Long Exposure with Variable Neutral Density Filters

A friend wants to make long exposure photos on an upcoming trip. I recommended using a Variable Neutral Density Filter (VND) and offered to let them try mine.  So  we headed over to the Cocoa Beach Pier last Friday to test them out on some ocean waves.

Cruising homeCruising home. VND, ƒ/11, 35 mm, 0.3sec, ISO 100

VNDs are made from two polarizing filters – one’s fixed and the other rotates. You use the rotating one to vary the amount of light that’s blocked (typically between 1 or 2 and 6 or 8 stops).  I like them because they give you precise and easy control over how much light hits your sensor.  If you reduce light on the sensor, you can use a slower shutter speed or a wider aperture for a given scene.  They’re good to have when you photograph waterfalls (slow shutter to blur / smooth water) or in bright light (to shoot with a wider aperture and blur backgrounds).

Here’s my approach for smoothing water:

  1. Mount the camera on a tripod and trigger it with a remote or the self timer.
  2. Set ISO (usually for best quality). Don’t use auto ISO.  We want the  camera to vary shutter speed instead of changing ISO when the VND rotates.
  3. I use Aperture Priority mode and select the F-stop (for depth of field, image quality etc.).
  4. Compose with the VND filter at its minimum value (brightest setting).
  5. In bright light, you can use auto focus.  In dim light, you may need to  manual focus so the camera’s auto focus doesn’t hunt when you  darken the VND.
  6. Now, slowly turn / darken the VND until your shutter speed reaches the value you want.  You’ll need to experiment to find what looks best to you, but for water try between .25 and 1 second.
  7. If you can’t get a slow enough shutter, you can close down your aperture, or lower your ISO.

Some things to watch out for:

  • Like much in photography (and life!), you can find very expensive VNDs and very cheap ones. I’ve had good luck with name brand ones in the middle price range.  Don’t buy the cheap ones!  They may not be optically flat or coated, and might introduce color shift problems.  You’ll probably pay more for thinner ones too, which will reduce chances of vignetting.
  • Definitely look for VNDs with coatings to help prevent reflections / flare.  You’re adding four more air/glass interfaces to the front of your lens and you can’t use a lens hood, so coatings will improve performance.
  • Since these filters can be expensive, I recommend buying only one, sized to fit the biggest diameter lens you’ll use it with.  I have a 77mm VND and step down rings to mount it on my smaller lenses.
  • Some VNDs can be rotated too far and will show an ugly cross-shaped anomaly.  If yours does this, watch for it and back off until it disappears.  Some are made with a stop so you can’t rotate them too far.
  • Check your results as you go.  It’s easy to over expose highlights in moving water, so you may need to dial in some negative exposure composition.  Also, if the light getting through is too dim, your camera’s meter may not work well.  In that case you’ll have to change to manual exposure and adjust accordingly.
  • Make several exposures at different shutter speeds so you’ll have distinct looks to choose from when you get home.

Golden beachGolden beach. VND, ƒ/8.0, 26 mm eq., 0.8sec, ISO 200

That’s it – simple, right?  Do you use VNDs?  If so, let me know where I can view your long exposure photos.  And if you have any hints of your own, please share in a comment for everyone.

You can click on these images to see a larger version on Flickr. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Mother’s Day 2019

Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms far and wide!

To help celebrate, I thought I’d share some photos I’ve made of Florida Mothers and their babies.  These are all wild animals / birds and they’re from several places over several years, so I’ll include where and when in the captions.

Momma gator guarding nest and 3 babiesMomma gator guarding her nest and 4 (blurry) babies. Along La Chua Trail, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Gainesville, FL, December 2006

What's Momma doing?Momma Sandhill Crane and chick foraging at Viera Wetlands, March 2017

Spoonbill Mom returnsSpoonbill Mom returns, St. Augustine Alligator Farm, May 2010

Great Horned Owl parent and chickGreat Horned Owl Mom and chick in the nest, Circle B Bar, March 2018

Momma Limpkin and babyMomma Limpkin and baby, Circle B Bar Reserve, October 2013

Great Egret Mom and chicksGreat Egret Mom and chicks, St. Augustine Alligator Farm, April 2011

It’s amazing how devoted Moms are, and it’s fascinating to watch them raise their babies.

You can click on these images to see larger versions on Flickr.  Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go spend time with your Mom!

©2006 – 2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Several minutes in the back yard

Lynn’s gardening is paying off again this spring with lots of blooming flowers.  And once more, they’ve attracted some lovely visitors. I glanced out our back window last week, saw some motion and quickly grabbed a camera.

