Waiting to launch – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket sits on the pad at Launch Complex 37B before dawn at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
I got up very early on Friday morning and arrived on Merritt Island in time for the Delta IV Heavy rocket launch scheduled for 6:15am. I figured it might be very picturesque, since sunrise was scheduled for 6:30. Unfortunately, the sunrise happened on time, but the launch didn’t.
If you’re not a Florida resident, you may not be aware of how hard it is to actually see a launch unless you live very close to or are staying at the Cape. I live about an hour away, and going over is an investment of time and effort. The problem is that launches very rarely happen when they’re first scheduled. At least when I try to see them. There always seems to be a technical problem, hold, or reschedule. Maybe I’m a jinx?
Anyway, this one finally did go at about 9:15 – although it wasn’t as photogenic as I hoped.
Delta IV Heavy Launch – From Peacocks Pocket Road in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This is not the kind of bird I normally photograph at Merritt Island.
The delay gave me an excuse to drive around the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge while I waited. It’s the time of year when there’s not much happening there. But I did see some of the usual birds including Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Reddish Egrets, Red-winged Blackbirds, Turkey and Black Vultures, Killdeer, and others. I also saw a group of Black Skimmers, a Loggerhead Shrike, a few Terns and gulls, and some smaller shorebirds.
Great Blue Heron – I know, I know: these birds are common around here, but they’re pretty and it’s hard to resist making a photo when they pose in good light.
I also (of course!) took advantage of the opportunity to make a few landscaped photos.
Sunrise crossing – from the Bennett Causeway in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The rising sun’s reflection and a boat wake created the cross pattern in the water near the cruise ship dock.
I had a good time. You will too, as long as you keep your expectations in check and work the other photo-ops if the launch is late.
The activity at Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Orlando Wetlands Park, and Viera Wetlands is slowing down now from the peak nesting and breeding season. Most of the young ones are hatched, grown, and fledged, although you can still find some amazing sights such as a White Eyed Vireo nest next to the boardwalk at the MINWR visitors center.
At BPWD the water is quite low. We found some concentrations of birds in a few of the areas that did have water including Redish Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, etc. There are also some juvenile Green Herons in the bushes by the rest rooms. But the ducks seem to be mostly gone – even the moorhens and coots. And we haven’t seen any Kingfishers lately either. We did see an Eastern Kingbird on BPWD, and a Northern Parula and Grey Catbird at the visitor center.
Wading Roseate Spoonbill – feeding at BPWD
Orlando Wetlands is quiet too – both people and birds. I was the only visitor when I went by last Thursday morning. I saw a solitary Swallow-tail Kite fly by briefly (too fast to get a photo). And there were plenty of Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, some hawks, limpkins, herons and egrets – but again the most of the ducks seem have gone elsewhere.
Mom and kid Limpkin on a sunrise stroll
At Viera Wetlands we saw a few of the usual birds and there are still some GBH juveniles on nests. Terns and Ospreys were putting on a fishing demonstration. It’s fun to watch this behavior and it’s a good situation for Birds in Flight practice.
Blue Heron Portrait
And even if the birding is slowing down, you can always find some landscape photo ops around the area.
Drippy: I was scouting for new sunrise locations and got to the Cocoa Beach pier a bit late. I decided to make a photo anyway… Next time I’ll be there before dawn.
If you click on any of the photos, they’ll open in Flickr, where you can see larger versions. You can also see some of my previous photos from:
I had a rare mid-week day off last Wednesday and decided to spend the morning making photographs.
First up was a site I’ve driven by many times and always said “That looks like a great place for a photo”. It’s the boat ramp off of Highway 50 where it crosses the St. Johns river. I was there before dawn and had a good time watching the sun come up and the clouds evolve. And yes, it is a good place for a photo.
Dawn on the St. Johns River at the Highway 50 boat ramp
Next, I drove over to Viera Wetlands. I haven’t been there recently and wanted to see what’s going on.
Palms, clouds, and marsh at Viera Wetlands
There are a lot of the usual birds around: Herons, Egrets, Ibis, Anhingas, Coots, Grebes, Limpkins, Ospreys, Cormorants, a Caracarra, a Hawk, Gulls, etc. I also saw a lot of winter visitors there, including Kingfishers, Mergansers, Caspian Terns, Tree Swallows, and Northern Shovelers. By the way, another good place to find out what’s going on is the Viera Wetlands group on Flickr. I usually check it before I go so I’ll know what to watch for when I get there. Other folks are seeing Northern Harriers, Loggerhead Shrikes, Horned Grebes, American Kestrels, and many more.
