Category Archives: St. Augustine

St. Augustine

Photo Location Block

This is a nice photo I made recently. I’d rate it a “2” meaning it’s good enough to show other people. But it’s not that good, and I keep thinking there was a better photo there and I just didn’t find it.

Crypts at dawnCrypts at dawn (click to view on Flickr)

I’ve been by this particular place several times.  Each time I see it, I just know that there must be one or more great photographs lurking about.  All I have to do is find them and push the shutter.

At many places it works out that way for me.  I’m able to capture amazing images and come back with something special.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.  For some reason I can’t “find the photo”.  I’m calling this “Location Block”.  The location above has bothered me since I first saw it.  I’ve tried several times and so far, I haven’t ever been really happy with any of the photos I’ve made there (including this one).  Have you ever felt this way?

I’m still searching for a solution.  Is it the time of day? Lighting? Clouds? Lens? Filters? Position? Random Luck? Am I mistaken in the first place and there really is no truly great photo there?  I don’t know yet, but one of the very interesting things about photography is that there are rules of thumb and guide lines – but there’s no surefire formula.  Sometimes you have to keep exploring.  Each time you try something different you learn.  And if you have to try a large number of things over a long time to get a great photo, it’s fun.  You’ll learn a lot and when you finally do get the photo, the satisfaction will be immense.

At least that’s what I’m hoping.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

There’s more than birds in St. Augustine

I have many entries in this blog about the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and it is a great place for bird photography.

But you shouldn’t visit St. Augustine just to watch the birds – it has many other photogenic settings.  In this post, I’ll show you a few that you should consider seeing.  Make sure you click the links that I’ve inserted into the captions below for more information.  You can also visit my St. Augustine set on Flickr to see these and other photos I’ve made there.

Interior of the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine, Florida

Mission of Nombre De Dios:  This cross marks the spot of the first mass offered in the new world’s first settlement.

Chapel and candles

Chapel and candles:  The interior of the Our Lady of La Leche Shrine, at the Mission of Nombre De Dios

Three boatsQuiet bay near the Mission de Nombre de Dios

A view of the Fort Matanzas southern rampartA view of the Fort Matanzas southern rampart.  Also, see my previous post for a view of the Castillo de San Marcos.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Make use of wide angle lens perspective

In photography, wide angle lenses typically have a focal length that is much shorter than the diagonal dimension of the image sensor (or film). For a full frame 35mm digital camera, the diagonal measure of the sensor is about 50mm, and this is considered a “normal” focal length.  Wide angle lenses have a focal length shorter than this (typically 12 – 35mm).  It’s important to understand the characteristics of shorter focal length lenses so that you know how to use them in your photography.

Of course, wide angle lenses take in a wide field of view.  They also have a  larger depth of field when compared to normal or telephoto lenses.  And they are also very good at helping you vary the perspective of your image.  What’s perspective?  It’s the relative scale of nearby and distant features.  This is what I want to discuss today.

Take a look at the two photos below.  Both have the same subject matter.  They were both shot with similar focal lengths, but the perspective differs greatly.  In the first photo, the nearest tree is only about 1/3 of the length of the fort in the distance.  In the second, the same tree is almost as tall as the fort is long.  This is a huge change in the relative size of the image elements.

How can you achieve a similar effect?  Wide angle lenses exaggerate the size of things that are close, and make things farther away look smaller.  The wider the lens, the greater this effect is.  When you have a wide angle lens on your camera, you can move closer or farther away from things so that you can control the relative size of close image elements and those that are farther away.

I wasn’t happy with the composition of the first image.  I made the second by moving in closer to the trees.  Since they were nearby, and the fort was in the distance, the trees were enlarged much more than the fort.  Simply adjusting where I placed the camera allowed me to vary the relative size of the trees and fort.

Castillo de San Marco at sunrise
Castillo de San Marco at sunrise, 17mm focal length, f/4.0 @ 1/800 sec, ISO 200

Sunrise at Castillo de San Marcos #4
Sunrise at Castillo de San Marcos #4, 16mm focal length, f/11 @ 1/13 sec, ISO 200

Now that you understand this basic principle of photography, you too can use it to control the relative size of the elements in your composition.  I will leave a discussion of why wide angle lenses aren’t used for portrait photography very often as an exercise for the reader.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Alligator Farm Spoonbill Chicks Take Off!

I’ve found that one of the pleasures of bird photography and bird watching in general is the repeated observation of locations over the course of a nesting season.  When you return to a place regularly, you can watch the behavior of the parents over time as well as the young birds as they develop.

