Anyone can snap a photo. As photographers, we choose subjects and then compose frames around them so a viewer’s eyes are drawn to what we want them to see. One thing to think about when we’re out with our cameras is how to isolate the subjects in our images.
Scan the scene when shooting – look for distracting elements and get rid of them. How? Sometimes you can’t, but here are some suggestions.
Viewpoint: Shift a few feet one way or another to hide things. There’s a much less attractive mailbox just out of the frame below on the left.
A Mailbox on Joe Overstreet Road
Magnification: We never have enough zoom, do we? Use what you do have to get close and separate subjects from clutter. You can also crop later on the computer, but you’ll risk losing some image quality / resolution.
A good morning for a song – singing Eastern Meadowlark. Joe Overstreet Road
Light: Sometimes the light is just right to make your subject stand out from the background – take advantage of it! This can be modified a bit in post processing too.
Shy bird – A Roseate Spoonbill in the light. Black Point Wildlife Drive
Depth of Field (DOF): In addition to getting as close as you can and using a long focal length, shooting with a wide open aperture creates a shallower DOF and blurs the background behind your subject. You may need to shift your position a bit to insure that the entire subject (e.g. both the insect and the bird) are in the plane of focus.
Butcher Bird – Loggerhead Shrikes often kill prey by impaling them on a thorn or barbed wire. Joe Overstreet Road
Color: Catching your subject against a contrasting color can help it stand out. These American White Pelicans with their yellow beaks were very nice to pose for me in the blue water.
American White Pelicans. Black Point Wildlife Drive
So that’s a few ideas. If you think about this when you’re out, your photos will improve. Do you have any other suggestions? Feel free to add them in the comments.
And speaking of isolation, Lynn and I are both generally in good health (thankfully!). But the CDC says we’re at higher risk from the COVID-19 virus due to our ages. We’re going to follow their recommendations and stay up to date on developments.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go out, stay safe – and make some photos!
“Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints!” — Si’ahl (Seattle), leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes
Beginning with my very first adventures out in nature, I’ve always been taught to leave no trace. And so I was startled and then a little sad when I saw these along Gator Creek Road in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge about a week ago.
I’ve seen rock stacks (or rock cairns) before, just not in MINWR. I guess I also noticed that stacking rocks (and posting photos of them on social media) has become a thing. People shouldn’t do this anywhere, and when they start doing it in one of my favorite places, it’s time to speak up.
I looked through my image archives for another photo from near the same spot and found this one from back in 2013 that I never processed or posted before. It’s looking in a different direction, and it shows rocks where they should be. It’s worth a click to view a larger version.
Gator Creek pano
There are of course, legitimate reasons for building rock cairns and different National Parks have different rules. See this NPS page: https://www.nps.gov/articles/rockcairns.htm. However, it’s always wrong to tamper, add to, or build unauthorized cairns in national parks.
I couldn’t find anywhere on-line that specifically says rock stacking is prohibited at MINWR. Even if it’s not against the rules – it’s still ethically, morally, and environmentally wrong. And it’s rude and selfish. Don’t do it.
Big Cypress National Preserve is a 729,000 acre swamp in South Florida adjacent to Everglades National Park. It was originally going to be part of that, but instead was established as a national preserve in 1974.
I’ve wanted to visit for years and finally went down a couple of weeks ago. I stayed at the bungalow Clyde Butcher rents behind his Big Cypress Gallery along Tamiami Trail. This is a “first impressions” blog post, not a guide. I don’t know the area well enough to give you a comprehensive review.
Butcher’s Pond. Next to Clyde Butcher’s gallery on Tamiami Trail
The bungalow was very nice and provided a good base for exploration. I do wish there was cell service or that they provided an internet connection – although I guess you could argue that being cut off is part of the swamp experience!
Big Cypress is huge and there are a lot of places to check out. And even more places if you include Everglades National Park. For me, the southern portion of the Everglades was just too far away from where I stayed so I concentrated on nearby spots including Kirby Storter Park, Fakahatchee Strand, Loop Road, Shark Valley, and a few others. There was a lot I didn’t get to – I need to go back!
Pre-dawn stars and clouds, Kirby Storter Roadside Park
Kirby Storter was only a few minutes away and I hoped to take advantage of dark skies and catch site of the Milky Way from there. I did manage to glimpse it but clouds rolled in towards dawn and I had to make do with a starry pre-dawn photo instead. I can tell you that I felt very alone out there in the middle of the swamp at 5am. It was dark (no moon) and hard to see very far – kinda spooky. But I also felt pretty safe because every time I moved a bit, the crickets went silent. I figured they’d warn me if anything large got close!
