We organized a photo expedition to Viera Wetlands yesterday. I went with Kevin K., Kevin M., and Tom M. We tried a new sunrise location, Alan Shepard Park, right on the beach in Cocoa where SR 520 ends. Even though we got blocked by a train stuck on the tracks and a closed parking lot, we made it in time for the show. I was also worried that there wouldn’t be much color, but Mother Nature rewarded our efforts.
On the beach
There were a lot of shore birds on the beach with us. I have several more images to process with them in the foreground.
Our next stop was the wetlands, and this trip demonstrated the advantages of having extra eyeballs to help search for things. We went right by this Bittern until Tom saw it and got us to stop. They’re pretty reliable in the winter at Viera, but they’re hard to see sometimes. Their standard behavior is to freeze in the grass / reeds and try to blend in. They don’t spook very easy, so you can get fairly close without bothering them.
American Bittern in the grass
A little further on, Kevin M. called out a Snipe he spotted. It was on the opposite side of the car, so I got out quietly and snuck around. It took me a bit to see it even though it was only a few feet away. This one was pretty calm and let us photograph for several minutes. They’re small and usually skittish. And they fly erratically, so they’re usually hard to photograph. Again, though they seem to like to stop by Viera in the winter.
Wilson’s Snipe in the grass
Belted Kingfishers are also common around Florida in the winter. If you’ve ever seen one of these, you know how hard it can be to photograph them. You’ll see them perched on a branch and as soon as you try to get closer or even point your lens toward them, they take off and move further away. This one was more tolerant than usual and I was able to get set for it to leave. But I was over conservative with my zoom and left too much room in the frame. I did catch it, and even though it’s a little small, it’s one of my best flight shots of one. But I’ll have to keep trying.
Belted Kingfisher in flight
We spotted Red-winged Blackbirds, Black Crowned Night Herons, Little Blue Herons, Tri-colored Herons, Green Herons, Egrets, a hawk, Grebes, Morehens, a juvenile Purple Galinule, and Ring Necked Ducks. And Kevin M. also called out a Ruddy Duck – which was a life bird for me but in very poor light, so I won’t post it here. Kevin K. was the first to spot a herd of deer (well four of them at least) – which I don’t see very often there. Great Blue Herons, Anhingas, Sand Hill Cranes, and Cormorants are all nesting now too.
So it was a marvelous morning. Great weather, scenery, bird watching, photography, and friends. Much better than sleeping in!
Please click on the images above to see a larger version on Flickr. And you can see many more of my photos from Viera Wetlands in this Flickr album.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Mary Kate had a craving for Lobster Rolls last Saturday and her favorite place to get them is at Cafe Heavenly (http://www.cafeheavenly.com) in New Smyrna Beach. Lynn and I like the place too, so we drove over with her.
After lunch the girls wanted to window shop. Me – not so much. We set a time to meet, I left them to it, and set out to walk up and down Flagler Avenue. With my camera, of course.
Harley Ladies on Flagler Avenue.
It’s an interesting place. There are all sorts of people, shops, places to eat and drink, and even a few hotels and B&Bs.
No Vacancy – Fortunately we didn’t need a place to stay.
Our weather here in Central Florida is turning summer like. After about 45 minutes I was getting hot and thirsty. I saw this, and agreed completely:
Polly wants a cocktail – I was getting pretty thirsty.
Oh yeah, about that Lobster Roll – they are delicious!
I enjoyed the food and the stroll. You can see a few more photos from the area in this album on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
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!
I met Tom M. at Ponce Inlet last Friday at dawn. We arrived at 6 am when the park opened and were the first ones in. We didn’t see anyone else for about 30 minutes. I was surprised by how few people were there. I guess it helps to go during the week instead of on weekends.
I thought I’d share three photos along with some details on how I made them.
