Over the holidays, Mike asked if I wanted to ride with him (and Avon) on his drive from Wisconsin to Florida and back. Of course I said yes! It was a good opportunity to spend some time together and I haven’t been on a road trip like this in a long while.
This post includes some photos from along the way and a few comments about the trip. It’s a little off topic from Central Florida Photo Ops’s stated purpose. I hope you don’t mind.
It’s quite a drive! It took us three days, although you can make it in two if you push hard enough.
Three Amigos. Here we are mid drive on the way back up – it was chilly at times! Avon is a good traveler. The only times he got even a little bothered was when Mike left him with me for a few minutes and was out of sight, or if the hotel we were in had other dogs that night.
Food on the trip was varied and tasty. This Vietnamese place was across from our hotel in Indianapolis. Good food, quick!
We were usually on the road early and some of the sunrises were pretty. This one is leaving Indianapolis, south bound.
This semi up ahead of us was moving around 70 mph – backwards!
When you get near Chattanooga, there are many “See Rock City” signs. No, we didn’t go by and see it.
Heading south out of Atlanta, the clouds were pretty thick
The last time I drove I-75 through South Georgia, I remember seeing a giant peanut on the side of the road. We couldn’t find it this time – even though the map said it was still there!
There are a lot of “World Famous Ruby Falls” signs too. This one may need a little maintenance.
We went north on a slightly different route and it was a little more scenic, especially through the mountains.
Another Mountain View
Passing wind: According to Wikipedia, the Meadow Lakes wind farm along I-65 in Indiana has 414 turbines and produces 801 megawatts of power.
We lucked out on the weather. There were clouds and some rain on the way down, but it wasn’t too cold. On our way north there was a snow storm coming, but it didn’t hit until we were almost to Mike’s house. The next morning, the park near his place was a very un-Florida looking landscape!
A path through the snowy woods
After I got back home, I was struck by the contrast between winter in Wisconsin and Florida. Our weather is very different!
Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Osceola County
Family time during the holidays is wonderful. Our home seems so very quiet and empty after everyone leaves. But it’s also wonderful to look forward to the next visit!
Thanks for the invite, Mike – I really enjoyed the ride!
And thanks to everyone for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos – on a road trip!
The last time I visited Viera Wetlands was in March of 2019, so I’ve been wanting to go back. Each time I checked the road conditions hotline, it said they’re closed to vehicles. But the message hasn’t been updated since mid-November and I suspected (hoped?) it wasn’t accurate. This week I decided to go down anyway.
I started the morning with a pretty sunrise at the River Lakes Conservation Area Boat Ramp where the St. Johns crosses SR 520.
A very calm morning
Then I headed down to Viera. The hotline is correct – the wetlands roads are closed to vehicles and there’s some repair work going on. I haven’t found any info posted about when they expect to allow cars again. Anyway, I took off on foot with my camera and had a nice walk around the east half of the park closest to the parking area. Here are some of the things I saw.
“Who are you lookin’ at?” (3). These early morning deer were very alert and very suspicious of me and my long lens. I saw about a dozen of them and there were probably more. I liked the light on this group and how they were all staring right at me.
Redwing Blackbird launch. I managed to catch it just as it as it took off.
Cormorant in flight – There were a great many there that morning.
Sunning Anhinga. There were a large number of anhingas too, and this lady was enjoying the early morning light.
I heard lots of Sandhill Cranes but only saw them in the distance and there was one Spoonbill that was too far away for a photo, I didn’t see anything rare or exotic on my walk, but there were plenty of smaller birds, water birds, vultures and alligators. And I enjoyed my time out in nature and got some steps too!
Twas the morning after Christmas, as I left the house – I tried to be quiet and not wake my spouse.
I drove to the refuge through the long winter’s night. To get there and catch the first morning light.
On the pier by the causeway, it was all blue and gold. Lovely start to the day with colors so bold.
Dawn by the causeway and the pier
To Black Point next – a wonderful place. Drive slow or you’ll miss things with too fast a pace.
Dawn on Black Point Wildlife Drive
Kingfishers dodged my camera with ease, not stopping for long even when I said please!
Male Belted Kingfisher
A lady Merganser was flapping her wings. Shaking off water and other things.
Female Hooded Merganser wing flap
An unblinking gator watched me draw nigh. I almost saw myself in his eye.
Eye of the gator
And what to my wondering eyes should appear? A pretty pink spoonbill wading quite near.
Other birds to the refuge, they also came. It’s wonderful to see them and call them by name.
Now Ospreys, Shovelers, Pelicans and all,
White Pelican Pod
Now egrets and herons, with all of your calls.
Great Egret in flight
Great Blue Heron portrait
Now Terns, teals, willets, eagles and more, so many birds along the shore.
Large birds, small birds, short birds and tall – stay for a while, don’t fly away all!
As I left the refuge and it left my sight, I thought “HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!”
Merritt Island morning
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I hope each and every one of you are having a wonderful holiday season. Cherish your time with friends and family and don’t forget to make some photos with them!
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!
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!
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 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!
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!
You may have seen the tragic news last week about a US Navy F18 crash in Death Valley. The jet was flying through Rainbow Canyon next to Father Crawley Point when it hit, killing the pilot and injuring seven bystanders.
I feel a connection to this. One reason is because of my own Navy service. During NROTC training, I was assigned to an attack squadron aboard an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. I saw firsthand how professional, dedicated and skilled Navy aircrews are. My heart goes out to the pilot’s family.
I also feel connected because I’ve visited that exact spot. Back in 2015, Tom M. and I drove up to Father Crowley Point during a trip to Death Valley and made a few photos. At the time, we weren’t aware of the background of this place and just planned to make landscape photos. But then we heard the jets overhead.
US Navy F-18 exiting “Star Wars Canyon” in Death Valley at Father Crowley Overlook, October 2015
Air Force and Navy pilots have trained there since the 1930s and it’s become a hotspot for military aircraft photographers and enthusiasts (see this article in the LA times). Rainbow Canyon has a couple of nicknames: “Star Wars Canyon” and the “Jedi Transition”. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can see and photograph military aircraft below you as they fly by (here’s another good article on Arstechnica).
Tom and I were getting ready to move on when we heard another jet approaching and getting much louder. I managed to switch to continuous mode and follow with my camera as it roared through the canyon right next to us. The photo above is a 9 frame sequence merged into a single image to show the progression as it leaves the canyon. I’d only ever processed a single frame of it before (here on Flickr). Although this set of frames is from a more recent (and capable) camera, I went through processing steps similar to those I described here: Reprocessing-a-mt-evans-elk-herd-panorama. I merged it manually this time to make sure all images of the aircraft were preserved in the final version.
I’m glad bystanders’ injuries weren’t too serious. I feel very sad for the young pilot and his family. And I’m grateful that we have people that volunteer to serve and protect us, even at such great risk to themselves.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go thank someone in the military for their service.