July in Central Florida is a tough time for photo-ops, especially nature and wildlife photo-ops. The bird breeding season is over, and the heat makes both human and animal activity brief and difficult.
A few of us did scout Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge last weekend. It’s supposed to have the largest summer gathering of Swallowtail Kites in the Southeast US. They spend July and August there while they prepare to migrate to Brazil. We didn’t see any. We’ll try again and I’ll put together a better scouting report.
Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge: Birdless, misty morning
I did manage to make a couple of photos around my neighborhood last week. This one is from Tuesday. I noticed these awesome rain clouds on my way home from work and stopped by a small park on the south shore of Lake Jessup to photograph them.
Might Rain: Looking north from the south shore of Lake Jessup
And this is a photo of one of our neighborhood eagles. We’ve seen it sitting in this tree on many mornings this year.
Neighborhood Bald Eagle: It always amazes me when I see one of these in the wild. What a remarkable comeback they’ve had from near extinction.
Post-processing skills as well as taste develop over time. New tools come out or get updated. Reviewing your image library for things you may want to change is a good idea. Just don’t spend too much time on post processing – leave enough to go out and make new images too!
This is one of my favorite photographs and one that I’ve even sold, but re-looking at it I saw several things I thought I could make a little better. Here’s the updated version after all my re-edits (which are described below):
After: Ponce Inlet lighthouse, sunset, bird, Final Edit
I started over from the RAW file (you do save your RAW files, don’t you?) and re-did the basic adjustments in Lightroom (color balance, initial exposure adjustments). Then I moved into Photoshop and cleaned up distracting elements (tire tracks, poles, the tip of the cloud just right of the lighthouse, …). I then added a duplicate layer and ran that through Topaz Adjust using the “Spicify” preset to bring up structure, detail, and color saturation. I don’t usually like applying this filter all over an image at 100%, so once back in Photoshop I added a hide all layer mask and partially painted in the effect, using a higher opacity brush for the sky to let more of the filter show and a lower one for the rocks and ocean to mute the filter effect. I then took the result back to Lightroom for final tweaks to color balance, sharpening and a crop to remove part of the sky. I thought that the colors of the sky and rocks were still a little off, so as one last tweak I added graduated filters to help adjust their tints.
For reference purposes, here’s the old edit of this photo:
Note: you can click the two versions above to go to my Flickr account, where you can view larger versions.
And also for reference, I uploaded the original RAW file (with default development settings in Lightroom) below.
Ponce Inlet lighthouse, sunset, bird, RAW Capture
Would I go to this much effort for every image? No. But sometimes a photo really appeals to me and I want to get the absolute best I can from it. It helps that I enjoy working in Photoshop and learning about new techniques.
So what do you think? Quite a few changes, some more subtle than others – but overall I like the new version better.
The woman I’m with is wonderful! I thought I used up all my husband points yesterday when she went to see Harry Potter with me. But this morning, she nudged me and asked if we were still going birding. So we did.
I’ve been to Viera Wetlands many times since first discovering it in January of 2010. It’s one of the most consistent places for birding in Central Florida. Today was no exception. We went by the Click Ponds first. The interesting thing was that the water level was very low. We saw a huge number of fish concentrated in small areas in the ponds. The birds gathered around the fish feasting on them. Many of the birds seemed sated and were too full to be interested in more.
We saw Black-necked Stilts, Roseate Spoonbills, Ospreys, Red-winged Blackbirds, Great Egrets, Limpkins, Wood Storks, Great Blue Herons, Tri-colored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Little Egrets, Moorhens, Whistling Ducks, Anhingas, Cormorants, Coots, and other species. You can see a lot of them in this photo:
Click Pond Pano: The water level is low in the Click ponds at Viera Wetlands. This has concentrated the fish and the birds are feasting.
Osprey in flight
Lesson learned: Don’t ignore the Click ponds at Viera Wetlands. Especially at this time of year.
