I went over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Sunday with Kevin M. If you’ve been waiting for our winter visitor bird friends to show up – they’re here!
We first stopped by the Titusville marina for a few blue hour / sunrise photos. In the original color version of this one, the orange reflections in the water from the streetlights along the shore didn’t mix well with the blue water and sky in the distance. A B&W conversion eliminated that problem and I like the result.
Marina at dawn
Kingfishers were abundant and even a bit cooperative. This one rested on a dead tree for me.
Other winter birds we saw: American Avocets, Blue-winged Teals, Northern Flickers, Northern Shovelers, a Northern Harrier, Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroats, and Palm Warblers. The ducks weren’t plentiful yet, but I’m sure more are on the way!
Our year round birds competed for attention by posing in very nice light.
Reddish Egret in warm morning light
Egret and reflection
Heron in flight
And we also managed to find a Florida Scrub Jay along the entrance road to Canaveral National Seashore for Kevin’s list this year. So once again a wonderful visit to MINWR. You should go!
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!
There’s a lot going on at this city run park out in Christmas, Florida. I needed steps last Friday, so I got up early and took a walk. Hours are “Sunrise to Sunset”, but generally the gate is open about a half hour before sunrise. Plenty of time to catch some good light.
Marsh, moon, and sun rays
The quantity and variety of wildlife is remarkable. I’ve seen occasional deer, bobcat, raccoons, and otters in the past – and alligators and our common wading birds are plentiful. Winter migrants are also arriving.
Eastern Phoebe (winter visitor)
Savannah Sparrow (winter visitor)
Other migrants I came across included Belted Kingfishers, Black-necked Stilts, and Palm Warblers.
Spoonbills have been numerous there in recent years, but I only saw one this time. Maybe more will show as we get closer to springtime.
There were other unusual things too:
Pie Billed Grebe and crayfish
I noticed this Grebe surface with what I thought was a fish. But when I got a better look I could tell it was a large crayfish. It had a precarious hold at first. As I watched for about a minute, it adjusted its grip and eventually swallowed the whole thing. The crayfish looked bigger than the bird’s head!
Other birds I spotted: Black Bellied Whistling ducks, Mottled Ducks, Coots, Common Gallinules, Red-shouldered Hawks, Sand Hill Cranes, Limpkins, Wood Storks, juvenile and adult Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, Common Yellowthroats, Red-winged Blackbirds, Glossy and White Ibis, Anhingas, Black Vultures, and I’m sure others I missed.
There are on-going or planned projects that’ll make this park even better. They’re currently “demucking” cell 13 (far corner from the entrance). And they’ve prepared a site for a new visitor center at the first corner as you hike north from the entrance. I’m also looking forward to new vantage points a future boardwalk over lake Searcy should provide.
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’ve been using the iPhone 11 Pro camera for a bit and thought I’d post some sample photos and a few photographer type thoughts about it this week.
This isn’t a comprehensive review – you can find many of those on the web if that’s what you need. This also isn’t a “should you buy it” post. That’s a personal decision only you can make.
Morning Light on a Majestic Oak. I think I’m going to like the 13mm eq. FOV ultra-wide lens
The iPhone 11 Pro has three cameras and the ultra-wide is new this year. It’s a bit limited compared to the other two: It’s widest aperture is f/2.4 so it doesn’t gather as much light. It also doesn’t have stabilization, it’s fixed focus, doesn’t support RAW format, and doesn’t support night mode.
Wide angle at the mall
I’m not sure why Apple designed this camera with those limitations. But at a 13mm eq. field of view, it truly is ultra-wide. That’s going to be very handy in a lot of situations, especially where the light is good. It’ll probably mean I use panorama mode on the phone a lot less. And I think one of the main benefits of the ultra-wide is the inputs it provides for computations Apple can do.
Narwhal the kitten helping me test portrait mode
Narwhal modeled for me so I could test the latest Apple implementation of portrait mode. I think his image above looks great and would be pretty hard to tell apart from one taken with a high end camera and a large aperture lens.
That’s because I corrected some issues with the way the phone algorithms rendered depth of field in the original photo. Things like whiskers and hair are difficult to show correctly. Look at the image below to see what I’m talking about. Click on it to open, and then click again to enlarge.
