Monthly Archives: June 2010

PIG Tales 1

I belong to a camera club called the Photography Interest Group (the “PIGs). Our members vary in their photographic background and experience (as well as in age, gender and cultural background, by the way).  A couple of us have used SLRs since the film days. Some of the others in our group are beginners with their first Single Lens Reflex camera. But we all love photography.

The “senior PIGs” often get questions about why we do things a certain way, or how to do a specific thing. I think it might be interesting to others if I post the questions and answers. When a junior PIG want to know, others may want to know too. So this post is the first of what may become a series. We’ll see how it goes.

Q. How do you make photos at night?

One member of our club has a trip planned to Yosemite. He (let’s call him “Donuts”) wants to do something a little different and make photos after dark. Do you need special equipment? What settings do you use? How do you focus when you can’t see anything?

Now before we get started, we’re talking about outdoor, landscape and nature photos, not your regular dinner party photos. That would be a completely different post – somewhere else.

A. Slowly and carefully

I’ll write this for people with DSLR cameras. Most of the principles will apply if you have a point and shoot, but your camera may not have the controls or flexibility you’ll need. Still, you should experiment – you may discover some good work arounds with the equipment you have.

1. Night Landscapes

Night landscapes can be different and add some interest to your portfolio.

Moon rise at sunsetMoonrise at sunset, a pasture near Orlando Wetlands Park – Base exposure: f/8, 2 seconds, ISO 200. Second exposure (for moon): f/11, 1/25 sec, ISO 200.

  • Use a tripod to steady your camera. Hand holding a camera at night just won’t work — unless you’re only trying to make sunset silhouettes.
  • Compose carefully. All the normal landscape concepts still count for night photography. Composition (e.g. the rule of thirds), and having something of interest in the foreground as well as the middle and far distance will help your photo. You might want to use a bubble level in your camera’s hot shoe so that you can make sure your shot is level.
  • Focus carefully. The light level might be too low for your camera to focus automatically. If your camera has a live view mode, it can be a great help for manual focus at night, since you can zoom in to see detail. If not, you can estimate distance and set your lens manually. If you’re using a wide-angle lens, depth of field will help you. You can also stop your lens down to give more depth of field (f/11 or f/16) and make the focus less critical. Try focusing 1/3 of the distance into the frame if the main subject is close to the camera, and 2/3 in if the main subject is far away. Again, you may want to set your camera / lens to manual focus after you get it adjusted properly.
  • You’ll need a remote release too so you can avoid shaking the camera when you press the shutter release. For many exposures, the light may call for an exposure longer than your camera’s longest shutter speed (typically 30 seconds). In this case you’ll need to put your camera in Bulb mode and use the remote release to time the exposure by hand (more on this later).
  • Exposure is tricky. Your camera’s auto exposure mode may work, but will probably make the scene too bright. You can adjust this a bit in post processing to make it look more like a night scene. You can also chimp your shots to make sure you’re in the ball park and the result is close to what you want.  If not, use your exposure compensation – usually to dial in a bit less light.
  • Here’s one trick to try for determining proper exposure for very low light situations: Set your camera’s ISO as high as it will go and make a photo. Chimp the shot to see if it’s exposed the way  you want. Then set your ISO back to its base value to get the highest quality photo and slow down the shutter speed by the same ratio as the ISO change. For example, if your exposure looks correct at f/8, 4 sec. @ ISO 3200, then it should also be correct at f/8, 64 sec @ ISO 200 (4*3200/200 = 64).
  • Many DSLRs limit the slowest shutter speed to 30 second. How do you make an exposure of 64 seconds? Use manual mode. Set your aperture, and use Bulb for the shutter speed. Hold the shutter open with your remote release and manually time the exposure.
  • Long exposure noise reduction: With any exposures over a second or two, sensor noise will probably be an issue. I use Nikon’s long exposure noise reduction in these situations. When turned on, the camera will take a second exposure with the shutter closed to measure noise and then subtract the noise out from the first exposure. Try it on your camera – it works well on mine
  • For more advanced projects, stars (and the moon) will leave trails in any exposures longer than a few seconds. One nice effect is to scout a good landscape scene to the north and make a very long exposure. The circular star trails will be centered around the north star. You can also make spectacular photos under a dark sky by placing your camera on an equatorial mount so that the camera follows the earth’s motion. I’ve seen beautiful photos of the Milky Way behind spectacular scenery made this way.

