Mike, Sara, and Mary joined Lynn and I for Christmas this year. When we’re together we often visit a theme park, but since we liked our last cruise so much, we decided to take a holiday cruise instead. We booked on Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas and departed from Port Canaveral for Nassau and Coco Cay on Friday, Dec. 21st.
Port Canaveral is about an hour east of Orlando on the 528 Beachline. We found parking right at the pier and the embarkation wasn’t too bad, although there was a line getting through security.
Overall the Monarch of the Seas was very enjoyable. The food was good (the Strawberry Pavlova dessert was a BIG hit!), and so was the service. Our staterooms were in different parts of the ship this time, which made coordination a little more difficult – but we worked it out. Once nice thing about sailing at this time of year is that the ship was fully decked out for the holidays – Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, and other seasonal touches.
Ship’s decorations in the main atrium
We departed Port Canaveral late in the afternoon. The weather was nice for the whole cruise and although Friday’s sunset wasn’t that great Saturday’s sunrise made up for it:
Pre-dawn clouds in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida
We arrived in Nassau Saturday afternoon and spent time shopping. Then Mike and Sara found us a great place to sample the local food (the Bahamian Cookin’ Restaurant) where we enjoyed their Conch Fritters. After that, we all boarded a catamaran for a sunset tour of the harbor. The low light combined with a moving boat made for a challenging photo-op, but I did get a few nice images. One of the highlights was seeing Oprah Winfrey’s pair of side by side mansions (with a huge matching yacht). I guess she uses the second mansion for guests – quite impressive.
Nassau harbor at night from the sunset cruise catamaran. I thought the red and green running lights were an unexpected seasonal bonus!
From Nassau, we sailed to the Berry Islands where Royal Caribbean has exclusive use of Coco Cay (also known as Little Stirrup Cay). They’ve set the place up for cruise passengers to enjoy beach time, snorkeling, shopping at a straw market, parasailing, wave runners, an aqua park, kayaking, hammocks, and of course – food. We had kayak reservations for first thing in the morning. The wind was really blowing and even though we were a bit worried about it we went anyway. It was a workout, but worth it in the end. We paddled about a mile to a sand bar off of Big Stirrup Cay, where I made this photo:
A starfish in the ocean near a sand bar at Big Stirrup Cay. We haven’t been able to ID this one – our guide told us it isn’t common.
Later, back on Coco Cay we relaxed, shopped, and yes, ate too much. Mike and Sara also went snorkeling and saw fish, Sting Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, and coral.
Sara and Mike enjoy the view from our Coco Cay cabana
It was a wonderful way to spend time with our family. Except for the wind, the weather was great and not at all typical of the season in most of the country. Poor Mike and Sara had to return home to winter storms and snow. I imagine it was a bit of a change!
You can click any of the photos above to see larger versions on Flickr and I’ve posted several more from our cruise in this set.
This is my last post of 2012. I’ll be back next year and I hope you will too. May you, your family, and your friends all have a happy and prosperous new year. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, get cruising and make some photos!
Season’sGreetings! The holidays are here once again and many of you are traveling to visit family and friends. Please have a safe journey and enjoy the time with your loved ones.
Well, I think I now have another favorite photo-op! I’d heard many things about Fort De Soto and a couple of my friends had great experiences there, but it’s a ~2.5 hour drive from Winter Springs – so I’d never gone until last week.
Lynn, Mike, Sara, and Mary got me a wonderful birthday present this year – a 1 on 1 photo workshop with Jason Hahn of Outdoor Photo Workshops. I’d been waiting to use it until the weather cooled off a bit and I finally scheduled it for last week. Jason lives in the Tampa area and he’s an expert on Fort De Soto, so it seemed like a great opportunity for me to visit with a local guide and learn more about the place.
