I first noticed the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa, Florida in April of 2012. We left from there on a cruise and the aquarium is right across from the terminal where we boarded. We didn’t have time to visit then, but I finally went back to see it last week.
Flying Starfish (not really – it was climbing on the aquarium glass); 27mm, f/2.8 @ 1/40s, ISO 3200
The Florida Aquarium has more than 20,000 plant and animal species on display and you’ll find many of the typical photo ops there. Major exhibits are “Journey to Madagascar”, “Wetlands Trail”, “Penguin Point”, “Bays and Beaches”, “Coral Reef”, and “Ocean Commotion”. The Coral Reef tank is big (~500,000 gallons), and has plenty of larger fish living there (sharks, rays and turtles, etc.). You’ll also find land animals such as birds, snakes, lizards and lemurs in the different exhibits.
Info for Photographers
As with any similar indoor attraction, the light is dim. You’ll need a camera with good high ISO capabilities, and the larger your lens aperture, the better. Image stabilization will help a little, but maybe not as much as you’d think, because your subjects will often be moving. You might also want to bring a polarizer to cut down on reflections in the glass although that’ll make the scenes even darker. I didn’t use a polarizer – I just tried to keep my camera lens as close to the glass as I could to block reflections. I’ve added exposure info to the captions in these photos so you can see what my settings were.
Toadfish; 38mm, f/3.2 @ 1/17s, ISO 1600
Tripod/Monopod: I carried a small one with me, but didn’t use it. Subject motion and other people in the venue made a tripod less useful.
Lenses: My 27 – 85mm equivalent lens covered most of the opportunities. I shot wide open (f/2.8 – f/4), with image stabilization turned on, and ISO sensitivities between 800 – 3200.
Best time to visit: We got there just after it opened (~9:30) on a weekday. The crowds were pretty light. This is a good place to visit in the summer, since it’s air-conditioned!
The aquarium offers many kid oriented activities. And they’ll also take you on a Wild Dolphin Cruise on Tampa Bay where you can see these animals and others in a non-captive environment. Certified SCUBA divers can Dive With the Sharks in the aquarium, and behind the scene tours are also offered.
Chameleon; 54mm, f/3.6 @ 1/45s, ISO 1000
The Florida Aquarium is a good family outing and offers many photo opportunities too.
I saw an interesting article in the New Your Times this week confirming what I feel: Spending time out in nature can improve your mind. It’s called “Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk in the Park” and references a study published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine. (I hope you can read the NYT article – I’m not sure how their pay wall works.) The study measured volunteer’s brain waves as they walked along a path through three parts of a city. Then they looked at the recorded patterns for signs of frustration, agitation, attention / engagement, and calmness. The portion of the path through a park engaged the people’s attention while at the same time increasing their calmness. The urban portions of the walk increased their frustration. The moral of the story (at least for me): Spend more time with nature, and wildlife.
I increased my engagement with nature and my calmness this week by visiting the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
I stopped first at Kars Park. I hadn’t been there before and wanted to scout it as a sunrise spot. I also hoped I could see / photograph the cruise ships at Port Canaveral from there. They should make a good subject when they’re lit up in the dark. I arrived before dawn and found a pier, but didn’t really like the results and moved on. I’ll have to try again some time.
On the way to MINWR I noticed clouds developing on the horizon. They were pretty enough to make me pull over for this photo:
Pretty clouds – My sunrise photos didn’t come out so well, but the light was interesting a little later in the morning.
Turning in to Gator Creek Road, I spotted an Osprey in a dead tree. I crept up slowly, stayed in my car, and tried not to disturb it. It gave me a few hard looks but kept eating and was still there when I left.
No sushi for you – An Osprey with breakfast along Gator creek Road. It watched me as I drove slowly by and didn’t seem to want to share.
A little further on, I ran into this pair, also enjoying breakfast:
No sushi for you! (2) – A pair of eagles. They didn’t look like they wanted to share their meal either. I enjoyed watching them for a while and when they finished eating they flew away together – so I’m pretty sure they’re a couple. I’d like to go back to the area to see if I can get a better photo.
After Gator Creek, I took a turn around Black Point Wildlife Drive. It was pretty quiet but I did see a few of the regular birds (Great Blue and Tri-colored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Black Skimmers, Gulls, Mottled Ducks, Terns, Scaups, etc.).
My last stop was the Bairs Cove boat ramp. I wanted to check out a new kayak launch area just across Haulover Canal from there. On the way in to Bairs Cove I noticed an isolated tree on the left and made a quick photo. As I drove around the boat ramp parking area I kept thinking about the scene. Something was very appealing and I didn’t want to get home without a good image of it, so on the way out I stopped again and made this more careful photo. It’s two IR, HDR images arranged so I could stitch a vertical panorama to get this square format result.
This is a truly great time of year to visit the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve gone over for the last two weekends. As I mentioned in my previous post, I took Lynn, Mary, and Monette there last Sunday – we had a great time and spotted lots of birds. I told Kevin M. about it and he insisted we go back yesterday with Kevin K.
