Category Archives: Merritt Island NWR

Algorithmic and Computational Photography

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:

TranquilityTranquility – 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.

An exceptionally calm morning in the marsh; On Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
A 1:1 crop from the photo above showing 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!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

A few minutes with a Reddish Egret

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 fishRedish 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!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

A couple of photo hints and a Gatorland update

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.

Photo Hints:

#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 rocksBeneath 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 birdEarly 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).

Gatorland Update:

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.

Alligator Snapping Turtle (?)Alligator Snapping Turtle

For a better idea of what you can photograph at Gatorland, you can look through my album on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Merritt Island – 1/31/15

Kevin M. organized a quick trip over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last weekend and invited me to go with him and Kevin K.  We started at Space View Park, where we watched a lovely sunrise.

Dawn from Space View Park Dawn from Space View Park

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.

Fluffy Egret Fluffy Egret

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 

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!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – 1/7/2015

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 SkimmerBlack Skimmer – Along the causeway headed into the Refuge

Then we drove through Gator Creek Road and Black Point Wildlife Drive.

Roseate SpoonbillRoseate 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
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).

Great Horned Owl on nestGreat Horned Owl on nest – The platform and nest have been there for a long time. My first sighting was 3 years ago.

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!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Birds Abound at Black Point

I spent last Wednesday morning at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  I hadn’t been in a while and I enjoyed seeing what’s going on over there.

As usual, I arrived early for a sunrise photo.  I’ve photographed from this spot on Gator Creek Road several times, but I’ve never noticed flowers blooming there before.  I think they make a nice foreground accent.

Another day beginsAnother day begins

After the sun was up, I drove around both Black Point Wildlife Drive and Gator Creek Road.  There were a tremendous number of birds around – the winter visitors are here in force!

You can get an idea of which species to expect at MINWR (and when) over at this page on ebird.  Here are the ones I recognized on my visit:  Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Pie-billed Grebe, Wood Stork, Double Crested Cormorant, Anhinga, White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tri-colored Heron, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Ring-billed Gull, Laughing Gull, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Loggerhead Shrike, and Savannah Sparrow.  I’m sure a more experienced birder would have recognized even more.  I also saw an Alligator or two and a River Otter.

And my online blogging friend Jim Boland also spotted a Red-headed Duck there recently.

This bird was posing on a mound of seaweed next to the causeway.  I was able to crouch down and make some eye level photos with a nice out of focus background.

Black-bellied Plover Black-bellied Plover

And this Willet was hunting in the surf, also along the causeway.  The sun was coming over my shoulder and the small waves rolling in made the blue sky reflections contrast nicely with the sandy bottom showing through the water.

WilletWillet

And here’s a bonus sunrise photo – made with my long lens.  I like the group of birds flying in front of the sun in the distance.

Merritt Island MorningMerritt Island Morning – The sun rises next to NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

What a nice visit to one of our Central Florida Photo Op treasures!  If you haven’t been over there recently, now is a great time of year to check it out.  You can see other photographs from MINWR in this set on Flickr, and from BPWD in this set.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Modern Monochrome Homework

You may have noticed that I like Black and White photography.  It’s how I started out, way back when (with Tri-X film, developed in a make-shift darkroom).  So I’ve done it for a while, but I’m mostly self-taught.  I’ve studied many books and looked at a lot of online info, but I felt it would be good to take a course and expose myself to techniques and ideas I haven’t discovered on my own – to see how others are doing it.

I signed up for “Modern Monochrome” at the Crealde School of Art in Winter Park, Florida.  The course promises to cover “the aesthetic qualities of black-and-white photography, seeing in black and white, RGB conversion methods, tonal relationships, luminosity versus luminance, and demonstrations in Photoshop and Lightroom.”

I was a little worried at the first session.  There were a couple of people who didn’t appear to meet the prerequisites and it seemed like we’d struggle trying to bring them up to speed.  But they ended up dropping out and the remaining students all easily kept up with the agenda.

Next week is our last class and we owe the instructor ten B&W images.  I thought you might be interested in seeing some of the ones I’m going to turn in.