Caracara with prey
The Great Blue Herons are all busy courting and building nests. This is a wonderful time to get some action shots, especially of these birds in flight. If you watch one of the couples for a while, you’ll likely see the male leave repeatedly to gather nesting material. They tend to leave and return from the same direction and this gives you a big advantage when setting up to take flight photos.
Great Blue Heron pair
You can see other photos I’ve made at Viera Wetlands in this set on Flickr. If you get some spare time over the holiday break, this would a good place to spend it.
I enjoy both nature/landscape photography and wildlife photography. I was thinking about this recently and it occurred to me that these can be quite different from an equipment, skills, and approach perspective.
Landscape: Lake Jesup flood waters after Tropical Storm Fay
Birding: Great Blue Heron profile
Here are some of the things I think are different about the two:
Birding / Wildlife
The quality of light is important (e.g. “Golden hour”). The amount of light isn’t too important: You can make long exposures from your tripod.
The amount of light is important. You need lots of light to get your shutter speed up.
You need to know the location, and figure out sun timing and position. May still be hit or miss depending on the weather.
You need to know about the animal and its habits, and where you might find them. May still be hit or miss depending on the animals (and maybe the weather).
1. Composition, 2. Exposure, 3. Focus
1. Focus, 2. Exposure, 3. Composition
Probably better by yourself: Your location, your vision.
Can be better in groups. Many eyes can help spot things one person will miss.
Good tripod with good ball head. Wide angle lens, small aperture for greater depth of field, long exposure. Frame rate not too important.
Very long lens, large aperture for a fast shutter speed. High frame rate body. Maybe a tripod with a gimbal head.
Not as expensive
Can be very expensive
Have I missed anything? What else is different about these two types of photography?
Our local photography club organized an expedition to Viera Wetlands yesterday. It was one of our larger outings, with 8 people from the group there, including one new member. We arrived just after sunrise and spent a little over 2 hours exploring the main site, and also took a quick tour of the click ponds.
Great Blue Heron: These birds aren’t nesting yet, but they do seem to be reserving their spots.
Wow – what a day for avian variety and nature lovers! The weather was quite nice too – sunny with temperatures in the 50s. There isn’t much nesting going on yet, but we did see an amazing number of both year-round and winter visitor species. Several of these birds are difficult to spot and / or photograph well and it helps to make multiple circuits of the wetlands. It also really helps to have multiple sets of eyes watching for and pointing out interesting things. About the only thing we struck out on was the River Otters, but we did hear others talking about them – so they were around somewhere.
Belted Kingfisher: There were several of these at Viera Wetlands yesterday. They generally stayed out in the middle of the cells and so were hard to photograph.
Lynn and I went out to Viera Wetlands this morning to survey the wildlife that’s around and so I could get a little more field testing in on the Nikon D7000. Once again, this great birding spot didn’t disappoint us and although the activity and number of birds were down a bit from their peak during the nesting season, we found plenty to see and photograph.
I’m shooting the D7000 in RAW & fine jpg mode, but using only using the jpg files until later when RAW is supported by ACR and Nikon CaptureNX2. So far, it’s definitely living up to my expectations. The combination of more pixels and improved sensitivity is a great for bird photography. Here’s one shot I did early in the morning, before the almost full moon set:
Great Egret, Ibis, and Moon, Nikon D7000, ISO 100
On this photo, I cheated a bit. The depth of field on the Sigma 150 – 500 @ 500mm and f/7.1 is too shallow to hold the moon in focus along with the tree and birds. So I made a second exposure focused on the moon and masked it in using Photoshop.
I set up the camera in auto-ISO mode and let it respond to the varying lighting conditions so that I could see how it performed over a range of ISO sensitivities. At ISOs up to 1000, there is very little noise. I need to do some comparisons with RAW files, but so far, it looks to me like the ISO performance of the D7000 is at least a 1/2 stop better than the D90. Here is one example from today at ISO 900:
A pair of Limpkins share a snail snack, Nikon D7000, ISO 900 (Try repeating that caption 3 times fast!)
Here is another, un-cropped photo of a Great Blue Heron:
Great Blue Heron keeps watch, ISO 280
One of the comments on these photos today on Flickr was “You’re lucky to be in an area with amazing wildlife.” I couldn’t agree more. And that’s just one of the many ways that I am so very lucky.