Correcting depth of field flaws
Look at the crop on the left – it’s the Portrait Mode photo produced by the phone. If you’ve enlarged it, you can see that Narwhal’s whiskers have been clipped by inaccuracies in the algorithm. Bright highlights and low contrast have confused the depth map info. The middle photo is with portrait mode turned off. In that one, all of his whiskers are visible with no depth of field / bokeh effects. On the right side and in the full image I blended some of the middle image with the left one to show the focus rolling off more naturally.
Portrait mode has improved this year. You can make portraits with both the wide and tele cameras. And the depth mapping algorithms are better – but they can still be improved. You may not notice or care much about these things and compared to previous attempts, the algorithms are better and the results look great. Important photos could be manually edited to fix them. If we can do this manually, eventually the software wizards will figure out how to automate it into the phone algorithms. iPhone 12 super pro?
I complained last year, that other phones had low light modes and Apple didn’t. They listened to me (ha ha) and added it.
Night mode street scene
I think it captures low light situations very nicely. And the image stabilization is unbelievably good. I made this next photo of the constellation Orion in my back yard, hand held!
There are other changes that I haven’t tried yet and don’t have examples of.
If you shoot in landscape mode with the wide (1x) camera, it saves information outside the frame using the ultra-wide. This allows you to correct perspective distortion or rotate your images after capture without cropping(!).
“Deep fusion” is still in beta. It captures multiple frames and combines them pixel by pixel for the best results. The demos are super interesting and I’m looking forward to trying it.
What about RAW format and manual control?
So many of the improvements in phone cameras now come through software. But the hardware has changes too. In addition to a third camera, the sensors and lenses in the wide and tele cameras are improved. And (except for the ultra-wide) they have all the RAW format and manual control capability they’ve always had, with a little better output.
A touch of color. 4 RAW frames, stitched and processed in Lightroom / Photoshop
So manual control is still possible. The question is: “When should I bypass auto mode and use manual?”
With the software getting so good, and so much computation going on in the background, there are more and more reasons to use these cameras in automatic mode. As a photographer, you’ll need to really understand your phone camera capabilities and be able to wisely choose when to bypass it. For common situations, I think the answer is becoming “Use auto, most of the time”.
Should you give away your non-phone cameras? No, not yet. Phones are still at a disadvantage in some ways: Lens selection and sensor size are two important ones. And the interfaces on dedicated cameras are better and allow quicker control. But in some (many?) cases, your phone is an excellent photo (and video!) tool. And they’re going to get better. Just make sure you’re up to date on how to use the latest functions.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I’d long ago answered this question, but a comment from Frank B. about this image caused me to reconsider some things.
Cocoa Beach Pier before dawn
Fair warning: This post is a little deep into the weeds. Feel free to look at the photo and move on if it isn’t your thing. But I think it’s an appropriate subject, since part of the blog’s purpose is “… and how to photograph them.”
What are we talking about?
Bracketing means taking multiple photos of a scene, each with different camera settings (see this Wikipedia entry). In this case, I made three photos at different exposures so I could capture the entire dynamic range from super dark under the pier to super bright above the clouds. Making just a single exposure would’ve risked losing detail in the shadows or highlights (or both).
You can also use a Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND) – an optical filter you add in front of your lens to reduce light in the bright part of the frame (see this Wikipedia entry). Typically they have a 2 or 3 stop reduction that transitions into clear.
I’d long ago experimented with GNDs and decided not to use them. I can mostly reproduce their effect in static scenes by bracketing and then blending the resulting frames in post-processing. For landscape images bracketing is an easier solution in the field and gives me more control and a better final result. You can read about one example of my technique in this post (from back in 2011).
But then … Frank left a comment:
… amazing how the clouds remain sharp compared to the water given the time of exposure
And my reply:
Frank, this is a 3 frame, hi-res exposure bracket hand blended in Photoshop. The bottom portion was at f/5 for 25 seconds. The top was at f/5 for 3.2 seconds. So that and distance is why the clouds are sharp compared to the water.
The way I made this image resulted in a huge difference in shutter speed between the water at the bottom and the clouds at the top. And using the Olympus Hi-Res mode exaggerated the shutter speed differences since it combines 8 separate captures to create each hi-res output file.
