Orlando Wetlands Park is closed from November 15th through January 31st each year. Now that it’s open again, Keith H., Tom M. and I went by this week to see how things are at one of our favorite locations.
Sunrise was nice, although I was late getting there and missed some pre-dawn color. Note to self: Always arrive at least a half hour before sunrise.
Lake Searcy Sunrise 1 – Lake Searcy is on the right as you walk in from the parking area. It’s scenic and usually very calm, with lots of cypress and palms. I liked the way the sun glow came around the palm trees.
Since I had my IR camera with me and the clouds were so awesome, I made this panorama to get as wide a capture as possible.
Lake Searcy Sunrise 2 – This is a Black and White, Infrared, Panorama. Sometimes IR can really bring out the detail in clouds.
We saw many of the normal birds including Coots, Snowy and Great Egrets, Little Blue and Great Blue Herons, Blue-winged Teals, Anhingas, Red-shouldered Hawks, and others. I also saw what I’m pretty sure were several Common or Wilson’s Snipes, although these birds are extremely wary and fly off at the first sign you’re looking at them (worse even than Belted Kingfishers!) so I didn’t get a positive ID. There’s been two Vermillion Flycatchers reported again this year on the far end of the park and one seems to come closer than usual. If you haven’t seen this bird, it’s worth a visit all by itself.
We also saw either a small bobcat or large house cat on the walk in, but it was too dim to be sure.
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What I use depends on the subject, composition and capture technique. Since the sun was in this scene, I captured it as a 7 shot bracket. In Lightroom, I set the camera profile to neutral, color balance to daylight, enabled lens corrections, and copied those settings to all 7 photos. Then I exported to Nik HDR Efex 2, chose a pre-set, and tweaked it to more or less match how I remembered the scene. I brought the result into Photoshop CS6 and used Nik Color Efex Pro 4 to neutralize the whites and add detail, followed by Topaz Star Effects on the sun. I usually apply these in layers or as smart objects in Photoshop so I can vary the transparency and control the strength of each one, or even brush it out on parts of the image. I then finished in Lightroom with some exposure, sharpening, and Hue / Saturation / Luminosity tweaks to get this result.
So basically I try things and adjust to taste. There’s more than one way to do this. That’s part of the fun. You’ll have to build up some experience with the capabilities of each piece of your software so you can adjust to your tastes.
2. With the new capabilities available in cameras and raw conversion software, do we still need to use High Dynamic Range imaging techniques?
Sunrise flowers – Orlando Wetlands Park at dawn.
Short answer: “Not as much.”
Longer answer: Read on.
DxOMark says that the Nikon D800 has a dynamic range of 14.4 Evs. This is under laboratory conditions using their measurement techniques. Can you achieve this in real world? No, but using a camera like this really does give you tremendous dynamic range.
The latest versions of Lightroom 4 and Adobe Camera Raw software provide enormous adjustment ranges for exposure, highlight and shadow recovery, even for older cameras. This improves your ability to get more out of your RAW images. By the way, you might want to re-process some of your favorites to see how much better they can look. You have been capturing in RAW format and saving your originals, haven’t you?
Other techniques such as graduated neutral density filters or fill flash can cut the dynamic range the camera sees – although depending on the scene, their use can be problematic. In this photo the horizon isn’t flat, and I didn’t want to overwhelm the morning light on the flower with flash.
My opinion: In some situations, we don’t need to use HDR anymore. I may have been able to get this output with one exposure, but it’s probably on the edge of what’s possible with just a single image. I chose to shoot a 5 image bracket and I’m glad I did. The bright sky combined with the lighting on the flower (with part in shade) made me very glad I had the bracket. Could I have come close with a single image? Maybe. Was it easier with a 5 shot bracket? Oh yeah.
For now, I’ll continue to bracket when I see a broad dynamic range / high contrast scene. Better safe than sorry. And I’m also going to save my RAW files – who knows what software advances are coming next? Now, where can I get a bigger hard disk?
What do you think? How do you get your sky to look the way it does? Do you shoot HDR?
You can click on the images above to get to larger versions on Flickr. You can also see more of my OWP photos here on Flickr.
In last week’s post, I described a trip to Orlando Wetlands Park and talked about making do in the face of bad luck. I grumbled about a locked gate and the plain sunrise. Well – Friday the 13th came with a bit more dawn photo fortune.
