You may have noticed that I like Black and White photography. It’s how I started out, way back when (with Tri-X film, developed in a make-shift darkroom). So I’ve done it for a while, but I’m mostly self-taught. I’ve studied many books and looked at a lot of online info, but I felt it would be good to take a course and expose myself to techniques and ideas I haven’t discovered on my own – to see how others are doing it.
I signed up for “Modern Monochrome” at the Crealde School of Art in Winter Park, Florida. The course promises to cover “the aesthetic qualities of black-and-white photography, seeing in black and white, RGB conversion methods, tonal relationships, luminosity versus luminance, and demonstrations in Photoshop and Lightroom.”
I was a little worried at the first session. There were a couple of people who didn’t appear to meet the prerequisites and it seemed like we’d struggle trying to bring them up to speed. But they ended up dropping out and the remaining students all easily kept up with the agenda.
Next week is our last class and we owe the instructor ten B&W images. I thought you might be interested in seeing some of the ones I’m going to turn in.
Wild Orchids – at Fort Christmas
High Key Grebe – along Black Point Wildlife Drive
Gloomy dawn – Blue Cypress Lake
Misty Marsh – Orlando Wetlands Park
The instructor’s going to critique our work and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.
This course has definitely lived up to my expectations. I learned several techniques in Photoshop – some that I’d heard about and never tried, and others that were completely new to me. I also enjoyed discussing printing techniques and I intend to apply these more in the future. I haven’t been printing my photographs as much recently as I should. The course was also a great incentive to think about and practice photography and especially B&W processing.
My favorite program for converting images to black and white is the Nik Silver Efex Pro plug-in. I wanted to try a new one called “Tonality” by Macphun software. I processed these next two photos in both programs so I could compare results.
Cypress and calm water
Clear and very calm
Tonality is an exceptionally complete B&W conversion program with lots of presets and sliders to play with. It also has some built-in capabilities you might not expect such as layers, gradients, and selective edits. These come in handy when you want to combine several conversions without going through layers in Photoshop. Silver Efex Pro’s control points provide some of the same selective edit capability, but for me, the Tonality controls are more flexible. Tonality also has lens blur and glow simulations and the ability to blend in texture patterns. Lots of presets, options, and control!
I noticed that the clarity control in Tonality sometimes resulted in halos that I has to tone down. But I found that overall I preferred the Tonality result over the Silver Efex version for these two photos. I don’t know if this will hold up long-term, since I’m pretty sure you can achieve very similar results with either one. I’m going to keep playing with it and see.
By the way, Tonality is Mac only, Silver Efex runs on both Mac and PC. There are free trial versions you can download, so check them out yourself and see what you think.
After the trip to Maine, I was looking forward to getting back out and photographing here in Florida. So it was up early (not as early as Cadillac Mountain!) and out the door to meet Tom M. at Orlando Wetlands before dawn last Saturday.
Nature foiled our sunrise plans and instead served up some semisolid, soupy fog for our photo enjoyment.
Misty morning 1
And we did enjoy it. It was interesting looking for compositions in the mist and trying to find foreground objects to add some definition to the photos. I like the one above but after looking at it on the computer, I wish I’d moved a bit to separate the near and far grass on the left. I didn’t see the overlap when I made the photo.
It took a while for the sun to burn through the fog. That gave us time to try several different places. I thought the south shore of Lake Searcy and the southwest corner of cell 16A were very photogenic. I especially liked the light on the close leaves in this scene.
Misty morning 2
Discovering beauty in unexpected places or situations is one of the addictive things about photography. Sunrises shouldn’t all be super saturated.
Lynn, Mary, and I spent the first weekend in May at Lake Louisa State Park (LLSP). It’s located just southwest of Orlando in Clermont, Florida. LLSP is 4500 acres of rolling hills including six lakes with 105 acres of shoreline. There’s a range of camping options and 20 very nice, two bedroom, furnished cabins that you can stay in. Activities include fishing, canoeing and kayaking, biking, swimming, hiking, and horseback riding.
This is another case of me wondering why it took so long to visit somewhere. My friend Kevin M has mentioned it several times, but I never seemed to get over there – until now. It’s truly scenic and I’ve included more images than normal in this post – I apologize if it loads slowly.
Info for Photographers
There’s a lot to photograph there and the variety of landscapes is greater than many places in the area. Hills are rare around here, but this park has them, some over 100 feet high. I made this photo on the hillside above the road by the cabin where we stayed.
Wildflowers and dewey grass at dawn
May 5-11 is national wildflower week and LLSP was doing its part. Several wildflowers were blooming, including Prickly-pear Cactus, Passion Flowers, Lantana, and others. I think we were lucky to see such a variety in bloom. The Passion Flower blooms are supposed to last for only one day.