Backyard ButterflySwallowtail; 105mm, f/6.3, 1/2000 sec @ ISO 1600

I made about 30 frames in the short time I followed it around. I think this one’s the best.  I set my aperture pretty wide – to get a fast shutter speed and freeze motion in flight,  and also to blur the background. I do like the background, but the depth of field is just a bit too shallow – causing the tips of the wings to blur.

I tried using a new piece of software called Topaz Sharpen AI to reduce the wingtip blur.  You’ll find lots of info about it on the web, so I won’t get into details here.  I’m pleased with how it works – it did a good job sharpening this, especially around the flower and the butterfly’s head and body.  And it actually sharpened the wingtips some, although it couldn’t completely remove the blur.  It’s very CPU intensive, so I won’t use it all the time, but I’ll keep it around just in case.

The real fix for the wingtip blur is to make another photo.  I’ll keep watching for more back yard visitors.

You can click on the image to see a larger version on Flickr.  Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Winter Park Ospreys

This Osprey family is doing well in tony downtown Winter Park – living in their very own, rent free high-rise.  Dad is an awesome fisherman – he brought back 3 during the short time I watched.

Urban, wild Osprey nestDad, landing with a fresh meal for Mom and chick

Mom seems experienced and devoted to the chick, shading it from the hot sun and feeding it small bites of Dad’s catch.

Urban, wild Osprey nestMom feeding chick

I first wrote about this same nest about a year ago.  Please click below to read the older post.

Urban Ospreys

I decided to revisit this week and I’m glad I did.  It’s a wonderful place to observe this family from 40 – 50 feet away.  Since the birds are used to traffic and people, you can watch them without stressing them at all.  An ambulance even went by with its siren going and Mom just calmly watched it.

As a bonus, I met another photographer there.  Turns out we have a lot in common:  While we shot, we talked about birds, locations, cameras, lenses, and grandkids!  A marvelous, mini photo excursion!

Click on each photo to see a larger version on Flickr.  And follow this link to see more images I made in Winter Park: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/albums/72157636838442164

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

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

St. Augustine Postcard

Hello faithful readers!  This is the next entry in the occasional blog category called “Postcards” where  I upload photos of Central Florida scenes – similar to a postcard.

I’m using a Creative Commons license (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International) for these instead of “All rights reserved”, so you’re welcome to download them in high resolution for your personal use.   Please visit this page to see details and restrictions that apply:  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/.

It’s easy to find all of these.  Just use the “Places / Categories” pulldown menu over on the right side of the blog and select “Postcards”.  If you’re viewing the site on a phone, you may not see that menu – in that case, just type “postcards” into the search box.

St. Augustine Basilica

I made this image a week or so ago inside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. Established in 1565, it is the oldest Christian congregation in the contiguous United States.  Portions of the structure date from 1797, in part due to the durability of the cochina rock used for exterior walls.

I shot this handheld with a 35mm lens at f/2.8, and used ISO 800 to make sure my shutter speed was high enough to avoid camera shake (1/50 sec).  I processed the photo and converted it to Black and White using Lightroom.  You should be able to right click and  download.  I hope you like it!

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

©2019, Ed Rosack. Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license

 

Seen in St. Augustine

Lynn and I spent a couple of days in St. Augustine, Florida last week.  It’s been two years since I last wrote about it (in this post), but it’s still a photo rich environment.  Here’s a sample of the images I made there this time.

Columbia Restaurant interiorColumbia Restaurant interior.  We usually stop by this place for the food, but the inside is lovely too!

Memorial Presbyterian Church DomeMemorial Presbyterian Church Dome.  We rode the Old Town Trolley around again and got off at this stop to see this beautiful church.  Henry Flagler built it in the 1890s as a memorial to his wife.

Santa Maria Restaurant>Santa Maria Restaurant Ruins. Our trolley guide told us it has too much hurricane damage to repair. It’s going to be demolished soon and replaced with a new restaurant

Flower BoxFlower Box.  I like to watch for interesting doors and windows when I walk through town.  This is one example.

Golden mooring morningGolden mooring morning.  Lynn used some points to help us splurge on a waterfront room.  I made this from our balcony.

RefreshmentsRefreshments – Make the photo, then drink the subject. It’s important to get the sequence correct!

What a photogenic place!  They’ve done a wonderful job recovering from Hurricane Irma.  It’s hard to see any remaining damage other than the Santa Maria Restaurant.  You can browse all my St. Augustine blog posts at this link.  And you can view my other St. Augustine images in this album on Flickr.