Why is it so good over there now? I’m glad you asked! The number and types of birds in and around Black Point Wildlife Drive are probably the greatest I’ve ever seen. There are both regular species and winter visitors. Ducks are there in huge numbers, both in the water and flying overhead in vast formations close enough that the sound of their beating wings is quite loud. The larger wading and shorebirds are also there in force. On both days, there were feeding frenzies going on in ponds along BPWD. The water is full of minnows and the birds are feasting on them.
Black Point Wildlife Drive Feeding Frenzy Video
By the way, this situation is an ideal set up to practice your BIF (birds in flight) photography. Here’s a photo I made at this same pond, showing an egret with one of the minnows.
Snowy Egret with minnow
And here’s a close-up of the minnows in the water. No wonder the birds are going crazy!
The reason for the festive gathering (photo by Kevin McKinney)
On these two days, we saw close to 40 different types of wildlife. And I’m sure there were others I either didn’t see, didn’t recognize or forgot. Here’s a partial list:
Alligator, Cows, Deer, Manatee
Ducks: American Wigeon, Blue Wing Teals, Hooded Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler
Egrets: Cattle, Great, Reddish, and Snowy
Herons: Great Blue, Green, Little blue, and Tri-color
Ibis: Glossy, and White
Pie billed grebe
Red Bellied woodpecker
Ring billed Gull
Yellow Rumped Warbler
Cruising White Pelican – a winter migrant to our area
So two wonderful visits, although we did have some disappointments. We looked for Florida Scrub Jays and didn’t see them in the normal spot. And the sunrise photos on both days were a challenge. Here’s what it looked like yesterday:
Although it was very tempting to sleep in this morning, I was up early and made it over to Viera Wetlands in time to witness another one of nature’s shows. The clouds cooperated and did their part, the sun and calm water pitched in, a couple of coots made just the right ripples, and all I had to do was snap the shutter.
Sunrise at Viera Wetlands
Once the sun was up, we parked the cars and walked for a while, thinking that the slow deliberate approach would yield better photos than the quick drive method. It didn’t – we failed to find much of interest on foot. The light wasn’t very good either – due to the clouds that made the sunrise so nice. We ended up getting back in the cars and using them to find things of interest. And after a while, the clouds cleared and we had better light for bird photography.
Last week we saw several Snipes, but couldn’t get good photos since they took off and flew fast and erratic as soon as we got close. This week our luck was better (or this bird was a bit tired). He stayed still for us to make his portrait.
Wilson’s (Common) Snipe
We saw the usual Heron and Egret suspects, along with Anhingas, Hawks, Black Crowned Night Herons, American Bitterns, Savannah Sparrows, Northern Shovelers, and Sandhill Cranes. I was able to photograph two new (for me) species – Ring Neck Ducks, and Lesser Scaups.
We also took a turn ’round the click ponds and there was a great deal of activity there. This Cormorant surprised me when he came up with his breakfast.
Cormorant with fish
We had a great time. Clicking on these photos will open them on Flickr, where you can view larger versions. You can also visit my Viera Wetlands set on Flickr to see other photos I’ve made there.
I hope that all of you and your families and friends are having a joyful and happy holiday season!
The weather has been pretty gloomy here this weekend, so I didn’t get a chance to go out and make any new photos. I thought it would be a good time to jump the gun and put together my second annual “Favorite photos of the year” post.
One again, I’ve gone through the photos I made in the last 12 months. I use Lightroom to rate them from 0 through 5 stars. My rating system definitions are:
1 star – The photo is interesting
2 stars – The photo is worth showing to others
3 stars – The photo is the best of (or one of the best of ) any given photo shoot
4 stars – My favorite photo of a year
5 stars – My favorite photo (ever)
Photos without stars are seconds or not so good versions of other photos. I usually keep them, but they probably won’t get any more attention. I’ve used this system consistently, and it seems to work for me. Of course, this is all subjective and my opinion only. Feel free to disagree, but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve chosen.
Again in 2010, I was really blessed with a huge number of photo opportunities. On my hard drive in my 2010 folder, I have about 11,700 files (not all are photos), taking up 145GB of space. Of these:
5997 of the 2010 images have been cataloged in Lightroom. Many of the rest are source images for multi-shot panoramas or HDRs, or high rate bursts that I selected from.
1139 are rated 1 star or higher
639 are 2 star or higher
88 are 3 star or higher
1 is 4 star, and
None are 5 star (I’m still not done taking photos yet!)
Of the 88 that are 3 star or higher, I’ve selected 10 images to include in a gallery of my favorite 2010 photos. You can click on each of these to go to Flickr, where you can see a larger version. One interesting difference from my 2009 Favorite Photos post is that all the ones this year were made in the Central Florida area.
So, here we go…
My #10 favorite 2010 photo is: Waving Gator. Gators always smile at you, but this one was even waving! No, I didn’t Photoshop the wave. The gator really did it all by itself. I have witnesses.
My #9 favorite 2010 photo is: Roadside Flowers. Wildflower photography is a little different in Central Florida than some other areas of the country. Some might say it’s more challenging here, and I doubt anyone comes to Central Florida specifically to photograph wildflowers. None the less, wildflower photo ops are around here too if you keep your eyes open. These are along the Florida Turnpike. I saw them while driving home from Gainesville, Florida and just had to stop and photograph them.