All of the lakes in the park are great habitats for Cypress Trees and Spanish Moss – very scenic and a classic Florida landscape look.
Lake Dixie shore – From the fishing dock in the campground on the south side of the lake
The Cypress tree trunks can also be very interesting.
Nature’s sculpture – The older, weathered cypress tree shapes can be very unusual
There’s a variety of wildlife at LLSP, although not as much as some other locations in Central Florida. For instance, eBird lists 112 species at LLSP vs 293 in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. We spotted nesting Ospreys (with chicks / juveniles), Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Black Vultures, Wild Turkeys, Nighthawks, a Swallow-tailed Kite, wading birds, vultures, Gopher Tortoises, Alligators, Deer, Crayfish, grackles and a few other species.
An Osprey returning to her nest to check on her chick
Most state parks in Florida seem to open at 8am, which makes early morning photography a challenge. Since we were staying there, we could photograph whenever we wanted. This one is on the western shore of Lake Louisa.
Cypress dawn – by Lake Louisa.
Tripod/Monopod: Yes – take yours and use it when needed.
Lenses: There are so many photo ops here that you could probably make use of every one of your lenses. Macro for flowers, wide-angle for landscapes, long telephoto for wildlife, etc. You’ll have to decide how much to carry and what to concentrate on.
Best time to visit: Any time, but of course winter months will be cooler. Late April and early May will be better for wildflowers and nesting Ospreys too. We often heard Ospreys calling. It was fun to watch the parents bringing food back to their very demanding offspring!
There’s a nice beach and picnic area on Lake Louisa. If you swim there be careful though, there’s no life guard and there are alligators.
The park also is a popular place to bicycle, so bring yours if you have room.
The kayak launch at Lake Dixie across from the cabins is an easy put in. The one at Lake Louisa requires a long carry, so bring a friend or a kayak trolley if you plan to paddle there. You can also put in at the Crooked River Preserve just to the north of Lake Louisa and paddle down to the lake.
I didn’t get a chance (yet) to hike the many trails in the park. There are 9 main ones ranging from 1/2 to 5.5 miles and some of these lead to smaller lakes which might be very scenic.
The Citrus Tower is close to the park. It was built as a tribute to the citrus industry in the area. There’s a great view from 226 feet up, but a lot fewer orange trees visible now than there were in 1956 when it opened.
Cloudy in Clermont – View from the top of the Citrus Tower, looking south along HW27.
There are also many restaurants within a short drive from the park if you don’t want to cook in your cabin.
Lake Louisa State Park is a relaxing and scenic destination. It seems a world away from busy downtown Orlando. It’s perfect for a weekend get away. If you haven’t been there yet, you should go. I’m very glad we did.
Florida’s blessed with many places where you can see Nature and / or animal life. There are captive animals in zoos / parks / attractions. There are anthropogenic places like Orlando Wetlands and Viera Wetlands, where human activities and management can greatly enhance opportunities for animals. And then there are places like Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area (lets call it TWMA for short) where large areas with little human intervention can approach true wilderness.
If you’ve driven the Beachline toll road (528) from Orlando to Cocoa, you’ve passed through TWMA. It’s spread out over 30,000 acres along 19 miles of the St. Johns River in east Orange County. It has a variety of natural communities including rivers / streams / lakes; freshwater marsh; Cypress swamps; Wet Flatwoods; Forested Wetlands; and Pine Flatwoods.
Grassy Trail – In addition to dirt roads running throughout TWMA, there are lots of trails to walk or bike.
Activities at TWMA include hunting, fishing, hiking, bicycle riding, horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking, camping, and scenic driving. There’s a daily entry fee and hours are 8am to sunset. As long as it hasn’t rained too much, the dirt roads are passable – even with a two-wheel drive car. So everyone can see much of the area. Hiking trails lead off from parking areas on the roads so you can get even further out into the wilderness.
Lonesome lifeless pine – Pine Flatwoods at TWMA
eBird lists 162 species seen in TWMA, vs. 293 in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, so there aren’t as many kinds of birds there. And they’re spread out over a larger area, making them harder to see. During my visit, I found Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Osprey, Yellow Rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, Red-winged Black Birds, Anhingas, Belted Kingfishers, Red-shouldered Hawks, an American Kestrel, Black Vultures, an Armadillo, and a deer.
Embrace the chaos – Cypress Swamp at TWMA
I hadn’t explored TWMA until recently. I’m glad I finally got down there. Although you may not see as many animals as you do in some other spots, the types of terrain are more varied and the animals are there if you’re patient. It’s a great place to catch a hint of wild Florida out along the St. Johns River. Definitely worth a visit!
TWMA is about 25 miles east of Orlando, near Christmas. From Orlando, take S.R. 50 east to Taylor Creek Road. Turn south on Taylor Creek Road and the entrance will be on the east.
