Few natural habitats are as challenging to photograph as tallgrass prairie. This mostly extinct habitat once covered much of central North America, before the discovery that prairie soils were especially productive for agriculture. Now the great tallgrass prairie only exists as degraded, marginal scraps between corn fields, covering less than five percent of its original extent.

Because of its rarity and fragility, prairie is worth photographing. Yet, prairie landscapes lack the stark mountainscapes of the west and the lush trees of the east. The broader landscapes are typically flat, with few obvious points of interest, while foregrounds are crammed with the untidy details of scrambling plants. By late summer, flowers and stalks sway many feet overhead. Simplifying the tangle into a sensible photograph is surprisingly difficult.

I'm writing this post to share a photo that represents one of my strategies for this habitat. Rather than trying for full prairiescapes, I often prefer to abstract details using long lenses. For example, here is a stand of big bluestem as seen through a wide-open 200mm telephoto:

Incidentally, if you sit close to your computer screen and stare, this is what it looks like to be lost in the tallgrass prairie.

Photo details: Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

on a Canon EOS 6D; 200mm

ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/500 sec

handheld; no flash

taken at Meadowbrook Park, Urbana, Illinois