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

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Merritt Island – 4/3/19

When I  visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I’m never sure what I’ll see.  But almost every time there’s something new and interesting.

I hadn’t been to Gator Creek Rd. for sunrise in a while.  This spot is at one of the curves where there’s a break in the mangroves so you can get down to water level.  There weren’t many clouds.  I used a low camera position for this photo  to emphasize the foreground and made a 4 image panorama to get a wider field of view.

Gator Creek MorningGator Creek Morning.

Next, I drove up to the Bairs Cove Boat ramp.  Manatees seem to like the area – I think I’ve seen them there every time I’ve been.  Sure enough, I spotted several and debated whether to park and make a photo.  I’ve made so many photos of their noses that more of that kind of shot isn’t very exciting .  But since I was there, I got out of the car.  I  counted over a dozen as I walked quietly down to the dock.  It wasn’t until I was right at the water that I saw three of them next to the wall.  I’d only brought my long lens with me from the car, so after making several “Manatee Head Shots”, I pulled out my phone to get a photo of the group (https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/40566342263/in/dateposted/).  When I left they were still there – calmly resting and taking occasional breaths.

Manatee head shotManatee head shot

I was heading back toward Black Point Wildlife Drive along Shiloh Rd. when I caught a glimpse of some water through a break in the trees.  I stopped and walked over to make this infrared image in a spot I’d never noticed before.

By the Indian RiverBy the Indian River

Things were fairly busy on Black Point – lots of birds and people too.  I stayed at one small feeding frenzy for a while making images of the birds hunting for fish.  This heron had just launched from the left.

Tricolored Heron in flightTricolored Heron in flight

I stopped next to another photographer who’d found this Killdeer close to the road in very nice light.  I was careful not to disturb her bird as I quietly got out of my car to get this image.

Killdeer Killdeer

I spotted our usual Herons and Egrets, Brown and White Pelicans, a few ducks (mostly Blue Wing Teals, Northern Shovelers, Coots, etc.), Ibis, Willets, Sandpipers, Cormorants, Anhingas, Roseate Spoonbills, Belted Kingfishers, Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles, Turkey Vultures, Mocking Birds, Ground Doves, Black-necked Stilts, a few Killdeer, and one new life bird for me:  a Whimbrel.

Another pleasant and interesting morning at MINWR!

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

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Banishing Broken Links

This post is about blogging, not photography.  So feel free to move on if this doesn’t interest you.  But before you do, here’s an unrelated photo to try to make your visit here worthwhile:

Sunrise SurferSunrise Surfer – An early morning image, from October 2018, near the Cocoa Beach Pier (click for a larger version).

My blog has been up since May of 2007 and I’ve written almost 600 posts through the years.  A few weeks ago, I read an article about broken links and how Google crawls the web and downgrades a site’s search ranking if it finds broken / dead links on web pages.

I knew this, but hadn’t been actively addressing issues.  I’m not a commercial site, and search ranking doesn’t affect any bottom line for me, but – well, we don’t want to be left out of Google do we?

Anyway, I’ve had a plugin loaded on my site called “Broken Link Checker” for a long time.  I was having some server performance issues a while back and deactivated it.  I decided to turn it back on and see what it found.  It was disturbing!

  • > 5100 links total
  • 186 broken or dead links
  • > 900 redirects
  • And a few warnings

I’ve been going through and fixing these.  Here’s what I’ve done:

  • If the site I referenced changed and I can find the new page, I updated it.
  • If I can’t find a new page, in some cases I substituted a different source such as Wikipedia.  (By the way, Wikipedia is amazingly good at keeping their links up – none of my broken links were to them.)  If I couldn’t find a new page to link to (seems to be a common issue for newspaper articles) I removed the link and marked it as “no longer available”.
  • On some problems, I just removed the link if it didn’t really need to be there.
  • How embarrassing!  Some of the broken links were to my own pages!  These had to do with re-organizing categories and tags.  So I went through and fixed these too.
  • I looked at redirects and they don’t seem to be real issues, so I left them alone.

As of this morning (finally!) all of my broken links are gone.

In the future, I’m going to modify my link philosophy:

  • I’m not going to be as eager to insert links.  Web search is pretty good these days and you can highlight and right-click to get info on anything I write about.  And It’ll be current too!
  • I’ll favor using Wikipedia when it makes sense.  There’s less chance those links will break.
  • I haven’t noticed any performance issues with the Broken Links Checker this time.  So I’ll leave it on
  • Broken Links Checker will email me when it finds problems and I’ll fix them as they come up, instead of ignoring them for too long.

