If you’ve meant to go to Gatorland in Orlando, Florida to see the wild birds that nest in the rookery there, you’ve just about missed your chance for this year.
I went by last Saturday with Mahesh S. and Greg N. to see what was going on (and to renew my annual photographer’s pass). There were still one or two Great Egret nests with chicks, but the other young birds have hatched, grown, fledged, and moved out. Nesting activity will start-up again in mid to late February next year. After this weekend, you’ll also have to visit during regular hours since the early entry program ends on June 15th. In the mean time, Gatorland’s still a great place to get close access to a number of Florida bird species.
Great Egret ABOAS*
And of course, it’s always a great place to see Alligators.
Like an iceberg – There’s more under the surface than you can normally see from above.
And there are occasionally some nice avian visitors too.
The annual photographer pass program at Gatorland in Kissimmee, Florida started again on Friday, and Keith H. and I were the first ones there. We saw Great Egrets, a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Black-crowned Night-Herron, Wood Storks, Anhingas, Boat-tailed Grackles, and a few other species.
Female Boat-tailed Grackle – a common bird in uncommon light
Great Egret and reflection – all dressed up in formal wear for the start of breeding season
Black-crowned Night-Heron – a nice bonus, since I don’t see these very often
And of course you can also see Alligators in the park. They’re starting to breed too – we heard quite a few bellows.
Very still gator and tree reflection
With the photographer pass you can get into the park at 7:30am Thursday – Sunday and stay until dusk on Saturday. This lets you photograph the nesting birds with nicer light and no tourists. It greatly improves your chances of getting good photos of the birds and their breeding behavior in the rookery. These are wild birds that choose to nest in the area because of the protection offered by alligators from other predators such as snakes and raccoons. They’re acclimated to people so you can get quite close to many of them. The Great Egrets are already courting and building nests – they seem to be the earliest breeders. The Wood Storks are getting started too. Later in the year you’ll also see Snowy and Cattle Egrets, cormorants, and if you’re lucky maybe some other species breeding.
Gatorland is a great place to visit at this time of year. If you’re in town for a short while, you can also buy a one day photo pass to get in early. Check it out! Click on the photos above to go to Flickr where you can see larger versions. You can also see more photos from Gatorland in this set on Flickr. And you can read my previous posts about Gatorland at this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Ansel Adams said that the “negative is the score, and the print is the performance”. In modern terms, the RAW file is the negative and the processed jpg / print is the performance. Ansel was famous for re-printing his photos to try to get the best possible image from his negatives. Some of his later prints are thought to be better than earlier ones as he experimented and gained knowledge about how to “perform” the print.
All photographers should take this to heart and not be satisfied with previous processed versions of their photos. I like to look through my Lightroom catalog sometimes for images that may merit some re-work.
This morning I reprocessed a photo that I made last October at Viera Wetlands. Below is a series of images that show you a progression from the original images to the final result. Look in the captions for details on what I did, and scroll to the bottom of the post to see the most recent version. You can also click on these to see larger versions.
This is the first image I made (RAW, unprocessed). It’s focused on the tree and the two birds are also in sharp focus. Because of depth of field, the moon is out of focus. The color balance could be better.
This is the second image I made to solve the problem with the moon focus.
Step 3: And this was the processed version I posted to Flickr last October. I masked in the in-focus moon, did some sharpening and noise reduction, but didn’t spend too much time on it. It’s since gotten a lot of views, but re-looking at it now, I’m not happy with several things in the photo (e.g. color balance, noise reduction, masking) and this morning I decided to go back and reprocess it from the original RAW files.
And this is the new version that I posted to Flickr this morning. In Photoshop, I was much more careful masking in the in-focus moon. I then created a meticulous selection of the blue sky so I could use it in the follow on steps. Then I applied noise reduction just to the blue sky and sharpening just to the birds, moon, and tree. I also used the Topaz Adjust filter just on the birds, moon and tree. Finally, back in Lightroom I adjusted the white balance off of a sample on the Ibis. I like the vertical crop better as well as the color balance, sharpness, etc.
I visited the Rookery in St. Augustine for the first time this year with two other members of the Photography Interest Group. Things are really hopping!!!
Cattle Egret pair in breeding colors: These go from plain white to very colorful during breeding season. This pair was hiding back in the bushes and it was difficult to get a clean image, but they eventually moved a bit right before I made this photo.
We saw Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Woodstorks, Spoonbills, Little Blue Herons, Tri-Color Herons, and of course – alligators. Some are just starting to build nests and breed. Others (the Great Egrets) already have good size chicks in the nest.
Great Egret and chicks
There are very few places that you can get this close to tolerant, wild birds. It’s wonderful for both experienced and beginner bird photographers. If you haven’t been by yet, now is the time.