The moon was full on Friday for the second time in July and was just setting as we got out on the jetty. I found this vantage point to highlight the “Blue Moon” over the water along the rocks. This is a two exposure composite that I blended manually using layers and masks in Photoshop. I exposed the top part for the moon (ISO 50, f/11, 1.6 sec.) and the bottom part for the water (ISO 50, f/11, 5 sec.). I used my Nikon 24 – 120mm f/4 lens at 120mm – it’s very versatile for these kinds of outings.
Blue Moon descends
I liked the way the area just north of the jetty looked, with the sun and clouds above the water and rocks. I made a few exposures, and then waited for the sun to rise a bit more so it would be behind the clouds and the light would be less harsh. I saw a pelican flying by and managed to catch it just about under the sun (52 mm, ISO 100, f/11, 1/100 sec.). I thought it would look better with silky smooth water, so I made one more exposure using an 8 2/3 stop Neutral Density filter to slow my shutter speed (52 mm, ISO 100, f/11, 8 sec.). This image was also blended manually using layers in Photoshop. I did have some issues with color balance. The ND filter added a yellowish tint to the bottom that the top didn’t have. So I adjusted it to match as closely as I could before blending.
Ponce Sunrise – Early morning, just north of the jetty at Ponce Inlet.
For comparison, here is one of the photos I made about 5 minutes earlier when the sun was lower. This is a single exposure (50 mm, ISO 100, f/11, 1/100 sec.). I made a burst of several and picked one that best showed the sun highlighting the spray on top of the breaking wave. I like the framing on this one better too as I can see the sun reflecting off the jetty wall. The colors are more orange since there’s more of the sun showing through the clouds.
Ponce Sunrise too – Same place as the previous photo, and a few minutes earlier.
I’m not sure which one of these sunrise images I like best. I’m leaning toward the second one. Too bad the Pelican wasn’t in place when the wave broke! Which one do you like? Have you tried any techniques like this?
On a side note, I used my Nikon D800 camera that I’ve had for more than three years to make these. A couple of weeks ago, Nikon sent me an email and offered to clean and inspect it and fix anything they found wrong – for free! I took advantage of the offer, got it back, and was anxious to test it out. It seems to work fine and it’s nice to know it’s still in good shape. Thanks Nikon!
I’ve written about Casey Key before. Lynn and I have been visiting this little island on the Gulf coast of Florida for many years. If you’d like to read other articles about it, click on the “Casey Key” link under the “Places / Categories” menu over on the right.
When we got home this week and I reviewed the photos I made there on this trip, I was struck by how much the clouds enhance the images.
This strong storm moved through one afternoon and dropped considerable hail and rain on the area. But we also got to see the awesome cloud front pass over the beach.
This next photo includes some lovely clouds too.
And finally, here’s one last photo combining the sky and wispy sunset clouds with a sun or beach totem – not something I see everyday.
I have more photos from Casey Key as well as larger versions of the ones above in this set on Flickr.
Clear skies are often boring. Clouds and storms add interest and drama, and enhance almost any photo. Add some clouds to your compositions.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go find some clouds – and make some photos!
So I went to two different places last week. Kevin M. took me to the Lake Apopka Restoration Area to look for the Groove Billed Ani that’s been hanging around. I’d never been there and was glad he invited me, not only for a chance at a life bird, but also to scout the area. I’ve also driven around Lake Lawsona in downtown Orlando and thought there might be some photos lurking there, but couldn’t find any place to park. Then I discovered that Mayor Carl T. Langford Park isn’t far away so I left my car there and walked over.
To make a long (and photographically humbling) story short, I photographed both places, but didn’t like any of the images enough to post. And we didn’t see the Ani either.
I did chase the light – I just didn’t catch it.
Since I’m a little stuck for material this week, I went back into my archives and found a four photo panorama that I’d never processed from a trip to Tampa in 2013. After stitching it together, I like the light in this image well enough.
Looking north toward Piney Point from Fred Howard Park in Tampa, August 2013
Like any creative activity, photography is difficult at times. I struggled last week, but I try not to get discouraged – this happens to everyone. I keep trying and enjoy the effort. As Florida Nature Photographer John Moran says in his book Journal of Light:
“Nature photography isn’t always about the picture, it’s about the experience of just being there, chasing the light, alive and awake and aware.”
Since they’re from a while back, I thought I’d update you on a couple of things.
Ebbing tide – The outgoing current cuts a temporary channel through the beach (Little Talbot Island State Park). IR, B&W.
I’d been using an Olympus E-PL1 camera, modified for IR by http://www.lifepixel.com/ and I’ve been pleased with the output. But it uses a first generation 12 MP, micro 4/3 sensor and requires care to minimize noise. I also have an Olympus E-PL5 with a 16MP current generation sensor. It has much better noise characteristics and additional resolution, so I decided to have it modified to upgrade my infrared capabilities.
I was very happy with the service from LifePixel, but this time, I chose Precision Camera to do the mod. They also did a fine job, were very prompt and even a few dollars cheaper.
One change I made was to select a 665 nm filter instead of 720 nm. What this does is pass a bit more of the visual spectrum along with the IR light. This gives you more flexibility in post processing. You can still process for the IR B&W look, but with the extra visible spectrum light, false color post processing is easier.
At rest – Driftwood on the beach (Little Talbot Island State Park). IR, false color.
When I process RAW files from the E-PL1, I can easily adjust white balance in Lightroom. With the 665 nm filter on the E-PL5, I couldn’t get to a neutral white balance until I created a custom camera calibration profile for it using Adobe’s DNG Profile Editor. You can read more about this here.
The Road Under the Red Cedar Tree (Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge). IR, B&W.
I made the photos in this post with the newer camera. There’s less noise, the 665nm filter is more flexible in post, and the extra pixels are nice to have. I like how it’s working so far!
I hadn’t been paying enough attention to astronomy news. Luckily my loyal Sherpa was (thank you Lynn!), and she mentioned that a partial solar eclipse would be visible along the US east coast at sunrise on November 3rd. So I took off for Cocoa Beach where I knew I could get a clear view of the horizon. This was the scene a little before sunrise.
Mai Tiki – before sunrise
Normally clouds are a great thing for sunrise photos. In this case, though, the eclipse would last only a few minutes, so I worried that the band of clouds low on the horizon would block the view. But the sun and moon finally did break through so we could watch the last part of the event.
Partial Eclipse of the Sun – As seen from the base of the Cocoa Beach Pier
I wanted to clearly show the sun’s disc so I used my “bird” lens for this photo zoomed in to 400mm. I was happy that these three people were watching from the end of the pier so I could place them in the frame. The sun was extremely bright and I was careful not to burn anything in my camera (or my eyes!). It was tough to compose since I kept my lens pointed away from the sun most of the time and only glanced briefly through the viewfinder to make images.
I like the way this one turned out. It was definitely a unique sunrise and well worth the drive over.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Topaz released a new plug-in recently, called ReStyle. You can download any of their products for a free thirty-day trial, so I thought I’d give it a go. This isn’t a full review or tutorial (I haven’t used it long enough for either of those). But I have used it a bit so I’ll try to introduce you to some possibilities with three examples I’ve played with. If you want to see the “before” versions, I’ve included them towards the end of the post.
I had trouble with the white balance in this photo of Marineland beach at dawn. I could have separately adjusted the color balance on the sky and ground using layer masks in Photoshop or gradients in Lightroom. Instead, it was easy to pick out this version from the grid displayed inside ReStyle. It’s interesting how remapping changed the color in the beach and rocks differently from the sky.
Down on the beach at dawn (afterTopaz ReStyle).
ReStyle maps color and tone statistics from a selected style to a target image. It seems like Photoshop’s “Image/Adjustments/Match Color” command. When you do this in Photoshop, you have to supply an image with the colors you’re trying to match. ReSyle comes with over 1000 presets and provides control / adjustment of the results that aren’t easily available in Photoshop. There are so many presets that they’re overwhelming, but ReStyle breaks them down into collections (e.g. “Landscape”), and you can mark your favorites. You can show a collection or your favorites as a grid applied to your photo, which makes choosing one very simple. You can also search for similar styles by color or by name. Within each style, you can further adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance of the five colors in each style, as well as the opacity, original image “Texture” strength, and others variables. It also includes mask / selections controls to apply the effects selectively. There’s a lot more info available in the manual at this link.
