Over the West


After my recent trip to Houston, I was treated to a clear day of flying back across the great American West. To survey these wide open spaces, flying at 35,000 feet gives a good overview.  I hope you enjoy the pictures!


It was raining in Houston when we left, so I snagged this wallpaper-like shot of the sky and the drops on the window.



Much of the saturation drops out over distance, so it is a bit of a trick to adjust colours and shadows. I had some frustration trying to replicate what I saw, so eventually I just decided to fiddle until I had a pleasing image. I guess that is the same thing astrophotographers do!


A big deep mine, probably in Arizona.


On the runway in Phoenix.


At this distance it is difficult to appreciate the size of landforms, but the road gives some scale.


Some crazy bluffs!


One of the bird-frying solar installations in Nevada.


Not sure if this one is operational or not.


An air-to-air shot of another passenger plane.


Mt. Hood.



South Seattle


Banking in for a SeaTac approach.










Throwing down some hard light

Sometimes the light of a cloudy day is beautiful for photography, making features soft and creamy, eliminating harsh shadows, and enhancing colours. But this is a bright cloudy day we are talking about, not a gloomy, dark and depressing day like we tend to get around Vancouver this time of year. On a day like that, the photographer can only do one thing: eat Cheetos and veg out.

But wait! There is something you can do to get nice defined images of wildlife despite the terrible conditions and your way-too-old, way-too-noisy Canon sensor. Of course! Supplemental light!

I tested out throwing some hard light from trigger-controlled flashguns on a few species at Stanley Park this Saturday, and I am pretty pleased with the results!


This gull gains just a subtle definition from a speedlight placed behind and to the right.


A crow positioned about where the gull was. This time, because the bird is black, the effect is even more subtle, but that rim light on the head and showing up the feathers on the back is all flash.


The light to the back is much more obvious here, and the background branches are also lit. Bokeh is not great.


Again, some nice definition that would not have been present without a flash.



This Song Sparrow benefits from supplemental light, although it is a tad too direct for my taste.


A single shot with the 100 to show how the light was falling. I had the rimlight behind, and a bit of a fill directly in front of the crow (to my right).


Even hard light need not be oppressive. This towhee is still subtle, and I probably gained 3 stops of ISO here, making the image cleaner.


This squirrel gains definition from a single speedlight to the right, and a bit of fill from directly in front. .


This hooded merganser pops a bit more and is crisper overall thanks to speedlights.


Chickadee mid leap. Single speedlight to the right.


Chestnut-backed Chickadee. Again, I am gaining stops and definition.

Overall, I like this method of shooting, but would prefer natural light. For a gloomy day, when all I would get otherwise is a noisy mess, this is a good thing to try. With an actual lighting assistant, I am sure it could be even more fun.




Scenes from a foggy day


We have been basking in warm, moist air here on the West Coast, while the rest of the country is freezing in Arctic outflows. This “Pineapple Express” has brought a lot of rain over the past week, but that is now letting up. Yesterday was calm and foggy, and a bit eerie in its warmth. I was in Victoria, so I went walkabout to see what I could see.


Monday night the fog rolled in, smelling of the sea.




On Mt. Tolmie Tuesday morning, the air was still and moist, and collembollans could be found up on the vegetation.


Rock Flipping Day is every day for me, and has been since i was a kid. I found this beautiful spider that looks very much like a Pimoa.


Oddly, I also found 3 colonies of Aphaenogaster occidentalis, under rocks where 2 weeks ago none were evident. The warmth must have penetrated the soil, and the colonies moved themselves and their brood upwards.


These are some of my favourite myrmicines, and appear to be quite common in Garry Oak meadow habitats.


Jackson was along for this outing, and spent some time chewing rocks…You should see his teeth after 9 years of this awful habit!


I even managed to find a beautiful Phidippus!


On the ferry coming back to Vancouver, the waters were calm.


As it was high tide, the seals were hauled up on the rocky shores of Galiano Island.


Here, the ferry comes up on a log with cormorants and gulls.


Which scatter, somewhat comically.


A large volcano, Mt. Baker, which I visited several months back.


Winter lighting in this part of the world means sunset-like conditions at 2:30!


Which make for beautiful backgrounds.

Photo session with a jumper

IMG_5050This weekend, I did not have much time to go out and shoot, so I got my photography in by taking some shots of a Phidippus johnsoni female we are keeping in the apartment. In some of these shots, I was trying to mix hard and soft light to show the hairs of teh spider more clearly, but with the activity of the spider, it became a bit of a free-for-all regarding lighting.

Update: I am not sure if this is Phidippus johnsoni. It may well be P. borealis.


Here is the spider just before leaping. The extended forelegs are characteristic of an about-to-leap jumper.


This is the effect I was going for with the bare flash to the rear.


The colour of the chelicerae seems to depend hugely on the angle of light. Not surprising, as this seems to be an example of structural colouration.


Here they are with more direct lighting.


When not tearing around the tabletop studio, the jumper liked to hide in the dried leaves.



Last Gasp of Arachtober


For the very last post of Arachtober, I thought I would take some shots of the Halloweeniest spider on the west coast, Dysdera crocata. These orange and red beauties are specialist predators of terrestrial isopods (pillbugs) and have fangs equal to the task of envenomating these armoured prey.  IMG_2658 IMG_2683 IMG_2710 IMG_2712 IMG_2750 IMG_2756


Some Arachtober shots and thoughts



October is a month for spiders, being the time when many of the species which have grown large on summer’s bounty are settling down to lay eggs, or looking for overwintering sites. For spider photographers, it is like golden hour all month! If you search flickr for “Arachtober” you will find the photographic bounty that macrophotographers have amassed.

This Arachtober, I have not really been applying myself to spider photography, although I have made some dedicated efforts to secure shots of black widow defenses (for Catherine’s invited  talk at last weekend’s ESBC conference), or Steatoda males and females, for my friend Chloe Gerak’s award-winning talk at the same conference.

Anyway, here are some shots and thoughts about my Arachtober.



Western black widow throwing silk on Catherine’s finger at Island View Beach.


Catherine gave a great talk on “dangerous spiders” at the ESBC conference, her first 1/2 hour talk. Her t-shirt (thanks Alex Wild!) serves as a great abstract of the talk.


Female Steatoda grossa with a bit of backlight highlighting her web. False black widows around here are not very black!


Chloe after delivering her awesome, award-winning talk entitled “How the false widow finds true love”.


Male and female Steatoda grossa juxtaposed for comparison.


A largish sac spider (Clubionidae) showing the large chelicerae typical of the family.


Putting the light a little behind the spider can help resolve some of the surface details and maintain a bit of mysteriousness at the same time.


More direct light makes for a less moody feel as the sac spider drinks water on a colourful leaf.


Arachtober is also a scary time for spiders. Here is an emesine thread-legged bug I found in a spider retreat, where it was likely feeding on spider eggs.


Fall foliage makes for a wonderful seasonal backdrop for this Hallowe’en spider villain.




Further shots from Naramata


The Rubber Boa I wrote about yesterday was just the icing on the cake of my recent trip to Naramata.


Here is a large mayfly by the shores of Lake Okanagan.


The owner’s friendly dog at the Village Motel.


My first sighting of a very elegant myrmicine, Manica invidia


One of the coolest wineries in BC!


With the namesake!


This is probably BC’s smallest ant, Solenopsis molesta.


This gives an idea how tiny these ants are!


Another elegant myrmicine, Aphaenogaster occidentalis.

Framed spider art on a fence in town.


A large tenebrionid in a defensive posture.


A Cooper’s Hawk with some prey.