Another Merritt Island Morning – I combined multiple frames to get everything in focus and well exposed. Blended manually in Photoshop.
Why do I like going there so much? Even after so many visits, it’s impossible to see everything it has to offer. I appreciate getting to know a place and watching it change over time. I enjoy seeing the same locations in different light or weather, with different birds around.
Not Birds of a Feather – An interesting group of at least four species
I do know that every time I visit, I see something beautiful – either something new, or something commonplace, but in a new light.
“We do these things not to escape life, but rather so life does not escape us.” From a favorite t-shirt
And yes, sometimes I get back and the photos I made aren’t very good. But I still have a wonderful day. Much better than the owner of this boat had.
Sunken Sailboat – On this one, I also combined multiple frames to ensure everything was sharp and to emphasize the smooth water.
Henri Cartier Bresson said that “You just have to live and life will give you pictures.” And I think my t-shirt is right too. Going after photos will give you life.
Florida has wonderful weather photography opportunities. They’re not often the kind that you see from tornado alley out west. But the clouds here are awesome too.
Lynn and I traveled recently (New Jersey, Virginia, and Georgia). I realized when going through those photos that they lacked dramatic skies like we often see here in Central Florida. Maybe our timing was just bad. Anyway, it inspired me to put together this post with some examples of our weather along with a few hints.
We’d had several days of rain last August and even though afternoon light isn’t usually the best for photography, I decided to drive over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and see if I could capture some of the weather drama. This one is from the south-east side of the causeway. There was a slight drizzle where I was standing and rain drops ruined several frames. This one must have been right after I cleaned the lens.
Storm Ahead (stitched panorama, nine frames at 24mm focal length).
This next photo is from September of 2012, also at Black Point Wildlife Drive. These clouds actually stopped me in my tracks and made me shift out of bird photography mode to make this B&W, IR image. You can see a color version of this here.
A little stormy (stitched panorama, three frames at 24mm eq. focal length).
These next two have been on the blog before, but they also illustrate my point: Clouds and storms in Central Florida are photogenic!
Stormy Shore: Storm clouds blow through north of our hotel on Casey Key, Florida. June 15, 2015 (stitched panorama, eight frames at 24mm eq. focal length).
Lakes Jesup Wildflowers and Rainstorm (105mm eq. focal length).
We don’t have mountains here in Central Florida. And we don’t have very good waterfalls either. But our clouds are just as good as anywhere else. How are they where you are?
Although you can see interesting weather all year, the best time here is summer afternoons and evenings.
The storms are big. As you can see from the captions, many times I find myself using a wide-angle lens or stitching panoramas for this kind of photography, although some situations (like the last image) benefit from a longer focal length.
You can shoot from your car in many cases or just dodge the showers. Do bring a lens cloth and maybe a towel or some plastic to cover your camera if it’s not weather resistant.
Be careful with your exposures. If you have clear sky behind the clouds you can easily blow out highlights in the image which will be tough to fix in post.
When processing your photos, try using some mid-range contrast / clarity to bring out details in the clouds. Don’t go too far though or your results will look unrealistic.
Find yourself some good foreground locations so you’ll be ready to head out when the weather gets interesting.
And be careful – don’t get struck by lightning or ruin your equipment!
This is a five frame composite B&W image of a single Reddish Egret patrolling a small pool of water at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
There was some interest in how I did this and it’s relatively simple, so I thought I’d show you the steps.
To start with, the light was very strong, so I overexposed to get details in the bird and this washed out the water / background. I’d made several frames, so I processed all of them identically in Lightroom to force the background further to white and then loaded them into layers in Photoshop.
I selected all the layers and set their blend modes to “Darken” which forces only the darkest parts of each frame to show through. This is a key step – with the right background, the blend mode does all the work and you don’t have to do any selection / cutting / pasting.I made the canvas larger so I had room to work:
Then I used the move tool (top of the tool bar) and selected each layer so I could place them:
Once I moved them to where I thought they looked good, I use curve adjustments on each layer to reduce brightness differences and followed with the clone tool to smooth a few remaining variations. After cropping out the extra canvas, and adding a bit of clarity to the bird shapes I was ready to return to Lightroom.
In Lightroom I finished tweaking it (white and black points, sharpening, vignette, etc), converted to Black and White “and Bob’s your uncle“.
I’m sure there are other ways to do this, but I found this method easy enough. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments. And if you’ve tried anything like this, I’d love to see your images.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos! And maybe some composites too!
