Our visit to the Panama Canal and passage through the Gatun Locks was the main feature of our recent cruise. As an engineer, I’ve long been intrigued by the canal and it lived up to my expectations. It’s amazing that something built over 100 years ago in such difficult conditions is still operating and remains an import part of global commerce.
The ship’s Captain planned well. We arrived near the entrance just in time to view the day’s sunrise.
Panamanian Sunrise – a pilot-boat paces us as we head toward the canal entrance
The crew opened up normally closed areas at the bow for viewing and many folks crowded there to watch the activity.
Entering the Panama Canal
At the evening meal the night before we arrived, Nino (the maître d’) promised us the “best seat in the house” if we came to breakfast at 7:30 that morning. We thought we had a nice view up on the bow, but decided to follow his recommendation and go down to breakfast. It was surprising how few people were in the dining room. He fulfilled his promise and we sat at a table at the very stern of the ship right next to the large windows on deck 2 – and it did have the best view!! Watching the locks filling and the canal walls go by from that vantage point was captivating. It took longer than normal for us to finish our meal!
In the Panama Canal Gatun Locks – view from the Main dining room on deck 2
The MS Zuiderdam is 106 feet wide and the canal is only 110 feet, so there’s very little clearance.
View from our balcony on the 6th deck – 2 foot clearance!
The operation, control, and precision while in the canal is very skilful. The photo above shows the 2 foot clearance between the ship and the canal. One of the “mules” (center left) is helping to position us and move us safely through.
Once past the locks, we anchored in Gatun Lake so people taking excursions could disembark. Then we sailed back out through the canal and tied up for a port visit in Colon Harbor, where the excursions re-joined us that night.
Colon Harbor at night
Colon wasn’t our favorite stop, although I was able to buy a genuine Panama Hat there. Interesting fact: Panama Hats are made in Ecuador!
I’ve posted a short video that we made in the canal here on YouTube. It shows our entrance followed by a time-lapse as we descend into the Gatun Locks on our return. Take a look if you get a chance.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Another Merritt Island Morning – I combined multiple frames to get everything in focus and well exposed. Blended manually in Photoshop.
Why do I like going there so much? Even after so many visits, it’s impossible to see everything it has to offer. I appreciate getting to know a place and watching it change over time. I enjoy seeing the same locations in different light or weather, with different birds around.
Not Birds of a Feather – An interesting group of at least four species
I do know that every time I visit, I see something beautiful – either something new, or something commonplace, but in a new light.
“We do these things not to escape life, but rather so life does not escape us.” From a favorite t-shirt
And yes, sometimes I get back and the photos I made aren’t very good. But I still have a wonderful day. Much better than the owner of this boat had.
Sunken Sailboat – On this one, I also combined multiple frames to ensure everything was sharp and to emphasize the smooth water.
Henri Cartier Bresson said that “You just have to live and life will give you pictures.” And I think my t-shirt is right too. Going after photos will give you life.
Florida is blessed with a terrific State Park system. According to Wikipedia, we have 161 locations in our state.
Lynn found a new one (to us, at least) online and mentioned how nice the cabins looked. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is up in the panhandle, bordered by the Gulf of Mexico on one side, and St. Joseph Bay on the other. They only have eight cabins and are usually fully booked – but cabin #4 was available for a single day, so we decided to drive up and see what it’s like. Although it was a brief trip, it was a wonderful opportunity to explore a part of Florida that we don’t often get to.
On the way, we stopped in Perry, Florida for some great seafood and then went by the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge where I made a few photos. I’d love to visit there more extensively. I wish we lived closer.
Marsh land – View from the observation tower next to the St. Marks Lighthouse. IR, B&W, panorama
It’s no wonder that the St. Joseph Peninsula State Park cabins are usually booked. They’re fairly new, well-kept, fully furnished and ideally located – especially if you like the sun and water. It’s one of the top rated beaches in the US and swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, boating, fishing, hiking, and even scalloping are all very close by.
Blazing Clouds – the morning, bay side view from cabin #4
We took a late afternoon walk along the bay shore. The photographic glory was somewhat dampened by aggressive horse flies — we should have used insect repellent! But I thought the clouds and driftwood were remarkably attractive. This is the last of five photos I made on the walk. You can see the complete sequence in this album on Flickr.
St. Joseph Bay stroll (5 of 5). IR, B&W, panorama
Alas, we had to leave after a single night – much too short a stay to do the area justice. Maybe another time we can get a longer reservation.