Since we were meeting at 6:45am for sunrise, I went over the night before to make sure I knew the way and to try to get a sunset shot. Before I left, I used the Photographer’s Ephemeris app on my phone to do a little virtual scouting and noticed that the setting sun would be in nearly perfect alignment with a section of beach near the Bay pier at De Soto. If you don’t have this app or another like it, get it. It’s extremely useful when planning photo-ops. This setting looked like it would be different from the sunrise and sunset geometry I usually get, so that’s where I ended up on Thursday evening. I was blessed with some very nice clouds and light, and the geometry led to this composition. What do you think?
The end of the day at Fort Desoto – Looking southwest toward Egmont Key from the base of the bay pier. The ferry that travels back and forth to the Key is on the left.
Fort De Soto park is south of St. Petersburg, Florida and is run by Pinellas county. It’s made up of a number of islands (keys) and the location and geography make it very unique, especially from a birding perspective. It lies along the migration routes and is a landing-place for birds flying across the Gulf of Mexico. If the conditions are favorable, a knowledgable birder can see over a hundred different species here in a single spring-time day. I’m definitely going to keep an eye on the birding lists and plan to go back next April.
It’s also quite diverse from a landscape photography perspective. The Sunshine Skyway bridge can add to a scene, and the tides cover and uncover shoreline features that can vary the foreground interest in your photos. Storms also come through occasionally and these can cut new channels or shift sand to change the layout of the smaller islands. So it’s possible to see changes on both a daily and seasonal basis. When I arrived there Friday morning, the light wasn’t good for a typical sunrise shot, but I set up anyway and made this photo. I think the reflections from the bridge on the low clouds and water add a lot to the image.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay Florida, before dawn. From the East Beach turnaround at Fort De Soto
Jason showed me around, and was quite knowledgable about the site, the wildlife, and how to photograph all of it. He was also patient and easily dealt with my many questions. It was interesting to hear him talk about the behavior of the animals and how they interact with the terrain and tides and then explain how to use the knowledge to make better photos. It was a greatly enhanced scouting expedition and I only hope I can remember half the things he told me!
The wind was blowing at 10 miles an hour or more, so many of the normal birds were hunkered down out of sight, but we did see Laughing, and Herring Gulls (including one with its breakfast), an American Oystercatcher, a family of Raccoons, Common Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, Ospreys, Tri-colored and Great Blue Herons and maybe a few other species.
American Oystercatcher – a very cooperative bird. He strolled right by us, leaving a wake.
There was a pretty interesting scenario with the Herring Gull below. They catch crabs and then fly them up to 40 or 50 feet above rocks or hard sand before they drop them to crack the shells open. This particular gull was going to crack his crab, but another gull came close, so it flew off somewhere else to dine in private.
Herring Gull flies off with crab
On this trip, I met a fellow photographer for the first time, scouted a new place (which definitely made the “must do” list), learned lot in the process, and had a great time. A pretty fine photo-op, in spite of the clouds and wind.
As usual, you can see larger versions of these images on Flickr by clicking on them. And I have a couple more photos from Fort De Soto in this set.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Happy Holidays! Once again the season has snuck up on us. I hope that all of you, your families, and your friends have a joyful and happy season!
Photographer Jim Goldstein has an annual tradition of organizing a “best photos of the year” listing. I’m very glad he started this, since it’s a good reminder for each of us to take time to review results and contemplate how to improve our photography. And also to put together an annual “Favorite photos of the year” post.
2012 was another good year for me photographically. The 2012 folder on my hard drive takes up about 284 GB of space – almost double 2011. There are 80 folders, and each one represents a separate “photo-op”, with a total of over 6200 photos, so it does look like I’m trying! I had a lot of opportunity to make good images this year, and I’m pleased with the results I achieved. But it doesn’t seem like my ability and skills have grown as much this year as in the past. Perhaps I’ve plateaued. Maybe I don’t know what I don’t know about getting better. Maybe I’m just getting more picky and critical. Regardless, I think I need to make a stronger effort in 2013.
I’m still using the following system to rate my photos. The numbers in parentheses are the counts for 2012.