I’m fortunate to live relatively close to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Bird Rookery and I was able to visit four times recently.  This was the first year that Roseate Spoonbills have nested there and the farthest north that they’ve been recorded nesting.  In this post, I’ll show you a sequence of photographs made over about six weeks of the two easily seen Spoonbill nests at the Rookery.  Nest 1 is on the right side of the boardwalk closest to the entrance.  Nest 2 is the one you can see from the far end of the boardwalk close to the large tree.

This first photo was taken at the end of May and shows one Spoonbill above and to the right of nest 2.  At the bottom left you can barely make out  one of the very young and small Spoonbills.  This is the first photo I managed to make of the chicks.  Sorry about the quality.  The chicks didn’t come out in the open at all when I was there that time.

Mother Spoonbill keeps an eye on chick, nest 2.  May 30th, 2010

Here is the same nest (#2) two weeks later.  The chicks have grown a bit, have some beginning feathers, and are more active.

Roseate Spoonbill Mom and chicks in nest 2, June 13th, 2010

And this photo shows how large the chicks had grown yesterday when I visited  – quite a difference in only 16 days!

Spoonbill Mom returnsRoseate Spoonbill Mom and chicks near nest 1, July 5th, 2010

Several of the young Spoonbills have fledged and I was able to capture this photo of one of them trying its wings:

Juvenille Spoonbil tests its wingsJuvenille Spoonbill tests its wings, July 5th, 2010

So you can see how fast these Spoonbills develop.  From just hatched and barely moving to flying in about 6 weeks.  I’ve enjoyed following their progress this year.  What a wonderful opportunity!

The bad news for those of you that haven’t yet visited the Alligator Farm is that you’ve missed most of the nesting season.  Make your plans for next year!

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

St. Augustine Alligator Farm – Bird Rookery Update

Lynn and I paid another visit to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm this morning to check on things at the Rookery.  Things are hopping!

After a somewhat slow start (cold weather?), the Rookery has had a very active and varied nesting season.  If you haven’t visited yet, you need to get over there before you completely miss your chance until next year.  You can still see many species in the nest with chicks, although there are also many juveniles that have grown very large and are even flying around.

According to Gen Anderson – who is the Bird & Mammal Curator at the Alligator Farm (via the birdrookery@yahoogroups.com mailing list), there have been over 250 nests with more than 700 chicks counted in the rookery.  That’s a tremendous number of birds in a relatively small area!  The following species are resident:

Wood storks:


Mama Woodstork preens one of her chicks

Cattle Egrets:


Cattle Egret nest with chicks

Tri-colored Herons:

Tri-Colored Heron nest with chicks

Roseate Spoonbills:


Mother Spoonbill and baby

Great egrets, Snowy egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Green Herons are also in residence.

There are four Spoonbill nests in the rookery and since I’ve never seen Spoonbill nests or chicks, these have been very exciting for me.  This is the first year that they’ve nested at the Alligator Farm and the farthest north they’ve been recorded nesting.  Two of the nests are well hidden at the back of the property, but the other two are easily viewed.  All four contain chicks  although it is difficult to see them, since they’re still so small. The chicks in the easily viewed nests will only be there for about another 5 weeks before they fledge.

I’ve also posted a video I made this morning of one of the spoonbill nests. In it, you can see Mama feeding one of the two babies. You can also listen to all the noise at the Rookery as the chicks demand food from their parents.

You can see other photos I’ve made in St. Augustine in this set on Flickr.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Memorial Day, 2010

Once again we pause to reflect and thank all those that serve or have served our country and helped keep us free.  Please know that we appreciate your service and can never thank you enough.

The Flag of the United States of America
The Flag of the United States of America, flying at the Fort Matanzas National Monument, near St. Augustine, Florida.

Many in our family have served in the military.

Lynn’s Grandfather, Harold Christensen was a Navy pilot in the second World War.   As an electrical engineer I enjoyed hearing him talk about working on the top secret team that developed radar for use on aircraft. Lynn’s father, Doug was also in the Navy.  He was stationed in Pensacola after WW II.  Both Lynn’s Grandfather and father been gone for some time.  We miss them.

My Mother’s brother, uncle Jack was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.  He never said much about his time in the service and passed away a year or two ago.  We miss him too.

My Dad and his brother were both young men during World War II and both were in the Army.  My Dad started high school just as WW II broke out and he enlisted as soon as he could.  After basic training in Florida and some additional training as an intelligence recon scout, he shipped out to Europe.  By that time, the war had ended and he was stationed in Furth, Germany – just outside Nuremberg as part of the occupation.  He was there during the time of the Nuremberg trials.   Dad had several stories he used to tell about his time in the Army.  Most were quite fun, although I never heard him talk about the trials.  I’m not sure if all his experience was happy, but those were the only ones he shared with us.  He passed away quite a while ago, and of course we’ll always remember him.

