Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Wind on the Blackland Prairie

with 20 comments

Yesterday morning I went back to the west side of Heatherwilde Blvd. in Pflugerville, back to a piece of the Blackland Prairie that I’d found in full flower the day before. With the wind gusting to perhaps 25 mph (40 km/hr), I took many pictures at a high shutter speed to stop the plants’ movements. The photograph in this post came into being at 1/1000 of a second.

The yellow flowers are square-bud primroses, Calylophus berlandieri. The clusters of much smaller yellow flowers atop tall plants are prairie parsley, Polytaenia nuttallii. The yellow-fringed red flower heads are Gaillardia pulchella, known as firewheels and Indian blankets. The blowing grass is purple three-awn, Aristida purpurea, which arcs over even without any wind and still suggests it’s being blown sideways.

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 2, 2017 at 5:02 AM

20 Responses

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  1. I think purple three-awn is one of our prettiest grasses. It certainly is a lovely accent in this bit of prairie. I’ve always enjoyed mixed bouquets, and you captured a fine one here.

    I’ve spent time recently trying to photograph slim milkweed (Asclepias linearis) and it was frustrating. In the winds, the tiny flower heads atop those long stems bob a good bit: sometimes, right out of the frame. I found that even 1/1600 of a second won’t stop that kind of movement. I’m hoping the winds lay after tomorrow’s frontal passage, and the buds I found have opened.

    shoreacres

    May 2, 2017 at 7:43 AM

    • I’m always fascinated by good stands of purple three-awn. I get the impression—don’t know if it’s true—that the general public is unaware of this common grass. I think of it as Texan because Texas is the only place I recall seeing it, but a look at the USDA map just now revealed that purple three-awn grows in many parts of the western United States:

      https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=ARPU9

      The closer a photographer gets to a subject, the greater the effect of wind, something you’ve been contending with. A few photographers I know attach a clamp to a blowing plant to steady it. One such device is the well-named Plamp:

      https://www.tripodhead.com/products/plamp-main.cfm

      I’ve developed my own unorthodox technique of steadying a plant with my left hand while steadying the camera against my head with my right hand (and using a shutter speed of at least 1/400 of a second).

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 2, 2017 at 9:15 AM

      • I did a little experimenting, and I can see how your technique would work. Holding the camera one-handed isn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. You must use auto-focus, though — or perhaps you move the subject around until it comes into focus. With a camera in one hand and a flower in the other, you’d be a little short-handed for focusing. I could be missing something, of course.

        The Plamp is an ingenious device. I can see its value, especially for professionals who don’t have any time to waste, or who have more equipment to set up. For the time being, I think I’ll work on a variation of a famliar technique. It’s occurred to me that I read the wind on the water when I was sailing, and training myself to hear the lulls and gusts might be as valuable. Apart from strong frontal passages, there’s always a rhythm to the wind. Making a game of finding the lulls would be more fun than attaching a clamp.

        shoreacres

        May 4, 2017 at 5:38 PM

        • With the unorthodox technique I mentioned, I do generally have autofocus enabled so I can at least get an approximation. If that looks like it’s good enough, I go ahead and press the shutter release button. If the autofocus isn’t quite right (which is often the case in closeups), I refine the focus manually by moving the camera (and my head) slightly forwards or backwards, then take the picture. In cases where the autofocus has trouble, I switch to manual focus, get the distance approximately right, then refine as just explained. After taking a lot of pictures with this technique in one session, my right hand can get tired and achy.

          If you can time a lull in the wind, that’s a better approach.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 4, 2017 at 6:14 PM

  2. A wonderful prairie moment, Steve — the wind, the wildflowers, and the bent-over grass. I love prairies, thank you. And thanks for the flower ID too.

    Jet Eliot

    May 2, 2017 at 9:26 AM

    • I’m glad you appreciate it, Jet. Prairies are great—except for the chiggers; oh well, that’s a price I pay for this kind of floral diversity. I saw plenty of other native species in addition to the ones identified in today’s picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 2, 2017 at 9:47 AM

      • I get real bad chiggers in prairies and grass, too, Steve. Try buying hiking gaiters (REI) and strapping them around your ankles, they have worked wonders for me.

        Jet Eliot

        May 2, 2017 at 9:59 AM

        • Yesterday and the day before I wore my hip-high boots. They worked well, and I didn’t get the usual chigger bites on my ankles and legs. Unfortunately, I often have to sit or lie down to get low enough for good closeups of my subjects. Even though I sat on the mat that I carry with me for just that purpose, I ended up with at least a dozen bites in places where the boots couldn’t protect me from chiggers. That said, the hiking gaiters you suggested sound like a good idea for times when the hip-high boots aren’t convenient (like the height of summer, or when I anticipate walking long distances).

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 2, 2017 at 10:09 AM

  3. Wish we had some prairie within a few hours driving distance here. OTOH, we have nice forests and hills and streams and waterfalls so I guess I have no business lusting after the landscapes of others.

    Steve Gingold

    May 2, 2017 at 4:35 PM

    • Agreed. In central Texas we have prairies and also hilly country with creeks and ravines. At the same time, we have no desert, no coast, no real mountains, no snow or ice to speak of. All of us have to do the best with what we have. Occasional travel, like my recent trip to New Zealand, can fill in some of the gaps.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 2, 2017 at 4:53 PM

  4. That field screams Texas. I have been capturing unknown wildflowers with the iPhone, which doesn’t take too bad pictures; however, wind and focus (with a decreased depth of field) can be troublesome. While the big lens enjoys multitudes of migratory birds in spring, the wide angle is growing cobwebs in the bag. Just a couple more weeks…

    Shannon

    May 2, 2017 at 6:37 PM

    • I’ve had generally good results with my last few iPhones, which I’ve used occasionally when I haven’t had my “real” camera equipment with me. As you say, though, the phone camera does what it does and we have almost no control over it. As you also suggest, there’s nothing like a wide-angle lens on a good camera for capturing the sweep of a flowering prairie in spring. Now if only in addition to image stabilization my lenses had chigger stabilization…

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 2, 2017 at 8:12 PM

      • Haha. Chiggers. And more recently poison ivy. Occupational hazard I guess.

        Shannon

        May 3, 2017 at 6:08 AM

        • Yeah, chiggers are the main occupational hazard for me. After hours on the prairie on Sunday and Monday, I ended up with my share of bites. I’d taken the precaution of wearing hip-high boots, so I got none of the usual bites on my ankles and lower legs.

          Sorry about your poison ivy. We have lots of it in Austin but fortunately I’ve never had a reaction to any. Chiggers have more than compensated for that.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 3, 2017 at 7:09 AM

          • One of my blog followers introduced me to ankle gaiters. Haven’t used them yet, but she says tucked into boots, they really deter the body mite’s entry. Chiggers are the worst itch, but poison ivy is the longest. More than a week for me, treated.

            Shannon

            May 3, 2017 at 7:12 AM

            • I’ve found that an internal anti-allergy (in my case a generic version of Allegra) does a good job in reducing the itch of chigger bites. In fact I’m off to take one of those pills right now.

              Steve Schwartzman

              May 3, 2017 at 7:56 AM

  5. […] I wandered out onto a piece of the Blackland Prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Blvd. in Pflugerville on April 30th, I noticed that one of the […]

  6. […] caterpillar that I found on a prairie parsley plant (Polytaenia nuttallii) when I visited the Blackland Prairie west of Heatherwilde Blvd. in Pflugerville on April 30th. After I went back the next day and […]


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