Life Amongst the Leaves
Fall clouds and record rainfall don’t usually bode well for bug photography, but this year was an exception. Amidst the turning leaves and decaying vines there was life still eking out its survival. I took some chances between (and sometimes in) the rain showers and was rewarded with a few of my best opportunities of the year.
At the top of my photographic wish list for years has been a Praying Mantis – that miniature giraffe-like insect, about 2 ½ inches long with crab-like pincers. Well, the photography gods were good to me this fall and delivered one for me to photograph. It showed up on a bed of ivy, which I happened to notice on one last pass-through before packing up to leave the park. An hour later I finally did leave, but I returned three more times in the next five days to shoot it in every conceivable way – with different camera settings, angles, compositions, directions of light, backgrounds, and with and without the sun shining (i.e., with and without flash).
The next big finds in the ivy this fall were Harvestmen – eight-legged arachnids more closely related to scorpions than spiders. I’ve seen and shot them before, but never with such wonderfully unobstructed views and backgrounds. They are not easily disturbed so I was able to take many shots from multiple angles and distances.
Also, there was the fly blowing bubbles perfectly poised on the edge of a leaf. Nearby was a tiny Armadillo-like bug peering over the tip of a leaf as though it was contemplating a suicidal jump. On one visit to the park I spotted a quarter-inch-long iridescent Midge with antennae like ferns and it was caught in a spider’s web awaiting its inevitable fate. Most recently (into November now) I discovered yellow jackets and honey bees still buzzing around and gorging themselves on what looked like the pulp or maybe pollen on the ends of leafless clusters of buds. And, of course, what fall would be fall without spiders and their webs, but for the first time in my memory spiders were not the only option for shooting this time of year.
From a technical standpoint, lack of light was not an issue because I brought my light with me in the form of a twin macro flash attached to my 90mm macro lens and 12mm extension tube. With the flash I shot it in manual mode at f/16, ISO 100 and 1/200th of a second. But when the sun did come out one day when I was shooting the mantis, I managed a few shots in aperture mode at f/11, ISO 400, at 1/100th/second, which let the backlight illuminate the colorful background and the translucent subject. It was magical.
Fall, for me, nearly always begins with mourning the loss of summer’s light and mild weather. But helping me through my eight stages of grief were spontaneous trips to the park when there was no good reason to expect anything to shoot. What surprisingly came my way, though, restored my faith that there is still plenty of life amidst the natural death and decay that is very much a part of every fall, and of course, along with this life comes new and renewing photo ops.