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May 27, 2016 - Mountain Lady's Slipper

Mountain lady's slipper (Cypripedium montanum).  Plumas National Forest, Plumas County, CA. Stock Photo ID=PLA0366

I've had an appreciation for wildflowers since I was a young boy going on nature hikes with my mom, and I've been photographing California's native flora with ever increasing enthusiasm for nearly a decade. I'm almost embarrassed to admit, however, that I had no particular interest in orchids until a couple of months ago. I'd actually been doing some research on the California pitcher plants at Butterfly Valley when I kept coming across more and more pictures of the various orchids that grow in the vicinity. It wasn't long before I decided that I just had to see these special plants in person. A few different blogs provided clues on how to find them, but the information always seemed to originate from Joe Willis, whose Black Oak Naturalist site is filled with specialized natural history knowledge attained from his years of experience and exploration in the Plumas National Forest.

Based on Joe's directions, I had no trouble finding the mountain lady's slippers and was eager to begin photographing them. I applied the ritualistic coating of mosquito repellant, grabbed my camera bag and opened my trunk where I always keep my tripod. Well, almost always...I rummaged through a handful of items with growing horror as it became abundantly clear that I had left it at home. I'm sure some people are thinking, "What's the big deal? Can't he just handhold his fancy camera or use flash?" I certainly could, but my goal is not just to take a picture; I strive to obtain photographs of the absolute highest possible technical caliber and artistic quality. I'll try not to delve too deeply into photography jargon here, but various settings I use coupled with my bias for diffused natural light routinely result in one- to four-second exposures, and often even longer in the semi-shaded environment in which this orchid grows. I'm also in the habit of very carefully setting up each shot, slowly making minor adjustments until I feel the composition cannot be improved. I won't bore you (I know, too late) with further advocacy for the use of a solid support system, but suffice it to say I consider the tripod to be absolutely indispensable.

Never, ever, ever, leave your tripod home again!My eight-hour round-trip drive was not all for naught, however; I did have a spare lightweight tripod in my car that I usually reserve for exceptionally long hikes. The problem is that I only own one tripod head (the top part that attaches to the camera and allows movement in all directions), and of course it was safely secured to my primary tripod at home, doing me absolutely no good whatsoever. To make a long story short (I know, too late), I ended up using twine, Velcro and my wife's hair scrunchy to attach my camera directly to my spare tripod. The connection was frightfully insecure (as was I at the thought of my equipment being supported in such a precarious manner) and it was a nightmare attempting to aim the camera up or down, but I was eventually able to make it work well enough to capture a handful of mountain lady's slipper and spotted coralroot images.

Discovering that I forgot my primary tripod was not the only surprise of my day, but fortunately the next surprise was a pleasant one: an impromptu meeting with Joe Willis, the naturalist whose blog led me to that very location! We exchanged pleasantries and he shared more of his knowledge, including directions to the California lady's slipper, which I photographed later about a mile past these California tiger lilies. All-in-all, it was a great day; I photographed some plants I had never seen before, I made a new friend and I burned the following advice into my head forever: Never, ever, ever, leave your tripod home again!

Next Entry: Butterfly Valley Botanical Area - 6/16/16

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All images & text copyright Timothy Boomer. All rights reserved worldwide.