Greetings from Central Florida – the place of plentiful photo ops! I think this morning I’ll just post a few photos and comments. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest.
I found a new sunrise spot: Rotary Park At Suntree. It’s on the way to Viera Wetlands in Rockledge, Florida next to the Indian River. I like the look of coquina (very “Florida-ish”) and I wanted to see how the rocks would look at dawn. The shore line is positioned a bit awkwardly, but I think I’ll go back! An interesting point: Flickr will display a map of photos around a location. It can be a good tool for research before you go somewhere. But when I looked a Rotary Park, the coquina rocks didn’t show up in other folks photos. Hmm – maybe I’m alone in my admiration of coquina.
Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warblers are common in Central Florida in the winter. I happened to search for them on the web yesterday and discovered that they’ll probably be split into four different species. The variety we see on the East Coast of the US are Myrtle Warblers. I guess I should pay more attention to bird taxonomy.
Taxonomy is hard though. Even though I’d seen this bird before, I couldn’t remember what it was. I use iBird on my phone and the search function sometimes isn’t very helpful. It didn’t list Phoebe as a possibility even though I entered location, size, etc. Fortunately, I have a friend that can help (thanks Kevin M!!!)
“Stay off my berry bush!”
Sometimes you take the photo anyway. Grackles are very common around here and I don’t often bother to photograph them. But this one was in good light and was squawking at me as I went by. I enjoyed imagining what he was saying!
Last time we went to Viera Wetlands we saw a Sandhill Crane couple that looked like they were building a nest. I checked that area again yesterday and didn’t see any sign of them. Since I didn’t see a nest there, I’m not sure now what they were doing – courtship behavior?
That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Historically, coquina’s been used as a building material. The Castillo de San Marco in St. Augustine and Bulow Plantation in Flagler Beach are made of it. But today I think the best use of coquina is for photography – it makes a great foreground in landscape photos!
Marineland Beach morning – A colorful, brisk daybreak on the rocks (48mm, ISO 50, f/16, 3 seconds)
Several locations on the Atlantic coast of Florida have deposits of coquina rocks exposed on the beach. Three that I know of are:
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park (Palm Coast, Fl)
This is a terrific sunrise site. There’s public parking right on the beach and the area isn’t closed at night, so you can arrive as early as you want to. If you do arrive before dawn, be careful – the footing on or close to the rocks is tricky in the dark. A misstep can result in broken camera equipment or broken photographers.
Bring a flashlight (or use your cell phone). Just be mindful of any other photographers nearby – you don’t want to spoil their images with your lights. And know how to use your camera in the dark so you don’t have to fumble with the flashlight – it will save you time and aggravation.
Bring a cable or remote release to help avoid camera shake. I usually use manual focus, at least until it’s bright enough for my camera’s autofocus to work. Many cameras will have a “live view” mode that lets you enlarge around the moon or a distant light so that you can carefully focus on infinity. If you don’t have live view, try using the markings on your lens. Just set it to the infinity mark and back off a little. How much? Experiment before hand. If you’re stopped down to f/8 or smaller, depth of field should help.
Before dawn and sunrise are very good times to shoot in RAW format. RAW will give you extra dynamic range to help control contrast in post processing. Also, learn about “long exposure noise reduction” and consider turning it on. For exposures over a second or so, it does well removing noise in camera (at the cost of some extra time after you make the image).
Yes – you must bring yours! You can even put your camera on it when you’re not using it for a walking stick! And make sure you always know where it is in the dark so you don’t knock it over.
KM on the rocks, working the scene (120mm, ISO 100, f/8, .4 seconds)
You can use a variety of lenses. I’ve added the focal length to the captions for the three photos in this article. Don’t change lenses on the beach. It’s often windy and you don’t want salt spray or sand inside your camera. Choose a versatile zoom lens and leave it on, or retreat to your car to swap to a different one.
