Category Archives: Orlando Wetlands

"How do you get your sky to look like that?" and "Do we still need HDR?"

A couple of people asked me interesting questions recently.  I don’t have final answers but I do have opinions.  And sometimes opinions are more interesting than answers.  Or at least more fun.

1. How do you get your skies to look like that?

Sky, clouds, star, calm
Sky, clouds, star, calm, reflections – Orlando Wetlands Park at dawn.

Short answer:  “It depends.”

Longer answer:  There is no concise response to this.  First of all, it depends on the sky.  You have to have something to start with.  Second it depends on your tastes as an artist.

I own and use a variety of software.

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
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.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
©2012, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Persistence – Orlando Wetlands Park, 7/13/12

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 (IR false color, panorama)
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 (Orlando Wetlands Park, Christmas, Florida)
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.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
©2012, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Make do – Orlando Wetlands Park, 7 July, 2012

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
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
Early morning reflections: This area would be even prettier with a nice sunrise behind it.

Early morning reflections (IR B&W)
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.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
©2012, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Central Florida Bird update

The spring migration has made the last few weeks an intense time for birding in Central Florida.  There was a fall out in Fort Desoto in late April where my friend Kevin M.  sighted 110 different bird species in one day!  As those migrants moved on, other locations have also seen a few visitors, especially smaller birds.

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
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
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
Blue Heron Portrait

And even if the birding is slowing down, you can always find some landscape photo ops around the area.

Drippy
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:

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

©2012, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Three photos

Five of us from the Photography Interest Group had a pleasant walk at Orlando Wetlands Park this morning.  Here are three photos I made.

Orlando Wetlands black and white
Water, trees and sky – made with my Infra Red modified Olympus E-PL1 and converted to black and white.

Sunrise at Orlando Wetlands
The view looking east at dawn this morning.  The city did a lot of work last winter in this area.  There’s more clear water now than there used to be and I think it’s much more scenic.

Palm Warbler at Orlando Wetlands
Palm Warbler – another life bird for me.  I’ve seen these before, but this is my best photo of one and the first time I’ve actually identified the bird.

You can see other photos I’ve made at OWP in these sets on Flickr:  set 1, set 2, set 3.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
©2012, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Orlando Wetlands Park, 5 February 2012

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 swamp at dawn

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
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.

Purple Gallinule
Purple Gallinule

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.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
©2012, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Year of the Dragon

Today is the Chinese New Year, also known as the “Spring Festival”.  2012 is the Year of the Dragon.

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:

22. Komodo dragon
Komodo Dragon

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?

Rising gator
Rising Gator at Orlando Wetlands Park: Is this a Water Dragon?

So happy Chinese New Year! Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos.
©2012, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR Pro – Ghost Removal and Colors

Burning waters @ Orlando WetlandsBurning 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.

Left: Ghost removal off;  Right: Ghost removal on
Left: Ghost removal off; Right: Ghost removal on

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.

Discolored areas in CS5 HDR image processed with Ghost removal on
Discolored areas in CS5 HDR image processed with Ghost removal on

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).

Discolored areas in CS5 HDR image do not appear with Ghost removal off
Discolored areas in CS5 HDR image do not appear with Ghost removal off

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.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

PIG Tales 1

I belong to a camera club called the Photography Interest Group (the “PIGs). Our members vary in their photographic background and experience (as well as in age, gender and cultural background, by the way).  A couple of us have used SLRs since the film days. Some of the others in our group are beginners with their first Single Lens Reflex camera. But we all love photography.

The “senior PIGs” often get questions about why we do things a certain way, or how to do a specific thing. I think it might be interesting to others if I post the questions and answers. When a junior PIG want to know, others may want to know too. So this post is the first of what may become a series. We’ll see how it goes.

Q. How do you make photos at night?

One member of our club has a trip planned to Yosemite. He (let’s call him “Donuts”) wants to do something a little different and make photos after dark. Do you need special equipment? What settings do you use? How do you focus when you can’t see anything?

Now before we get started, we’re talking about outdoor, landscape and nature photos, not your regular dinner party photos. That would be a completely different post – somewhere else.

A. Slowly and carefully

I’ll write this for people with DSLR cameras. Most of the principles will apply if you have a point and shoot, but your camera may not have the controls or flexibility you’ll need. Still, you should experiment – you may discover some good work arounds with the equipment you have.

1. Night Landscapes

Night landscapes can be different and add some interest to your portfolio.

Moon rise at sunsetMoonrise at sunset, a pasture near Orlando Wetlands Park – Base exposure: f/8, 2 seconds, ISO 200. Second exposure (for moon): f/11, 1/25 sec, ISO 200.