I went back out yesterday morning to try again and persistence paid off. Not only was the gate open when I arrived a little after 6am, but the sky was shaping up nicely.
Lake Searcy before dawn (infrared false color, panorama)
I made this first image just a few minutes before dawn. It’s a handheld 6 shot panorama using my IR modified Olympus E-PL1 that I stitched together in Photoshop. When I do this, I always try to hold my camera in portrait orientation. That gives me a lot more pixels in the resulting composite (30+ megapixels in this case).
I stayed around for a while and really enjoyed watching the sunrise develop. The image below is from about a 1/2 hour later. This time I didn’t use the IR camera since I wanted a different look.
Lake Searcy sunrise – This was about a half hour after the previous photo.
I like them both, and comparing them with the ones I made last week – I think they’re better. It’s nice when the sky cooperates!
We can use this to emphasize a photo lesson I’ve mentioned before. We can’t all live in Yellowstone or Yosemite. But we all live somewhere and there are pretty places where we live. Get to know your area and be persistent. Re-visit locations at different times, on different days, in different seasons, and in different weather. You’ll get some photos that a visitor will have to be very, very lucky to get. As Stephen Stills said: “Love the one you’re with“.
You can click on the images above to get to larger versions on Flickr. You can also see more of my OWP photos here on Flickr.
I talked Keith H. into meeting me at Orlando Wetlands Park yesterday for some dawn photography. We planned to arrive early so we could get to a good place and set up before the sun rose. Plans don’t always go the way you want.
I’ve been to OWP many times before. Their posted hours are “sunrise to sunset” and although they do try to close the gate right at sunset, it’s always been open when I arrive before dawn. When we got there yesterday around 6am, it was still locked. I don’t know if this is a new thing or the ranger just over slept. We waited a while, but finally decided to make a few photos in the pasture on the opposite side of the road. I found this old campfire circle. I was hoping for a bit more sky color, but it never really developed. I still like the image and the cows were interesting (and interested).
Curious cows and old camp fire: I don’t think these cows had ever seen a photographer before. They watched very carefully as I made this photo in the pasture across from the entrance to Orlando Wetlands Park.
By the way, if you’re new to Florida, you have to be careful about where you step when you’re exploring a pasture. I’m not talking about just cow patties. We also have fire ants and walking through one of their mounds could result in some nasty bites. Please be careful.
When we finished in the pasture, the OWP gate was open and we went in so I could show Keith the area they cleared out last winter (were we originally planned to go). This post has a photo of roughly the same area as it used to look. There’s fewer reeds and less growth near shore and they’ve removed a lot of clutter from the center – leaving some nicely isolated cypress trees. He and I agree that it’s more photogenic now. If I can only get there on a morning with a nice sky…
Early morning reflections: This area would be even prettier with a nice sunrise behind it.
Early morning reflections 2: This is an infra-red, B&W image made a few feet to the right of the previous one.
We wanted to get home before it got too hot and this time of year isn’t the best for birds, so we didn’t stay for any bird photography. But we did see a few, including Little Blue and Great Blue Herons and heard a Barred Owl calling. I’m sure there were more around, if we’d put in a little effort.
With all the rain lately, bugs are pretty bad. This is what Lynn calls “Spray, shoot, run” – when the mosquitoes are so bad that it’s hard to stay out long enough to make a photo.
So yesterday, our plans quickly went awry. We were challenged by a locked gate, a mediocre sky, and blood sucking and ferocious biting insects. But we still came home with a few photos. The moral of the story? Plans are only plans. When they don’t work out, do like the US Marines: Improvise, adapt, and overcome. Find a different photo. Make do.
You can click on the images above to get to larger versions on Flickr. You can also see more OWP photos here on Flickr.
The activity at Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Orlando Wetlands Park, and Viera Wetlands is slowing down now from the peak nesting and breeding season. Most of the young ones are hatched, grown, and fledged, although you can still find some amazing sights such as a White Eyed Vireo nest next to the boardwalk at the MINWR visitors center.
At BPWD the water is quite low. We found some concentrations of birds in a few of the areas that did have water including Redish Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, etc. There are also some juvenile Green Herons in the bushes by the rest rooms. But the ducks seem to be mostly gone – even the moorhens and coots. And we haven’t seen any Kingfishers lately either. We did see an Eastern Kingbird on BPWD, and a Northern Parula and Grey Catbird at the visitor center.
