I suppose we all occasionally struggle with photography – finding something to point our cameras at can be difficult. Other times, it seems easy and images almost make themselves. My last trip to MINWR was like that – I came home with more than a normal number of landscapes I really like.
Across the marsh
I felt like I was really in the “zone”. Every composition I tried looked good to me. And they still looked good when I got home.
Anyway, here they are.
Fun fact: These were made with three different cameras: A Sony full frame, an Olympus Micro Four Thirds, and an iPhone. Can you tell which is which? If you’re interested in the answers, you can click on these to see larger versions (and EXIF data).
Our weather’s been seasonably hot and humid here in Central Florida. We’re very definitely in the dog days of summer. According to Wikipedia, they’re called that because historically they’re associated with the summer-time rise of Sirius (Canis Major – the “Dog Star”) in the night sky.
Anyway, mid-summer isn’t the best time for birds / wildlife but I really wanted to do a bit of photography. So I packed some camera gear and headed out toward Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge at zero dark thirty last Wednesday to see what I could see.
There was a nice view near the entrance to the refuge about 25 minutes before sunrise:
Titusville Marina at dawn
I drove around Gator Creek Road next although there was little activity and I didn’t make any photos.
Black Point Wildlife Drive was a different story. There were a few of our regular resident birds:
And I lucked into a feeding frenzy where Herons and Egrets were “fly fishing” for minows in a small pool of water.
The light was harsh, but it was a great place to practice birds-in-flight photography. They move fast and erratically chasing the fish. Looking through the camera with my right eye while watching the wider scene with my left helped me anticipate the action before I could see it through the lens.
Fly fishing 2
According to the iBird app on my phone, Northern Flickers are here year round, but I don’t spot them very often. When I do they’re usually skittish – this one was no exception. But it decided to fly ahead of me along the road and I followed along slowly at a distance. It finally stopped for a few seconds on the side of a palm tree in some pretty good light and I was able to jump out of the car and make this image.
While I was over there, I went by Veterans Memorial Park to check on the repairs they’ve been doing. The area’s been closed since way back in September 2017 due to damage from Hurricane Irma. It took a while, but now it’s open again and back on my list of favorite sunrise spots!
Sunrise at Veterans Memorial Park
I like going to MINWR in the dog days of summer when it’s quiet. It may not be the greatest time for wildlife, but there’s still plenty to see and photograph. As a bonus there are usually fewer people there too. I had Black Point all to myself for most of my drive – a very special privilege and well worth getting up early for.
I was on my way home through some rain one day last week when the sky started to look very interesting. I stopped by the house, picked up a camera (I know – I should have had it with me!) and headed up toward Lake Jesup to make a few photos. I’m glad I did – the clouds got even more dramatic!
They were developing quickly. These photos were all made within about 40 minutes.
On the way
The clouds varied in different spots and directions. I stopped several times to make photos.
Weather across the water
This last photo is of some mammatus clouds. If you click on it to view a larger version on Flickr, you can see an airliner flying just below the clouds. I hope passengers were getting a good view and the ride wasn’t too bumpy.
Although you can see interesting weather all year, the best time here is summer afternoons and evenings.
The storms are big. Many times I find myself using a wide-angle lens or stitching panoramas for this kind of photography. The photos in this post were made with a 20mm lens. Some situations (like this thunderstorm) benefit from a longer focal length.
You can shoot from inside your car in many cases or just dodge the showers. Bring a lens cloth and maybe a towel or some plastic to cover your camera if it’s not weather resistant.
Be careful with exposure. 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 in advance 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!
Clouds and weather are often threatening and dangerous. But sometimes they’re interesting and beautiful. Be careful, and if they develop, make some photos.
Kevin M. asked if I wanted to go on a photo excursion yesterday and of course I agreed. Since I hadn’t been to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive since before the pandemic, we ventured out there. It was a really good choice.
Two birds I don’t see very often were quite common: Black-necked Stilts and Least Bitterns. The Stilts were all along the drive. At first, they were way out in the water or flying in the distance. Eventually we found some much closer – and even had to wait for them to get out of the road!
There were some cute young ones toddling around too.
Black-necked Stilt Babies
The Least Bitterns were taking cover in the reeds and occasionally flying from one hiding spot to another.