“Sure, it’ll hold: you go first” – A sturdy and well maintained bridge across a stream at the southern end of TWMA
“The Senator” is the nickname of what was a 3500 year old Cypress Tree in Big Tree Park in Longwood Florida. Sadly, it burned down in January of 2012 when a drug addict lit a fire in the hollow at the base of the tree because “it was dark and she wanted light to see the drugs she was using.”. The culprit confessed and is expected to be sentenced shortly to either probation or a few months in prison.
I’ve written several blog articles about this and I hope you’ll forgive me for writing one more:
The latest chapter in this story is even more personal and began in December of last year when someone posted a comment on this photo of the Senator on Flickr asking if I’d be willing to sell a copy of the image. Tony Seifred and I exchanged a few emails, and to make a long story short we also ended up exchanging gifts. I gave Tony copies of two photographs of the Senator and he gave me a piece of the tree itself! I’ll let Tony tell his side of the story:
“Back when the tree burned, NPR covered the story the following morning. Within an hour I was cold calling county personnel and getting passed from one person to another. I was trying to encourage them to make offerings to school systems for educational purposes.
After many months I received an email that the decision had been made to take applications for remains. I contacted my local schools and museum trying to get them to apply. I even provided the applications. No one applied.
So I decided to try on my own. Eventually I did receive a piece of the outer part of the tree, but pick-up had to be in person. The story after that is long and convoluted but eventually did find someone there to accept payment to collect and ship the piece. Upon arrival the box was open and the piece had clearly been out.
Despite the rather expensive UPS store packing. Some pieces were broken off and still inside the wrapping. I am gifting you the largest of those pieces.”
Kudos to Tony for pursuing this and making it happen. I had the piece mounted together with the photo I made before it burned. Here’s how it looks:
This means a great deal to me and I’ll treasure it as a reminder of visits to the Senator before the tragedy. I’m exceptionally grateful to Tony for his generosity in sharing with me.
For some reason, I’d never noticed Hillsborough River State Park until fellow Photography Interest Group member JT Smith asked me about it – thanks JT! There are a lot of photos of the park on Flickr, many of them quite nice. So I decided to go over on a scouting trip. Flickr’s a great place to research new locations and I spent a while going through their search results as well as Google maps before my trip.
Dark river in the deep woods. A Hoya 8 2/3 stop neutral density filter let me stretch my exposure time to 25 seconds at f/8 and ISO 100 to smooth the water surface.
The park is about 20 miles north-east of Tampa and an hour and 40 minutes west of where I live. Not too long a trip. With all the rain we’ve had recently, added water’s made the current look pretty fast through the rapids. My kayak would get a few scrapes paddling through this.
Hillsborough River rapids. I’m a sucker for Cypress Knees and it was a treat to find some by the rapids to use as foreground. Since the wind was blowing a bit, I made two exposures. A slow one (30 seconds with the ND filter), and another not so slow one (no filter, 1/13th second). To eliminate the blurred leaves, I combined them in Photoshop using layers and masking the first for the water and second for the foliage.
I want to see what this looks like when we haven’t had so much rain. I think a few more exposed rocks would be nice. Here’s one last image from the trip:
Hillsborough River. This is an Infrared, false color, three exposure panorama. This place is near the kayak put-in.
I’m going to make a return trip and bring my kayak. I think I’ll paddle the parts in the first and third photos and not the second.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
And if you know of a good photo photo-op in Central Florida – please let me know. I love to explore new places.
Sometimes after a photo shoot, I’ll skip over images if I’m short on time or something looks too hard to deal with. Other times, I may play with a photo for a while and then set it aside when I just can’t seem to get it right. When I learn a new technique or get a new software package or upgrade I try to go through my image library and pick out existing photos that could benefit from the new capability. And yes, I also notice images that no longer look as good to me as they did at first. Something I did a few years ago may have seemed great then – but tastes change.
I use Lightroom to catalog my photos and I have a keyword called “Process” with three sub-keywords “Color”, “pano”, and “other”. Using these, I mark photos I want to revisit and I’ve built up a collection of them for future processing. I had a little time this week to go through and pick three to work on:
Kelly Park Reflections: Merritt Island, Florida, February 19, 2013. The water was amazingly calm that morning and I like the reflections as well as the detail / lights on the horizon. I bypassed this image at first because of trouble with the white balance. This time through the result is much closer to the look I wanted.
The Main Sanctuary of the Cathedral Basilica, Saint Augustine, Florida, February 28, 2013. Black and white infrared. I don’t remember why I didn’t finish this photo back in February. I like the light, detail, and tonality.
Three more cypress trees: Blue Cypress Lake, near Fellsmere, Florida, June 2, 2012. False color infrared. Since IR doesn’t capture color as your eye sees it, color conversions are very subjective. As I gain experience, my tastes are changing. This version is very different from how I processed other IR photos at the time.