In this photo of some struggling trees on a small rocky island near Haulover Canal, I wanted a more dramatic color palette. Once again, it was easy to pick out this version from a grid of possibilities.
Survivors (after Topaz ReStyle)
For this infra-red photo of sea oats on the beach that I made in Fred Howard Park near Tampa , I wanted a different look from a typical IR false color image. I like this color mapping I found in ReStyle .
Sea oats – False color infra-red (After Topaz ReStyle)
There are so many presets, options and adjustments that ReStyle can be a little overwhelming. It’s not hard to use, but it is hard to grasp all the possibilities and decide what to do. It’ll take a bit more time for me to get comfortable with it, so I’ll have to play with it some more.
For comparison purposes, here are versions of the photos before I applied Topaz ReStyle:
Before: Down on the beach at dawn.
Before: Sea oats – False color infra-red processing.
Summary: Do you have to use plug-ins? Of course not, but they’re useful and save time. And ReStyle seems to offer something I haven’t seen elsewhere. It’ll definitely make your images look different. Are they better? I think ReStyle improved these three images, but only you can decide for your photos. Will this fix all of your problems and should you use it on every photo? Definitely not – I’m new to the tool, but on several photos I tried, I couldn’t get anything that I thought looked good. But it does look like something that’ll be good to have in your bag of tricks.
Off topic public service announcement: I’m always telling you to get out and enjoy nature. I also need to remind you to protect yourself from the sun. I had two skin cancers removed last week. I’m fine – but it’s not the most pleasant thing to go through. And it can be much, much worse than mine were. So when you’re out in the sun enjoying nature, please protect yourself. Use sunscreen, wear a hat and long sleeves, stay in the shade as much as possible, etc. The sun is brutal, especially in Florida. And no one wants to suffer the consequences of too much exposure ten or twenty years down the road.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos! And use sunscreen!
Lynn was out-of-town last week at the Pressing Iron & Trivet Collectors of America Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. I talked her into letting me out of my spousal support services subcontract, so I had a chance to sneak in a few days of photography while she was away. I spent the time in St. Augustine, Florida, which is “the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States”. I’ve written about it many times (see this link) and it’s one of my favorite places to photograph. Photo ops abound and include landscapes, architecture, street scenes, beaches, historic landmarks, wildlife, and much more. It’s hard to go anywhere in the area and not come back with a photo! Here are some of mine along with hints on how I made them.
There are some wonderful sunrise and sunset spots. Friends told me about Marineland Beach (thanks Kevin M. and JT) which is just a little south of St. Augustine. It’s now one of my new favorites. The coquina rocks there worked really well as foreground objects in my photos.
Long exposure sunrise – Marineland Beach, Florida
This is a single exposure, made through a Hoya ND400 filter right after sunrise. The waves were coming in around me, but I stood my tripod on one of the rocks to keep us dry. I used my lowest ISO setting (50) and even with the sun in the frame, the 8 2/3 stop ND filter gave me a 14 second exposure at f/8 . The long shutter speed makes the water surface contrast nicely with the rock texture.
One thing you’ll run into in Florida on summer mornings is condensation. It’s so humid that if you take your camera gear directly from your air-conditioned room or car out into the moist air, you can expect 15 to 30 minutes of fog before they clear. You can decrease this by not running your car’s AC on the way. You can also seal your camera and lens in a plastic bag with as much air removed as possible until it warms up. And it’s a good idea to bring along a micro-fiber cloth to remove condensation if needed. The larger your camera / lens is, the longer it will take to warm up. This is one time that good glass works against you – at least until the temperature equalizes. One more point: try not to change lenses under these conditions. If water condenses on your sensor, it can be hard to remove and may cause dust to adhere to the surface.
The harbor and fort (Castillo de San Marcos) also provide interesting detail for sunrise or sunset and landscapes in general.
A calm morning in the St. Augustine harbor: Clouds to the north over the Castillo de San Marcos and the quarter Moon above the Bridge of Lions add interesting detail to this image.
This photo and the next were both multi-shot panoramas made with the techniques I described last week. Images like the harbor scene can be tough to blend due to smooth gradients in the sky and water. Be sure you check carefully and correct any glitches.
Another thing about summer in Florida: We have awesome afternoon thunderstorms. Clouds add a lot of drama to photos, but the storms were so bad on two of the days I was there that I couldn’t go out for sunset. Plan accordingly.
St. Augustine Sunset behind the Castillo de San Marcos
On this evening at the fort, there was a large thunder-storm to the west. The sky wasn’t colorful at all until the sun moved down below the thunder head, resulting in these shadows and rays. One big advantage of sunset photography vs. sunrise is that you can wait to see what develops. At sunrise, you need to be in place extremely early to see all the variations happen.
I had a great time walking around the fort at sunset with my large tripod and big DSLR camera. Most people were oblivious and walked right through my photos (I don’t blame them – I don’t own the place). I’d wait for a clear spot in the traffic and make another exposure. Other folks stood next to me since they thought wherever someone with a big camera is has to be a good spot. At one point, a tour guide in a pirate costume leading a group of 20 or so people saw me and stopped his group from walking in front of me until I finished my exposure. It turned out he’s a photographer too.
I wanted to try a night photo of the lighthouse. I also wanted to capture the look of the beam coming out of the light. This turned out to be a tough assignment. The contrast range is huge and there’s a lot of glare from the lights in the scene.
St. Augustine Light Station
I ended up merging two exposures. The first one was long (f/4 @ 3 seconds) at a low ISO (400) to decrease noise. The slow shutter blurred the light beam, so I made a second exposure (ISO 3200, f/4 @ 0.4 seconds) and this stopped the beam enough to highlight it. The second exposure had some noise, but was fine with a bit of post processing before I blended the two manually in Photoshop. I made this photo about an hour before sunrise. It was dark and there was no one around. One of my contacts on Flickr commented that spooky things happen in this area. I’m glad I didn’t notice any when I was there.
Tom M. met me up there on one of the days and we spent several hours just walking around. There were many interesting scenes, and I never saw any two doors alike.
Red door #33
We were walking down one street and saw someone in the distance photographing this house with his iPhone. He was really working it, making multiple photos / compositions and was still there when we arrived several minutes later. We waited for him to finish and when he looked up and noticed us he asked what kind of cameras we had. It turned out he’s a photographer too and was there on vacation, but forgot his Nikon D3S DSLR. He said using the iPhone was “very liberating”. Photo hint 101: If someone’s taking a picture, look at what he’s photographing – it might be interesting. Photo hint 102: Don’t forget your camera.
A little later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this waiter zipping through traffic on the way to work. On a skate board. I managed to make a quick photo.
Morning commute – very eco-friendly
We also noticed this person reading on the bench. I really liked the symmetry of the columns and how they led my eye towards the subject. Tom posted a different composition (sorry – no longer available) that I think is really good too.
By the way, if you have Lightroom 5, try out the “Upright” settings in the Lens Corrections panel on photos like the one above. It does a great job squaring things up.
Like I said, there’s a tremendous amount of photo-ops in the area. I didn’t make it by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm on this visit, but from March to June, it’s one of the best places in Florida to photograph a variety of wild birds nesting in the rookery there. I also didn’t get to Fort Matanzas. It’s a little south of the city and makes a nice side excursion. The Nombre de Dios Mission in the northern part of the city has a beautiful chapel and grounds as well as a view into the harbor. And I’m sure that there are a great many more photo ops that I still have to discover in this beautiful place.
You can see these photos larger if you click on them and I have many others from St. Augustine in this set on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!