You can click on the photos above to view them on Flickr. I’ve also uploaded several more in this D7000 set on Flickr (sorry, no longer available). Many of them are in high-resolution so that you can better judge the image / camera quality. You can also view more photos I’ve made at Viera Wetlands here in this set.
Lynn and I have been visiting Casey Key on the Gulf coast of Florida for many years and last weekend Mary joined us for another very pleasant stay over Labor Day.
Casey Key is a barrier island created by the intracoastal waterway and is south of Sarasota and just north of Venice. It lies partially in the city of Nokomis, Florida and is an easy drive that’s about 2 hours from Orlando via I-4 and I-75.
It’s a very wealthy community with very little commercial development and consists mostly of high end homes. There are a few small beach hotels near the southern end. We stayed at the Gulf Sands Beach Resort, which is an older place located right on the beach.
Info for Photographers
Casey Key is very scenic and would be a good place to hold a workshop on sunset photography. The three nights we were there, they ranged from very nice to spectacular. Here is one photo I made with some fairly prominent sun dogs visible.
Photo hints: We don’t normally go to the Gulf coast for surfing since the water is usually calm and clear. In the past I’ve seen it as clear as a swimming pool, so it’s often a wonderful place for snorkeling. Anticipating this, I brought my Canon G9 and underwater housing. But I didn’t get to use them much this time because the waves were pretty high (for the Gulf) and the water was murky. I think it’s still stirred up from recent tropical storms passing through.
Casey Key itself has the best view to the west so get ready for some very nice sunset photos. The scenery to the east consists mostly of housing. You may get some color in the morning clouds to the west if you watch for it. You might also want to try a sunrise photo from the jetty area.
For sunsets, set up early and stay late since the color often changes after the sun goes down. This is easy to do if you have a place right on the beach. You may also want to go back out later for some night shots. The night sky to the west will be fairly dark and allow you to get some stars in your exposure. Vary your foreground, the height of your camera, and your lens field of view to create some different looks.
You’ll also see a variety of birds. We saw pelicans, gulls, Great Blue Herons, and several other species during our visit.
Bird watching me – a seagull at Casey Key
Tripod/Monopod: You can get by without a tripod, but having one will give you much more flexibility. I tried some High Dynamic Range photography and was glad I had my tripod.
Lenses: You’ll appreciate a wide angle lens for sunset and landscape photos. My most used lens was the 16-35mm wide angle. You might also want to bring a longer lens too for the birds on the beach and nearby.
Best time to visit: Anytime (when the tropical outlook is calm).
If you like to fish, you can do so from the beach and also from the north jetty which is a very short drive to the south end of the key. I once caught a very nice snook from this jetty, but had to let it go because the season ended the day before.
Three Fishermen: A Great Blue Heron stalks two humans, waiting for a handout.
There are many shells on the beach at Casey Key, so walking can be a bit rough for a city tenderfoot. You might want to bring something to walk in. And you definitely should walk the beach. You’ll find many pretty shells as well as sharks teeth there.
Here are some other things that are close to Casey Key. If you can stay a bit longer, you might want to check them out:
Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, Florida is a private resort with beautiful clear water. Take your snorkel and underwater camera.
The Venice Rookery is a few miles south. This is a small island in a small pond and hosts many species during nesting season. If you’re there in the spring, be sure to stop by.
The Myakka River State Park has an unusual Canopy Walkway that would be worth seeing.
Oscar Scherer State Park is also very close by.
We’ve also been to the Mote Marine Lab for an interesting visit. One morning we also saw one of their researchers monitoring the sea turtle nests on the beach at Casey Key.
Please visit my set on Flickr to see more photos from Casey Key as well as larger versions of the ones above.
OK, so maybe you don’t look at the top of my blog very often, where it says “Central Florida Photo Ops – What & Where they are, and tips on how to photograph them”. That’s the main purpose here – to let others know about all the great places to make photographs in the Central Florida area. So I feel like I owe an apology to all my loyal readers and the wildlife / nature / bird photographers that have visited my blog in the past without finding any mention of the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera, also known as Viera Wetlands. I’m sorry and I’ll try to do better – but I do have a day job! And there are so many fabulous places to photograph around here!