2. Shooting the moon

The moon is interesting and one of the easiest astronomical objects to photograph. But it isn’t easy. You’ll need to set up carefully, expose correctly and have your camera as still as possible. Your photographs will benefit from as much magnification as you can get.

The Earth's satelliteThe Earth’s satellite – f/11, 1/50 sec, ISO 200 (click the photo to go to Flickr, where I’ve uploaded the full res, uncropped version).

  • Use a tripod to steady your camera. Hand holding a camera to make a photo of the moon might work if you have very good image stabilization in your camera or lens. But with a high zoom ratio, hand-held photos will hardly every work out, especially when you zoom in so you can see some detail.
  • Zoom in so you can see some detail. A 300mm lens on a crop sensor camera (~450mm equivalent) should allow you to make a decent photo. Much smaller than that and you’ll need to crop the result a bit – which will lower the quality. I made the photo above with my Sigma 150-500mm zoom at 500mm (750mm equivalent) on a Nikon D90. It’s uncropped and doesn’t fill the frame, but this combination does yield some nice detail.
  • Focus carefully. You might want to set your camera / lens to manual focus after you get it adjusted properly. Don’t bump it later, and don’t forget to put it back in auto focus mode when you’re done.
  • Your camera most likely will not expose the moon correctly. With a lot of dark sky in the frame, the moon will probably come out way over exposed. For your exposure, use your camera’s spot metering function and then set your exposure compensation to about -1 EV. Chimp the result and adjust as necessary. If you don’t have a spot meter, then try using the “sunny 16” rule in manual exposure mode and adjust from there. For those of you that haven’t ever shot with slide film and a manual exposure camera, this rule of thumb says that for bright sunlight, your exposure should be f/16 at a shutter speed of 1/ISO. Since the moon is lit by the sun, this rule of thumb will get you close to a good exposure.
  • You can do even better if you have access to a telescope. It’s relatively easy to use a point and shoot camera to take a photo through the eyepiece of a telescope like I did below. If anyone is interested in this, I can provide more information.
Hand held, autoexposure, Nikon Coolpix P1 through the telescope eyepiece

I’m sure you’ll come up with more ideas as you practice this. Good luck, Donuts. And don’t forget your flashlight and bug spray.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Ravine Gardens State Park

Dogwood blossom in front of azaleas

Dogwood blossom in front of azaleas

Intro / Description

I had never heard of Ravine Gardens State Park until Lynn mentioned it to me after reading about it in our Florida guidebook in the St. Augustine section.  The ~185 acre park is in Palatka, about 35 miles south west of St. Augustine and about 90 miles north east of the Orlando area.

This is a steephead ravine formed by ground water leaking through porous sand onto a sloping surface.  The sand is eroded from the bottom causing sand above to collapse and be carved away by the stream.  It’s from 70 to 120 foot deep.

It became a state park in 1933 when the Works Progress Administration began construction and also landscaped it with 95,000 azaleas including 64 varieties.  They also planted 11,000 palm trees and more than 250,000 ornamental plants.  There’s a multi-tiered rose garden with a fountain at its center.  You can drive a 1.8 mile loop around the ravine and hiking paths and jogging trails also wind throughout the park, including one over a suspension bridge across the ravine.

Lily pond and suspension bridgeLily pond and suspension bridge

There’s also a playground or two and picnic tables if you want to eat lunch there.

Info for Photographers

Photo hints:  The azaleas are a main attraction at this park.  There’s other things to see too, including the abandoned water plant, the suspension bridge, and ponds.  For photography, of course, early or late in the day would be the best time to get there.  If you try to photograph during midday, you’ll be bothered by harsh sunlight and high contrast with the dark forest.  Capturing a scene with this much dynamic range practically begs for RAW mode and HDR techniques.  You might also want to bring a polarizing filter to help cut down on reflections from leaves.

