Next, along Gator Creek Road we found a group of preening Roseate Spoonbills. I liked the contrast between their pink and the blue sky reflected in the water.
Later at the Visitor Center, we found a great many butterflies. They seem to like these Buttonbrush plants.
And Green Herons were common too, especially at the rest area on Black Point Wildlife Drive where we saw several nests and juveniles. This one (also at the Visitors Center) drew my eye as it posed against the silver-like water while it waited to strike an unwary fish.
Green Heron in a silver pond
With the hot weather starting to arrive, there’s not as much activity at Merritt Island as there sometimes is. But there’s still a lot to see and photograph.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
Beacon 42 boat ramp, before dawn. Venus in the upper right, reflecting in the lower right.
It looks like a great place to launch from, with easy access to Mosquito Lagoon in the distance to the east.
I also went by the Visitor’s Center since I needed to renew my MINWR annual pass. The very nice man at the desk asked me how old I am. When I told him I’d be 62 next month, he told me to come back then and get a senior pass. I’d heard about this before but didn’t know it started at age 62. And that it’s a lifetime (not annual) pass! And that it gets you in to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites including national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation! It’s quite a deal – I’ll be back there next month to get mine.
I did make a few more photos that day. Here’s one more:
Reflecting mangroves: Something about mangroves always seems photogenic to me. Especially in mirror like water.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – if you’re a US citizen age 62 or older – get your pass. Then go make some photos!
Lately, sunrise and I haven’t been getting along. I show up faithfully, but sunrise doesn’t. It’ll send its friend fog instead. Or it’ll come dressed in plain, clear sky attire instead of its fancy, colorful cloud costume. Or I’ll get frustrated and sleep in, and sunrise puts on a show without me. I don’t think it likes me anymore.
Marina reflections – Fog at the Titusville Marina. Panorama, looking east, just before sunrise.
Orlando Wetlands Pano – I slept in on this morning and showed up at the park after sunrise when this front was coming through. I bet it was really nice before I got there.
Well, seriously – I am a bit frustrated that I haven’t captured a good sunrise in a while. But I know the weather and my luck will change eventually. And I enjoy getting out and seeing different things even when the sunrise isn’t at its prettiest.
There are a few things I do to try to maximize my chances with the weather. Persistence is probably the best solution. The more I go out photographing, the better my chances are of catching a good scene. And software can help. My main weather site is Weather Underground. I usually look at their hourly forecast with precipitation probabilities and cloud cover predictions. On my phone, I use Mycast and Dark Sky. Mycast has pretty good forecasts and I can look at IR clouds on its Map tab to see cloud cover even when it’s dark. The Dark Sky app has excellent short-term predictions – especially about rain. I also sometimes use Clear Sky Chart. It’s mainly an astronomy site, but does offer very good cloud cover predictions.
So yes, my relationship with sunrise photography hasn’t been the greatest lately. But I’m working on it. I’m sure we’ll eventually get back together. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy being outdoors and seeing whatever develops.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
On the way, we stopped by Riverfront Park in Cocoa for a sunrise photo. Unfortunately, the sun didn’t cooperate – we didn’t even see it until about a half hour after sunrise! But I thought the fog, boats, and lights were photogenic. The water was very calm – leading to great reflections and very little motion blur even though this is a 13 second exposure due to the dim light.
Foggy morning harbor, Cocoa, Florida, Infrared
After sunrise, we met up with Kevin’s brother Keith. He’s getting into birding and had never been to Viera, so he wanted to join us. When we arrived, we found the road closed to cars because of all the rain we’ve had. We almost always drive and the slower pace and closer view was enjoyable for a change. Walking helped us see many of the warblers hiding in the bushes. I was able to isolate this pretty “butter butt” against a nice non-distracting background:
There were many warblers (mostly Palm Warblers) and Tree Swallows. And just so you know, I think Tree Swallows are one of the hardest birds to photograph. I hardly ever see them sitting still. And they’re so small and fast that photographing them in flight is a very low percentage shot – at least with my equipment. I’ll get a good photo of one someday.
Of course, we also saw many of the usual wading birds and the gators seemed more numerous than normal. I also got to meet one of my Flickr friends (New NewEnglander) who was visiting from up north.
