Today’s entry is just a few notes about the blog. First: A photo. This is unrelated really to the subject of this post, but we can’t have a post without a photo – can we? This is from Melbourne Beach, Florida on the morning after the Turtle walk.
Smell the sea, sense the sand, and see the sun rise
Second: If you’re reading the blog using Google’s Reader RSS service or an app or web page that uses it to sync, then you should know that Google is stopping Reader as of tomorrow. There are several alternatives. You can subscribe via email (use the button at the top right), visit using your browser once or twice a week, or adopt a new RSS reader. I’m trying out “The Old Reader“. There’s an IOS app called “Feeddler” that can sync with it. Several others are available too and will come up if you Google “Google Reader alternatives”.
Third: I’ve been behind updating the blog’s Table of Contents page, but I’ve caught up now. If you’ve never looked at it, please check it out. I think it’s a great resource on Central Florida (and other) Photo Ops.
Fourth: I’ve also been very behind keeping my Birding life list up to date. I still haven’t caught up on this, but it should be done later this week. It’ll have a few new (for me) birds from earlier this year and will be re-organized and sorted to align with the ABA bird checklist.
I didn’t put much effort into this photo of last Saturday’s super moon – so the result isn’t that exciting.
Super moon over Melbourne Beach – The full moon and sparse clouds helped get our shutter speeds up just a little during the turtle walk.
What did excite me was what the super moon illuminated. Kevin M. and I attended a turtle walk led by the Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Melbourne Beach, Florida – what an incredibly awesome experience!
Loggerhead sea turtles are endangered in the US and many other countries. They seem to be making a comeback recently since “turtle excluder devices” were required on fishing nets starting in the late 1980s. They’re found over most of the world, although the east coast of Florida is a prime nesting area. Nesting season peaks here June and July. Last year, Florida recorded 58,000 nests with many of them in Brevard County.
I’ve spotted sea turtles off shore on the surface before, but until Saturday I’d never seen one on the beach. Since they’re endangered, it’s illegal to approach or harass them in any way. But there is a way to see them up close on shore. The Sea Turtle Preservation Society has a Florida State permit to conduct Turtle Walks for the public several nights a week during nesting season at three different locations in South Brevard County. They give a presentation with lots of good background on sea turtles. During the presentation, people from the organization scout the beach looking for a nesting Loggerhead. When they find one, they lead the group out to observe.
Loggerhead sea turtle laying eggs – The guides keep everyone behind the turtle where she can’t see them and put a small red light in the nest to illuminate the eggs.
There are some rules for the walk:
Stay with and obey the guides. They’ll lead you to the nest along the water line after she starts laying eggs.
No lights at all are allowed, including cell phones and especially flash photography.
Everyone is kept behind the turtle out of her line of sight.
When she’s done, the guides will move the group to one side away from her path back to the ocean.
Stay off the outgoing turtle tracks. Researchers use them the next morning to count nests.
If you go, check with your group for their rules. They may be different.
This is very tough photography assignment. In fact it’s much more of a Central Florida Nature Op than a Central Florida Photo Op. But if you want to try to make some photos, here are some hints:
The group we went with says they see turtles on 90% of their walks. I’m not sure what it’s like with other groups. You might want to ask before you go.
Check with the leaders of the group you’re going with about photography. Rules seem to vary and some groups don’t allow any photography at all.
Schedule your walk to take advantage of conditions. The beach is very dark. Hotels and homes in the area are even required to keep their lights off during nesting season. You’ll have a bit more light if you go during a full moon and when there’s minimum cloud cover. Also, The turtles seem to prefer coming ashore at high tide. Our walk was just after. We were also fortunate to have a 10 mph east wind that kept us very comfortable and insect free. I wasn’t even sweating at the end of the walk – and this is Florida – in late June! But if the wind is too strong, you’ll have to watch out for tripod vibrations.
Other than the small flashlight in the photo above, all the other photos in this post were made with just ambient light well after sunset. You’ll need a tripod and fast lens.
Be careful with your tripod. The group was pretty large the night we went and I worried about hitting or tripping someone in the dark (I didn’t).
Bring a fast lens. Kevin and I both used 50mm f/1.8 lenses and shot with them wide open. This was a pretty good focal length for the subject distances.
The moon was very bright – I shot at ISO 800, f/1.8 and my shutter speed varied around 1 second. If you go at another time of the month, your shutter speeds may be even slower.
Your tripod will help stop camera motion, but you’ll need to time your shots to minimize turtle motion.
The crowd was pretty large and I had to maneuver to get a clear view with my camera. Be courteous.
