set of skills.

Right Gear

Macro photography is more than a purpose-built lens. A macro lens is a great addition to any photographer’s kit bag, but that alone won’t get you awesome insect snaps. Setting up a shot that is in focus in in the narrow confines of a shallow depth of field on a subject that is measured in millimeters means the stability that comes from a tripod and the light enhanced by a source or reflector will do wonders for the final results.

Good Timing

Back in University I took a laundry list of coursework in both botany and entomology. All that study of plants and bugs certainly didn’t hurt my backyard photography skills, but I’d be hard pressed to say how it helped. Figuring out when the flower are open at their peak and picking the right moment on the right day to encounter the kinds of insects worth photographing is still as much luck as it is skill. It’s a good idea to keep your camera charged up as spring warms up and summer approaches, though.

Long Patience

Anyone who has ever said photographing puppies and babies is the hardest gig obviously has never tried to get a really nice photo of a butterfly. I’ve found that there are really just two approaches to taking macro photo of an insect in the wild: chase, click and hope for the best, or set up your gear, focus, and wait. I’ve lucked out with the first method, but I’ve taken some amazing pics with the latter. It does mean sitting in the grass with your finger on the shutter for the better part of an afternoon, but I’m sure the instagram likes were worth it.

Backyard: Travel by Flower

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

It’s Travel Tuesday, and even tho I cannot go anywhere I have been plunging plugs of soil from the yard as I deal with some visitors from Europe who have overstayed their welcome.

Dandelions: the two most commonplace species worldwide, T. officinale (the common dandelion) and T. erythrospermum (the red-seeded dandelion), were introduced into North America from Europe and now propagate as wildflowers.Wikipedia

This photo is one that I took last year in the park near my house. A couple thousand square meters of little yellow flowers that blossom for a few days before turning into countless white puffballs.

Millions of yellow flowers cover the parks of my city starting in mid-May each year, and it is only with an epic diligence plucking, pulling, or even poisoning the colourful weeds that my yard does not look like a dandelion explosion.

Why?

There is an eternal tug-o-war between the naturalization of green spaces including the small parcel of land over which I steward, also known as my yard, and the tending of those spaces into manicured single-species carpets called lawns. We work, spend, and bicker over the fate of these little flowers that appear for at most a couple weeks each year.

Locals despise them, pick them, and chide each other for letting them grow too amply.

For many reasons we favour grasses, green and soft, mowed to an even trim.

And even if I did not, if I instead chose to let my property return to the natural state of mixed natural flora, local bylaws would trample on my eco-crusade and issue me a ticket in the name of neighbourly harmony.

So I pluck dandelions from among the blades of grass, knowing that one visiting species, grass, is in a constant battle against a different sort of traveler, the aggressive yellow dandelion.

It is a fight against a flower in an epic struggle for a so-called perfect lawn.

Sometimes I really am just tempted to dig it all up and grow potatoes.