Cypress swamp, Kirby Storter Roadside Park
There’s a lovely, short hike along a boardwalk that leads back into the swamp next to some flowing water and ends at a large gator hole.
Red-shouldered Hawk Pair. Fakahatchee Strand State Park
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park was close too. It’s the largest state park in Florida and Janes Memorial Scenic Drive is an eleven mile dirt road leading from the visitor center back into the swamp. There’s only about six miles open right now due to damage from Hurricane Irma. You can drive this yourself like I did, or take a guided tram ride.
I was busy trying to make landscape photos when a lady hawk (the one on the left) started calling in the tree next to me. I thought she was yelling at me for being too close, but it turned out she was calling for her mate. He flew in and they had a “conjugal visit” while I rushed back to the car to get my longer lens. I missed the action, but did get a nice family photo of the pair afterward.
Fakahatchee Strand 4, color
There are a great many views of this lovely swamp along the scenic drive. It took me a long time to go out six miles and back because I stopped so often to photograph.
Loop Road Cypress and Sawgrass
Loop Road is another scenic area. Both ends connect to Tamiami Trail and I explored those, but didn’t travel the whole twenty six mile route. Next time!
On my visit, I mainly focused on landscape images although I did see and photograph some wildlife – mainly in Shark Valley. There were alligators, turtles, and a lot of birds – most were the same ones we see up here in Central Florida although I did sight a yellow crowned night Heron which isn’t very common in my usual spots. There were also a lot of small birds / warblers that I should have spent some time photographing / identifying.
This was a good time of year to visit. It’s considered the “dry season” and in additon to the comfortable temperatures, I got zero bug bites even though I didn’t use any bug spray the whole time.
You could spend a lifetime exploring there. I stayed for three nights and was very tired when I got home but only touched the surface. Things I wanted to do but didn’t have time for: Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, Corkscrew Swamp, a swamp buggy tour, a swamp walk, an airboat ride, the Indian reservations and many others. Things to look forward to!
Cypress and air plants, IR B&W
Location scouting is a huge part of good landscape photography. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of scouting in advance. You know that an area is special when you can come back from your first visit with photos you really like. Big Cypress is extra special – a Central Florida Photo Ops Must Do!
We should all be grateful that we’ve preserved places like Big Cypress and the Everglades and that we’re working to restore them to their natural state.
If you’ve been a photographer for any length of time, you might be familiar with “new gear jinx”. It seems whenever we get new photo equipment, the weather turns bad for a while so we can’t use it.
The day was dreary and the light was dim. Lots of clouds, some fog and haze, and rain later in the morning.
Kevin M. and I both wanted to try out some new gear and in spite of the poor weather we’ve had lately, decided to defy the jinx and venture out to Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive on Friday morning. I’m very glad we did. Here’s some of what we saw.
Fulvous Whistling-duck. There were quite a few. I’d never seen one before, so this was a great addition to my life-list. Thanks Kevin!
Common Yellowthroat. I posted a photo of one a few weeks ago, but this bird is much more colorful.
American Bittern – in their classic frozen statue pose. It eventually realized we could see it anyway and left. By then, I wasn’t paying attention and missed the flight shot.
Eastern Phoebe. This must be a young one – it hasn’t learned to hide from photographers behind twigs and branches yet.
Black-crowned Night-Heron in flight. We saw 4 or 5 of these on Friday. They’ve been on Black Point Wildlife Drive too and seem more common than usual this year.
There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of birds on the water – I haven’t seen that many in a long while. Lots of coots, but also Redheads, Northern Shovelers, Blue-wing Teals, and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks too – among others. We also saw a few alligators, all the other usual wading / water birds along with an occasional Belted Kingfisher, one young Bald Eagle, Red-winged Blackbirds, many Red-shoulder Hawks, and even one fast flying snipe.
Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive undoubtedly lives up to its name. If you’re planning to go, it’s usually open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays between sunrise and sunset. That poor light on Friday was a good test of our new gear but I ended up with a lot of photos I like. I think we broke the jinx!
Generally (and especially in Florida) clouds are good for landscape photos. And when water is part of your composition (like it often is here), wind can add interesting motion effects to longer exposures. If you can’t use those two elements in your images, can you still make landscapes? Of course, but you may need to use mirrors!
