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!
Here are three photos from last week that I made in and around Central Florida. First up is the Cocoa Waterfront. I liked the early morning look of the clouds and water at River Front Park.
Calm morning on the riverfront. (Two frame vertical panorama, Infrared, B&W, 34mm eq. fl, 1/40 sec @f/5.6, ISO 200)
The morning light was also nice at Viera Wetlands, and this American Bittern posed for us in the reeds. I’ve been lucky enough to see them there several times over the years. I’m sure they’re in spots like Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge too, but I’ve never spotted one there.
American Bittern. (600mm, f/8, 1/640 sec, ISO 320)
Orlando Wetlands Park opened again February 1st. It’s one of my favorite places for sunrise. Our walk on Friday morning was brisk and breezy, but I like the wind’s effect on the water in this photo.
Wee hour winds whisk water and reeds in the wetlands. (Two frame vertical panorama; 120mm; I shot the bottom frame at f/22 and ISO 50 to extend the shutter speed to 8 seconds and maximize depth of field. I made the upper frame at f/8, .5 sec, ISO 100 to maximize sharpness)
So that’s some of what I photographed last week. What did you shoot? Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go 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.”
I was at the Cocoa Beach Pier last Thursday morning with Tom M. People were fishing in the surf and the Snook were running. We watched two large ones caught in just a few minutes and someone told us they’d caught eight so far. It was easy to see that the fishermen were having a great time. Their concentration when casting and excitement when they hooked one was obvious.
A little later, this gentleman wandered over. I only had to move a little to place him in the middle of the reflection from the clouds and sunrise.
Fishing up a storm
I had a good time photographing that morning, but it seemed like the fishing was much more enjoyable. Maybe I should bring fishing gear when I go out with a camera.
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!
Lynn and I spent a week in Georgia this month. She had a school reunion and we wanted to visit the north Georgia mountains for a few days beforehand. We have fond memories of weekend hikes along the Appalachian Trail when we were in college. I can report that the area is just as pretty as I remember, but the trails seem a lot steeper now.
We stayed in a cabin at the Enota Mountain Retreat, between Helen and Hiawassee. This was only a few miles from Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. The Cherokee people called this mountain Enotah.
Brasstown Bald is in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and there’s a small entrance fee at the parking area, but if you have a National Park Service Senior Pass, you can use that. The 0.6 mile paved trail from the parking area to the top is very steep, although a bus runs between 10am and 5pm. We arrived after 5 on our first day – it was well worth the hike to the top. The spectacular 360 degree view was the best one we saw.
The view from Brasstown Bald – This is the highest point in the state of Georgia (4,784 feet). 5 frame infrared panorama, B&W.
Compare that to a very similar view from an un-modified camera to see how the infrared sensor helps cuts through the haze.
Color view from Brasstown Bald – Looking a bit to the right of the IR version. Also a 5 frame panorama,
Good vistas don’t seem as common here as they are for instance in the Rockies. The small roads have places to pull over, but the view is often blocked by trees. Which makes the outlook from Brasstown Bald exceptional.
North Georgia also has a huge number of waterfalls – but some are more difficult to find, get to, and see clearly than others. There are four on the Enota Resort grounds. The trail to this one was steep and muddy in spots and led up along the side of a ravine to this spot across from the falls. We couldn’t find a viewpoint with a clear view through the trees, although there were other paths that we didn’t have time (or energy) to try.
Hidden falls – Along a trail inside the Enota campground. ISO 200, f/8, 0.6 sec.
We did visit other waterfalls that are easier to get to and see. There’s even a pull off just outside Vogel State Park where we could view a large waterfall from the road (no hike!). Anna Ruby Falls is on federal land inside Unicoi State park near Helen. The paved path to the falls is about 1/2 mile long and not too difficult with resting places along the way. We also visited Amicolola Falls near Dahlonaga after our wonderful lunch at the Smith House Restaurant. This falls also has a relatively short and easier paved path to a wonderful open view. But the hike might be even easier when your stomach isn’t so full!
Amicalola Falls – Near Dahlonega, Georgia. ISO 100, f/16, 0.1 second.
I used a variety of shutter speeds on the waterfalls and I think 1/10 to 1/2 is the range to play in to make the water look best. Unless you find a pool of swirling water – where a longer exposure might be better. Try different shutter speeds while you’re there so you can pick the best result when you get home. Most of the time I could get my shutter speed in range by adjusting ISO and aperture. I did have a variable neutral density filter with me that I used a couple of times – it was handy when the sun was out. Most of the time it was cloudy enough so that I didn’t have to worry about using the filter or fight the extreme contrast of sun shining on white water.
As far as wildlife goes, we didn’t spend a lot of effort looking and we didn’t see many animals. I was able to photograph one new life bird: a Louisiana Waterthrush. Lynn found it foraging on the ground outside (while we did the laundry!).