On the drive back, we stopped for coffee in Apalachicola and stumbled on this. I love old boats and this one is about as rundown as I’ve ever seen. Another place that needs a longer look.
Welcome to the Venezellos. Panorama
If you get a chance, I highly recommend you check out the area. Seafood, sun, sights, water – what more could you ask for? Oh yes – perhaps a vacancy or two.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Some photographers plan their photo ops in detail. In many cases that’s a good approach. Portrait and wedding photography are genres that need advanced planning. And if you’re going on a once in a lifetime trip, planning is prudent. Other genres are more reactive (e.g. photo journalism).
I try to do research and planning if I’m going somewhere I haven’t been, but I don’t plan most of my photography. Especially if I’ve been to a place before, my approach is to explore and discover, and then react to what I find. Often, I end up with photos that I never imagine when I start out. Which is loads of fun!
A few weeks ago, I went over to the Sanford Marina to make sunrise photos. I arrived early and discovered very calm conditions in the harbor. I reacted with this photo. It’s nothing like the sunrise I originally went looking for.
Still water, sailboats, and stars – Very early and very calm at the Sanford marina
Last week, I took a ride here in Central Florida along Maytown Road between Osteen and Oak Hill. It goes through some very undeveloped areas and ends at Seminole Rest, a small park in the Canaveral National Seashore. In this case, I hadn’t really planned for any photos. I was just driving to see what’s there. I was glad to discover this gnarled old tree, although I wish I’d found a little better light to go with it.
Weathered Tree – Seminole Rest, Canaveral National Seashore in Oak Hill, Florida
This last photo is from back in 2013. It sat in my archives until this week when I discovered it again and processed it. It took a while for me to complete my reaction to the scene.
Sun and shadows – Long exposure under the pier at Cocoa Beach
The photo and video in last week’s post also resulted from the “explore, discover, react” approach.
So what’s the moral of this story? I suppose it’s this: If you approach photography like I do, you’d better be ready to react to a scene when you see it. Know your equipment so you can capture what you need when you discover something. Even in the dark or in rapidly changing situations. Know your software capabilities too, so you understand what you need to capture. Be ready for the opportunities that you find, and the ones that find you.
On a different subject, I realized after I published last week’s blog that embedded video isn’t included in the email. The Jetpack plugin software that I use doesn’t even put in a link to it. So if you read the blog only via email and wondered what the video was about, you can click here to view it on YouTube. And you can always click on the title of the post inside the email to view it on the web. Sorry for any confusion.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go exploring – and make some photos!
Let’s go fishing! Two fishermen head out before dawn.
I’ve made this kind of photo before – you can see some examples in this set on Flickr. I think this one turned out better than my earlier tries. I used a different approach and because it’s been a while since I’ve written a “behind the scenes / how-to post”, I thought I’d fill you in on how I made this.
The boat ramp at this little park where SR 520 crosses the St. Johns River is pretty busy around dawn. It seems to be a popular place for fishermen to put in. I waited several times while they cleared my frame and the water calmed down before I could make my next exposure. So I decided to make an image that included a boat.
It’s a challenging shot. I wanted to capture the intense sunrise colors so I had to be careful not to over expose and blow out the sky. I also wanted some detail in the boat, so I needed to over expose there a bit, but still minimize motion blur. At sunrise, I normally use a low ISO for the best quality image, and a small aperture for good depth of field. This results in a long shutter speed, which is bad for photographing moving boats. And if I want to bracket and use multiple frame HDR to capture the huge contrast range in the scene – that’s even worse for moving boat photography. So how did I make this image? Glad you asked!
The secret is to carefully capture two frames and blend them together by hand. The first frame is exposed for the boat: I used a high ISO and a wide open aperture to get my shutter speed as fast as possible, and I overexposed slightly to capture a little shadow detail in the boat and in the vegetation on the shore. With my camera set and on a tripod, I composed and waited for the next boat to get to the right point in the frame. Here’s that RAW file:
The second frame was my main exposure and I wanted it to be the best quality possible. I also wanted to slightly under expose to capture color and detail in the sky. I waited until the boat was gone and the water was calm again and then made this exposure:
When I got home, I preprocessed the two raw files using identical color balance and paying careful attention to noise reduction (especially on the higher ISO frame with the boat). I’ve used DxO Optics Pro lately when I want the best RAW conversion. It does a wonderful job on both lens corrections and noise reduction for supported equipment. After a few tweaks to exposure in each file, I brought them into Photoshop on separate layers.
