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.
At that time, I was using a Nikon D80 camera and made this photo with an entry level 70-300 telephoto lens. I remember wanting to capture as much detail as possible, so instead of making one exposure of the whole herd, I zoomed in as far as I could and made four different frames at 300mm (450mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/100 sec, and iso 100. I ran across these images in my photo archive recently and wanted to see if I could reprocess the RAW files for a better result. I thought you might be interested in my work flow – not so you can reproduce my results, but to give you some ideas on how to process your own images.
Here is one of the original RAW files SOOC (straight out of camera). The white balance and exposure aren’t optimum and sharpness isn’t very good either – maybe due to poor lens stabilization and optical performance (and maybe due to my poor technique).
Here are the steps I went through to reprocess this:
Used DxO Photo Lab software to convert from RAW to .tiff and take advantage of the built in Prime Noise reduction algorithm. I like that this software applies camera and lens specific corrections to all images. It also returns the results to Lightroom still in RAW / DNG format.
Made basic adjustments (exposure, white balance) in Lightroom, and copied to all four frames.
Opened as layers in PhotoShop.
Stitched the frames into a panorama: Edit -> Auto-align Layers; Edit -> Auto-blend Layers. At this point, it looked like this:
When I made the original frames, I didn’t cover enough ground for a rectangular composition. To fix this, I used PhotoShop’s excellent Content Aware Fill on the missing corners.
Select the blank areas with the Magic Wand tool. Expand the selection (~3 pixels). Edit -> Content Aware Fill
use the clone tool to eliminate any obvious fill anomalies.
And then I worked on sharpness. Here is a 300% look at the area near the Bull Elk:
Not very sharp. So I:
Duplicated the layer and applied the Topaz Sharpen AI filter. I used the Stabilize method with a Remove Blur value of 0.70. Here’s the much improved result:
Topaz Sharpen AI can work wonders on this kind of problem, but it does take a lot of CPU power. Depending on your hardware, you might have to be (very) patient.
The final step in Photoshop was to use Topaz Clarity for some added midrange contrast. I applied the Nature -> Fur and Feathers II preset.
Back in LightRoom: I cropped to a 2:3 format; tweaked White Balance and exposure again; boosted texture and shadows on the Elk with a circular adjustment and range mask; Reduced green and yellow saturation; Used a -12 highlight priority vignette and added grain at 15.
And this is the new version I just posted to Flickr.
Mt. Evans Elk herd (2019 version) – Near mile marker 8. Quite a harem! There are about 60 elk in this image: A single bull, ~10 young ones, and the rest female.
It took me about 30 minutes to do this. Was it worth the effort? I can’t answer for you. I think it looks much better and I’m glad I saved those RAW files! As long as i can re-start from the original sensor data, I can leverage newer software and get better results. I know a lot of folks don’t enjoy computer work, but I do – so to me it’s worth it.
Click on any of these to see larger versions. I have other Mt. Evans (and Colorado) photos in this album on Flickr. And if you have any questions on this, I’ll be happy to try and answer them. Just ask in a comment below.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make (or reprocess) some photos!
MaryKate had the day off last Thursday for Independence Day and invited me to walk around Lake Dixie and Lake Cherokee with her. I was glad to go – I’d been by before, but only inside a car and unable to take a close look. We also wanted to check on how the cygnets she wrote about on Fathers Day are doing.
Lake Cherokee is the smaller of the two and both are lovely. For a location in downtown Orlando they have a lot of wildlife. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by this since they’re very close to Greenwood Park and Cemetery, where there’s also a lot of wildlife.
One of the first things we encountered was this Heron. I thought at first it was a Green Heron, but got some help with the ID on Flickr. It was small and still – and I glanced right past it without any recognition. I’m glad MaryKate commented on it so I could make a photo! Least Bitterns are supposed to be common in this type of environment, but I don’t see them much. I think because they’re so good at hiding!
Hunting Heron (Least Bittern)
Next we came up to this Mallard posing for me in the grass in front of some yellow flowers.
And there were several Wood Ducks. I’ve seen them before at Greenwood and Mead Gardens, but hadn’t paid attention to their non breeding colors. This young one is interesting and I’m looking forward to spring time when their plumage starts changing.
Juvenile Wood Duck
Here’s a bird that I’d never seen before or even heard of.
Swan Geese are native to the Far East and have also been domesticated. There were two, this one and another that was all white. It’s likely they escaped or were released from captivity since they don’t occur naturally in the US.
This Mottled Duck was resting in a notch about seven feet above ground. It watched us as I made the photo, but didn’t seem nervous. The tree was right next to the sidewalk and it must be used to people nearby.
Unfortunately, there’s some bad news about the Lake Cherokee Mute Swan family. There were initially three babies, but only one’s been seen lately.
From across the lake, MaryKate and I spotted two adults but no babies. We worried they’d lost the last cygnet too. But when we got closer, we saw what was going on – Mom was riding the baby on her back!
Mute Swan Mom carrying baby
We also saw Limpkins, Common Gallinules, Great Egrets, a second Mute Swan family (with four large juveniles!), Anhingas, and several turtles. What a wonderful walk and what an unexpected abundance of things to experience and photograph! Thanks for inviting me, MaryKate!
You can click on each of these images to view a larger version on Flickr. And if you’re interested, I’ve started collecting my photos from here in this album on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Lynn and I spent a couple of days in St. Augustine, Florida last week. It’s been two years since I last wrote about it (in this post), but it’s still a photo rich environment. Here’s a sample of the images I made there this time.
Columbia Restaurant interior. We usually stop by this place for the food, but the inside is lovely too!
Memorial Presbyterian Church Dome. We rode the Old Town Trolley around again and got off at this stop to see this beautiful church. Henry Flagler built it in the 1890s as a memorial to his wife.
>Santa Maria Restaurant Ruins. Our trolley guide told us it has too much hurricane damage to repair. It’s going to be demolished soon and replaced with a new restaurant
Flower Box. I like to watch for interesting doors and windows when I walk through town. This is one example.
Golden mooring morning. Lynn used some points to help us splurge on a waterfront room. I made this from our balcony.
Refreshments – Make the photo, then drink the subject. It’s important to get the sequence correct!