For a while anyway. Many photographers would agree that daylight savings time and “fall back” make it harder to get up for sunrise. Photography Interest Group members Kevin K., Kevin M., Tom M., and I met at 6am last Friday for a photo expedition over to Merritt Island. It was the last time we’ll be able to set the alarm that late until next year. Despite sleeping in, we arrived well before dawn. This was the scene at the boat ramp at the Titusville Municipal Marina.
Blue hour at the marina
There weren’t a lot of clouds, so my expectations for color were low but we did see a bit as the sun started to rise.
And as usual, after it was light we went looking for wildlife on Black Point Wildlife Drive. There are some winter visitors showing up there now. We saw warblers, wrens, and Kingfishers. But the ducks, Avocets and others are still missing. They’ll show up before long.
Marsh Wren (?) – At least I hope it’s a Marsh Wren – that would be a life bird! At the rest area on Black Point Wildlife Drive, MINWR
So once again it was a good trip to one of my favorite places.
It was a good thing that I got there well before dawn, because the place I had in mind for a sunrise photo didn’t turn out (construction and street lights). On the way over I noticed a massive thunderhead that looked like it would add some interest to my photos. Unfortunately, it also added a lot of rain to the area, so I spent some time wandering around looking for a new place and making a few uninspired photos during gaps in the downpour.
Almost made it… A sunken sailboat near the Titusville Municipal MarinaI
I ended up at the Titusville Municipal Marina. There always seems to be a sunken boat or two there. I think this one is recent, but it’s hard to be sure. By this time, the rain was slacking off, so I parked and hurried over to where I could get a good angle on the colors in what was left of the rain clouds. The light was pretty and I used the boat and the rocks on shore to add foreground layers to my composition.
I made many exposures, framing the boat in different ways. The color built and I like the last set of frames best. For this image I made seven exposures from the tripod. Four were for the sky / clouds, pointed up slightly and bracketing exposure to make sure I captured the entire dynamic range. I pointed three down slightly for the boat and water, to make sure I had everything in focus. One of these three was through a neutral density filter so I could get a long shutter speed and smooth the water surface. At home, I ended up using six of the frames, combining some in Lightroom’s merge function, and blending the rest manually in Photoshop. Finally, I used Nik Color Effects Pro to tune the colors and Topaz Clarity to increase mid-range contrast to get what you see above.
After sunrise, I headed over to Black Point Wildlife Drive for a look around. It’s been closed while they worked on the road. It’s open again, in great shape, and ready for all the fall visitors. There’s not much bird activity yet, but I did find this nicely posing Tri-colored Heron.
Reflections – Tri-colored Heron, Black Point Wildlife Drive
This image is less complicated. It’s just two frames, hand-held. One’s focused on the bird’s eye and the other on its reflection in the water. I merged them in Lightroom via the Photo Merge – Panorama function, and finished this one too with tweaks to color, contrast, and cropping in Photoshop.
Should you try these techniques? I can’t decide for you. For me, it’s more work, but it gives me much more control over the final result. If you do decide to try them and have any questions about how to do this kind of thing, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.
Thanks again to Mary Kate for writing last week’s post. I apologize for the lack of images in that email. I need to figure out how to get the server to send the photos when they’re not referenced from Flickr. If you didn’t get a chance to see her photos, please click through and visit the blog.
It was raining at our house in Winter Springs. Over on the coast, it was dry, but threatening. The clouds were just awesome – I even spotted some that looked like Mammatus clouds.
Next time I’ll leave a bit earlier – the light was a little dim for bird photography but I did see a few. I’m usually there in the morning and they behave differently in the evening. It was interesting to watch them going home in formation to roost for the night and to spot groups perched in trees and lined up along power lines.
I don’t have much to say this morning, so the photos will have to do most of the talking. I started yesterday along the Indian River at Space View Park.
Watching the morning sun. This is a two frame, blended exposure. I made the bottom half exposed for the water with a Neutral Density filter to slow my shutter speed to 20 seconds at ISO 100 and f/11. I made the top part with the filter off, exposed for the sunrise at ISO 100, f/11, 1/100 second. I was very happy to see the Osprey fly through the frame with a fish as I clicked the shutter. I blended them together in Photoshop with a layer mask.
Juvenile Little Blue Heron. There were several around, so they must be nesting nearby. I’ve seen Green Herons breeding there, but not Little Blue Herons.
A Mottled Duck. I don’t spot these too often. When I looked it up, I learned (or maybe re-learned) some things. Mottled Ducks are related to both Black Ducks and Mallards, and are the only duck adapted to breeding in southern marshes. The Florida population is a subspecies and the male has lost its distinctive plumage so that the both sexes are colored alike.
St. Johns Sunrise – silver lining and sun rays: This is a long exposure (10 second) image I made at the boat ramp on the St. Johns where it meets HW 50. The water is higher than I’ve seen it there before
Pollen covered Bumble Bee on Purple Thistle: These thistles are blooming all over Black Point Wildlife Drive. The pollen on this bee may be an indication of why we’re having such severe allergy problems here in Central Florida.
Spoonbill in the reeds: There were many other birds around too.
Life and death in the Florida wild: The bird (a female Red-breasted Merganser) was looking for fish along a small grass island in the distance. I glanced over when I heard some splashing but couldn’t see anything at first. Then I noticed this alligator with the bird. The struggle was hard to watch, but mercifully brief.
On a related subject, you may have seen news about the recent fish kills we’ve had in the Indian River Lagoon. These are occurring just south of MINWR, nearer Melbourne, Florida. As we were driving around the refuge, I was struck by how natural it looked and by the absence of any dead fish. I’m very thankful that the Refuge has preserved this natural area for us to enjoy.
I worry about the areas where fertilizer runoff and septic tank leakage can lead to pollution, brown tide, lack of oxygen and dead fish and animals. I hope that we can figure out solutions so that people living near our natural resources don’t damage them.
OK, sorry for the commentary. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; …”
― John Muir
The first part of my visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Tuesday (2/2/16) was about as foggy as I’ve ever seen. So much so that I was happy to follow a large truck along SR 46 on the way over – better than feeling my way through the low visibility on my own.
For some reason, I’d taken a macro lens with me and I was happy to use it on the following image:
Nature’s necklace – Foggy mornings dew along Black Point Wildlife Drive. This is a 5 frame, hand-held focus stack.
One of my on-line friends (Dorothy) asked me on Flickr how I got the reflections in the dew drops. They were really a gift from nature. I could see lots of dew covered webs from the car, and I watched for one where I could frame the drops standing out against a clear background. When I found this particular one, I had to figure out how to best image them. One part of it was making sure the sensor plane was as close to parallel with the lines of drops as possible. I stopped down to f/8 for increased depth of field. Then I focused on the front string and made a high-speed sequence while I rocked slowly forward. This captured about 17 frames with different parts of the scene in focus. Back at my computer, I picked 5 of the frames and made a focus stack to get as much as possible in sharp focus. The last steps were to do some selective contrast / sharpening on just the drops. I like the way it turned out.
As I explored further on Black Point Wildlife Drive, I saw something for the first time – a fogbow:
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 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!
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Viera Wetlands are two of my favorite places to photograph and I had time to visit both last week. They’re each wonderful and seem similar, yet they can be very different. When I was at MINWR, it was very quiet with few birds or other wildlife around. July isn’t the best time for birds in Central Florida, so I wasn’t expecting much.
On the other hand, Viera Wetlands was full of activity. Right away, we saw a couple of Osprey fishing:
Osprey with catch at Viera – always fun to see and a thrill to get a good, in focus photo
And as we walked around we saw Sand Hill Cranes, a Caracara, Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Swamp Chickens (Common Gallinules), a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Least Bitterns, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and Green Herons.
Green Heron at Viera – posing nicely in very good light
My friend Kevin M. was with me, and he saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. We also spotted a family of four otters crossing the road, and multiple Alligators.
Why did we see so much more at Viera than Merritt Island? Was it the weather (don’t think it was much different)? Time of day (we were there a bit later)? Water type (fresh vs. brackish)? Vegetation? Kevin’s luck?
I really don’t know. I’m just grateful I went to both places and got to see so much. The moral of the story: If one of your local photo spots is quiet, try a different one. You never know what you’ll see.
I have a long time interest in photography and a degree in Electrical Engineering. I’ve also worked for many years in digital design, software engineering, and system engineering. The changes happening in photography fascinate me. Here’s an example:
Tranquility – An exceptionally calm morning in the marsh (On Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.)
I made this image yesterday using the high-resolution mode available in the Olympus OM-D E-M5II. It’s a two frame panorama, but this discussion applies to single frame images too. The camera comes with a 16 Mega-Pixel sensor and can generate images 4 times larger (~64 Mega Pixels) using some very clever built-in technology and processing. I won’t go into how it does it (if you’re curious, here’s a good explanation). If you’re careful and the conditions are right (no motion) the results are outstanding. I’m also seeing lower noise and better color results compared to normal resolution images. Heres a small crop that’ll give you an idea of the detail captured.
Each new model of camera adds more capability: High Dynamic Range, Panoramas, Lens distortion / aberration correction, 3-D / post shot focusing (Lytro), face recognition, image stabilization, Live Composite, and many more algorithms are all being done now in camera.
Most of these (and more) can also be done with software on your computer or phone. In fact, the computation capabilities inside your phone are one reason they’re replacing point and shoot cameras. Algorithms / computation can overcome many of the limitations of the relatively simple camera in your phone. Look at the Hydra app for an example of this.
Photography started as an analog activity. Capture the light via optics, film, chemicals, and sometimes (for experts) manipulation / fine tuning of the chemical process. Create prints with more chemistry and manipulation of light during printing.
Photography today still involves capturing light using optics. Instead of chemistry, most people use digital sensors. And capturing the light as digital information allows us to apply algorithms using computers in many places in the process – either in camera like the E-M5II or in post processing.
I think the pace of change in the camera industry is slowing down at least with regard to sensors. For instance, the E-M5II sensor is said to be identical to the first model (from three years ago). But the rate of change in algorithms and processing is speeding up. The new model has a faster processor with added capabilities.
Where’s all this going? I don’t really know. As they say: “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future”. I do know it’s a very interesting time to be a photographer. And if you’re a photographer, I don’t think you should ignore the algorithmic and computational side of things. Some of the processing tools can provide exciting capabilities.
On a different subject, there’s a Clyde Butcher exhibition in town at the Maitland Art Center until May 16th, 2015. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend that you go. The subjects / compositions / technique are wonderful and the prints are large and masterfully done. Lynn and I went last Thursday and as we were leaving, Clyde Butcher walked in. I very much enjoyed meeting him.
He achieves beautiful results with an analog, large format, black and white approach which would be very difficult to reproduce with a digital workflow. That won’t be true forever. What will most likely be true forever is that his kind of artistic inspiration and results will be extremely difficult to reproduce with an algorithm.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!