I was at Viera Wetlands yesterday and came up on this scene. The pair of birds was about 30 feet away and I was using a long telephoto lens (Sigma 150 – 500 OS, @ 500mm) and shooting hand held. To keep my shutter speed high (1/1000 sec), I had my aperture set to f/8.
Under these conditions, the depth of field (DOF) was so shallow (about 6 inches) that I couldn’t get both birds in focus at the same time. I could have stopped down to f/16, which would increase the DOF to about 12 inches, but that still might not have been enough – and the risk of motion blur would increase when the shutter speed slowed down.
So how can you overcome such shallow depth of field? Here’s how I did it:
Make two exposures, one focused on the front bird and one focused on the rear one.
In Lightroom, do your preliminary adjustments so the images’ appearance matches as closely as possible. You want to keep the background around the birds as similar as possible in the two images.
Open both in Photoshop, and move them into a single file as layers. Put the base image (the one with the front bird in focus) in the background layer. The top layer then has the rear bird in focus.
Select both layers and use the Edit/Auto-Align Layers to line things up.
Insert a Layer Mask (hide all) on the top layer.
Now you’re all set to paint the in focus rear bird into the image with the front one in focus. Select the layer mask and use a white brush color to paint the rear bird in. If you make a mistake or need to back something out you can change your brush color to black to erase the top layer. You can also play with the brush hardness and opacity to feather things in.
Once you’re happy with the result, flatten the image and make your final adjustments.
“But Ed,” you say “isn’t this cheating?” It depends. If you’re a photojournalist reporting on Great Egrets in Viera Wetlands and how close they often come to each other, then yes it might be. Journalists must meet ethical standards. On the artistic side, you’re trying to represent what your eyes (which have a greater DOF) or mind sees. So in this situation it isn’t cheating. You’re using the tools available to make the image you want.
“But Ed,” you say “this is too much work!” It depends. Some images are worth the effort and many are not. There’s software you can buy to automate this sort of thing for you. Photoshop can do it too. But the automated software requires very careful set up and in most cases a tripod, and many exposures with small changes in focus for each one. In this situation, I only needed two photos, one for each bird. Alignment between the images isn’t critical since I’m only using a small portion of the second one. So it’s fairly easy to show the pair of Egrets and not be distracted by having one out of focus.
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.
I’m going to depart from my usual practice of one subject per post and include three different ones in today’s entry.
Photos and information on a visit to Gatorland, yesterday.
An update on this blog after three years of publication
A political comment
Feel free to read the portion you’re interested in, or indulge me and look at all three.
1. Gatorland May Day Update
If you haven’t yet visited Gatorland this year, now is still a great time. Yesterday morning, I decided to drive down there to see how the rookery is progressing through nesting season. We’ve had a cold winter in Florida and as a result, the birds are about a month behind the normal schedule. The last time I visited (in March), it was mostly the great egrets building nests, courting, and sitting on eggs. Yesterday the Great Egrets were still very active (many with large chicks), but there are also Cattle Egrets, Tri-Colored Herons, Anhingas, and Cormorants all very actively fulfilling the purpose of life.
By the way, have you looked lately at the Gatorland blog that Mike Godwin writes ? He’s posted a report on the current nesting activity (sorry – no longer available), with a lot of detail and photos. There’s also an active Gatorland Flickr group and looking at the photos posted there on any given day can give you a real good idea of what’s going on.
Here’s some of what I saw yesterday:
Pair of Great Egret chicks in nest: You can get an idea of how far along the Great Egrets are by the size of this cute pair.
Cattle Egret: This one was hiding in the brush, but still posing. The Cattle Egrets seem to be just getting started with a lot of nest-building going on.
Mother Cormorant with just hatched chicks: Not a great photo, but you can see the chicks beside the very protective mother. Their eyes were not yet open and there was another un-hatched egg in the nest, so they had to be only hours old.
Common Moorhen Chick: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a moorhen chick before, but I have to admit I haven’t been paying that much attention to this species. They’re very common in the area.
Wood Storks and chicks on nests: Mike Godwin is a great host at Gatorland. He made sure we knew where these nests were so we could photograph them. There were two right next to each other and they were very crowded and active.
You can click on any of the photos above to view them on Flickr. You can also take a look at my Gatorland set on Flickr for some other photos from yesterday (the last nine in the set) as well as from previous visits.
2. Happy Birthday, Blog!
My first post was on the 4th of May, 2007, so it will be three years old on Tuesday. Not a long time in absolute terms, but more than a lifetime for some in “internet years”.
The blog has morphed a bit since then. Originally it was just a place to share my photos, photo experiences, and talk about photo related ideas. I still do that, but I’ve added a theme around all of this: I try to find interesting places around here to make photographs and then post blog entries including links to information about the places as well as some hints on what’s there and how to photograph it. My hope is that this will be interesting to photo enthusiasts visiting the area as well as people who live here. I know I’ve looked for similar blogs when I travel.