Onward to search results dominance!

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

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Different Perspectives: Through the Humpback’s Eyes

Editors note: Here’s another wonderful post from our roving correspondent MaryKate. This one features photos from her trip to Hawaii in February – enjoy!


Being on Maui in February during peak whale watching season is like nothing else!  Each year between November and May, humpback whales migrate from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska down to Maui to mate and give birth, with January to March being the best months for abundant whale watching.

While there are so many whales you can see them from shore (sometimes causing traffic jams as people watch a whale breach!), I highly recommend going out with Pacific Whale Foundation for a more intimate experience.  My favorite cruise is their Sunday Whale Photo Safari out of Lahaina on Ocean Spirit, a luxury sailing catamaran**.

Humpback Whale Fluke
 Fluke of a Shot

I’ve been ‘whaley’ obsessed with working on my whale photography skills between trips to Alaska and Hawaii.  As I make more photos, I’ve tried to find different perspectives and refine my skills.  This trip, I was happy to catch some behaviors and situations I haven’t seen before – so I’ll focus on those photos in the rest of today’s blog.

Humpback Whale and Kayak

Keeping My Eye On You

This image above is the first time where I  can see the humpback whale’s eye (the round bump at the right)!  This humpback was slapping its pectoral fin on the water, perhaps to communicate with other whales nearby.  While we watched this whale, (s)he was watching nearby kayakers the entire time to make sure that they didn’t get too close.

Another new situation for me was this next photo of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins.  I’ve seen one or two at a time before.  This pod started out as three or four dolphins surfacing by our boat and then erupted into a large pod of 30-40!  This many dolphins together is a breathtaking experience!

Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins

Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin Pod

We also had some very active humpback calves, and they treated us to a few baby breaches (also known as “flying pickles” because of the way they look when flying through the air).  This calf below was just coming out of the water to breach – look how tiny he is compared to his mother nearby.

Humpback Whale Calf Breaching

Humpback Whale Calf Breaching

I’m also working to improve my compositions (although the captain of the boat sure controls a lot of that!).  I really like this image of a mother and calf double blow.  Including  the Maui shoreline in Lahaina adds interest and context to the photo.

Humpback Whale Mother & Calf Blow Maui

Humpback Whale Mother & Calf Double Blow

I had great luck on this trip with weather and whales – too much to fit into one post!  Check out the rest of my photos in the album here.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go see things through a different set of eyes and make some photos!

**DISCLAIMER: I’m biased – I love PWF and their mission to protect the ocean through science and advocacy and to inspire environmental stewardship so much, that I recently joined their board of directors.

©2019, MK Rosack and Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Black Bear Wilderness Area

I’ve seen interesting photos recently that some of my local Flickr friends made in the Black Bear Wilderness Area. So last Wednesday, I drove over to Sanford, Florida and took a hike to explore part of it.  Here are a few photos I made.

Black Bear Wilderness Area 3A fern near the start of the trail – these were everywhere and very green.

BBWA is a 7.1 mile nature trail through a 1,650 acre preserve along historic levees through the St. Johns River floodplain.  I thought the entire route would be a bit much for me, so I only hiked about 4 miles total, out and then back – starting counter-clockwise to reach the river.   I used my IR camera on the way out, and my ‘normal’ camera coming back.

Black Bear Wilderness Area 1Along the St. Johns River, near boardwalk 3.  IR monochrome

There are signs posted warning you to be prepared.  The route runs through remote areas with some challenging terrain (slopes, tree roots, fallen trees, etc).  I didn’t think the part I explored was that rough, but be careful if you go – carry water, bug spray, etc.  And check the weather – a rain storm while you’re out there could make the trail very slippery.

Black Bear Wilderness Area 2From a bridge overlooking a canal around mile mark 1

Bald Cypress trees and swamps around them are some of my favorite subjects. You’ll find them in large numbers at BBWA.

Black Bear Wilderness Area 4: Many kneesAmong the knees –  near mile marker 1.5. IR monochrome

Black Bear Wilderness Area %: Inside the cypress SwampInside the cypress Swamp – Near mile marker 0.5

In addition to these landscapes, I also saw a gator or two, and quite a few birds including herons, egrets, limpkins, osprey, and some unidentified smaller birds back in the bushes.  And no, I didn’t spot any black bears.  Shucks.

There were about 15 other people on the trail that morning, which seems like a lot to me for the middle of the week.  I guess the word is getting out about beautiful views along this amazing trail through wild Florida.  I wish I’d heard about it sooner!

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

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved