Daybreak, Bobcat, Boar, and More

In the USA, the second full week of October each year is National Wildlife Refuge Week.  I visited my local refuge last Thursday to help celebrate.

Moonlit marsh 1Moonlit marsh

I decided to go straight to Black Point Wildlife Drive to photograph sunrise.  The gate was still closed when I arrived, so I set up by the sign at the entrance and made the image above. The wind was blowing and I like the surreal appearance of the clouds, moonlight,  and stars visible in the full res version.

This was the view a little later from the parking area at the southwest corner of the drive:

Golden Golden

And here’s a monochrome infrared photo along the western side of Black Point.  I like the low sun angle and clouds.

Out early on a straight roadOut early on a straight road

You might be able to tell from these three photos that I was the first and only one on Black Point Wildlife Drive that morning – which led to the next situation.  I stopped at the rest area and got out to scout around.  There’s a small observation deck there at the start of Cruickshank trail and as I was just coming off the path to go up the short boardwalk, I heard a noise and then saw a very healthy looking Bobcat jump over the rail and disappear into the vegetation.  Even though I had my camera in my hands, set up and ready – I was way too slow to get a photo.

I’ve come across Bobcats several times in the wild.  Usually when they see me, they fade away quickly and it’s hard to get a photo.  This time was unusual – I wasn’t trying to be super quiet, I can only guess it was catnapping and didn’t notice me at first, or it was hoping I wouldn’t come its way so it could stay comfortable.

I’m sorry I didn’t get the photo for you on Thursday and I know you’re disappointed.  So here’s a previously un-published one from March 2017 from very near the same area.  It’s typical of the brief and poor look I normally get of Bobcats:

Bobcat Bobcat

Feral pigs in MINWR aren’t as shy as Bobcats.  They typically go about their business when I see them.  This one stared me down and when it was sure I was going to stay put, continued across the road – hackles raised.  It too quickly disappeared into the undergrowth.

Young wild boarYoung wild boar

One more picture to close this out – from the boat launch area at Parrish Park:

#53#53 – A banded Ruddy Turnstone

I had an exciting day at Merritt Island.  Although the winter birds aren’t back in force yet, The Ruddy Turnstones and skittish Belted Kingfishers I saw are migrants – a good sign.

I have many more images from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in this album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/albums/72157627776386723.  And you can click on almost all of the photos on my blog to view them in much higher resolution on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

iPhone 11 Pro – Camera Comments

I’ve been using the iPhone 11 Pro camera for a bit and thought I’d post some sample photos and a few photographer type thoughts about it this week.

This isn’t a comprehensive review – you can find many of those on the web if that’s what you need.  This also isn’t a “should you buy it” post.  That’s a personal decision only you can make.

Ultra-wide

Morning Light on a Majestic OakMorning Light on a Majestic Oak. I think I’m going to like the 13mm eq. FOV ultra-wide lens

The iPhone 11 Pro has three cameras and the ultra-wide is new this year.  It’s a bit limited compared to the other two: It’s widest aperture is f/2.4 so it doesn’t gather as much light.  It also doesn’t have stabilization, it’s fixed focus, doesn’t support RAW format, and doesn’t support night mode.

Wide angle at the mallWide angle at the mall

I’m not sure why Apple designed this camera with those limitations.  But at a 13mm eq. field of view, it truly is ultra-wide.  That’s going to be very handy in a lot of situations, especially where the light is good.  It’ll probably mean I use panorama mode on the phone a lot less.  And I think one of the main benefits of the ultra-wide is the inputs it provides for computations Apple can do.

Portrait mode

Narwhal the kittenNarwhal the kitten helping me test portrait mode

Narwhal modeled for me so I could test the latest Apple implementation of portrait mode.  I think his image above looks great and would be pretty hard to tell apart from one taken with a high end camera and a large aperture lens.

That’s because I corrected some issues with the way the phone algorithms rendered depth of field in the original photo. Things like whiskers and hair are difficult to show correctly.  Look at the image below to see what I’m talking about.  Click on it to open, and then click again to enlarge.