Today I’d like to talk more about its high res mode and some things I’ve learned so far while working with it. I’ll use this recent image from the north bank of Haulover Canal in Merritt Island NWR for my example. By the way, please click on the photo, you’ll be able to see a higher resolution version on Flickr.
Daybreak at Haulover Canal
For those of you who aren’t interested in this particular camera or capability, here’s the tl;dr summary: Your capture and processing tools, technique, and skill make a difference in the resulting photo. But that’s true of every camera. And you already knew that, didn’t you?
Okay, for those of you that are interested, here’s some hints on how to get the best out of this mode.
I’ve found that the software I use makes a big difference in the detail that shows up in the file. I normally use Lightroom for all my photos, although I also have DxO Optics pro and I think it does a good job with higher ISO images. But I noticed issues when using either of them with the Olympus high-resolution files. Here are three 1:1 crops, processed in the three different software packages. These are just after importing from the RAW file, with (mostly) default processing, although I did adjust sharpening on the first two to try to improve detail.
Processed in Lightroom CC Version 2015.1.1
Processed in DxO Optics Pro 10 Version 10.4.2
Processed in Olympus High Res Shot Raw File Photoshop Plug-In
To my eye there’s no question: the Olympus software does a better job processing the High Res Raw file. The result is sharper, with more detail – so I’ve switched to using it instead of either Lightroom or DxO Optics Pro for initial input of the high res files. There are limited adjustments available with it, so after importing the file I usually add an Adobe Camera Raw adjustment layer in Photoshop to help fine tune the highlights, shadows, etc.
You can see artifacts on the water surface in the crops above. These are from the way the high res files are created. Each file is composed of 8 separate captures that the camera combines into the high res RAW output file. So any motion during capture will result in strange-looking distractions. If your camera is moving, the image will be unusable. So I use a sturdy tripod, a cable release and / or a shutter delay. If part of the scene is moving (like water, or wind-blown branches) you’ll see the distracting artifacts in that part of the frame. For some subjects (e.g. still life) this isn’t a problem – nothing moves. For landscapes, you’ll need a very calm day or you may want to remove the artifacts in post processing.
If they bother you, there are (at least) a couple of things you can try. Olympus also saves the first of the 8 frames that it uses to create the RAW file. You can open this, up-res it, and mask it into the high res version wherever there are artifacts you want to remove. (Note that you’ll have to rename the normal res file – your software probably won’t recognize the .ORI extension). And you’ll have carefully process the normal and high res files exactly the same up until the point where you do this so that any color or brightness difference doesn’t show. And finally, you’ll have to recognize that wherever you do this, the resolution will suffer.
For water surfaces, you can also try applying a motion blur in Photoshop and masking it in to hide the artifacts. That was easy to do in this photo, since it was a relatively long exposure (1/2 sec.) and the water surface was calm. Here’s a before and after 1:1 comparison:
Motion Artifacts – prior to removal
Motion Artifacts – masked out using a motion blur layer in Photoshop
Olympus outputs 64 Mega Pixel RAW files. Olympus themselves say there’s not 64MP of information in the file. It’s more like 40MP, so they downsize their JPG files to 40MP. When using this mode keep that in mind.
There’s not too much else to worry about, although I have seen some things that look like “hot pixels” in the high res images (2 or less per file). I’m not sure if that’s what they are and I also don’t see them in normal res files from the camera. But they are pretty easy to remove with the Healing Brush in Lightroom. By the way, If anyone else has seen these, I’d be interested in hearing from you.
High Res “Hot Pixel”
So, the E-M5 Mark II High Res mode:
Is most suitable for still life types of images when the camera is mounted on a tripod and nothing is moving.
Is best processed from RAW by the Olympus High Res Shot Raw File Photoshop Plug-In – at least with current (August 2015) versions of software.
Offers better resolution and improved color and noise characteristics than the normal mode images.
Can be used in other situations (e.g. landscapes), but unless the subject is still, you’ll need to deal with motion artifacts.
Provides the greatest benefit with better lenses. Lower quality glass could compromise the output resolution of the system.
If you capture images in high res mode and the artifacts are too difficult to deal with, you can always drop back and use the normal resolution file. The results will be almost as good for anything except large prints (or pixel peeping).
Have you used a capability like this? What have you discovered?
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Viera Wetlands are two of my favorite places to photograph and I had time to visit both last week. They’re each wonderful and seem similar, yet they can be very different. When I was at MINWR, it was very quiet with few birds or other wildlife around. July isn’t the best time for birds in Central Florida, so I wasn’t expecting much.