The next thing to deal with was the boat. Even though I’d pushed my shutter speed as high as I thought I could, 1/20 second still left a little motion blur visible. The “Filters / Sharpen / Smart Sharpen” command in Photoshop has a “Remove Motion Blur” option and I’ve found that it works well in situations like this where the direction of motion is known. I used it selectively on a duplicate layer to enhance detail in the boat. Here are before and after crops at 200%. I think it’s a nice improvement:
Next I used layer masks to blend the multiple frames together. I worked carefully around the boat and painted it into the main / second frame. I like a little detail in my shadows instead of a straight silhouette. Since I’d slightly overexposed the first frame (and was careful with noise reduction) I painted some of that into the vegetation. Here’s the first merged result:
The only filter I used on this was Topaz Clarity – I like the way it increases mid-tone contrast without adding halos.
After selective sharpening on a separate layer, I returned to Lightroom for final adjustments (black and white points, vignette, etc) to get the first image in this post.
I struggled some with the cropping. I tried a 16×9 aspect ratio, but because I wanted to keep all the sky, I thought the horizon ended up too close to the center. I decided to keep the original composition since the dark water at the bottom holds my eye in the frame. I might play with it some more.
I like how it turned out and I hope you do too. I also hope the info helps with your photography. If you have any questions on details or other photography related things, let me know in the comments.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
I spent some time at Silver Springs State Park in late May. This is Florida’s newest park, created in October of last year when the former Silver Springs and Wild Waters commercial attractions were merged with Silver River State Park. Lynn and I used to visit when our kids were younger and the commercial attractions were going strong. But that was a while ago and it’s a different place now.
Silver Springs headwaters – A glass bottom boat returns to the dock before a storm
Florida’s renovating Wild Waters and has already re-opened some of the water rides. The Glass Bottom Boats still run in the Silver Springs area, although the jungle river boat tour and antique car museum that I remember from past years are gone. It’s a little soon to say what the park will look like after the state is finished merging the areas together, but it always was and still is a fine place to visit.
Info for Photographers
There are hiking and biking trails throughout the park, but I think the real attraction is the water. You can rent canoes and kayaks or bring your own, and there are several places to put in. I used the launch close to the headwaters. It’s a short paddle to the main spring. It’s also very close to the Fort King paddle trail (where the Jungle Cruise used to go) which is open to paddlers now for the first time since the 1800s!
In addition to the put in I used (off the Silver Springs parking lot) there’s also one inside the main park, but it’s about a 1/2 mile carry to the water – too far for me! One other place you can put in is at Ray Wayside Park where you can paddle upstream to the spring. Silver Springs also offers guided kayak tours and a shuttle service to / from Ray Wayside.
A view from my kayak – Along the Fort King paddle trail near the Silver Springs headwaters
Here are a couple of articles from other sites about paddling at Silver Springs. Take a look – they like it as much as I do!
If you can’t go on a paddle, at least ride the glass bottom boat or take an air boat excursion. You’ll get to see more of the scenery and wildlife than you can from the land.
Airboat ride on the Silver river
Tripod/Monopod: I did have mine, but didn’t use it as much as I thought I would. It’s a very wooded area and landscape opportunities aren’t as numerous as they are in some other places.
Lenses: Bring what you can carry. I got the most use out of a normal range zoom (~24-70), but longer and wider would be nice to have in your bag if you need them. If you have any waterproof equipment, bring it for paddling expeditions.
Best time to visit: It’s starts getting very warm in May and doesn’t cool off until September or October, so plan accordingly. If you’re going on the rides at the water park or kayaking, the heat is a bit more tolerable. I went during the week. Weekends will be crowded.
There’s a variety of wildlife, but not as much as some other locations in Central Florida. For instance eBird lists 112 species at Silver Springs vs 293 in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I spotted Ospreys, Cardinals, Black Vultures, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, a few wading birds, Alligators, Deer, Turtles, Cormorants (on the water and in nests, and one swimming underwater), Barred Owls (calls and one in flight), Hawks and a few other species. There are recent reports of Manatees in the springs. And although I didn’t find any, there’s a troop of feral rhesus macaque monkeys descended from ones let loose in the 1930s.
Typical Turtle – Along the the Fort King paddle trail near the Silver Springs headwaters
The River side of the park is home to the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center (open to the public on weekends and holidays). Tours through the pioneer cracker village are offered once a month, except in the summer. You’ll have to call the park for details.
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.