We also drove through the Click Ponds and saw huge numbers of ducks (mostly Green and Blue Winged Teals) and shorebirds, and then headed down the dirt road toward Moccasin Island tract. I’ve been down there a few times before without seeing much. But this time was very interesting and proves that you need to visit someplace over and over to fully appreciate it. We saw what we think was a Merlin fly by, but weren’t quick enough to photograph it. We also spotted several American Kestrels – the first time I’ve seen them in the wild and a real highlight of the trip.
We saw one of the Kestrels engaged with another similar sized bird, but were too far away to make out what going on. It looked like they were actually grappling with each other. Both birds flew away before we got close. Other birds on the road included Sand Hill Cranes and Eastern Phoebes.
Tom M. suggested we meet at Ponce Inlet for sunrise a week ago. I readily agreed, since the last time I was there was August 2010. We met at the park entrance just after it opened and were set up well before sunrise. Here’s one of my first photos. It was very nice of them to put up red and green buoy lights for Christmas. 🙂
Sunrise at the inlet – I thought the Christmas colored buoy lights added a nice holiday touch
I’m always amazed by how much light can change over a short time. Here’s an example.
Daybreak departure – A fishing boat heads out to sea at sunrise
The physical distance between these first two photos was only a few paces, but the time change made a huge difference. The first was at 6:32am, f/8, 30 seconds, and ISO 125. The second was at 7:22am, f/16, 1/60 seconds, and ISO 100. The amount and quality of light shifted dramatically over 50 minutes (and the sun rays came in for a short time too).
Moral of the story: If you’re going to get up for a sunrise photo, you may as well get going a bit early – so you can see and photograph the entire show. I try to arrive at least 30 minutes before sunrise.
I’d been watching large numbers of mostly resting Pelicans, Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers down on the beach. After sunrise, I moved off the jetty and photographed them for a few minutes. I was able to get close to this one without disturbing it, and I thought the low, warm light and the shadow behind the bird made an interesting scene.
Caspian Tern and shadow – The bird wasn’t really alone, there were many others close by
When we visited Bulow Plantation several weeks ago, Tom and I were a little disappointed in the light. Rain and clouds that day made photography a challenge. Since it was early when we finished at Ponce Inlet, and the weather was so much better – we decided to go back to Bulow. The light had changed a lot here too. But over a few weeks instead of 50 minutes.
Bulow Plantation Ruins – I merged three images with focus stack in Photoshop to increase depth of field. The light this time was much better than our last visit. And our cameras didn’t get wet!
So that was a very fine, final photo op for 2013. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
And since this is my last post of the year, Happy New Year! See you again in 2014!
Happy Holidays! I hope that all of you, your families, and your friends have a joyful and happy holiday season!
The end of the year is a good time to review results and contemplate how to improve any endeavor, and photography is no exception. I’ve put together these “Favorite photos of the year” posts since 2009. This is a hard process for any photographer. For me, it’s difficult to separate my opinion about a photograph from emotional connections that I might have with the subject, scene, or situation. But making this effort is important and part of the learning process. I don’t claim to be objective – these are simply the photos that I like best. Feel free to disagree, but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve picked.
I made many photos that I like during my first visit to Chicago last September. This one is my favorite from that trip. See this post for more info.
My number 3 favorite photo of 2013:
Partial eclipse of the sun; Cocoa Beach Pier, Florida; November.
I almost didn’t get to make this photo since I was late finding out about the eclipse. It’s a bit different from most sunrise photos I make because I used a long telephoto lens to emphasize the sun instead of a wide-angle lens. The three people watching with me from the end of the pier were a bonus. See this post for more info.
My number 4 favorite photo of 2013:
You otter not interrupt me; Viera Wetlands, Florida; November.
This river otter was having a morning dust bath on the dirt road through Viera Wetlands. It stopped and watched me for a bit when I got out of my car to make this photo, but then ignored me and finished before sliding back into the water.
My number 5 favorite photo of 2013:
Storm clouds over the Everglades; Everglades National Park, Florida; April.
We had a wonderful expedition to the Keys, Everglades, and Dry Tortugas in April. This photo of a pine tree and grass reflecting from the inches deep water in the Everglades “river of grass” is my favorite landscape from that trip. See this post for more info.
My number 6 favorite photo of 2013:
Reading; St. Augustine, Florida; August.
St. Augustine is full of photo ops. I really liked the symmetry of the columns in this scene and how they led my eye towards the man reading on the bench. See this post for more info.
My number 7 favorite photo of 2013:
Sea oats; Howard Park, Tarpon Springs, Florida; August
I noticed this scene while wandering around not expecting to find anything to photograph. Another lesson in “keep your eyes open”.