A Least Bittern in the reeds
There were lots of other birds too. These nesting Anhingas were a treat. I don’t think I’ve seen them nesting since I visited the Everglades.
Nesting Anhingas: When is lunch, Mom?
Kevin pointed out this next bird for me – one I’d never photographed before.
Great Crested Flycatcher
The LAWD Gate doesn’t open until 7am so we usually can’t get any blue hour or sunrise photos. But I always like to make a photo of the pump house. I hadn’t tried this perspective yet and I think it looks good in B&W with those clouds in the background.
Lake Apopka Pumphouse
We also saw Turtles, Alligators, a Marsh Rabbit, lots of dragonflies, a Blue Grosbeak (way, way far away!), a Downy Woodpecker, a Black-crowned Night Heron, Bank Swallows, Common Gallinules, Purple Gallinules (and babies), Ospreys, Red-winged Blackbirds, Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Little Blue Herons, and many lovely flowers too. And I’m sure there were other things I’ve forgotten to mention or overlooked.
Way back in 2009, a group of friends at work were all interested in photography and getting out into nature here in Central Florida. We started a “club” we called the Photography Interest Group. We’d go out together, make photos, and share info on cameras, techniques, locations, etc. Over the years, people drifted away: lost interest, moved, etc. Kevin and I are the last two active members. He’s going to move away soon. We’ll keep in touch of course and may even be able to go out photographing together at times. But it seems like the Photography Interest Group has faded away. It was good while it lasted! I’ll miss you Kevin!
I hadn’t been to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge since March. The weather forecast when I got up at zero-dark-thirty last Thursday wasn’t good: Overcast, hot, and probably buggy because of the rain we’ve had recently. I went anyway and on the drive over, the clouds were pretty thick. I stopped at a favorite spot and made a few photos. The light was mostly dull, but there was a minute or so when the clouds lit up.
A marvelous morning after all: Gator Creek Road panorama
There wasn’t much wildlife along Gator Creek Road, but the sun was back-lighting some flowers along the water. I tried a few photos, hoping to catch the early morning colors in the background. The shadows of the stamen and stigma on the flower petal were a nice bonus!
Wild flower 1: Morning-Glory(?)
The hot summer months aren’t the best time to see wildlife here in Central Florida and I didn’t spot much on Black Point Wildlife Drive, either. But I made a few photos of our colorful residents. The clouds made for diffuse light and soft shadows, although to get a good exposure, my ISO settings were running between 3200 and 6400. A little noise / grain in an image is better than no image, right?
There were lovely patches of wild flowers on Black Point too:
Wild Flower 2
I normally see several Manatees at the Bairs Cove boat ramp. On Thursday I only got a brief glimpse of a single one. There’ve been reports of a lot of Manatee deaths this year. I wonder if that’s why. Anyway, while looking for them I found this place by the canal that I’d never noticed before. I liked the viewpoint.
By the boat ramp
Driving home Thursday morning my thoughts were mixed. I’d enjoyed getting out and seeing the refuge again, but I wasn’t sure I’d gotten any good photos. Most of what I remembered seeing in the view finder didn’t seem that great. When I started looking at them on the computer, I was happy with how they turned out. There’s something about the light that morning that appeals to me.
You can’t know how a photo trip will turn out before you go. You can’t even be sure how much you’ll like the photos before you go through them.
If it feels like you’re just going through the motions, go ahead and do your best. You might be surprised by the results.
Hindsight could be another name for photography. Your photos let you perceive the significance and nature of a trip after it’s over.
In hindsight, my morning was marvelous after all.
Header image: A panorama of the wetland across the road from the Black Point exit.
By the way, Happy Father’s Day to all Dad’s out there! Many thanks for everything you do to make the world a better place.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Take care of yourselves and each other. And when you can, make some photos!
I don’t have a new photo of our banded bird to share with you, but I will include this one from 2012.
Ruddy Turnstones and reflections
Last week, the North American Bird Banding Program run by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service sent me an email. They included a very nice certificate of appreciation with information about the bird we reported:
Some other interesting facts from their email:
Birds have been banded in North America since 1904
About 60 million birds in hundreds of species have been banded
About 4 million bands have been recovered / reported
Data from the bands is used to monitor populations, set hunting regulations, restore endangered species, study effects of environmental contaminants, and address issues such as Avian Influenza, bird hazards at airports, and crop depredations.