If I’d used a GND the shutter speed would be constant throughout the frame and the blur in the clouds would’ve matched the blur in the water. In this particular case, bracketing exposure by varying aperture instead of shutter speed would also make the motion blur consistent. I’ve never done that since it seemed like it would lead to other issues (inconsistent focus / depth of field). It’s something to think about and maybe try in the future for a setting where consistent motion blur is important.
Thanks for the question Frank! Photography is fascinating. There is so much to think about and still left to learn.
And thanks to everyone else for stopping by and reading my blog (especially if you read all the way through!). Now – go make some photos!
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!
We stopped first along a side road for a sunrise pasture photo. It’ll be hard to see at web resolution, but there’s a large herd of cattle on the right in the distance.
Cow country sunrise
Next, we drove down Joe Overstreet road. This is a great place to see birds that aren’t too common elsewhere in Central Florida. Here are some examples:
We also saw many of our common wading birds including some Sandhill Cranes, Anhingas, Cattle Egrets, Great and Snowy Egrets, and Wood Storks. There were a couple of Bald Eagles, a family of Red-headed Woodpeckers, an Upland Sandpiper, several Solitary Sandpipers (several? solitary? I know, right?), many molting Meadowlarks, lots of Killdeer, and lots of swallows ( I think these were Cave Swallows, although there could have been others mixed in).
And dragonflies were very plentiful.
Dragonfly – Not sure of ID on this. Maybe a Red Saddlebags?
After Joe Overstreet, we stopped by Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area to see if we could spot any Red-cockaded Woodpeckers but they weren’t cooperating.
If you haven’t been to these areas, check them out. They seem to attract a diverse group of species. Click on any of these for larger versions, and you can see a few more of my photos from there in this album on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
When I wrote about Father Crowley Overlook a couple weeks ago, I realized I had several promising Death Valley images in my archives that I’d never processed. A trip like that can be overwhelming, and dealing with so many photos takes time and effort. I suppose back then I picked out ones I thought were best and left the rest for later.
Well this week I went back, found this one I liked, and worked on it.
Shifting sun, shadows, and sand – early morning at Mesquite dunes in Death Valley.
This scene is looking roughly north about 15 minutes after sunrise. The low sun angle makes for lovely contrasts and colors, and helps emphasize the shapes and textures of the dunes.
While I was working on this in Lightroom, I noticed something on the far sand dune, just below the shadow at the top. Please click on the image below so you can see it better.
I was making landscape images, so I used a 24-120mm lens and fortunately liked the framing at 120mm. My Nikon D800 camera had a 36 MP sensor and captured a great deal of information in the file. Even though it’s at the limits of resolution, you can definitely tell there’s something there – tracks in the sand and one (maybe two?) animals!
A photo like this is a good example of something I wrote about 10 years ago: Photographic “Level of Detail”. Looking at it from a distance, you see colors, shapes, shadows and lines. Zoom in a bit and textures, tracks, and other details become visible. Zoom in all the way and you can spot wildlife. How cool is that?!
I really enjoy this aspect of photography. Have you ever discovered something like this in one of your images?
You can view my other DVNP photos here. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos – it’s can be surprising!
It seems like ages since I’ve been out amongst our natural Florida wonders. So I was eager to visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last week for a look ’round. I stopped first by the Indian River before dawn. The geometry of the pier, bridge and sun rays teamed up to form nice leading lines toward the pending sunrise.
A peaceful morning on the pier by the bridge – Veterans Memorial Fishing Pier by the Max Brewer Causeway in Titusville, Florida
East Gator Creek road was closed, so I drove up to Haulover Canal and the Mantee Observation Point – of course there were no manatees visible there! Then I circled back to Black Point Wildlife Drive.
Standing bird – Tri-colored Heron on a bush. It was so still that I had time to zoom in and make a three frame vertical panorama.
We’ve had lots of rain lately and there was plenty of water at Black Point. I saw fish schooling in several spots, although for some reason the birds weren’t interested. I think the highlight of the trip for me was watching two Reddish Egrets dancing over the water.
Running bird – a prancing Reddish Egret seems to walk on water
There were just a couple other people on the drive and I only saw them briefly. It’s a special privilege to have a place like this mostly to yourself – even at this time of the year when it’s so hot and the wildlife is a bit sparse.
Flying bird – a Great Egret glides above the water
What a delightful morning! I have many more MINWR photos here. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go enjoy nature – it’s good for you!