Coquina rock sunrise (14mm, ISO 100, f/11, 1/8th sec)
Best time to visit:
Sunrise occurs later in the winter and gives you more time to get to this beach. And check for high tide – it’s best for good water action near the rocks.
Wear good shoes. Flip flops could be a problem for your toes on the rocks in the dark.
Make sure you keep an eye on the waves. Every so often, a larger one will come along.
Marineland Beach is a wonderful place for landscape and sunrise photos. You can see larger versions of the photos above if you click on them. And this set on Flickr has several more photos I made there.
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!
First, an apology: It appears that a couple of the species names for birds we observed in the Dry Tortugas triggered some people’s spam filters. So if you’re an email subscriber and didn’t get the email with the Dry Tortugas post, please check your spam folder or click here to open it in your browser. Sorry about that. Although there’s not much I can do about it. And it is funny.
Second: Happy anniversary, blog! The first Central Florida Photo Ops post went up on May 7th, 2007 – 6 years and 270 posts ago. Thanks once again for all your encouragement. I enjoy writing the blog, but I don’t think it would have lasted this long if not for the occasional comments and questions from readers. Please keep them coming!
Third: Here’s some info on the rest of our South Florida trip. The Dry Tortugas were the focus of our expedition, but we also visited Blowing Rocks Preserve, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Largo, Everglades National Park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and Brian Piccolo Park. Since these were such short visits, I can’t really provide detailed reviews of each. Instead, I’ll show sample images to give you some background and an idea of what you can see in each place.
I’ve heard that Blowing Rocks Preserve in Jupiter Florida is an awesome landscape place under the right conditions. The morning we were there, the light was harsh and the weather wasn’t ideal to show off the rocks. I think studying the tides and winds (and some luck) are required to make the most of a visit to this place. Here’s one photo I came up with.
Blowing Rocks Preserve – Sand steps, Three sets, Two close, No return?
We stopped at Bill Baggs to look for a couple of birds that had been spotted there. We didn’t have much luck with the rare birds, although I enjoyed seeing the light house and this awesome lizard.
This Cuban Knight Anole was over a foot long, much larger than the anoles we see in Central Florida
We spent a day driving through the Everglades, stopping at each area along the main park road and side roads. It was very overcast, and I found it tough to compose landscapes. I’m sure there are some great spots that people more familiar with the area know about. I guess I need to go back and find them.
Brewing storm, Everglades National Park – A pine tree and grass reflect on the inches deep Everglades “river of grass”
We made it all the way to the end of the road in Flamingo. I was very excited to see a couple of American Crocodiles in the marina there. Only about 2000 of these remain in the wild. They look different and somehow even more menacing than the alligators we’re used to seeing in Central Florida.
We had tentative plans to find some night-time / star trail photography dark sites in the Everglades, but with the long days and cloudy weather, we never got to it (another reason to go back). While in the Everglades we saw Purple Martins (rooming with House Sparrows), Shinny cowbirds, Brown Cowbirds, Spotted Sandpipers, Red Headed Woodpeckers, Swallow Tail Kites, Red Shouldered Hawks, an Anhinga rookery, Black Vultures (that were eating rubber off of cars!), the American crocodiles, and of course Alligators, Turtles and many other common birds.
The place we were staying in Key Largo had a private beach and boat ramp, and we spent one sunset there. It was pretty – the rocks in the foreground look like a Japanese garden. So much so that I wonder if someone arranged them.
Gulf view from Key Largo at sunset
On our way home, we stopped at Brian Piccolo Park to see the Burrowing Owls. They were easy to find in their marked nests and fun to watch. We also saw a few Monk Parakeets there.
Brian Piccolo Park: Burrowing Owl guarding nest
Other wildlife seen on the trip included Loggerhead Shrikes, Ground Doves, Eurasian Collard Doves, White Headed Pigeons, a Great White Heron, Cardinals, a Northern Curly Tailed Lizard, and Iguanas.