  • Use a tripod to steady your camera. Hand holding a camera at night just won’t work — unless you’re only trying to make sunset silhouettes.
  • Compose carefully. All the normal landscape concepts still count for night photography. Composition (e.g. the rule of thirds), and having something of interest in the foreground as well as the middle and far distance will help your photo. You might want to use a bubble level in your camera’s hot shoe so that you can make sure your shot is level.
  • Focus carefully. The light level might be too low for your camera to focus automatically. If your camera has a live view mode, it can be a great help for manual focus at night, since you can zoom in to see detail. If not, you can estimate distance and set your lens manually. If you’re using a wide-angle lens, depth of field will help you. You can also stop your lens down to give more depth of field (f/11 or f/16) and make the focus less critical. Try focusing 1/3 of the distance into the frame if the main subject is close to the camera, and 2/3 in if the main subject is far away. Again, you may want to set your camera / lens to manual focus after you get it adjusted properly.
  • You’ll need a remote release too so you can avoid shaking the camera when you press the shutter release. For many exposures, the light may call for an exposure longer than your camera’s longest shutter speed (typically 30 seconds). In this case you’ll need to put your camera in Bulb mode and use the remote release to time the exposure by hand (more on this later).
  • Exposure is tricky. Your camera’s auto exposure mode may work, but will probably make the scene too bright. You can adjust this a bit in post processing to make it look more like a night scene. You can also chimp your shots to make sure you’re in the ball park and the result is close to what you want.  If not, use your exposure compensation – usually to dial in a bit less light.
  • Here’s one trick to try for determining proper exposure for very low light situations: Set your camera’s ISO as high as it will go and make a photo. Chimp the shot to see if it’s exposed the way  you want. Then set your ISO back to its base value to get the highest quality photo and slow down the shutter speed by the same ratio as the ISO change. For example, if your exposure looks correct at f/8, 4 sec. @ ISO 3200, then it should also be correct at f/8, 64 sec @ ISO 200 (4*3200/200 = 64).
  • Many DSLRs limit the slowest shutter speed to 30 second. How do you make an exposure of 64 seconds? Use manual mode. Set your aperture, and use Bulb for the shutter speed. Hold the shutter open with your remote release and manually time the exposure.
  • Long exposure noise reduction: With any exposures over a second or two, sensor noise will probably be an issue. I use Nikon’s long exposure noise reduction in these situations. When turned on, the camera will take a second exposure with the shutter closed to measure noise and then subtract the noise out from the first exposure. Try it on your camera – it works well on mine
  • For more advanced projects, stars (and the moon) will leave trails in any exposures longer than a few seconds. One nice effect is to scout a good landscape scene to the north and make a very long exposure. The circular star trails will be centered around the north star. You can also make spectacular photos under a dark sky by placing your camera on an equatorial mount so that the camera follows the earth’s motion. I’ve seen beautiful photos of the Milky Way behind spectacular scenery made this way.

2. Shooting the moon

The moon is interesting and one of the easiest astronomical objects to photograph. But it isn’t easy. You’ll need to set up carefully, expose correctly and have your camera as still as possible. Your photographs will benefit from as much magnification as you can get.

The Earth's satelliteThe Earth’s satellite – f/11, 1/50 sec, ISO 200 (click the photo to go to Flickr, where I’ve uploaded the full res, uncropped version).

  • Use a tripod to steady your camera. Hand holding a camera to make a photo of the moon might work if you have very good image stabilization in your camera or lens. But with a high zoom ratio, hand-held photos will hardly every work out, especially when you zoom in so you can see some detail.
  • Zoom in so you can see some detail. A 300mm lens on a crop sensor camera (~450mm equivalent) should allow you to make a decent photo. Much smaller than that and you’ll need to crop the result a bit – which will lower the quality. I made the photo above with my Sigma 150-500mm zoom at 500mm (750mm equivalent) on a Nikon D90. It’s uncropped and doesn’t fill the frame, but this combination does yield some nice detail.
  • Focus carefully. You might want to set your camera / lens to manual focus after you get it adjusted properly. Don’t bump it later, and don’t forget to put it back in auto focus mode when you’re done.
  • Your camera most likely will not expose the moon correctly. With a lot of dark sky in the frame, the moon will probably come out way over exposed. For your exposure, use your camera’s spot metering function and then set your exposure compensation to about -1 EV. Chimp the result and adjust as necessary. If you don’t have a spot meter, then try using the “sunny 16” rule in manual exposure mode and adjust from there. For those of you that haven’t ever shot with slide film and a manual exposure camera, this rule of thumb says that for bright sunlight, your exposure should be f/16 at a shutter speed of 1/ISO. Since the moon is lit by the sun, this rule of thumb will get you close to a good exposure.
  • You can do even better if you have access to a telescope. It’s relatively easy to use a point and shoot camera to take a photo through the eyepiece of a telescope like I did below. If anyone is interested in this, I can provide more information.
Hand held, autoexposure, Nikon Coolpix P1 through the telescope eyepiece

I’m sure you’ll come up with more ideas as you practice this. Good luck, Donuts. And don’t forget your flashlight and bug spray.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Another new bird sighted at Orlando Wetlands Park

The Photography Interest Group visited Orlando Wetlands Park yesterday and had another nice trip. There was lots to see and the weather was  pleasant.  We came across this very pretty bird with iridescent feathers and we’re wondering whether it’s a Glossy Ibis or a White-faced Ibis. My vote is that it’s a Glossy because of the dark eyes. A White-faced Ibis should have some red in the eyes. Does anybody reading this know for sure?

_DSC6494
Nikon D90 @ ISO 200, Nikon 70 – 300 @ 300mm, f/11, 1/160 sec., cropped

We also saw a Wood Stork:
_DSC6464
Nikon D90 @ ISO 200, Nikon 70 – 300 @ 300mm, f/11, 1/400 sec., cropped

And lots of flowers and a butterfly or two:
_DSC6440
Nikon D90 @ ISO 200, Nikon 70 – 300 @ 300mm, f/8, 1/160 sec., cropped

You can see other photos we made yesterday in my set on Flickr and in the Photography Interest Group photo pool.

By the way, if you want to go out and explore Orlando Wetlands Park yourself, you’ll have to wait until next year.  The park closes on November 15 and reopens on February 1.

©2009, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.