Correcting depth of field flaws

Look at the crop on the left – it’s the Portrait Mode photo produced by the phone.  If you’ve enlarged it, you can see that Narwhal’s whiskers have been clipped by inaccuracies in the algorithm.  Bright highlights and low contrast have confused the depth map info.  The middle photo is with portrait mode turned off.  In that one, all of his whiskers are visible with no depth of field / bokeh effects.  On the right side and in the full image I blended some of the middle image with the left one to show the focus rolling off more naturally.

Portrait mode has improved this year.  You can make portraits with both the wide and tele cameras.  And the depth mapping algorithms are better – but they can still be improved.  You may not notice or care much about these things and compared to previous attempts, the algorithms are better and the results look great.  Important photos could be manually edited to fix them.  If we can do this manually, eventually the software wizards will  figure out how to automate it into the phone algorithms.  iPhone 12 super pro?

Night mode

I complained last year, that other phones had low light modes and Apple didn’t.  They listened to me (ha ha) and added it.

Night mode street scene

I think it captures low light situations very nicely.  And the image stabilization is unbelievably good.  I made this next photo of the constellation Orion in my back yard, hand held!

Orion

Other improvements

There are other changes that I haven’t tried yet and don’t have examples of.

  • If you shoot in landscape mode with the wide (1x) camera, it saves information outside the frame using the ultra-wide.  This allows you to correct perspective distortion or rotate your images after capture without cropping(!).
  • “Deep fusion” is still in beta.  It captures multiple frames and combines them pixel by pixel for the best results.  The demos are super interesting and I’m looking forward to trying it.
What about RAW format and manual control?

So many of the improvements in phone cameras now come through software.  But the hardware has changes too.  In addition to a third camera, the sensors and lenses in the wide and tele cameras are improved.  And (except for the ultra-wide) they have all the RAW format and manual control capability they’ve always had, with a little better output.

A touch of colorA touch of color. 4 RAW frames, stitched and processed in Lightroom / Photoshop

So manual control is still possible.  The question is: “When should I bypass auto mode and use manual?”

With the software getting so good, and so much computation going on in the background, there are more and more reasons to use these cameras in automatic mode.  As a photographer, you’ll need to really understand your phone camera capabilities and be able to wisely choose when to bypass it.  For common situations, I think the answer is becoming “Use auto, most of the time”.

I believe that what I said last year will be true for a just a little longer:

Should you give away your non-phone cameras?  No, not yet.  Phones are still at a disadvantage in some ways:  Lens selection and sensor size are two important ones.  And the interfaces on dedicated cameras are better and allow quicker control.  But in some (many?) cases, your phone is an excellent photo (and video!) tool.  And they’re going to get better.  Just make sure you’re up to date on how to use the latest functions.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Sunflower Scouting Report

I hiked out into the Marl Bed Flats part of the Lake Jesup Conservation Area yesterday morning (10/4/19) to visit the swamp sunflower fields that grow wild along HW 417 north of Lake Jesup for a few weeks this time of year.

One more Swamp Sunflower imageSwamp Sunflower panorama

I left a little late because I don’t really like to go out there in the dark.  I’ve never had any issues though, so just be careful if you do go before or after it’s light (official hours are “Dawn to Dusk”).  There were two cars already there when I arrived and the gate into the larger parking area was closed.  Parking could be tight at the end of the road – hopefully there will be plenty of room if you visit.  I met one of the other photographers on my way in.

Swamp SunflowerInfrared Swamp Sunflower

There’s a PDF trail map you can download and print out or look at on your phone.  I do get a good cell phone signal out there (on AT&T).

We haven’t had much rain recently, so both the red and yellow trails are dry and clear until you get out to the flowers. The flowers are in great shape although they didn’t seem as dense as I’ve seen them in other years – they may still be filling in. The ground in the fields is damp in spots but not very muddy in the areas I went through. I didn’t have any problems with bugs but I used insect spray before hand.