Wild OrchidsWild Orchids – at Fort Christmas

High Key GrebeHigh Key Grebe – along Black Point Wildlife Drive

Gloomy dawnGloomy dawn – Blue Cypress Lake

Misty MarshMisty Marsh – Orlando Wetlands Park

The instructor’s going to critique our work and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

This course has definitely lived up to my expectations.  I learned several techniques in Photoshop – some that I’d heard about and never tried, and others that were completely new to me.  I also enjoyed discussing printing techniques and I intend to apply these more in the future.  I haven’t been printing my photographs as much recently as I should.  The course was also a great incentive to think about and practice photography and especially B&W processing.

You can see some other photographs I made for the course in this set on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – take a photography course – and go make some photos!
©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Seasonal Reminders

We’re finally getting cooler weather here in Central Florida.  In addition to making it even more pleasant outside, the fall and winter months bring some changes to our area photo opportunities.

Orlando Wetlands Park is one of my favorite places.  But if you haven’t been there this year, you’ve missed your chance. It closes on November 15 and doesn’t re-open until January 31st.

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker at Orlando Wetlands – not a great photo, but it’s my first one of this bird.  ISO 800, 1/800 sec, f/8, 600 mm

And Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) is also a favorite.  When I went over last week, Black Point Wildlife Drive was closed.  The web page says “until mid November”, so it should hopefully be back open soon.  Fortunately there are many places to photograph in MINWR – even with BPWD closed, it’s still worth a visit.

Black and White Osprey

Black and White Osprey on Gator Creek Road in MINWR.  ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, f/8, 500 mm

Brown Pelican in Flight
Brown Pelican in Flight along Haulover Canal in MINWR.  ISO 800, 1/2500 sec, f/8, 600 mm

Our avian winter visitors are starting to arrive too.  ebird.org has a wonderful website where you can explore birding hotspots all over the world to see what species to expect by month.  Here’s the listings for MINWR.  The number of species ramps way up starting in November.

It’s prime time for getting out into nature and seeing what’s there!  Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!

©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Adding location information (GPS) to your photos

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun – Sunrays shining through offshore clouds mirrored on calm inshore water.  Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. GPS:  28°38’8″ N 80°46’33” W

I’ve been adding Lat/Lon location info to my photos for several years.  It’s helpful to others to see where I made each one.  And I like to look back and see the info too.  If you click on a photo in the blog that I’ve geo-tagged, it’ll display on Flickr with a map showing the location below the photo.

I use Lightroom’s Map module for this.  If I know where I was I can easily drag the photos to that place on the map.  For unfamiliar places, I try to remember to make at least one iPhone photo so I can copy its GPS info to the other photos I make there.   That’s what I did on my recent trip to Acadia National Park and it worked well.  But I want something a bit less manual.

It would be nice if all cameras did this automagically like the iPhone does.  The only other one I have with GPS capability is an Olympus TG-2 underwater camera that I use when kayaking.  Nikon makes an add-on GPS, but it only works with Nikon, you’d have to remember it, not lose it, and it plugs into the remote release socket – so it’s a pain when you’re shooting from a tripod.

I’ve experimented before with using my phone to record GPS tracks.  On our trip to Alaska in 2009, I used an app and later synced the tracks to photos back on my computer.  That was a pain too (the app and software weren’t very reliable).  But it seems I wasn’t paying attention to Lightroom updates since then.  I completely missed that it now has the capability to sync a captured GPX format track to photos in your library.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-29-at-12.01.05-PM

Lightroom Map Module:  The track interface is hidden in a pull down menu at the bottom of the screen. 

Using the interface at the bottom of the Map Module (shown above), you can load a track and use it to auto-tag the location of photos in a folder.  And it works very well!

So how exactly do you do this?  There are three steps:

  1. Before you leave, make sure you set the time in your cameras correctly.  The time stamp is used to sync the position from the GPS track to each photo.
  2. Use your GPS unit or an app on your phone to record a track of your movements.  There are several iPhone apps that will capture the track info.  I tried GeoTagr ($4.99 in the app store) and it worked well.  Motion-X GPS ($1.99 in the app store) also works.  When I got back home, I emailed myself the .gpx file with the track information.  One warning:  sometimes these location recording apps can be power hungry.  You might want to check to make sure you don’t run down your battery doing this.
  3. Move the .gpx track file to the folder on your computer with your photos.   Then load it into Lightroom and apply it to the photos.  Easy-peasy!  It all just works!