So, some recommendations:
If you’re struggling with an image, don’t delete it. Mark it and move on. Come back and revisit it later.
Organize, document, and keyword your images so you can find hidden gems to re-process.
Review your photo library occasionally. Your photography skills and tools aren’t static. So your portfolio shouldn’t be static either. Revise older images and make them better. You might be surprised what comes out of your archives.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go revise some photos!
Mary and I took our kayaks to Shingle Creek last week. I wanted to post a few photos to show you again how pretty this area can be.
Winds are usually calm early in the morning – leading to scenes like this.
It was a calm morning, but the current was strong – probably because of all the rain we’ve had recently. Shingle Creek gets narrow in spots. If you go kayaking, watch for it and turn around before I did so it doesn’t knock you up against the cypress tree knees!
The reflections weren’t as pristine after Mary paddled through them – but the sunbeams made up for it.
I’m still building my kayaking skills and I’m not yet confident enough to take non-waterproof gear out with me. I made the top two photos using a GoPro camera mounted on the bow of the kayak. I set it to make a shot every few seconds and compose by positioning / pointing the kayak and selecting from the results. It’s a bit hit or miss, but I usually manage to get some I like.
The GoPro is super small, comes with a waterproof case and has a fixed, very wide-angle lens. I like all its built-in capability but it does have a couple of limitations. There’s no viewfinder, although there’s a model with wi-fi and an iPhone app that lets you control it and see the output. I don’t use my iPhone on the kayak, since I don’t want to drop it in the water either. Also, like most small sensor cameras, the dynamic range is limited (compared to larger sensors and shooting in RAW format) – so highlights have a tendency to overexpose. But if you work within its capabilities you can capture great images. You can also try the old Black and White trick to hide any blown highlights.
Shingle Creek is wonderfully scenic. There’s not as much wildlife as we see at other sites, but there are plenty of birds, turtles, fish, and I’ve heard reports of alligators and otters. If you want to see more, there are other Shingle Creek photos in this set, and kayaking photos in this set on Flickr,
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
re·flec·ting (verb): 1) to be reflected or mirrored; 2) to think, ponder, or meditate
head-wa-ters (noun): the upper tributaries of a river.
Clouds and Cypress Reflect from Shingle Creek – It’s hard to believe this urban creek just south of Orlando is the northernmost headwaters of the Everglades
If you look out the window as you fly over Florida, you’ll see much of the land is undeveloped. As you near Orlando though, you’ll see a great deal of housing, roads, city buildings, and theme parks. Central Florida can be a very urban place – it’s encouraging that even in the midst of all the development, there are a great many areas where you can experience nature, wildlife, and beautiful landscapes. Many places I visit are fairly well-known. But I had never heard of Shingle Creek before reading Wild Florida Waters, by Doug Alderson – a book about exploring Florida via kayak and canoe.
Driving through Kissimmee, Florida in the middle of airports, fast food, shopping malls, housing developments, and theme parks, you might not even notice this waterway – but you really should look for it. The first pioneer settlement in the Central Florida area was along this creek. Settlers cut down old growth cypress to use for shingles, hence the name. Shingle Creek is also generally considered to be the northernmost headwaters of the Everglades. The creek begins in a swamp very close to I-Drive where thousands of tourists visit the convention center and theme parks and go shopping every day. It flows into Lake Toho in Kissimmee, then into the Kissimmee River system and on through south Florida to the Everglades.
I see different numbers for the size of Shingle Creek Regional Park. One source says that it’s about 456 acres, another says that over 1000 acres have been purchased. Either way, it’s large and the landscapes are beautiful. There are trails to hike and bike and if you have a canoe or kayak you can venture into some very thick cypress swamps south of the Steffee Landing park entrance. You can see alligators, otters, water moccasins, ospreys, hawks, woodpeckers, limpkins, herons, egrets, and even bald eagles. It’s truly a wonderful oasis in the middle of urban Central Florida. I’m grateful we’re preserving it and I’m going back soon to explore more of it.
Apple snail eggs – These snails deposit their eggs just above the water line. Seeing them is a good sign of healthy water. The snails feed on an algae that grows on eel grass which helps filter and clean the water. Eel grass doesn’t grow well in cloudy polluted waters, so you won’t find Apple snails there. You won’t find Limpkins or Snail Kites there either because Apple Snails are a main part of their diet.
More reflections – Shingle Creek south of Steffee Landing
You can enter the park from two locations. Use these addresses to search for it in Google Maps (just searching for “Shingle Creek Park” didn’t work too well for me): 4266 W. Vine Street, Kissimmee, FL 34741 -or- 2491 Babb Road, Kissimmee, FL 34746
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, step away from the pavement and go make some photos