My number 8 favorite photo of 2013:
Resting behind mom; Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, Florida; March.
We spent time in “Primate World” watching the family of Orangutans. The young one (I think this is RanDee, born in August 2008) was full of energy, swinging all around on the platforms and ropes. The adults watched her with very human-like ”where does she get the energy” looks. Finally, RanDee rested for a bit behind her mom (DeeDee) and I was able to make this photo. See this post for more info.
My number 9 favorite photo of 2013:
The Chapel on the Rock (Saint Catherine of Siena Chapel); Allenspark, Colorado; July.
This is south along Route 7 out of Estes Park on the grounds of the Saint Malo Retreat. We had no idea it was there, but when we drove by and saw the scene, I had to stop and photograph it. It’s a multi-photo, hand-held panorama processed in Photoshop and Lightroom. See this post for more info.
My number 10 favorite photo of 2013:
Not sleeping; Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary, Tampa, Florida; August.
To me, this photo symbolizes what we learned about the plight of captive large cats and primates while visiting two rescue organizations near Tampa. See this post for more info.
If you’d like to see my favorite photos from earlier years, click on these links: 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Four of us from the Photography Interest Group went to Viera Wetlands last Saturday. On the way, we stopped by Riverfront Park on the Indian River at SR 520 in Cocoa for sunrise.
Old boat by a bridge
There weren’t many clouds, but with a longer lens than I normally use (120mm equivalent instead of an ultra wide-angle), I managed to place this boat in the frame against a background of clouds and the causeway bridge. The colors on the water are nice and I was happy with the result.
As we left, I saw what looked like a sunken boat out of the corner of my eye to the south of where we’d been photographing. Since the good light was fading, and everyone else was ready to leave for Viera, I didn’t get a chance to check it out at the time.
For some reason, sunken / abandoned boats really appeal to me as photographic subjects. Maybe it’s because I spent time in the Navy. They seem sad and make me wonder what happened and why. This one nagged at me, and I really wanted to explore it so I decided to drive back over on Wednesday to see what I’d missed. Many times the boat gets salvaged – so if you don’t photograph it when you find it, you may not get a second chance.
A dream, gone – in the harbor at dawn.
Luckily the boat was still right where I’d seen it. I found a spot where I could use the sailboat mast reflections to outline the sunken hull and place it between the blue and orange colors mirrored on the water. I like the first photo, but I think this second one is stronger.
If we’d taken the time to explore this on our first visit, would I have gotten as strong a photo? Did I get a better photo on my second trip because I was by myself? Is photography essentially a solo activity?
Cue the standard photography answer: “It depends.” I believe you need to be “in the zone” to make great photos. Distractions and / or fellow photographers can hinder concentration – or they can point you in the right direction. When you’re with a group you also have to compromise and go along – you can’t do everything you want and force everyone else to do it too. If you’re mainly a landscape photographer, going photographing with someone really into bird photography may not help your landscape images. Or it might – birds hang out in some beautiful places.
If you go with people more experienced / knowledgable than you are, you may learn a bit and make better images as a result. Or you may find out about new places that they know but you don’t. Or you might even open your eyes to a different way of seeing something. If you’ve ever been out photographing with a group, you know there will be many similar images. But there will also be some that look completely different even though two photographers stand right next to each other.
So to answer the question in the title of this post: Is photography a solo or a group activity? Yes. You’ll be a better photographer if you go photographing both by yourself and in groups. Mix it up and take advantage of both ways to enjoy and improve your photography.
By the way, we did make it to Viera Wetlands. We saw many of the usual animals in the main area including Hawks, Ospreys, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Green Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, Grebes, Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, Alligators, Turtles, etc. We saw a few more species in the Click Ponds: White Pelicans, Sandpipers, Roseate Spoonbills, and Woodstorks. A nice visit.
Sandpiper flock and reflections
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos – alone and in a group!
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 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!
We’ve kayaked at Crystal River before but wanted to explore the area a little more. So Lynn and I decided to take advantage of our long weekend and went back last Saturday. It was a very beautiful trip – relaxing, great scenery, and good weather too. We reserved two kayaks for 8:30am from the Crystal River Kayak Company and were on the water before most of the crowd got there.
The canals in the area can be pretty. Sometimes it takes a while to position my kayak for a photo and Lynn gets pretty far ahead.