Note: you can click on any of these photos to go to my Flickr photo stream and view a larger version (click on the magnifying glass icon at the top). There’s also links at the end of this entry to the my entire set, my slide show version of the photos, and some links to other photos of Viera Wetlands.
Our Phototgraphy Interest Group traveled to Viera Wetlands yesterday. Located at the west end of Wickham Road, in Melbourne, Florida (behind the water treatment plant), the Viera Wetlands offers birders and photographers a close encounter with many species from the comfort of their automobiles. Since cars are such a good blind to photograph from, you can often get quite close to the wildlife without disturbing them. I’ve only been there one time (so far!), but if my visit with the Photography Interest Group yesterday was any indication, this is a very nice place to watch and photograph birds. I should have checked it out ages ago.
Un-cropped photo of Great Blue Heron. I did get out of the car for this one!
Info for Photographers
Photo hints: You can get photos of many of the species right from your car. The dirt roads are fairly narrow – so if you do exit your vehicle to get a “down low” perspective, or whenever you stop to get a shot – be courteous and make sure you pull over as far as possible to one side.
The roads are one way. The perimeter road runs counter clockwise and so most of the photo ops will be on the driver’s side, although the roads through the center of the Wetlands do have some scenery and birds out of the passenger side.
Tripod/Monopod : Definitely allowed – you can bring all the gear that will fit in your car. You may also want to bring a bean bag so you can rest your camera on your car’s window sill.
Lenses: Some of the birds get quite close to the side of the road. I probably don’t have to tell you that for birds, longer lenses are better. But you can get by with a not so long lens here. I used my 70 – 300 on my D90 (1.5 crop factor = 450mm equivalent). I also got some good frames with my 70 – 200 on the full frame D700.
Best time to visit : Now is a great time. There’s lots of activity and the weather is what Florida is famous for. Many of the birds are getting their breeding plumage. In general, early February through June (nesting season) should continue to be a good time to go. Go early in the day when the light is good and the animals are active.
Breeding colors are starting to show in this Glossy Ibis.
Other : Normal hours are Monday through Sunday, Sunrise to Sunset. The dirt roads through the wetlands are sometimes closed due to heavy rains. If this is the case, you can still walk in. You can also call ahead to make sure the roads are open (see below).
The photos I’ve posted here are just a few of the ones we made on Saturday, and this was just some of what there is to see. This is a place worth going to multiple times. Check out the links below for more images of different species. You could also visit the Photography Interest Group on Flickr to see the photos that the others made yesterday.
Also, there’s a group on Flickr that appears to be pretty active and has many photos and discussions about Viera Wetlands. If you’re interested, you may want to visit there to learn more and even join. Here’s the link: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1224030@N24/
Note: you can click on any of these photos to go to my Flickr photo stream and view a larger version (click on the magnifying glass icon at the top). There’s also links at the end of this entry to the entire set and a slide show version of the photos.
In a “ToDo” post last year, I promised to visit and report on Gatorland and to compare it to the St. Augustine Alligator farm for you. I was finally able to go and this post is the basic review. I’ll follow-up with a comparison to the Alligator Farm shortly. Gatorland is a vintage, Florida, roadside attraction (started in 1949) and has grown into a 110-acre, photographer friendly theme park featuring some great shows with many kinds of animals on display. Although there are a lot of things to do in the park, the two that may attract nature and wildlife photographers more than others are:
The Bird Rookery: Created in 1991 as a natural breeding area for the gators, the 10 acre Breeding Marsh has over 100 adult alligators and is a completely natural environment. It attracts wild birds,which tend to nest above the alligators, since they provide protection against some of the bird predators such as raccoons and snakes.
The bird rookery and breeding marsh
The Swamp Walk: This is located at the southern end of the park and is a self guided tour on a raised wooden walkway through a Cypress Swamp and affords visitors a rare look back into what much of Central Florida looked like before development.
There is also quite a bit for the non-photo family members to do, including shows, a small water park, a petting zoo, and displays of other captive animals.
The gator jumparoo show
Photo hints: Gatorland reinstated its photo pass in 2012. It allows entry at 7:30 and lets you stay inside until dusk. Quite an advantage for bird photography.
Tripod/Monopod : Gatorland is a photographer friendly place. You can bring all of your equipment, including a tripod or monopod and there is ample room to use them as long as you are courteous.