Swamp SunflowerSwamp Sunflower

If you’re interested, there’s a lot of coverage on the web and you can find  info in my posts at this link: https://edrosack.com/category/photo-ops-in-florida/lake-jesup/sunflowers/.   You can also see more of my swamp sunflower photos in this album on Flickr.

Right now is a great time for a visit and I think the flowers will last for at least another week or so.  You’ll get a little exercise and you’ll witness a wonderful Florida nature spectacle!  Take water, bug spray, etc. and watch out for snakes and other wild animals.  It is a wilderness area!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Looks like a good sunflower season on the way!

I’ve been photographing the swamp sunflowers in the Marlbed Flats / Lake Jesup Conservation area since at least 2006.  Last year, the fields by HW 417 next to Lake Jesup were flooded and the Swamp Sunflower season was disappointing.  But I’ve driven by there a couple of times in the last week or so and it looks like we’ll have a a lot of flowers this year. Blooms are already visible from the road.

Lake Jesup Wildernes Area - Swamp SunflowersLake Jesup Wildernes Area – Swamp Sunflowers.  This is a fisheye photo from 2012.  I think I’ll take that lens out there with me again.

If you’re interested in hiking out there, you can find a lot of info in my posts at this link: https://edrosack.com/category/photo-ops-in-florida/lake-jesup/sunflowers/.  And Jeff Stamer has a good article about the flowers on his blog: http://www.firefallphotography.com/lake-jesup-wildflower-update-october-10-2015/.

It might be a bit early for a visit right now.  I’m guessing they’ll peak around the first or second week of October. If you do go, be careful.  Take water, bug spray, etc. and watch out for snakes and other wild animals.  It is a wilderness area!

You can see more of my swamp sunflower photos in this album on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Bird population loss

A study released last week in Science Journal reports that the North American wild bird population is in steep decline.  About 29%  of the breeding population (2.9 billion) vanished since 1970.  This includes species we see here in Central Florida.  There are 92 million fewer Red-winged Blackbirds:

Red-winged Blackbird in flightRed-winged Blackbird in flight, Viera Wetlands

And Eastern Meadowlarks declined by ~70% (73 million):

A Messy Molting MeadowlarkA Messy Molting Meadowlark – Joe Overstreet Road, Osceola County

The study is based on multiple independent data sources including bird counts and radar information.  This particular study didn’t investigate causes, but habitat loss and degradation are seen as the biggest overall drivers of the decline.

The news isn’t all bleak.  Raptors have increased by 15 million since 1970 due to  banning some pesticides, and waterfowl gained 35 million because of wetland regeneration.  This shows we can make a difference.

Bald Eagle in flightBald Eagle in flight – Kenansville, Fl.

The loss of birds is consistent with other data showing massive declines in insects and amphibians.  These are symptoms that our environment is not healthy and they should be a tremendous wake up call.

We must do everything we can to help keep our only planet healthy .  How will you answer your children and grandchildren when they ask you what you did about this?

Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go support conservation.  And make some photos.  Before it’s too late.

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

#BringBirdsBack

Bracketing vs. Graduated ND Filters

I’d long ago answered this question, but a comment from Frank B. about this image caused me to reconsider some things.

Cocoa Beach Pier before dawnCocoa Beach Pier before dawn

Fair warning:  This post is a little deep into the weeds.  Feel free to look at the photo and move on if it isn’t your thing.  But I think it’s an appropriate subject, since part of the blog’s purpose is “… and how to photograph them.”

What are we talking about?

Bracketing means taking multiple photos of a scene, each with different camera settings (see this Wikipedia entry).  In this case, I made three photos at different exposures so I could capture the entire dynamic range from super dark under the pier to super bright above the clouds.  Making just a single exposure would’ve risked losing detail in the shadows or highlights (or both).

You can also use a Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND) – an optical filter you add in front of your lens to reduce light in the bright part of the frame (see this Wikipedia entry).  Typically they have a 2 or 3 stop reduction that transitions into clear.