With this one, there are a total of 89 posts so far which is an average of about two per month, although lately I’ve been doing pretty well keeping up with my goal of one post each week. Of these, 45 are tagged “CFL Photo ops”, about photo opportunities in the area.
As near as I can tell from my server logs (and disregarding spam and robots), I seem to modestly successful – at least some people are reading what I write. If I’m interpreting the CyStats log correctly, I have over 100 RSS subscribers, and about 10 – 30 visitors on average each day. They are from multiple countries, which is really nice. The most visitors I’ve had in a single day was close to 200 early this year after Jim Goldstein posted his “best photos of 2009” entry on his blog. Thanks, Jim! The most viewed page is the main page, with the My Favorite Photos of 2009 post coming in second.
The most used browser, by a slim margin is Internet Explorer (~51%), followed by Mozilla, Firefox, Safari, etc. Many people still use IE version 6.0. If that’s you – update! Modern browsers are much more capable and secure.
Recent, frequent external search terms include things like: “focus bracketing”, “gatorland photographers”, “central florida photos”, “orlando bird photography”, “alligator farm orlando”, “orlando photo ops”, “photographing birds in central flordia”, “good area to photograph fl”, “central florida places to photo”, “wildflower photography in florida”, “photographing birds in central florida”, “photographing wildlife in central florida”, and “ed rosack”. I’m pleased that people are finding my blog with those search terms.
Of course, I’m my most loyal reader. I’ve enjoy writing it, but I also really enjoy going back and reading it and looking at the photos. I guess it really is a blog in the sense of a personal journal.
And what’s up with all the weird spam comments? Do they really think I’ll let those through? Would anybody? Why do they keep sending them?
I don’t really have any plans to change the blog going forward. However, I’d really like to figure out how to encourage more genuine comment and interaction. And, I’m always open to your ideas and suggestions. Especially for places around here to visit!
3. Warning – Politics Ahead
Caution – I apologize, but this paragraph is political. It does relate to photography and nature in general. Read at your own risk.
As I wrote down the words in topic one above about witnessing nature in all its glory, I couldn’t help but think a great deal about the gulf coast shoreline and what is beginning to happen there to countless birds, their chicks, and other wildlife from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The impact on people who are continuing to recover from hurricane Katrina will be an additional nightmare still to come. And the news this morning reports that it will eventually reach the east coast of Florida too as the Gulf Stream current spreads the spill.
The scope of this disaster is unprecedented – and it was a remote possibility. We can’t jump to conclusions yet, but complacency and the bottom line during the design of this oil drilling rig sure do seem to be causing great damage. I wonder how many of the decisions that were made in the design were probably financial in nature and not based on the worst case outcome, which by the way is occurring? The platform was either not designed or not built to preclude or handle it.
I also wonder if there are engineering memos or PowerPoint slides somewhere warning of this type of consequence if the design went forward as planned? I wonder how many fail safes in the well shut off valve didn’t fail safe and instead just failed due to shoddy workmanship or poor design? I wonder how the engineers that designed, built, and tested the equipment on that well feel today? I wonder how their management can sleep at night? I wonder how long British Petroleum will take to bring the well leak under control? And I wonder how they will ever undo the damage they’ve done.
So far there are no answers, only questions. And thousands of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico every hour of every day.
Today, I had some time and a new computer I wanted to try out, so I went looking for a photo to reprocess. Take a close look at the two images below. The differences aren’t as obvious in these smaller versions, so if you click on them, you can go to Flickr and look at large resolution versions of each so you can see the changes in detail.
Nikon D80 @ ISO 100, Nikon 70 – 300 lens @ 260mm, f/5.6, 1/320 sec.
I made this photo back in April of 2007 in the bird rookery at the St. Augustine Alligator farm. The version above is “straight out of the camera (converted to JPG with Lightroom 2.5). It has potential, but the blown sky is bad and the levels and sharpening need work.
The version below was processed in CaptureNX2 for levels and curves. I also created a version that was sharpened, and a third version that adjusted the sky. I then opened all three in Photoshop and used layer masks to choose the portions of each that I wanted in the final photo. After saving the result, I imported it into Lightroom, tweaked clarity and vibrance, and cropped it slightly before once again exporting this JPG.
Same, photo: re-processed and slightly cropped.
I guess you can tell I’m not a straight out of the camera, photo journalist type photographer. I like the second version much better than the original. Do you?
The interesting thing to me is that almost 3 years after I made the photograph, I can go back and reprocess it with better software and better techniques. Since I captured it in RAW, I have much more flexibility in what I can change. Processing RAW is like having the original light and framing fixed, but being able to tweak the camera settings. Do I need Photoshop, CaptureNX2, and Lightroom? No, but each has strengths and I believe that if you want the best image you can get, you need to have SW and understand how to use it.
Or at least shoot in RAW so that when you do get the software and techniques, you can go back and have another go at things.