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chris helzer

The Dewy Bug Guy Is Back

All the photos in this article were photographed on the morning of Sept. 15, 2019, at Lincoln Creek Prairie in Aurora. When I first started working with Nebraskaland as a college student in the mid-1990s, my nickname among at least some of the magazine staff was “the dewy bug guy.” It was completely fair. A large part of my portfolio, such as it was, consisted of insects covered in tiny water droplets. At the time, my parents had recently helped …

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Your Camera Doesn’t See Like You Do

Part 3 of 3 Have you ever been frustrated because some parts of a photo are way too bright while others are so dark you can’t see any details? Why does the image on the screen of your phone or camera look so much less vibrant and impressive than the gorgeous sunset in front of you? Simply put, your camera doesn’t see the world the way you do. The first two parts of this series covered the more mechanical aspects …

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Your Camera Doesn’t See Like You

Park 2 of 3 Have you ever wondered why the photos you take at dusk turn out grainy or blurry? Why is it that only the left ear of your deer photo is sharp and the rest of the scene is out of focus? Simply put, your camera doesn’t see the world like you do. The first installment of this series, released in the May 2021 edition, covered mainly field of view and focus, but also mentioned depth of field. …

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Your Camera Doesn’t See Like You Do

Part 1 of 3 Have you ever taken a picture of a bird or other animal, only to have it show up as a mere pinprick on the resulting photo? Why do some photos have large portions that look blurry and only a few bits that are in focus? Simply put, your camera doesn’t see the world the way you do. The lenses on your camera are constructed very differently than the lenses in your eyes (though the basics of …

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Ice Bubbles

As a photographer drawn mostly to small subjects like bugs and flowers, it can be hard to find much to photograph after the end of the growing season. Most invertebrates die, migrate or go dormant. Plants wither and turn brown. It’s fun to seek out interesting texture and patterns after a fresh snow or on a frosty morning, but those opportunities are relatively uncommon during most winters. When I start to feel especially stir crazy, one of my go-to remedies …

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Large Milkweed Bugs

If you pay attention to milkweed plants during the summer, you’ll notice a wide variety of insect species feeding on the nectar produced by milkweed flowers. That nectar is sweet, nutritious and free of the toxic latex found throughout most of the rest of the plant. A much smaller group of insects can be found feeding on the leaves, stems or seeds of those milkweed plants, both dealing with and taking advantage of the toxicity. Those insects include monarch caterpillars, …

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Our Family Prairie

A simple quarter section of land contains a legacy of family memories and conservation. Back in 1960, my grandpa bought 160 acres of farm land near Stockham – a couple miles north of the farmstead where he and my grandma were raising my dad and his two sisters. Most of the parcel was in cultivation, except for several small draws (totaling about 26 acres) where isolated patches of native prairie persisted. According to family lore, much of the land was …

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The Soul of the Prairie

What does a scarcity of bison mean for Nebraska’s grasslands? The plains bison has earned its standing as an iconic large animal of the American prairie. That status was reinforced a few years ago when the bison was named the national mammal of the United States. Bison capture the imagination of people like few other grassland animals, but there are not many places where you can still find them within big prairie landscapes. Before European Settlement Everyone has heard stories …

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Don’t Mess with Oil Beetles

Among all the crazy life stories of all the crazy insects in the world, the oil beetle ranks as an elite. The oil beetle is a plant-feeding insect in the blister beetle family. As with other blister beetles, the oil beetle produces a toxic compound called cantharidin that is used to protect its eggs from predation. In addition, when an oil beetle feels threatened, it secretes a yellow substance from its leg joints (of all places) that contains enough cantharidin …

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Dodder: A Parasitic Plant

Plants are green. In school, we all learned about photosynthesis, the ability of plants to convert sunlight to food using green chlorophyll in their leaves. It’s one of those foundational ideas upon which we’ve built our understanding of the world. Well, as it turns out, the world is a pretty complicated place, and there are some plants that aren’t green and that don’t even photosynthesize. One of those is a crazy-looking plant called dodder that grows across much of Nebraska. …

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