On the other hand, Viera Wetlands was full of activity. Right away, we saw a couple of Osprey fishing:
Osprey with catch at Viera – always fun to see and a thrill to get a good, in focus photo
And as we walked around we saw Sand Hill Cranes, a Caracara, Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Swamp Chickens (Common Gallinules), a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Least Bitterns, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and Green Herons.
Green Heron at Viera – posing nicely in very good light
My friend Kevin M. was with me, and he saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. We also spotted a family of four otters crossing the road, and multiple Alligators.
Why did we see so much more at Viera than Merritt Island? Was it the weather (don’t think it was much different)? Time of day (we were there a bit later)? Water type (fresh vs. brackish)? Vegetation? Kevin’s luck?
I really don’t know. I’m just grateful I went to both places and got to see so much. The moral of the story: If one of your local photo spots is quiet, try a different one. You never know what you’ll see.
I have a long time interest in photography and a degree in Electrical Engineering. I’ve also worked for many years in digital design, software engineering, and system engineering. The changes happening in photography fascinate me. Here’s an example:
Tranquility – An exceptionally calm morning in the marsh (On Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.)
I made this image yesterday using the high-resolution mode available in the Olympus OM-D E-M5II. It’s a two frame panorama, but this discussion applies to single frame images too. The camera comes with a 16 Mega-Pixel sensor and can generate images 4 times larger (~64 Mega Pixels) using some very clever built-in technology and processing. I won’t go into how it does it (if you’re curious, here’s a good explanation). If you’re careful and the conditions are right (no motion) the results are outstanding. I’m also seeing lower noise and better color results compared to normal resolution images. Heres a small crop that’ll give you an idea of the detail captured.
Each new model of camera adds more capability: High Dynamic Range, Panoramas, Lens distortion / aberration correction, 3-D / post shot focusing (Lytro), face recognition, image stabilization, Live Composite, and many more algorithms are all being done now in camera.
Most of these (and more) can also be done with software on your computer or phone. In fact, the computation capabilities inside your phone are one reason they’re replacing point and shoot cameras. Algorithms / computation can overcome many of the limitations of the relatively simple camera in your phone. Look at the Hydra app for an example of this.
Photography started as an analog activity. Capture the light via optics, film, chemicals, and sometimes (for experts) manipulation / fine tuning of the chemical process. Create prints with more chemistry and manipulation of light during printing.
Photography today still involves capturing light using optics. Instead of chemistry, most people use digital sensors. And capturing the light as digital information allows us to apply algorithms using computers in many places in the process – either in camera like the E-M5II or in post processing.
I think the pace of change in the camera industry is slowing down at least with regard to sensors. For instance, the E-M5II sensor is said to be identical to the first model (from three years ago). But the rate of change in algorithms and processing is speeding up. The new model has a faster processor with added capabilities.
Where’s all this going? I don’t really know. As they say: “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future”. I do know it’s a very interesting time to be a photographer. And if you’re a photographer, I don’t think you should ignore the algorithmic and computational side of things. Some of the processing tools can provide exciting capabilities.
On a different subject, there’s a Clyde Butcher exhibition in town at the Maitland Art Center until May 16th, 2015. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend that you go. The subjects / compositions / technique are wonderful and the prints are large and masterfully done. Lynn and I went last Thursday and as we were leaving, Clyde Butcher walked in. I very much enjoyed meeting him.
He achieves beautiful results with an analog, large format, black and white approach which would be very difficult to reproduce with a digital workflow. That won’t be true forever. What will most likely be true forever is that his kind of artistic inspiration and results will be extremely difficult to reproduce with an algorithm.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Reddish Egrets aren’t as common in Florida as some of our other wading birds. I seem to see them fairly reliably over on Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. They’re handsome birds and they also have some interesting behaviors. They dance along in shallow water and wave / flap their wings while they’re fishing. I made a video this morning as I watched one catch minnows in the canal along the drive.
Reddish Egret fishing for minnows (~40 seconds)
Perhaps you noticed the splash at the beginning and the brief shadow on the right after the egret catches the minnow. I was trying to figure out what those were and stayed a little longer. Here’s a “big reveal” still shot that I managed to get.
Redish Egret and large fish
That fish is about as large as the bird. It seemed to follow the egret around – maybe it was trying to steal the minnows that the bird scared up? Anyway, it was a very interesting time with the Egret – and the fish!
I never really know what I’ll see when I head out and look around. That’s one big reason it’s so much fun.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos! Or a video!
It’s been a while since I’ve discussed any photo techniques, so I thought I’d share two hints that you might not have tried recently. I also wanted to let you know what’s going on at Gatorland now that breeding season is in full swing.
#1 – Focus stacking: I’ve written about this before. You can read the posts here:
Both of those were macro-photography related. But the technique can also be used for other situations such as landscapes.