Members of the public reporting band sighting and recovery is critical for all of these uses.
Some photographers might be disappointed with an image that includes an “unnatural” band. But I was excited to sight and photograph a band (twice!), report it, and get back some information on that specific bird. The people running these programs are doing important work. We should all help them out.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Take care of yourselves and each other. And please report bird bands you see at www.reportband.gov!
I made this image a couple weeks ago during our stay at Lake Louisa State park. I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got my camera and went outside. It was a long time before dawn and “flashlight so you don’t trip” dark. Of course, normally you should use your base ISO for landscape photos. And you should stop your lens down to increase depth of field and get everything in focus (and for image quality). But there was so little light I had to use ISO 1600 and expose with my lens wide open for 25 seconds to get anything to show up.
73 seconds, before dawn
Anyway, once I had a workable exposure, I lined up my composition as best I could, manually focussed on the dim things I could see, and made four frames – hoping I’d have what I needed to stitch a panorama.
I used my normal workflow, careful to control noise in the RAW file processing. And there were some stitching anomalies in the water that I had to remove, but I really like the finished image. I hope you do too. You can see a larger version on Flickr if you click on it.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Take care of yourselves and each other. And if you wake up too early – make some landscape photos in the dark!
And Happy Mothers Day to every Mom out there! The world owes you so much!
Reverse Image Search is a tool that tries to find images that match a sample you provide. It searches based on image content, not based on a description in words. It has a lot of applications, but I mostly use it to help identify things in photos.
Busy Wildflower: Bee, fly, and ant on Lantana Camara
Lynn and I spent a few days at Lake Louisa State Park recently. There were many wildflowers in bloom and I wanted to share some with you. I’m not at all knowledgable about plants and flowers so I used Google’s image search capability to help me ID them (https://images.google.com).
You can find a huge number of phone apps, guide books and websites about wildflowers. But there are so many different wildflower species that it’s just about impossible for any one reference to be complete. The ones I’ve tried have been frustrating, which is why I use reverse image search when I want to ID a plant or flower.
I upload a small version of the photo, and browse the returned images and captions for clues to a preliminary ID. When I think I have a match, I try to confirm it with something like the University of South Florida plant atlas: https://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Default.aspx
Sometimes I’m pretty confident I’ve got it right, sometimes I’m completely lost (like the header image – no clue), and most times (like the last photo) I’m at least a little uncertain. But it’s fun to try!
Edit: The header image is a Rosary Pea (Abrus precatorius L.). Thank you Wally Jones!
Purple Prairie Clover(?)
I enjoy photographing wildflowers and I’d like to identify them when I do. But it’s not easy and I’m definitely not an expert. If you are, please forgive my beginner level advice. Do you have any better tips?
Launches from the Kennedy Space Center have ramped up in the last few years, and here in the Central Florida area, we’re blessed with a good view of them. Lynn and I often go out and watch from our driveway. At times, we’ll be disappointed when clouds block our view, or if a low trajectory keeps the the vehicle down behind our neighbor’s trees. But last Friday’s launch didn’t disappoint!
SpaceX Crew Dragon Launch, from Winter Springs, Florida. About 2 1/2 minutes after lift off.
Photographing one like this is an interesting challenge. There are several approaches to try. I usually concentrate on the rocket itself. In the daytime, you might be able to use aperture priority and automatic focus. In the dark, shooting in full manual mode will likely give you better results. I preset my aperture to wide open and my shutter speed as slow as I think I can hand hold with image stabilization turned on. If your camera doesn’t have IS, use a tripod to stabilize it. I also pre-focus to infinity, since the small size of the rocket in the frame might make auto focus unreliable. While shooting, I adjust my ISO setting to get a good exposure. With mirrorless cameras I can see the effect of ISO changes in the viewfinder. If you’re using a DSLR, you’ll have to chimp to make sure your ISO is correct.
The photos above were made with a focal length equivalent of 525mm and exposure of f/6.3, 1/80 sec, ISO 2000. The one below was at 164mm eq., f/6.3, 1/80 sec, ISO 6400.