Make sure you can work your camera controls in the dark. You need to know how to at least change to manual focus and adjust the ISO without a flashlight.
Turn off your auto focus assist light and auto photo review – no lights, remember?
Auto focus was very difficult. The only time it worked at all was on the guide’s red flashlight in the nest. The rest of the time, I used manual focus and guessed since it was so dark. You’ll need to take your chances and hope for some sharp shots. Since it was so dim, I found the optical view finder on my Nikon easier to use than the EVF on my Olympus. Your mileage may vary.
Depth of field will be very shallow. Try to focus on the middle distance of your subject and if possible compose with the long axis of your subject parallel to the camera.
Surprisingly, shadows can be an issue. There were times when people blocked the moon and shadows on the turtle were pretty dark. Move around to find a better point of view.
Turtle walk crowd
When she’s done laying her eggs, she buries them and disguises the nest.
Loggerhead sea turtle covering nest
And then heads back out to sea.
The Epic Journey Continues – Loggerhead Turtle returning to the ocean. Photo by Kevin McKinney (used with permission).
As you can probably tell from my write-up, I really enjoyed this outing. It was wonderful to witness a natural event that’s been on going for 165 million years. A big shout out and thank you to Kevin’s wife Traci. She’s the one that recommended we go on the turtle walk. And thanks to Kevin for scheduling it on the perfect night.
If you want to know more, here’s a couple of links to recent sea turtle news:
One of the great things about photography is that it gets you up and out there. You may not see anything if you go – but if you don’t go you definitely won’t ever see anything. Here are a few photos of what I saw around Central Florida this week.
I made this first one about a half hour before dawn along Gator Creek Road in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The low tide had uncovered these rocks, so I used my ultra wide-angle, rectilinear lens and lowered my tripod to emphasize them. This is a single exposure, processed in Lightroom and Photoshop. I also tried out the new Topaz Clarity filter. It seems to do a good job enhancing contrast without introducing halos.
The word “parhelion” comes from the Greek for “beside the sun”. They’re also called sundogs and are always 22 degrees away from and at the same elevation as the sun. They’re most visible when the sun is low and the sky is darker – dawn or dusk. I like to watch for them and I thought it was nice of this kayaker to pose with one for me. I was lucky that I’d already shifted to my long lens to make bird photos. I needed the reach for this composition.
Early start – Kayak fisherman paddling underneath a sundog.
There were several dolphins also fishing in this area. I could see the fish jumping and the dolphins seemed to catch a lot of them.
I stopped by Orlando Wetlands Park briefly and it was very scenic despite the cloud cover. I liked the pathways the birds made through the vegetation in this scene.
Morning marsh – A cloudy morning in Orlando Wetlands, just after dawn
This time of year, there’s not as much bird activity as in the spring. Orlando Wetlands was pretty quiet and so was MINWR. But there are still some regulars around and it’s nice to watch their antics.
Killdeer nest on the ground. When a predator gets close, they pretend to have a broken wing and try to draw the predator away from the nest. I watched this one perform and when it finished it turned around to peek back at me and check if it was working. It did – I didn’t bother its nest.
Killdeer checks me out
I don’t know how many times I’ve driven by the remains of this dock on the right side of the causeway leading into MINWR – but I never noticed it before. When I was leaving the other day, I finally saw it. It was a quick thing, almost subconscious. I actually drove on by before I processed what I saw and turned around. I’m very glad I stopped – it doesn’t look like it will last much longer. By the time I made this photo, the light was pretty bright. I used a neutral density filter to slow down my shutter speed and tried several focal lengths / compositions. I like this one the best. A B&W conversion using Nik Silver Effects seemed to fit the scene. In the future, I need to be more observant. What else is out there I’ve missed?
So you’re in Florida and you want to make some waterfall photos. I hope you’ve got other plans too – because waterfalls are a tough assignment in the sunshine state. We have plenty of water (well, most of the time), but we’re one of the flattest states in the US – so we tend to come up short on the “falls” part. You can photograph waterfalls here – not the grand vista kind you’d see in other places like Yosemite or Alaska – but still scenic and worthwhile.
Yosemite National Park, California: Bridalveil Falls through blooming Pacific dogwood tree. Sorry, not in Florida.
Where in Florida can you photograph waterfalls? If you look at the Wikipedia article on waterfalls of the world, you’ll see that the Florida section lists just one: Falling Waters State Park is in Chipley just south of I-10 in the Florida panhandle.