Two more geo-tagged photos from a quick trip to Merritt Island early last Thursday:

Nearby Mangroves and distant  storms
Nearby Mangroves and distant storm.   Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. GPS:  28°38’8″ N 80°46’33” W

Morning by the causeway
Morning by the causeway.  Parrish Park. GPS:  28°37’21” N 80°47’45” W

I like this method and I’ll probably use it in the future.  It’s much less fussy than what I tried several years ago.  Now all I have to do is remember to start the app at the beginning of a photo-op.  I wish I’d worked this out before my trip to Maine.  It was an effort to figure out where each of those photos were made.

By the way, MINWR was still quiet last week – not much wildlife or birds about.  I did see a group of White Pelicans there.  Usually, they don’t show up until November.  I’m not sure what that means, but they were fun to watch.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos! And geo-tag them!

©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Photographic Friction

Friction synonyms: Hostility, frustration, conflict, discord, strife, opposition, contention, dispute, fighting, antipathy, resentment, …

Friction antonyms: Harmony.

For the past week or so, my photographic pursuits seem to be in slow motion.  Creating  photos is difficult.  Friction and frustration are up and harmony and flow are down.

What’s going on?  Glad you asked.  1.  I’m having problems finding things to photograph.  2. I’m also having problems with the software I use to process photos.  3. And I’m having problems with my blog.  Hmm.

1. The Images

I was a little busy this week (with #2 and #3) so it left me less time to photograph.  But I did go out on Saturday with Kevin M.  He needed  a park pass and suggested we drive over to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to pick one up at the Visitor’s Center.  Of course, I talked him into leaving early for sunrise and we went by Gator Creek just before dawn.  This is a nice enough image, but leaves me wanting better.  The sky’s a little bland and I couldn’t find a nicer foreground.  And the no-see-ums were fierce!

Another Gator Creek morning
Another Gator Creek morning – a 4 frame panorama, ISO 100, f/11 at 2 seconds

We also drove around Black Point Wildlife Drive, but honestly, there aren’t many birds or animals there now.  We saw very few of the regular birds and a wild pig, but most of the wildlife seems to be somewhere else.  Summer slow down indeed.  When we swung by the Visitors center there wasn’t much bird activity there either.  I carried my infrared camera and experimented with IR insects.  I like this one – but it also leaves me wanting.

An infrared butterfly
An infrared butterfly

I guess the moral of this part of the story is that making good photos isn’t easy and some photo ops aren’t as good as others.  Don’t let all the good ones you see on the web convince you otherwise.  Keep looking and shooting.  And don’t go just looking for photos –  you should also go for the experience.  Enjoy being out and don’t make it all about the image.  And in Florida, in the summer, before dawn – bring insect repellent to cut your hostile friction with the bugs.

2. The Software

I’ve had issues for some time using the “Edit in Photoshop” command in Lightroom.  Photoshop would open, but sometimes the file itself would never show up.  If I tried to open the file directly from inside Photoshop, it worked every time.  With the latest updates to both programs the problem got much worse.  Every time I tried to open a RAW file in Photoshop from Lightroom, it wouldn’t work.

After several searches on Google, I found others are having this problem too.  But there wasn’t any clear-cut solution, so I  called Adobe.   They told me to uninstall both programs and reinstall, but make sure to reinstall Photoshop first.  This is a pain since I have to also reinstall all the plug-ins and presets I use too.  I did get through it and it’s now working better, although it’s still happened a few times since.  Frustrating friction.

3. The Blog

If you follow this blog via email or Twitter, you probably didn’t see last week’s post – a shame – I thought it was pretty good!

For some reason, the server isn’t sending email or Twitter notifications when a new post goes up.  I’ve tweaked some settings and hope it’s corrected now.  If not, I’ll have to keep troubleshooting.  Curious, conflicting friction.

By the way, if you didn’t see last week’s post, here’s a link:  http://edrosack.com/2014/06/18/wild-orchids-and-more-at-fort-christmas/


Photography is a great hobby that’s sometimes frustrating.  But I’ve done it long enough to know that harmony will eventually return.  When it does, the frictionless flow will be truly enjoyable.

If it doesn’t I’ll have to get a giant can of WD-40 to spray all over everything.  That should lower the friction.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!

©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.