Mangrove Mirror 1. Infrared, Olympus HiRes mode.
Our winter weather fronts bring cooler temperatures and often very clear skies to Central Florida. And winds can be especially calm in the early morning. When I run into situations like this, I don’t put my camera away. Instead I watch for mangrove trees and other reflections.
Mangrove Mirror 2. Infrared, Olympus HiRes mode.
Compositions that minimize the sky and maximize the patterns their branches and roots make in the glassy water appeal to me.
Mangrove Mirror 3
How do you approach landscape photography at daybreak, when the wind is dead calm and the clouds are few and far away?
Photography and image processing software innovation continues at a staggering pace. It’s hard to keep up! Companies are coming out with new versions and even completely new programs to compete with the Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom standards. And Adobe is fighting back with new updates to keep their customers happy.
Bubble Pond, Acadia National Park (2). 16×9 crop from a 7 frame IR panorama, processed in Lightroom, Photoshop, and Topaz Sharpen AI
This is almost all good for photographers. Competition results in new innovations that genuinely help us with our images. If you save your RAW source files, you can reprocess a photo and often get improved results. What’s not to like?
A small, quiet spot in the forest. Along Great Head Trail, returning from Sand Beach. Single frame, processed in Lightroom, Photoshop, Luminar, and Topaz Sharpen AI
There are a couple of downsides I can think of. First, we usually have to pay for the changes. If you use Adobe’s products, their subscription model makes sure you have the latest. Some other companies are moving to subscriptions too, but many are still charging by the upgrade. Either way, it takes money to keep up. You also have to invest your time. Just knowing what software is coming out takes effort. And having the software doesn’t do a lot of good unless you understand the new features and when / how to use them. You have to spend time learning the new software. Time that you could use making photos with your camera ends up being spent in front of your computer.
Bubble Pond, Acadia National Park (1). A second 16×9 crop from the same 7 frame IR panorama, processed in Lightroom, Photoshop, and Topaz Sharpen AI.
So is it worth it? I think so. If you want to make the best images you possibly can, then you can’t afford to ignore progress. But of course, it depends on you, your needs, and your available resources. And it depends on what’s changing in the software too.
Anyway, a large number of recent product releases made me think about this again. I decided to update one that I often use (Luminar) and skip a version of another (DxO Optics Pro). After downloading the software, I dug out some photos from the archive so I could play around and learn about the new things. A friend’s recent visit to Acadia made me re-look at my images from there. These three photos haven’t been on the blog before and result from processing old images in new software. Better? Probably. Revolutionary? Probably not. Worth the time and money? I think so. Your mileage may vary.
And don’t get me started about camera upgrades. That’s a completely different story!
By the way, Happy Thanksgiving – enjoy spending time with friends and family next week!
I make a lot of photographs – you may not have been able to tell ;-). And I have many that I like that never get into the blog. So this week I’m going to post a handful of B&W images from around Central Florida that I think are worth seeing. I hope you like them too. Not many words this morning. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
Pump house, Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive
Cathedral Interior, St. Augustine
Cypress stand, Orlando Wetlands
Quiet morning, Merritt Island NWR
Sunrise Along Bobcat Trail, Orlando Wetlands
Tranquil morn, Orlando Wetlands
As always, click to view larger on Flickr, and you can see many more of my monochrome photos in this folder.
Thanks for stopping by and looking at my blog. Now – go make some photos!
In the USA, the second full week of October each year is National Wildlife Refuge Week. I visited my local refuge last Thursday to help celebrate.
I decided to go straight to Black Point Wildlife Drive to photograph sunrise. The gate was still closed when I arrived, so I set up by the sign at the entrance and made the image above. The wind was blowing and I like the surreal appearance of the clouds, moonlight, and stars visible in the full res version.
This was the view a little later from the parking area at the southwest corner of the drive:
And here’s a monochrome infrared photo along the western side of Black Point. I like the low sun angle and clouds.
Out early on a straight road
You might be able to tell from these three photos that I was the first and only one on Black Point Wildlife Drive that morning – which led to the next situation. I stopped at the rest area and got out to scout around. There’s a small observation deck there at the start of Cruickshank trail and as I was just coming off the path to go up the short boardwalk, I heard a noise and then saw a very healthy looking Bobcat jump over the rail and disappear into the vegetation. Even though I had my camera in my hands, set up and ready – I was way too slow to get a photo.