I’d long ago experimented with GNDs and decided not to use them.  I can  mostly reproduce their effect in static scenes by bracketing and then blending the resulting frames in post-processing.  For landscape images bracketing is an easier solution in the field and gives me more control and a better final result.  You can read about one example of my technique in this post (from back in 2011).

But then … Frank left a comment:

… amazing how the clouds remain sharp compared to the water given the time of exposure

And my reply:

Frank, this is a 3 frame, hi-res exposure bracket hand blended in Photoshop. The bottom portion was at f/5 for 25 seconds. The top was at f/5 for 3.2 seconds. So that and distance is why the clouds are sharp compared to the water.

The way I made this image resulted in a huge difference in shutter speed between the water at the bottom and the clouds at the top.  And using the Olympus Hi-Res mode exaggerated the shutter speed differences since it combines 8 separate captures to create each hi-res output file.

If I’d used a GND the shutter speed would be constant throughout the frame and the blur in the clouds would’ve matched the blur in the water.  In this particular case,  bracketing exposure by varying aperture instead of shutter speed would also make the motion blur consistent.  I’ve never done that since it seemed like it would lead to other issues (inconsistent focus / depth of field).  It’s something to think about and maybe try in the future for a setting where consistent motion blur is important.

Thanks for the question Frank!  Photography is fascinating.  There is so much to think about and still left to learn.

And thanks to everyone else for stopping by and reading my blog (especially if you read all the way through!). Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Merritt Island NWR, 9/7/10

Editor’s note:  First things first:  We’re safe here in Central Florida and came through our brush with  Hurricane Dorian with very little damage, although people are still worried about possible future flooding from all the rain – especially along the St. Johns river. Other places weren’t as fortunate as we are. The news from The Bahamas is horrific and some locations along the US east coast have severe impacts too. I hope recovery efforts are swift and thorough.


Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge announced they were re-opening on Friday (9/6/19) although BioLab Road and BioLab boat ramp were damaged and are closed for now. Kevin M. and I decided to ride over on Saturday morning and explore a bit.  Here are some photos from the visit.

Sunrise OspreySunrise Osprey.

There were several Ospreys fishing along the sunrise side of the entrance and we stopped  to watch.  I caught this one very close to the rising sun but unfortunately clipped a small part of its wing.  I was shooting in continuous mode though, so I was able to make this composite image using a separate frame to fill in the missing bit.

Wood Stork portraitWood Stork portrait

For some reason, I haven’t made / posted a Wood Stork photo in a while.  There were three or four hanging out at Parrish Park as we left.  They’re very tolerant of people (the folks fishing must give them handouts) and it posed quietly while I made this close-up portrait.  Some folks might not think they’re handsome, but I like their rugged good looks.  They have a lot of character and seem to own their unique style!

Perched OspreyPerched Osprey –  watching us from a dead tree branch on Black Point Wildlife Drive

Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron. Not a great photo, but I don’t see Night-Herons very often, so I’ll include it.

In general, the conditions at MINWR are pretty good.  The water is high, and wildlife is a bit scarce, but that’s not unusual for this time of year.  It’ll cool off soon and we can look forward to lots of birds visiting in the fall and winter.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Take the shot? Or not?

Editor’s note:  For everyone in The Bahamas, here in Florida, and up and down the east coast of the US – please keep an eye on hurricane Dorian, get prepared, and stay safe!


I’ve driven by this tree many times – every time I go around Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  I like its isolation and the reflection it makes in the usually very still water.

Lone pine between the canal and roadLone pine between the canal and road

I saw and admired it again on my visit a few weeks ago, but I almost didn’t make this image.  Why not?  Because I thought I’d already made that very one before and didn’t need another.  Fortunately, I wasn’t in a hurry, so I stopped and made a two frame vertical panorama with my IR camera.

When I got home, I tried to find the photo I thought I remembered.  Here are two of that same tree that I found in my archives.  This first one is from nearly the same spot:

Clear day, calm water 1Clear day, calm water, January 2011

And this one is from the other side:

Left at the lone pine treeLeft at the lone pine tree, August 2018

I like the newest photo the best.  I’m glad I went ahead and made it!