1 star – The photo is interesting (174)
2 stars – The photo is worth showing to others (396)
3 stars – The photo is the best of (or one of the best of ) any given photo shoot (68)
4 stars – My favorite photo of a year (1)
5 stars – My favorite photo ever (still none, I’m not finished making photos yet!)
The rest of the photos don’t have stars and are seconds or not so good versions. I usually keep them, but they probably won’t get any more attention. This system seems to work for me and I’ve reviewed my 2012 photos and selected my favorites. This is a hard process for any photographer. It’s difficult to separate my opinion about a photograph from any emotional connections that I might have with the scene or situation. But making this effort is important and part of the learning process. Still, at the end of the day, I don’t claim to be objective about my photography. These photos are the ones that I like best, so feel free to disagree – but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve picked.
You can click on each of these to go to Flickr and see a larger version. Or you can click on this link to go to the complete set on Flickr.
I have 1 miscellaneous subject, 1 mammal, 1 bird, 3 people photos, 7 landscapes, 3 sunrises, 0 sunsets, 6 color, 4 Black and White, and 4 Infra-Red photos. Definitely a trend away from wildlife and toward landscapes and infra-red. Here we go…
My number 1 favorite photo of 2012:
Many cypress trees, Blue Cypress Lake, near Vero Beach, Florida, June.
I have a thing for Cypress trees anyway and when I made my first and only visit to Blue Cypress Lake this year, the natural beauty of this place overwhelmed me. I’m planning to return early next year when I can also see many nesting Ospreys and other birds. See this post for more info.
My number 2 favorite photo of 2012:
Pre-dawn Jetty, Jetty Park, Cocoa, Florida, October.
When I saw this scene, I really liked the way the light on the walk drew my eye to the bottom left and then the rail and the jetty lead to the sun rays coming up from below the horizon. So I straddled the rail with my tripod and made this photo. See this post for more info.
My number 3 favorite photo of 2012:
Keb’ Mo’ in concert, Plaza Theatre, Orlando, Florida, February.
I like The Plaza and they often bring in acts that I like too. We were lucky to get seats up front and when the spotlights lit up the smoke, I made this photo. See this post for more info.
My number 4 favorite photo of 2012:
Water Dragon Sunrise, on board the Carnival Paridise in the Gulf of Mexico, April.
I stalked this sunrise for about 45 minutes before this scene developed. I’m happy I waited for it – sometimes patience pays off! See this post for more info.
My number 5 favorite photo of 2012:
Submarine sunrise: The British Trident ballistic missile submarine HMS Vigilant leaving Port Canaveral, Florida just after dawn, October.
This was a bonus photo when the sub turned south after leaving the inlet and posed for us under the rising sun. See this post for more info.
My number 6 favorite photo of 2012:
Cocoa Sunrise, North of the Hubert Humphrey Causeway in Cocoa, Florida, August.
This is an infra-red, fish-eye photo (an “IRFE”). It’s a really good combination to shake up your photography and inspire some creativity.
My number 7 favorite photo of 2012:
Play time at Union Station, Cincinnati, Ohio, December 2011
This photo missed the deadline for last year’s favorites – so I included it here. I usually wait for people to clear out when I’m trying to make a photo. This time I went ahead and made it while these two girls played around the fountain. Since this is a stitched panorama, they show up multiple times, which I think adds to the image. See this post for more info.
My number 8 favorite photo of 2012:
Cruising White Pelican, Black Point Wildlife Drive, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Florida, December.
White Pelicans are winter migrants to our area, so we don’t get to see them very often. This one cruised right in and posed in the middle of my viewfinder. I couldn’t have arranged it better! See this post for more info.
My number 9 favorite photo of 2012:
On the beach, Venice Beach, Florida, September.
We were wandering around exploring the area near the Venice Pier. Since it was close to mid-day, I didn’t expect the light to be good, but I took my IR camera in case something came up. I think the IR characteristics add a lot of interest to the photo. And it makes a great example of how “playing around” can lead to good things. See this post for more info.