Tripod/Monopod: Definitely allowed, and you’ll need it for any HDR work.

Lenses:  A wide angle lens will be useful to try to capture the feeling of the change in elevation.  We saw butterflies and dragonflies when we were there, so a macro capability might also be handy.

Ebony Jewelwing (?)I believe this is an Ebony Jewelwing dragonfly

Best time to visit: Spring time is a wonderful time in Central Florida. The Azelea festival is usually one weekend in the beginning of March, however they bloom over several weeks, so you have plenty of time to visit.

Several varieties of azaleas in bloom

Several varieties of azaleas in bloom

Other: Like most state parks, the entrance fee is a bargain at $5 per car.  You’ll need to occasionally park and walk short distances to see all the views, but you can see most of the park from your car.  Wear good shoes if you intend to do any hiking.

Summary

This park doesn’t seem to be very well known and it’s a wonderful surprise when you discover it.  The elevation changes are  interesting and very different for Central Florida.  It’s fairly close to Orlando and worth a visit.  Go in the spring time (March) so you can view the multitude of flowers.

Vine covered trellisVine covered trellis.

My Flickr photo set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/sets/72157624336756372/
Website: http://www.floridastateparks.org/ravinegardens/default.cfm
Address / Phone:
1600 Twigg Street

Palatka, Florida 32177

(386) 329-3721

View in Google Maps

Central Florida Photo Ops Rating: Ravines in Central Florida?!  Check it out at azalea time – in March.

Note:  This post was updated on March 12, 2011 after an additional visit to Ravine Gardens, while the Azaleas were in bloom.

©2010, 2011 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.

You can't always get what you want* – Emeralda Marsh

Four of us from the Photography Interest Group rolled out before dawn this morning to visit “The crown jewel of bird watching in Lake County”, Emeralda Marsh.   It’s a little over an hour drive on mostly rural roads from our normal meeting place in Oviedo through Central Florida to Tavares.  “Donuts” found this place on the web and it sounds really good.  He called ahead to ask about it and learned that the driving route through the marsh is only open from February through May – but we still decided to go ahead and explore it.  While up there, we also drove to and walked around Sawgrass Island Preserve.

It’s difficult to judge any place based on just one visit.  Even at the best known and consistent locations we occasionally have a hard time getting photos of wildlife.  Sometimes you just have to be patient and really work for your photos.  Today was one of those times – especially since we were in an area we weren’t familiar with. [4/16/11 update:  Here is a new post on Emeralda Marsh based on our return visit]

It’s disappointing that the Emeralda Marsh Interpretive Drive isn’t open all year.  I’m certain that would’ve made our trip much more successful.  As it was, we had to park and hike looking for scenic places and wildlife and we weren’t able to cover as much ground.  The end result was that for wildlife, today was somewhat of a bust.  We talked about returning next February when the driving route is open.

Over several hikes, we saw quite a lot of Florida scrub land and very few birds or other wildlife.  But photographers are resourceful and we did see many things worth taking photos of.  My photos seemed to develop a theme of “Things in people’s yards”, also known as TIPY.  I’ve created of a set of thirteen of these photos on Flickr (set, slideshow), and I’ve posted a few below.  If you go to the set on Flickr, you can see things like llamas, dogs, additional old farm equipment and a flower.  See the captions for details.

Old plow and horse
Old plow and horse.  It doesn’t look too much like a plow horse to me.

Old Blue Truck
Old Blue Truck – We came across several old trucks this morning and this was the last one we found. Since it was blue, it completed my full spectrum RGB set. You can see the Red and Green trucks on my Flickr Feed.

Cattle Egret and Horse
Cattle Egret and Horse

Dragonfly in flight
Dragonfly in flight – I was waiting in the car for the rest of the group and noticed some dragonflies that were moving past the window. I decided to try to capture one in flight.

At the end of the trip, we found a close by Cracker Barrel restaurant and stopped to eat.  Today, we had fun.  We had breakfast.  We made some photos worth posting.  And we confirmed that even though you don’t always get what you want, if you try sometimes you find – you get what you need*.

*With apologies to the Rolling Stones

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.