Beneath the bridge, by the rocks – Parish Park in Titusville, about a half hour before sunrise
I was at Parish Park in Titusville one morning, looking for a new view point and discovered this area where I could place these rocks in the scene as a foreground for the bridge and far shore. My problem was that without a tilt-shift lens, using the Scheimpflug principle, it’s hard to get the entire composition in focus.
I decided to make three exposures, changing the focus point in each. In the first, I focused on the rocks in the foreground, in the second on the nearest portion of the bridge, and the last was on the far shore. At home, I did some initial processing (the same for all three) and brought them into Photoshop on separate layers. Then I aligned the layers and manually blended them together using masks. I could have used Photoshop’s focus stacking capability, but doing this myself with layers gave me more control. The resulting depth of field is just how I wanted it. What do you think?
#2 – Fill flash: I often carry my flash and use it to add fill light or catch lights in eyes. It helps and doesn’t seem to bother the animals. I’ve also used fill flash for sunrise or sunset portraits of people. It can do a good job of balancing the exposure of your subject against a bright background.
When I saw this Tri-colored Heron posing in the bush, I made a few photos. But then I thought about adding flash. When I got home, the photos with the flash looked much better. The bright, ambient sunrise was balanced with the fill flash on the nearby bird. There’s a better detail in the bird when I used the flash.
Early bird – Tri-colored Heron at dawn (ISO 800, f/5.0, 1/320 sec, on camera flash in auto slow sync mode, -1 stop flash exposure compensation).
If you try this, you’ll need to practice a bit before you use it in a pressure situation. Make sure you know how to adjust exposure compensation (on both the flash and the camera), shutter speed, and aperture to get the best results. And if your camera has it, try enabling high-speed sync. This lets you shoot with flash at higher shutter speeds without getting any black bands on your photos (at the expense of a lower light output).
I went by Gatorland again last week. The Great Egrets continue to breed and their hatched chicks are growing fast. There are Snowy Egrets and Cormorants on eggs now and I saw Tri-colored Herons, Anhingas, and Wood Storks gathering nesting material although I didn’t spot their nest or eggs yet. A few cattle egrets have also arrived and are courting. And the gators are getting more active too.
Just before I left, I spotted this large turtle there – I’ve never seen one before. It looks quite intimidating and I wouldn’t want to be too close to it in the water.
Next we drove around Black Point Wildlife Drive where there were lots of birds, some wild hogs, some alligators, and lots of photographers! Two different ponds had concentrations of fish attracting swarms of birds (mostly Snowy Egrets). They were flying low over the water and snatching their meals “to – go”. This one seemed full – it stood watching the action.
The Great Horned Owl nest was empty this time. We scanned the surrounding trees trying to spot the owls (like Jim Boland did on his visit) but we weren’t able to find them.
At least three Painted Buntings were hanging around near the feeder at the visitor’s center. The light’s usually difficult there for me, but this time I managed to get a good photo of this colorful bird. It’s exciting to see something like this in the wild. Now’s the best time – they migrate through here in the winter.
In the bushes – Painted Bunting
MINWR is a wonderful place and there’s almost always something there worth seeing. Check it out for yourself!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
My friend Tom M. wanted to go out photographing last week. And I was ready – I hadn’t clicked the shutter since last year! When he mentioned that he wasn’t very familiar with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I jumped at the chance to show him around.
Our first stop was along the causeway to watch the gulls and Black Skimmers that often gather there.
Black Skimmer – Along the causeway headed into the Refuge
Then we drove through Gator Creek Road and Black Point Wildlife Drive.
Roseate Spoonbill (BPWD)- This bird was foraging near the shore and ignored me as I crouched down and framed my shot. When it heard the shutter clicking, it stopped and stared right at me for a few seconds and then continued feeding.
River Otter (BPWD) – I stopped the car when I spotted two Otters in the water next to the road. They swam by and kept going as we got out to try to make a photo. We followed for a bit – but they were going quicker than our fast walk. One of them surprised me when it crossed the road and of course I was too slow to get a good photo of that. This is the best image I managed.
We also stopped by the Bairs Cove Boat ramp at Haulover Canal to visit the manatees there and then drove by the Great Horned Owl nest (near 402 and SR 3). Our last stop was the visitor center to see if the painted buntings were around ( no, but they had been).
Whether you’re familiar with the area or not, this would be a very good half day route to see the highlights at MINWR. And this is a wonderful time to go – there’s a lot of birds and other wildlife around, and the weather’s great. Maybe I’ll see you over there!