After our time in North Georgia, we headed to Atlanta for the reunion. For various reasons, my photo ops there were limited, but we did have a nice vantage point from our hotel room.
Incoming Storm – Atlanta. During a long exposure needed to capture this ominous cloud rolling in, I also caught a flash of lightning.
One place I’ve heard great things about but didn’t get to visit is the Georgia aquarium. I’ll have to save it for next time.
All in all, an exceptional, relaxing, and photogenic trip which we both thoroughly enjoyed. These and other Georgia photos are in this album on Flickr, where you can view larger versions. Also, if you haven’t seen last week’s post about the Narcosee Indian Mound, please take a look at that.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
The Nacoochee Indian mound is just outside Helen, Georgia. Lynn and I were up there on vacation last week and happened to find it on our way out-of-town. Of course, I had to pull over for a photo.
I like the setting, the look of the mound, and the hills and clouds beyond it. It seems very spiritual to me.
Nacoochee Cherokee Indian ceremonial mound, just outside Helen, Georgia – This was the center of the Cherokee town of Gauxule, visited by DeSoto in 1540 while searching for gold. The mound is 190 feet long by 150 foot wide by 20 feet high. Research beginning in 1915 showed that the Cherokee people buried their ancestors on this spot and lived on the land around it.
My grandparents on my mother’s side both lived in North Carolina and Georgia and had some Cherokee blood in their background. I wonder if any of my distant relatives lived and died near here?
I haven’t had time to organize / process photos from this trip. Hopefully I’ll get to that this week and have a better report ready for next time.
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.
There were a few lights in the parking lot way back behind the sand dunes and the clouds were thick and low, making it so very dark on Marineland Beach south of St. Augustine, Florida that my first few exposures didn’t even register on the sensor. I kept raising exposure times and ISO until I was able to capture this:
99 seconds in the dark – ISO 400, 99 seconds @ f/8; Marineland Beach, about 45 minutes before sunrise.
It sure didn’t look this way to my eyes. I couldn’t see much at all and had to use my head lamp to compose and focus.
When I got home and processed the photos, they reminded me of some things that might be useful to others.
Pre-visualize before, during, and after you press the shutter
You should always try to pre-visualize the photo you’re making before you compose and shoot – and it’s a delightful feeling when the image turns out just like you imagined. But this is often harder than it sounds. Especially if you can’t see what you’re photographing. There’s nothing wrong with adjusting your vision as you go. This is a wonderful advantage of digital cameras that we’d be foolish to ignore. Check your results on the LCD during the shoot and adapt as necessary. In this case, I knew exactly what I needed to change when I first looked at my (black) LCD. I needed more exposure!
Pre visualization is great, but there’s also nothing wrong with post visualization. What I mean is to try as many things as you can think of while you’re there and sort it out later when you get home. Try HDR, panoramas, high tripod, low tripod, and focus stacking. Use different focal lengths, shutter / aperture combinations, and positions / directions. Exploit changing weather / light as time goes on. Capture them all and give yourself a better chance to come out with something you like.
Shutter speed is a critical variable when photographing moving water. The 99 second exposure above gave me very smooth and milky looking water, nicely outlining the rocks. A 1/1000th second (or faster) exposure can freeze drops of water. In between, you can find other speeds that look very different from the extremes. Capture the scene with different shutter speeds when possible. In this 1 second exposure, I like the added interest from the flow patterns in the water.
Marineland Beach and coquina rocks – ISO 100, 1 second @ f/4 with 8 2/3 stop neutral density filter, ~30 minutes after sunrise.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing and ghost removal
There are so many controls and sliders in HDR software that it’s hard to know which ones to change. Most HDR software has an option for removing “ghosts” (differences between multiple frames for anything moving in the image) and I think it’s a critical setting. HDR Efex allows me to select the baseline frame I want to use as well as the amount of ghost removal to apply. I like to experiment with these and select the combination that looks best. In the image below, there was only one setting that showed the breaking wave. And I think the wave definitely adds to the image.
Golden rocks and sand – 5 image bracket (-4 to +4 stops), almost an hour after sunrise.
Don’t leave too soon
I made these three images (and more!) over a period of 90 minutes. The changing light provided different looks and opportunities to photograph this place. It’s worth getting there early and staying for a while.
Don’t get overwhelmed
When you visit a beautiful place, especially for the first time – it’s easy to be overwhelmed and forget about everything except pressing the shutter button. It helps to visit multiple times. The first time, it’s hard to see all the possible compositions until you get over the novelty and excitement. When you can relax and enjoy the experience you can open your mind and get in the zone. Then you’ll make images you’ll be happy to share with others.