I’ve come across Bobcats several times in the wild. Usually when they see me, they fade away quickly and it’s hard to get a photo. This time was unusual – I wasn’t trying to be super quiet, I can only guess it was catnapping and didn’t notice me at first, or it was hoping I wouldn’t come its way so it could stay comfortable.
I’m sorry I didn’t get the photo for you on Thursday and I know you’re disappointed. So here’s a previously un-published one from March 2017 from very near the same area. It’s typical of the brief and poor look I normally get of Bobcats:
Feral pigs in MINWR aren’t as shy as Bobcats. They typically go about their business when I see them. This one stared me down and when it was sure I was going to stay put, continued across the road – hackles raised. It too quickly disappeared into the undergrowth.
Young wild boar
One more picture to close this out – from the boat launch area at Parrish Park:
#53 – A banded Ruddy Turnstone
I had an exciting day at Merritt Island. Although the winter birds aren’t back in force yet, The Ruddy Turnstones and skittish Belted Kingfishers I saw are migrants – a good sign.
I saw and admired it again on my visit a few weeks ago, but I almost didn’t make this image. Why not? Because I thought I’d already made that very one before and didn’t need another. Fortunately, I wasn’t in a hurry, so I stopped and made a two frame vertical panorama with my IR camera.
When I got home, I tried to find the photo I thought I remembered. Here are two of that same tree that I found in my archives. This first one is from nearly the same spot:
Clear day, calm water, January 2011
And this one is from the other side:
Left at the lone pine tree, August 2018
I like the newest photo the best. I’m glad I went ahead and made it!
On the other hand: When Kevin M. and I were down in Osceola county, we saw two or three Bald Eagles. When I was young, Bald Eagles were rare and I never saw one in the wild until I moved to Florida and started paying more attention to wildlife. Now they’re getting much more common but I still get a thrill whenever I see one. One of the eagles was sitting on a pile of dirt a little off the road. Kevin asked if I wanted him to stop for a photo and I said no. I have quite a few Bald Eagle photos that I like (e.g. this one), and the setting that day just didn’t look like it would make a good photo. It would probably have sat on my hard drive or been deleted when I went through the photos. Why make it?
Take the shot or not? Like many things, it depends. I suppose the moral of this story is: “When in doubt, make the photo. But don’t make every photo.”
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos, or not!
Howell Branch creek starts at Lake Maitland and flows into Lake Waumpi. From there it’s called Howell Creek as it goes through Lake Howell and then wanders east and north to empty into Lake Jessup. It passes within a half mile of our home in Winter Springs.
I’ve driven by this spot below in Maitland many times, but didn’t realize it’s on the same waterway:
Howell Creek – Where it crosses Lake Howell Road. A small dam there creates a lovely little waterfall / rapid. I’ve driven by it for years and finally made a photo.
I never stopped before because there’s no obvious parking nearby. But Lynn volunteered to drive me over, drop me off (and come back and pick me up too!). So off we went…
My plan was to make a few images from down near the water with a wide angle lens, maybe up close to the dam. But several “No Trespassing” signs scuttled that. I stayed up on the bridge by the road and made my images from there. I’m glad I brought my 24 – 200 mm (eq.) lens too – the reach came in handy!
Several people walked by while I was there and mentioned how pretty the view is. They talked about wading birds and the otter family they see there. I didn’t see any otters, but a Great Egret eventually wandered into my frame. I was lucky it stayed still while I made a long exposure to blur the water. When Lynn saw the photo, she thought it needed a dark colored bird – I should’ve waited for an anhinga!
Wind caused some blurring in the leaves and Spanish moss. I was also worried the vibration caused by trucks on the road behind me would shake my tripod and blur things. I made several frames just in case and this one came out pretty well.
Research indicates there was a water powered mill located just up stream from this dam in the mid 1800s. And I found an old article in the Orlando Sentinel, saying that the first dam in this spot was built around 1900. One story says residents blew up the dam during a hurricane and replaced it later. Apparently, a more durable one was built in the 1950s and was replaced by the current dam in 1979 when Orange County widened Howell Branch Road.
It doesn’t seem like I’ve used other photos of Howell Creek in the blog before, so I’ll end this post with two older images from closer to our home in Winter Springs.
Howell Creek infra red (October 2013)
Howell Creek bed and reflections (October 2013)
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – stop somewhere you’ve been passing by and make some photos!