On the other hand: When Kevin M. and I were down in Osceola county, we saw two or three Bald Eagles.  When I was young, Bald Eagles were rare and I never saw one in the wild until I moved to Florida and started paying more attention to wildlife.  Now they’re getting much more common but I still get a thrill whenever I see one.  One of the eagles was sitting on a pile of dirt a little off the road.  Kevin asked if I wanted him to stop for a photo and I said no.  I have quite a few Bald Eagle photos that I like (e.g. this one), and the setting that day just didn’t look like it would make a good photo.  It would probably have sat on my hard drive or been deleted when I went through the photos.  Why make it?

Take the shot or not? Like many things, it depends.  I suppose the moral of this story is: “When in doubt, make the photo.  But don’t make every photo.”

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos, or not!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Overdue in Osceola

Kevin M. wanted to go down to Osceola county and Joe Overstreet road last Friday.  I don’t seem to get down there very often (the last time I wrote about it was in March of 2017).  Since a visit was so overdue, I readily agreed to join him.

We stopped first along a side road for a sunrise pasture photo.  It’ll be hard to see at web resolution, but there’s a large herd of cattle on the right in the distance.

Cow contry sunriseCow country sunrise

Next, we drove down Joe Overstreet road.  This is a great place to see birds that aren’t too common elsewhere in Central Florida.  Here are some examples:

Bob WhiteBobwhite

Snail KiteSnail Kite

Loggerhead ShrikeLoggerhead Shrike

We also saw many of our common wading birds including some Sandhill Cranes, Anhingas, Cattle Egrets, Great and Snowy Egrets, and Wood Storks.  There were a couple of Bald Eagles, a family of Red-headed Woodpeckers, an Upland Sandpiper, several Solitary Sandpipers (several? solitary? I know, right?), many molting Meadowlarks, lots of Killdeer, and lots of swallows ( I think these were Cave Swallows, although there could have been others mixed in).

And dragonflies were very plentiful.

Dragonfly Dragonfly – Not sure of ID on this. Maybe a Red Saddlebags?

After Joe Overstreet, we stopped by Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area to see if we could spot any Red-cockaded Woodpeckers but they weren’t cooperating.

If you haven’t been to these areas, check them out.  They seem to attract a diverse group of species.  Click on any of these for larger versions, and you can see a few more of my photos from there in this album on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

A nice surprise

When I wrote about Father Crowley Overlook a couple weeks ago, I realized I had several promising Death Valley images in my  archives that I’d never processed.  A trip like that can be overwhelming, and dealing with so many photos takes time and effort.  I suppose back then I picked out ones I thought were best and left the rest for later.

Well this week I went back, found this one I liked, and worked on it.

Shifting sun, shadows, and sandShifting sun, shadows, and sand – early morning at Mesquite dunes in Death Valley.

This scene is looking roughly north about 15 minutes after sunrise.  The low sun angle makes for lovely contrasts and colors, and helps emphasize the shapes and textures of the dunes.

While I was working on this in Lightroom, I noticed something on the far sand dune, just below the shadow at the top. Please click on the image below so you can see it better.

.                                                                  The hidden surprise!

I was making landscape images, so I used a 24-120mm lens and fortunately liked the framing at 120mm.  My Nikon D800 camera had a 36 MP sensor and captured a great deal of information in the file.  Even though it’s at the limits of resolution, you can definitely tell there’s something there – tracks in the sand and one (maybe two?) animals!

A photo like this is a good example of something I wrote about 10 years ago: Photographic “Level of Detail”.  Looking at it from a distance, you see colors, shapes, shadows and lines.  Zoom in a bit and textures, tracks, and other details become visible.  Zoom in all the way and you can spot wildlife.  How cool is that?!

I really enjoy this aspect of photography.  Have you ever discovered something like this in one of your images?

You can view my other DVNP photos here.  Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos – it’s can be surprising!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved