I’ve been an early riser for a long time. I used to be at work before others and got a lot done before they showed up. I thought that would change when I retired, but the habit stuck with me.
I’m still up way before sunrise almost every morning. It’s an asset for landscape photography. I get to places when it’s still dark and things (and photos) look different.
Too early at the boat ramp
When I start early, I can go to more places. I’ll continue making landscape photos in different spots as I look for wildlife and the light changes. So I usually come home with a number of landscape images. These two very different photos are from the same trip.
Catfish Creek Trail
Getting there early gives me extra opportunities. It doesn’t work all the time or for everyone. It’s not the best approach for sunset and late night photography – but staying up late is. If you like to sleep in, you’ll need to apply my “too early” strategy in reverse and stay a little later after sunset. And if If you’re lucky enough to be at one of your “bucket list” locations, you’ll probably want to get set up and wait for the best light before you start moving around like I do.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please be kind, take care of yourselves and each other – and if you can, get out early (or stay late) and make some photos!
I enjoy mornings like this one. Out in nature, seeing the sun rise in a pretty spot, or handsome birds posing in lovely light – with my camera along to hopefully capture an impression of a gorgeous moment in front of me.
A new sun kisses the morning marsh
Before the pandemic, most of my photography excursions were with other people along to share the sights and experience. Now, it’s rare to go out with anyone else. Sometimes there are other folks around, but I’m mostly by myself seeing beautiful things that no one else sees (even if there’s someone else there!).
When I made all of the images in this post (and many of the photos in recent posts), I was the only one there to witness what I photographed. I’m grateful that the universe arranges these scenes for me, but it seems like a lot of trouble for an audience of one.
I suppose that’s not the right way to think about it. It’s not about me / us. The universe goes about its business regardless of whether any one or thing is there to observe (let’s set aside metaphysics and quantum mechanics for now).
It’s not creating things just for us. Although it seems like it if we’re the only one there.
Isn’t it incredible that even in an urban area like Central Florida we can still at times enjoy nature in uncrowded or even empty places.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please be kind, take care of yourselves and each other – and if you can, get out and make some photos! Maybe I’ll see you out there!
It’s begun: We’re finally leaving the hot weather behind here in Central Florida. Cooler temperatures and lower humidity (and fewer biting insects!) make outside activities even more pleasant. Birds / wildlife enjoy this weather too: There’s more for us to see as migrant species pass through or stop by for the winter
Here are some photos I made last Wednesday in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I went first to Black Point Wildlife Drive. I got there a little too early so there wasn’t much activity yet. The calm reflections in one of the still ponds along the way was attractive, though:
A peaceful, easy morning
I decided to make another pass around Black Point. I’m glad I did. There was more going on the second time through. I spotted these some I haven’t seen in a while:
Northern Shoveler (migrant)
Savannah Sparrow (migrant)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (year round)
Belted Kingfishers reappeared starting a month or so ago, but this is the first halfway decent photo I’ve managed to get. As usual, this one flew off as soon as I raised my camera. I just sat still waiting and it returned a few minutes later.
Belted Kingfisher (migrant)
I’ve been seeing Grebes for a while too. This one was showing off its fresh catch while keeping a wary eye on me so I didn’t swipe breakfast.
Grebe and grub (migrant / less common in Summer)
These Roseate Spoonbills were a good distance off the road near the entrance to Black Point Wildlife drive. They’re spotted in the refuge year round, but I hadn’t photographed any since last February. I’m looking forward to closer encounters and maybe better photos over the winter.
And lastly, these gorgeous Goldenrod flowers were blooming in several areas around the refuge.
Our weather here in Central Florida is finally starting to cool off a bit. I could definitely feel a difference when I set out for Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge early last Monday. And the high temperature reached just 81ºF later that day. Our forecast for next weekend predicts highs in the mid 70s – the beginning of a very nice time of year!
Anyway, I came home with a number of photos I really like. This week I’m going to go way over my usual photo quota and share many of them. First, a couple of landscapes
Beneath the bridge at daybreak: This is along side the A. Max Brewer Causeway, looking east into the refuge, about a half hour before sunrise.
Around the shore: Pretty light and calm water along Gator Creek Road, about 15 minutes before sunrise
Next, some visitors. As pleasant as the cooler temperatures are, they also mean it’s time to start looking for some of our winter bird friends and I spotted several on my trip.
Palm Warbler. They can be a little jumpy and hard to photograph. But this one sat still for a moment on an interesting and close perch, in nice light, with a good background. Doesn’t happen very often for me – I’m glad it was briefly cooperative.
Adopt an Area: This Eastern Phoebe has adopted the refuge for a while.
Blue Wing Teal: A few ducks have started to show up too.
Of course we also have many of our normal residents around.
Bottlenose Dolphin: The Dolphins and the Brown Pelicans were chasing plentiful fish in Haulover Canal
The header image is a of a Brown Pelican that just caught a fish in the canal. It’s not that good of a photo, but I kept it because it shows an interesting moment in nature’s circle of life.
Posing Anhiga: Anhigas are very common here but still well worth photographing when they pose against such a nice background in morning light.
Dragonfly: These can be skittish too, but if you see one in pretty light, be patient and still. Often they’ll return to the same perch and you can squeeze your shutter button.
I saw other birds on this trip, including Great Blue and Tri-colored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Ospreys, Belted Kingfishers (sorry couldn’t get a photo), Pied-billed Grebes, Mourning and Common Ground Doves, and others I’m forgetting. I also used the Merlin bird app a couple of times to listen to bird calls. It ID’d a Black Scoter. Those have been spotted before at MINWR, but I wasn’t able to find it to confirm.
Changing the subject#2 : Halloween is next weekend so here’s one more photo from last Monday that fits with the holiday:
Web and Mangrove
Okay – I think that’s a long enough post for today! Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, get out and see some nature. And make some photos!
I might see one or two people fishing whenever I pull into Gator Creek Road in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge before dawn. It’s rare to see another photographer there for sunrise, although later in the day on Black Point Wildlife Drive there are often plenty of folks taking photos. On this morning someone else was already out there when I pulled into this spot. They had their camera / tripod set up over on the right (out of the frame in this image). I parked a bit away to give them some space and not interfere with their photography.
Mangroves at dawn
As I set up and starting making images, they headed over with their tripod and camera. I didn’t pay a lot of attention, since I was busy trying to decide on compositions and wanted to capture the light on the clouds before it changed. I figured they just wanted to try a different viewpoint.
They stopped when they got to where I was and started talking about all sorts of things: music, musicians, photographing concerts, what camera I was using, where they lived, where they photographed, etc., etc. I was busy and concentrating on my photography, so a lot of my replies were monosyllabic. As time went on, I continued photographing and they continued talking. I hope I didn’t seem too rude. At one point I even mentioned how much I liked the cloud formations, but they never did make a photo.
There are all sorts of people, and we all have different priorities, but I still don’t understand. This person was motivated to get up very early, pack all their gear and head out for a morning of photography. But then didn’t make photos of a wonderful scene taking place all around us. Maybe they’d already got a lot of great photos before I arrived. But if it was me, I’d have kept shooting.
Having deliberate control of all parts of the photo capture and printing processes allowed him to create wonderful images. We can’t be Ansel Adams, but we can continue learning so that we gain as much control as possible in our own photography.
Embrace your craft. Study it. Understand it. Practice it. Select a subject. Compose and expose. Process and print. Use all your skills to control the light you capture. It’s a life long activity that you’ll never completely master.
But sometimes the subject and light find you. When this happens, be ready. If you are, you can use all of your acquired skills to make a photo showing what you want people to see. Ansel also said:
“Sometimes I arrive just when God’s ready to have someone click the shutter”
A while back over in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I saw this scene developing and really liked the way the sun was shining through the backlit clouds. I quickly searched for some foreground and found a pool of water reflecting the sky. I made a set of four frames that I could stitch into a vertical panorama.
Later on the computer, I had to solve issues with stitching, exposure, and focus but luckily I knew what to try and had the tools to do so. Of course, it’s not Ansel Adams level photography – but I’m very pleased with the result.
What kind of photographer are you? Do you pre-plan / visualize all of your photos? Or do you wander around and photograph what nature presents? Which approach gives you the best results? Which gives you the most pleasure: A carefully controlled composition that comes out exactly like your vision? Or a serendipitous image that came out well when you tried something new?
Luck is good. Preparation is good. Being prepared when you get lucky is better.
It doesn’t take very long to forget about some things. Good habits lapse and bad ones take over quickly.
I hadn’t been out photographing in about three weeks and was anxious to go last week. So I got up early Wednesday morning and headed over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – one of my favorite spots. Although I managed to come back with some photos I like, all did not go well. Turns out I was out of practice and there were several issues that made me miss shots. So today, I have a few reminders of things not to do. Maybe my mistakes will help someone else.
Morning glow – from Gator Creek Road
I didn’t check the MINWR website before I went. If I had, I would have seen: “The Black Point Wildlife drive will be closed for two weeks for annual maintenance beginning 8/19/21.” Luckily, there are plenty of spots to explore in the refuge, so this wasn’t a critical error. But somewhere else, it could have been. Check the website!
I hadn’t reset my camera / lens. My long zoom has a focus limiter switch. You can choose the full range of focus (2.4m – infinity) or limit it to one of two ranges. I usually keep it set to the 10m – infinity selection which speeds up focus response for birds in flight. I’d used it at home though for a close up (2.4m – 10m) and put it back in the case without reseting it. Then when I pulled it out at MINWR to photograph a distant bird, it wouldn’t focus. Fortunately (unfortunately?) I’ve made this mistake before, and it didn’t take long to correct. But it was confusing and I did miss a shot. Reset your camera and lens to defaults when you put them away.
A lot of the time, I have my camera in my lap so it’s ready to use on short notice. But at one point while driving down Biolab Road, I’d put it in the open case on the seat next to me. Of course, a huge gator picked that time to stroll across the road in front of me. I probably wouldn’t have made the shot even if I’d been ready, but I would’ve had a better chance if the camera had been closer. Keep your camera ready at all times.
I’m really upset at myself about this last one. At some point during the trip I’d set my aperture to a small f-stop to increase my depth of field. And I forgot to change it back to wide open (the default – see above!!!). This slowed my shutter speeds and ruined a few photos due to motion blur that I wish I’d gotten. I usually don’t check my photos all the time, but the instant feedback you can get with digital cameras is wonderful – if you use it. Inspect what you’ve captured every once in a while so you can catch problems.
Morning meal. A 1/125s shutter speed was fine for a still subject.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke
The wizards at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have cast some potent spells with the latest update to their free Merlin Bird ID app.
I’ve had it on my iPhone for ages (it’s also available for Android). But I got used to the iBird app (http://ibird.com) and I normally open it for help with bird identification – so Merlin’s been sitting around idle. It wasn’t until last week that I heard about the new sound ID feature they added in June.
Sound ID records bird songs around you, analyzes them, and suggests IDs for what’s singing. You can compare the recording to other songs and calls for confirmation. It’s also a great way to learn bird calls. Hearing some, and then having the app tell you what they are in real time is great re-enforcement and helps you remember what you’ve heard. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
I updated the app and tried it out yesterday on a trip over to MINWR. I simply held it out, watched the waveforms record and the results as they came up magically on my screen. Here’s a screenshot:
I used it several times and it found Black-necked Stilts, Red-winged Blackbirds, Least Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Eastern Kingbirds, Ospreys, and Mourning Doves. Most of them before I ever saw the birds. When the Eastern Kingbird ID popped up, I started looking for them and spotted this one perched briefly on a distant branch:
Since it told me Stilts and Yellowlegs were around, I could keep an eye out for them too.
I was surprised by how sensitive the recordings are. It heard most all the calls that I did, and it seems accurate, at least in this short test.
There are 458 birds in the Sound ID list and more are promised. Cornell Labs has done some fine work with this. I think it’ll be very helpful to me in the future. If you’re at all interested in birds or birding, it belongs on your phone too! Did I mention that it’s free?
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Covid cases in Florida are still at an all time high. Be careful out there and please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, photograph (and ID) some birds!
I suppose we all occasionally struggle with photography – finding something to point our cameras at can be difficult. Other times, it seems easy and images almost make themselves. My last trip to MINWR was like that – I came home with more than a normal number of landscapes I really like.
Across the marsh
I felt like I was really in the “zone”. Every composition I tried looked good to me. And they still looked good when I got home.
Anyway, here they are.
Fun fact: These were made with three different cameras: A Sony full frame, an Olympus Micro Four Thirds, and an iPhone. Can you tell which is which? If you’re interested in the answers, you can click on these to see larger versions (and EXIF data).