Lenses: Of course, long lenses are a must for most bird photography and they will certainly help you at Gatorland. But since many of the birds are so used to people you can get very close to some of them, so very good shots with not so long lenses are possible.
Wood Stork and Alligator bokeh
Best time to visit : Early February through June (nesting season) where the weather is also not as hot.
Other : Normal hours are 10:00am – 5:00pm. Be sure to ask about Senior Citizen and Florida Resident discounts.
Families will find lots to interest them at Gatorland. It’s a good value in today’s overpriced theme park environment. And photographers will enjoy visiting this park multiple times.
First, I want to wish all readers of this humble photo blog a very
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Second, this year your devoted author has decided to join the growing tradition where photo blogs post a collection of their favorite photos from the year.
To accomplish this, I’ve gone through the photos I made in 2009 and used Lightroom to rate them from 0 through 5 stars. The rating system I’ve adopted is as follows:
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 ) a given 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’ll keep them, but they probably won’t get any more attention. Since adopting this rating system, I’ve tried to use it consistently. Before this I would rate images, but the meaning of the ratings would vary. As far as what they mean now, it’s all subjective and my opinion only. Feel free to disagree, but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve chosen.
I was really blessed in 2009 with a huge number of photo opportunities. On my hard drive in my 2009 folder, I have about 16,000 images, taking up 164GB of space (I shoot mostly in RAW). Of these:
3804 of the images have been cataloged in Lightroom. Many of the remainder are source images for multi-shot panoramas or HDRs, or high rate bursts that I selected from.
1084 are rated 1 star or higher
692 are 2 star or higher
75 are 3 star or higher
1 is 4 star, and
None are 5 star (I’m not done taking photos yet!)
Of the 692 that are 2 star or higher, I’ve selected 44 (mostly 3 star) images to include in a gallery of my favorite 2009 photos. You’ve seen many of these photos in this blog, already. But where it made sense, I re-processed them to try and improve them. Here are the top ten. You can click on each of these to go to Flickr, where you can see a larger version.
My #10 favorite photo is: Great Blue Heron in flight. This heron didn’t like me aiming my camera at it. It’s making a lot of noise as it leaves the area. I was able to pan with its motion to get a sharp shot.
My #9 favorite photo is: Ketchikan harbor. The trawler Isis, a house in the background, and the parked float plane are very representative of Alaska.
My #7 favorite photo is: Glacier Bay Sunrise, A dawn panorama heading in to Glacier Bay National Park.
My #6 favorite photo is: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in flight. We saw this unusual and photogenic duck at Orlando Wetlands Park.
My #5 favorite photo is: Lake Lily Park tree and bird at dawn. Sometimes you go out specifically to photograph. Other times you go out just carrying your camera. It’s exciting to me when I find a photo like this one while I’m just out carrying my camera. The light on this Cyprus tree caught my eye as we walked around the Lily Lake one Saturday morning looking at their flea market. The bird in the middle distance was a bonus.
My #4 favorite photo is: Black Point Wildlife Drive: Wide angle, winter dawn. On this particular morning, it was hard coming up with any good photo inspiration for the sunrise. There were no clouds, not much color in the sky, not a lot of interesting landscape detail, no cooperating wildlife, the wind was blowing pretty hard, etc. This palm tree had an interesting vine growing in it that was pointing back toward the road, so I made it the subject of the picture and violated all the composition rules by putting it way off too one side. To me, the road leading past the tree could represent the last part of the long journey of exploration and learning that led to being able to make this photo in this place at this time. The road is empty because each person’s journey is unique. Oh, and BPWD just happens to be a one way road – toward the photographer. The somewhat surreal colors come from a program called “Photomatix” that will “tone map” multiple, bracketed exposures. Anyway, I liked it too.
My #3 favorite photo is: Gorilla watching people, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Disney’s Wild Kingdom.
My #2 favorite photo is: Breaching humpback, off shore from Juneau, Alaska. In the full res version, the two white dots in tree to the upper left behind the whale are bald eagles.
And … my #1 favorite photo of the year is: Ship, water, glacier, rock. A multiple shot panorama showing Johns Hopkins Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park from the cruise ship MS Westerdam. The full res version of this photo is 7747 x 4716 pixels = 36.5 megapixels.
I’ve posted a gallery of all 44 images on my website at www.edrosack.com/BO09. I’ve also uploaded them to this Flickr set, and you can click this link to watch a slide show at Flickr. When you watch the show, you might want to click the “show info” link.