Wading Roseate Spoonbill – feeding at BPWD
Orlando Wetlands is quiet too – both people and birds. I was the only visitor when I went by last Thursday morning. I saw a solitary Swallow-tail Kite fly by briefly (too fast to get a photo). And there were plenty of Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, some hawks, limpkins, herons and egrets – but again the most of the ducks seem have gone elsewhere.
Mom and kid Limpkin on a sunrise stroll
At Viera Wetlands we saw a few of the usual birds and there are still some GBH juveniles on nests. Terns and Ospreys were putting on a fishing demonstration. It’s fun to watch this behavior and it’s a good situation for Birds in Flight practice.
Blue Heron Portrait
And even if the birding is slowing down, you can always find some landscape photo ops around the area.
Drippy: I was scouting for new sunrise locations and got to the Cocoa Beach pier a bit late. I decided to make a photo anyway… Next time I’ll be there before dawn.
If you click on any of the photos, they’ll open in Flickr, where you can see larger versions. You can also see some of my previous photos from:
Orlando Wetlands Park has re-opened, and three of us from the Photography Interest Group met there before dawn last Sunday. I was hoping for a sunrise photo, but fog and lack of color in the sky made those efforts a challenge. Luckily I had my IR converted camera with me and made this 4 image panorama of the marsh. I think the colors in the scene are interesting so I left it as an IR false color image instead of converting to black and white. The IR sensor really brought out detail in the clouds that couldn’t be seen in visible light.
Misty marsh at dawn – Orlando Wetlands Park, just before dawn. False color IR image.
If you haven’t been to OWP lately, you’ll be surprised at the changes. There’s been extensive reclamation in cells 16A and 17, resulting in much more scenic views. Check it out!
While we were there, we ran into a tour led by the Friends of Orlando Wetlands group. Vermilion Flycatchers are rarely found in Florida, but two or more are being sighted regularly at OWP. The group let us know about these birds and even led us right to them.
Vermilion Flycatcher – not a great photo, but another life bird for me.
We also ran across a very pretty Purple Gallinule – my second life bird of the day.
It was a good outing. Birds we sighted included various Herons, Egrets, Sand Hill Cranes, Limpkins, Coots, Moorhens, huge numbers of Black Vultures, and others.
You can see other photos I’ve made at Orlando Wetlands Park here on Flickr, and you can use the blog category pull down to locate other articles I’ve written that mention OWP.
The dragon is the most powerful of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, and is associated with high energy and prosperity. It’s also the only mythological beast in the Chinese astrological stable that also includes the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
I don’t have a photo of a mythological dragon. But I do have this image:
Komodo Dragons are found in Indonesia and can grow to about 10 feet in size. They’re carnivores and dominate the ecosystem where they’re found. This particular one lives at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
This year is considered especially auspicious because it is the year of the water dragon, something that only happens once every 60 years. I don’t have a photo of a mythological water dragon either. Perhaps this one will do?
Burning waters @ Orlando Wetlands – Sunrise and flowers at Lake Searcy
I’ve been using Photoshop CS5 for a while and I really like the new capabilities. Using content aware fill to delete/ replace areas in photographs works amazingly well.
The new “Merge to HDR Pro” also works better than the CS4 version. I had also been very impressed with the “Remove ghosts” check box when merging images into an HDR. This automatically identifies and fixes features in the image that move between the multiple exposures used to create the HDR. In the image below, the wind was blowing and caused the flower to move between shots. It shows how effective the automatic Ghost removal can be.
But… I’ve noticed some issues with color when using CS5 to create several of my HDR photos. Very bright areas sometimes have sections that are discolored, as in the example below.
This puzzled me until I discovered today that the discolored area seems to be related to Ghost removal. Here is the same image, but this time processed with Ghost removal off. You can see that the discoloring is gone (or at least greatly reduced).
So, how can you get around this problem if you have bright areas like a sunrise or sunset and you want to use Ghost removal?
What I did was run the Merge to HDR twice – once with Ghost removal on and the second time with it off. Then I copied the results into separate layers in a single file and used a layer mask to select which version I wanted in different areas of the photo. For the sky, I chose the layer with Ghost removal off and for the foreground area with moving vegetation, I used the layer with Ghost removal on. It is an extra step, but definitely worth it for an image you really like, like the one at the beginning of this post.