I’ve been to Mount Evans before and written about it here. I got a chance to go back this week and my second visit was as good as the first. Maybe even better, since I showed this wonderful place off to Sara, Mike, and Julie.
The highest paved road in North America starts in Idaho Springs, Colorado and winds for 28 miles around tight switchbacks to an altitude of just over 14,100 feet. There’s a small parking lot near the summit, and a short (but vertical) hike to the very top at 14,270 feet. The road is quite narrow in spots, and is exciting or scary depending on your attitude and its altitude / slope. There are many places to pull over that offer outstanding views of the surrounding landscapes and wildlife.
Bristlecone pine: This species of tree is the longest lived single organism on earth
Take I-70 west from Denver and exit at County Road 103. The first half of the drive from there is pretty but not too out of the ordinary. The fee station is around the halfway point, and this is where most of the excitement begins. Pick up a brochure so you’ll have a map and information about the park.
Both times I’ve gone have been in early July so I can’t say much about the rest of the year. Try to visit on a weekday to avoid crowds, and if you can’t go on a weekday – leave early. The only day we could drive up was the 4th, so we left around 7am. When we asked the ranger at the fee station, he said it wasn’t crowded yet but would be, and recommended we go up to the top and stop at places on the way down. If you don’t, you might not get a parking spot – they get very limited at the top as the day goes on. We saw lots of cars headed up as we were leaving.
Wildflowers are abundant in July. Even above 14,000 feet where the terrain seems barren – you can see flowers in between the rocks. July is also a great time to view wildlife. On this trip we saw a Deer, Chipmunks, Elk, Mountain Goats, Marmots, and a Pika.
Baby mountain goat – There were several families of mountain goats near the summit. This little one posed for me so I could frame him against the out of focus mountains in the background. It’s amazing to watch them scramble from rock to rock and never slip.
Pair of Marmots
At the summit, the average summer temperature is ~44 degrees (F) and the average wind is ~30 mph, so we were particularly blessed with a low temp of 55 and very calm winds. The winds were so calm that on the way down we decided to stop and hike to a couple of pools of water, hoping for a photo of the clouds reflecting in the ice melt. It seemed like a really short hike downhill from the road to this pool. When we turned around to go back uphill, the car looked really, really tiny and far, far away.
Catch pool reflection and Mike admiring the view
If you’re ever in the Denver area, you just have to visit Mount Evans. It’s spectacular and very accessible. Flatlanders like me shouldn’t do the trip on their first day at altitude. I’m not in the best of shape and at 14,000 feet I found I was out of breath even after short walks. A few days to acclimate at around 5000 feet may have helped.
Click on any of the photos above to go to Flickr where you can see a larger version. You can see the rest of my Mount Evans photos from this trip here, and you can see photos from my earlier trip here.
I enjoy both nature/landscape photography and wildlife photography. I was thinking about this recently and it occurred to me that these can be quite different from an equipment, skills, and approach perspective.
Landscape: Lake Jesup flood waters after Tropical Storm Fay
Birding: Great Blue Heron profile
Here are some of the things I think are different about the two:
Birding / Wildlife
The quality of light is important (e.g. “Golden hour”). The amount of light isn’t too important: You can make long exposures from your tripod.
The amount of light is important. You need lots of light to get your shutter speed up.
You need to know the location, and figure out sun timing and position. May still be hit or miss depending on the weather.
You need to know about the animal and its habits, and where you might find them. May still be hit or miss depending on the animals (and maybe the weather).
1. Composition, 2. Exposure, 3. Focus
1. Focus, 2. Exposure, 3. Composition
Probably better by yourself: Your location, your vision.
Can be better in groups. Many eyes can help spot things one person will miss.
Good tripod with good ball head. Wide angle lens, small aperture for greater depth of field, long exposure. Frame rate not too important.
Very long lens, large aperture for a fast shutter speed. High frame rate body. Maybe a tripod with a gimbal head.
Not as expensive
Can be very expensive
Have I missed anything? What else is different about these two types of photography?