Falling Waters State Park sinkhole – When it’s a waterfall, this is Florida’s tallest one. If the stream at the top is flowing, it falls 73 feet down into this 100 foot deep, 20 foot wide sinkhole and disappears into the Florida aquifer.
This park has some unique geology. Sinkholes line the boardwalk and you can descend part way into the main one pictured above. When the small creek that feeds the falls is flowing during the wet season, the waterfall can be quite impressive. It wasn’t on the day I visited :-(. Check with the park before you go – you can reach them at 850-638-6130.
If you do some Googling, you’ll find a couple other Florida waterfalls mentioned. Falling Creek falls is a small (~5 foot) waterfall in north Florida near the intersection of US 41 and I-75. Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park is near Gainesville. Similar to Falling Waters, it’s a bowl-shaped sinkhole over 120 feet deep and 500 foot across. You can follow a trail and see streams falling into the sink and the resulting small waterfalls. You can also descend into this sinkhole to view the inside. The tiny waterfalls here trickle down the embankment before they too disappear into the Florida Aquifer.
Rainbow Springs State Park is the home of Florida’s 4th largest spring. It was a privately owned commercial attraction up until the 1970s. It’s now a state park and in addition to the spring, has some very pretty gardens and several man-made waterfalls fed by water pumped from the spring.
Waterfall at Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon, Florida
Rainbow Springs is a very pretty place. The Rainbow River is one of the clearest waters anywhere. The falls too are pretty. The morning I was there, only one had any water flow at first. Before I left, they’d turned on the others and I was able to photograph them too.
There are also other man-made waterfalls you can photograph. These are too many to list, but here’s one example from the Gaylord Palms hotel in Orlando:
Gaylord Palms Resort, Orlando, Florida – A waterfall in the Everglades portion of the Atrium
To close out this post, here are a few hints on waterfall photography:
If you want to show the water motion as a silky smooth stream, you’ll need to use a slow shutter speed. This depends to some extent on how fast the water is moving, but a good starting point might be 1/2 second or so. Experiment with different shutter speed settings to see which ones you like best.
You’ll need a tripod for slow shutter speeds, so bring yours.
If you have too much light to get the slow shutter speed you want, try using a polarizing filter or a neutral density filter.
The polarizing filter will also help reduce reflections on vegetation and the water’s surface
Be careful with your exposure. It’s easy to over expose the water since there’s often a large contrast range between it and the surrounding area. Make sure to check your histogram and think about bracketing your exposure.
Do you have any other waterfall photography hints to share? Do you know of any other Florida waterfall locations? If so, please let me and others know in the comments.
We’ve kayaked at Crystal River before but wanted to explore the area a little more. So Lynn and I decided to take advantage of our long weekend and went back last Saturday. It was a very beautiful trip – relaxing, great scenery, and good weather too. We reserved two kayaks for 8:30am from the Crystal River Kayak Company and were on the water before most of the crowd got there.
The canals in the area can be pretty. Sometimes it takes a while to position my kayak for a photo and Lynn gets pretty far ahead.
In the winter months, manatees are all over this area although we didn’t see any on this trip. It’s warmed up so much they’ve moved on. If you’re planning to kayak here, it’s best to go early in the day. We drove by later and the water was very crowded – not at all like what we experienced the first thing in the morning.
The hotel where we stayed was right on the water, so I was hoping for a good sunrise or sunset view, but was disappointed. There weren’t any good sight lines east or west and even though we drove around a bit looking, we couldn’t find a spot close by. I’ll have to do more research before our next trip.
So … on to Plan B. The deck next to hotel pool was right on the river, next to dive shop and restaurant / bar. For some reason, the evenings were crowded and noisy, but before dawn there was no one around! So I got up early on both mornings and wandered down to the water. It was extremely calm both days with a full moon. Perfect conditions for some pre-dawn, long exposures. I made several images and I like this one best:
One view from the water by our hotel. I wanted to show the sailboats and reflections against the sky. It was about 30 minutes before dawn, and so dark that it took me a few tries to frame the image the way I wanted. The sky colors were a bonus – I couldn’t see them at the time. I was lucky the water was calm and the boats didn’t move during the 6 second exposure.
Weeki Wachee State Park has a live mermaid show, a glass bottom boat ride, a water park and canoe / kayak rentals. It was crowded when we stopped. We saw the mermaid show, but the line for the boat ride was over an hour long.
At the corner of Cholakka Blvd. and Seminary Avenue, Micanopy, Florida.
Micanopy is a good place to look for antiques and photograph historic buildings in an “old Florida” setting.
The farmhouse at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park in Cross Creek, Florida. She wrote her books on the screened porch.