My number 10 favorite photo of 2012:
Late night?, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Orlando, Florida, May.
This photo was difficult to make since the lighting was challenging and I had to photograph the Gorilla through glass. But it’s a great pose and expression and I was able to clean the image up considerably in post processing. He looks like I’ve felt a few times. See this post for more info.
And here is one last photo that I care a lot about:
The “Senator” – a 3500 year old Bald Cypress tree, Big Tree Park, Longwood, Florida.
I made this image in September of 2011, so it doesn’t officially qualify for a 2012 favorite. The reason I put it in this post is because in January of 2012, the tree caught fire, burned and collapsed. The fire was at first thought to have been caused by lightning, but later was determined to have been started by a woman inside the hollow tree so she could see the illegal drugs she was using. Now no one else will ever make a photo of this, so it became a lot more important to me in 2012. What a crazy, sad event. For more info see this post and this post.
If you’d like to see my favorite photos from earlier years, you can click on these links: 2009, 2010, and 2011.
This is a truly great time of year to visit the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve gone over for the last two weekends. As I mentioned in my previous post, I took Lynn, Mary, and Monette there last Sunday – we had a great time and spotted lots of birds. I told Kevin M. about it and he insisted we go back yesterday with Kevin K.
Why is it so good over there now? I’m glad you asked! The number and types of birds in and around Black Point Wildlife Drive are probably the greatest I’ve ever seen. There are both regular species and winter visitors. Ducks are there in huge numbers, both in the water and flying overhead in vast formations close enough that the sound of their beating wings is quite loud. The larger wading and shorebirds are also there in force. On both days, there were feeding frenzies going on in ponds along BPWD. The water is full of minnows and the birds are feasting on them.
Black Point Wildlife Drive Feeding Frenzy Video
By the way, this situation is an ideal set up to practice your BIF (birds in flight) photography. Here’s a photo I made at this same pond, showing an egret with one of the minnows.
Snowy Egret with minnow
And here’s a close-up of the minnows in the water. No wonder the birds are going crazy!
The reason for the festive gathering (photo by Kevin McKinney)
On these two days, we saw close to 40 different types of wildlife. And I’m sure there were others I either didn’t see, didn’t recognize or forgot. Here’s a partial list:
Alligator, Cows, Deer, Manatee
Ducks: American Wigeon, Blue Wing Teals, Hooded Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler
Egrets: Cattle, Great, Reddish, and Snowy
Herons: Great Blue, Green, Little blue, and Tri-color
Ibis: Glossy, and White
Pie billed grebe
Red Bellied woodpecker
Ring billed Gull
Yellow Rumped Warbler
Cruising White Pelican – a winter migrant to our area
So two wonderful visits, although we did have some disappointments. We looked for Florida Scrub Jays and didn’t see them in the normal spot. And the sunrise photos on both days were a challenge. Here’s what it looked like yesterday:
Sorry this week’s post is a little late – we were pretty busy all weekend. So just a short entry this morning. Yesterday I went over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge with Lynn, Mary, and Mary’s friend Monette. Lots and lots of birds (a story for another day).
On the way home, we stopped by the Fort Christmas Historical Park in Christmas, Florida. They were having their 35th annual “Cracker Christmas” event. Along with tours of the permanent structures at the park, there were demonstrations of early settler life in Florida and many booths selling crafts. There were also some Civil War reenactments going on. When I saw this group posing in front of an old view camera, I just had to make a photo.
Civil War group portrait: A group of Civil War reenactors pose in front of a view camera during the 2012 annual “Cracker Christmas” event at the Fort Christmas Historical Park and Museum.
It was quite crowded, but definitely worth the time to stop by. To satisfy your photographic curiosity, here’s the “before” version of this photo:
Civil War group portrait: Straight out of the camera, before a few tweaks in Lightroom and Photoshop
I cloned out some distractions, leveled and cropped, tweaked the color, contrast, sharpening, and then converted to a sepia toned B&W. I like the “after” version better. How about you?
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!