I didn’t know much about my uncle’s service until we visited him just after Christmas last year and I asked about it.  Msgr. Edward V. Rosack (we called him Fr. Ed) also joined the Army Signal Corps after he graduated from high school during WW II.  He was older than my father and served in the Pacific Theater of Operations for about two years. His tour of duty took him to the Hawaiian Islands, Marshall Islands, (Einewetok, Kwajalein, the Palau Island (Angaur), Mariana Island (Saipan),  Ryukyu Island (Okinawa), Korea (In chon) and Yokohama, Japan. As a member of the 3922nd Signal Service Company of the 3117th Signal Service Battalion, his outfit was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon with one bronze star (Angaur, Palau Islands). Watching Ken Burns “Pacific” mini-series recently brought home what a great sacrifice and profound experience it must have been for him and everyone else in those battles. I can only imagine the hardships and horror that he and others endured.  I wonder if that is at least partly what drove him to become a man of peace for the rest of his life.  Sadly, Fr. Ed passed away in March of this year, not long after we visited him. We’ll always remember him too.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Comparing Gatorland to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

Intro



Tri Color Heron_DSC9601_7_nx2
Tri-color heron at Gatorland

A few weeks ago, I promised to compare the St. Augustine Alligator Farm to Gatorland from the point of view of a nature / wildlife photography enthusiast. And in this post, I’ll do it.

This entry is only a top-level summary of what you can expect at each place.  For more information, please look at earlier posts I’ve done, which you can find via the blog table of contents or by using the search box at the top of the page.

Roosting Black Crowned Night Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron roosting at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

Summary table

Both of these parks have rookeries where wild birds come to roost.  This concentration of avian visitors is very handy for the bird photographer. Why would you pick one over the other to visit? The St. Augustine Alligator Farm caters to photographers and tries to make it easy to capture images of the birds, while Gatorland has canceled their photo pass program.  In my opinion, this is a huge difference and a major advantage for the Alligator Farm. This table lists other factors that I think would be important when comparing these parks.  I’ve listed each along with a comment to explain and a + or – rating to show which place I think comes out ahead on that factor.

Factor: Gatorland Alligator Farm
Birds
variety: Herons, egrets, spoonbills, wood storks, anhinga, limpkins, vultures, others+ Herons, egrets, spoonbills, wood storks,  vultures, others+
number of birds: Many+ Many+
Distance: Birds can be quite close and are used to humans, with some nesting within feet of the boardwalk.  Some species are high in the trees.+ Birds can be quite close and are used to humans, with some nesting within feet of the boardwalk.  Some species are high in the trees.+
behavior: Natural and varied.  Courting, brooding, nesting, hatching, fledging, etc.+ Natural and varied.  Courting, brooding, nesting, hatching, fledging, etc.+
Other wildlife: Large variety, with most of the animals easily accessible to photographers.+ Large variety, with most of the animals easily accessible to photographers.+
Information available: Lots of info available on the Website, and especially the blog (no longer being updated). There is a Flickr group where you can see the types of photos possible.+ Lots of info available on the  Website, There is a Flickr group, where you can see the types of photos possible. A Yahoo group used to post rookery updates, but has now been replaced by an Alligator Farm Blog.
Exhibits and shows: Several, good for the kids.+ Some, good for the kids.
Price: $20 – 100 (adults).  Some discounts available. $20 – 70 (adults)
Photo pass available: Yes: re-instated in 2012.  February through July, 7:30am to dusk. $99.99. Yes, $70 – with early entry at 8:00am+
Proximity ~40 minutes from Winter Springs.  Closer to Orlando.+ ~1 hour, 50 minutes from Winter Springs.  Farther from Orlando.-
Other photo ops in the area: Gatorland is a little isolated from other photo opportunities in the area. Historic St. Augustine has a huge number of photo opportunities.+
Other attractions in the area: Many attractions and parks in the Orlando area within a short drive.+ A few smaller attractions are close by.-

Conclusions

Which one should you go to? For nature and wildlife photography, I would say you probably can’t go wrong with either place.  Having an early entry program is very important to photographers so in my opinion, the overall edge goes to the Alligator Farm until Gatorland restores their program.  The staff at both parks is friendly,  and in the past  Gatorland has seemed even more so, but I’m concerned about the turnover at this park (apparently, Mike has left).

If you’re going for more than just photography, then  Gatorland is also probably a little more well-rounded, with more to do.  On the other hand, the Alligator farm makes for a nice day trip from Orlando when you combine it with a stop in the historical district or the fort.

You can capture stunning images at both places, so pick the one that is most convenient for you.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.