My #8 favorite 2010 photo is: Cattle Egret in Flight. For once, I was ready when this bird flew close by. Right lens, correct camera settings, and paying attention. I could almost feel my camera nail the shot. I wish I felt like that more often.
My #7 favorite 2010 photo is: One Second Koi or “One second, Koi” or “One second Koi?” I don’t usually make this sort of photo. On this occasion, I decided to experiment and I was very pleased with how it turned out.
My #6 favorite 2010 photo is: Sunrise, fog, palms, pond. This scene is close to the north-west shore of Lake Jessup. On this particular morning, the mist in the distance and the clouds on the horizon shaping the sunlight drew my attention.
My #5 favorite 2010 photo is: Burning waters @ Orlando Wetlands. We were at Orlando Wetlands Park back in late September before dawn. It was raining very softly, but not enough to discourage us from hiking out to Lake Searcy and capturing this scene. I like the light hitting the flowers on the left, the rain cloud in the distance, and the dawn colors in the sky.
My #4 favorite 2010 photo is: Grasshopper and Donuts perform photo-magic on the beach under the stars for an audience of three.
We have a local camera club and three of us decided to go over to the beach to try to photograph the Perseid meteor shower. My two friends went out on the beach while I stayed up on the boardwalk. At one point I looked down and could barely make out this scene in the dark. I like the way the camera’s LCD is lit up and draws the viewer’s eye to the two photographers. I also like how the three strangers (who were watching for meteors) look like they’re watching my friends.
I was using ISO 1600 and my “nifty 50” 50mm lens at f/1.8 to keep exposures as short as possible (I was trying to prevent the stars from trailing), and I had focused manually at infinity. All I had to do was switch on live-view, re-compose, and zoom in on my friend’s white shirt to manually re-focus. Fortunately no one moved very much during the 4 second exposure. It’s really amazing how modern cameras can capture scenes that are barely visible to our eyes! And yes, we did get a few meteor photos. (Grasshopper and Donuts are nicknames for the two photographers in the scene).
My #3 favorite 2010 photo is: Cyprus tree and knees. I wanted to try the Nikon D7000 on some landscape photos, but didn’t really have time to go anywhere special. This tree is very close to my home – along the shore of Lake Jessup in Central Winds Park. Cypress trees make very good photo subjects since they can provide both near and middle distance content for a scene.
My #2 favorite 2010 photo is: Cormorant at the Circle Bar B. These birds have been posing for me lately. I think it’s amazing how pretty they look in the right light.
And … my #1 favorite photo of the year 2010 is: Ponce Inlet light, sunset, bird. Imagine if you will, a perfect dusk scene with sunset colors drifting up from beyond the horizon. In the distance is a photogenic lighthouse that’s illuminated just enough to make it stand out against the bright sky. Beneath your feet, slow-moving Atlantic Ocean surf rolls up on rocks. You spot a bird in the surf and hope it will be still while your shutter remains open for the seconds necessary to record the image as your mind’s eye sees it – tack sharp from foreground rocks all the way to the distant lighthouse, with silky smooth water reflecting the dusk sky. Imagine coming home and seeing the image that you imagined right there on your computer screen in all it’s glory. That’s what happened to me last August.
I’ve uploaded these photos to this Flickr set, and you can click this link to watch a slide show. When you watch the show, you might want to click the “show info” link.
Lynn and I spent a couple of nights at the Gaylord Palms Resort last weekend. This very nice hotel is located in the Kissimmee area, near the Disney parks. It has several great restaurants and a huge atrium divided into four sections modeled after different areas of Florida. There are also two outdoor swimming pools, one for kids and one that’s adults only. It made for a nice weekend and also provided quite a bit of photographic interest.
One of my favorite photos from the trip. It’s called “One second Koi” or “One second, Koi”, or “One second Koi?”
Info for Photographers
You’ll find photo opportunities just about everywhere you point your camera – so make sure you do bring one!
A small waterfall in the Everglades portion of the Atrium, just outside of the Old Hickory Steakhouse
Photo hints: Light can be a bit on the low side, so be prepared: Higher ISOs, wide apertures, image stabilization and camera supports will all help. I used some pretty slow shutter speeds. If you look at any of these images on Flickr (just click on the photos) and then click on the “More properties” link, you can see the exposures I used for each and use that as a guide for the conditions you can expect.
Tripod/Monopod: Would come in handy, and shouldn’t be a problem. I didn’t see anyone with a tripod, although I didn’t see any signs saying they weren’t allowed. In most areas there should be room for one – just be courteous and don’t block the pathways. I didn’t bring my tripod and ended up sometimes bracing my camera on various objects.
Lenses: The wider the aperture the more flexibility you’ll have, and image stabilization will be a plus. You might especially enjoy using a wide angle zoom and a macro.
Best time to visit: Anytime.
Other: Check Priceline.com for potentially lower room rates. Be prepared to pay for parking. And bring plenty of money for the restaurants.
Interior of the resort’s version of Castillo de San Marco