In the winter months, manatees are all over this area although we didn’t see any on this trip. It’s warmed up so much they’ve moved on. If you’re planning to kayak here, it’s best to go early in the day. We drove by later and the water was very crowded – not at all like what we experienced the first thing in the morning.
The hotel where we stayed was right on the water, so I was hoping for a good sunrise or sunset view, but was disappointed. There weren’t any good sight lines east or west and even though we drove around a bit looking, we couldn’t find a spot close by. I’ll have to do more research before our next trip.
So … on to Plan B. The deck next to hotel pool was right on the river, next to dive shop and restaurant / bar. For some reason, the evenings were crowded and noisy, but before dawn there was no one around! So I got up early on both mornings and wandered down to the water. It was extremely calm both days with a full moon. Perfect conditions for some pre-dawn, long exposures. I made several images and I like this one best:
One view from the water by our hotel. I wanted to show the sailboats and reflections against the sky. It was about 30 minutes before dawn, and so dark that it took me a few tries to frame the image the way I wanted. The sky colors were a bonus – I couldn’t see them at the time. I was lucky the water was calm and the boats didn’t move during the 6 second exposure.
Weeki Wachee State Park has a live mermaid show, a glass bottom boat ride, a water park and canoe / kayak rentals. It was crowded when we stopped. We saw the mermaid show, but the line for the boat ride was over an hour long.
At the corner of Cholakka Blvd. and Seminary Avenue, Micanopy, Florida.
Micanopy is a good place to look for antiques and photograph historic buildings in an “old Florida” setting.
The farmhouse at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park in Cross Creek, Florida. She wrote her books on the screened porch.
A couple of weeks ago, I met photographer Larry Jordan at Gatorland and he mentioned wanting to visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. He hadn’t been in long while, so I offered to go with him. It was a great excuse to get out and show off one of my favorite places and it didn’t disappoint. We met before dawn at Space View park for what turned into a pretty sunrise.
Dock at dawn
After sunup, we entered MINWR in search of wildlife, first to Gator Creek Road where we saw a few birds including black necked stilts. These unusual looking, pink legged birds are only in Florida for the summer breeding season and I’m glad they’re back already. Next we went to Black Point Wildlife Drive to see what was going on there. The initial portion was very quiet, but then the action ramped way up!
Four more black necked stilts were flying all around the first pond on the right. They were very active and noisy in what I think was courtship inspired chasing and calling to each other. We enjoyed watching and photographing them, but decided we’d better move on – we didn’t want to miss out on whatever else was going on. It turns out that was a very good idea.
At the next pond, the first thing I noticed was a flock of White Pelicans. They were pretty, but a bit far off for photos – and just swimming around out there feeding. Then we noticed the Black Skimmers.
I often see these birds along the north shore of the Bennet Causeway leading into MINWR. There, they usually huddle with the gulls and this makes for static looking photos. We didn’t see any there yesterday morning and we found out why at this place. It seems they were all over there and very active. I’ve never seen so much skimming. Long graceful glides over flat water with an uncluttered background, sometimes fairly close to shore. They use their longer, lower bills to slice through the surface searching for fish and write a sharp wake behind them. Wonderful to watch and with such good light, a near perfect opportunity for photographs.
Black Skimmer skimming
There were other birds in the pond feeding and flying around close to shore – great conditions for BIF (Birds-in-Flight) photography practice! Several Roseate Spoonbills flew in (toward the camera for a change!) and posed beautifully at nearly perfect angles. We also enjoyed watching a Redish Egret, a very pretty Tri-colored Heron in breeding colors, and many other birds feeding.
Roseate Spoonbill, landing
After the excitement at BPWD, I didn’t think it could get any better, but I was hoping to show Larry a Florida Scrub Jay since he hadn’t photographed one before. We drove to Scrub Ridge Trail, parked and walked north along the path where I’ve seen them, but they weren’t there. Feeling a little let down, we walked back to the parking area and a very pretty Scrub Jay was waiting there to welcome us. We each got several photos in different poses / locations.
Our last stop was the Visitor Center. I was hoping that the Painted Buntings would still be around, but they seem to have moved on.
By the way, the 50th anniversary of MINWR is coming up on August 28th. If someone ever asks you about benefits from the US space program, you can mention the establishment of this extraordinary refuge. See this article in Florida Today for more details.
I’ve rambled on for too long so here’s one more landscape from the morning to close this out: