I’ve written about Casey Key before. Lynn and I have been visiting this little island on the Gulf coast of Florida for many years. If you’d like to read other articles about it, click on the “Casey Key” link under the “Places / Categories” menu over on the right.
When we got home this week and I reviewed the photos I made there on this trip, I was struck by how much the clouds enhance the images.
This strong storm moved through one afternoon and dropped considerable hail and rain on the area. But we also got to see the awesome cloud front pass over the beach.
This next photo includes some lovely clouds too.
And finally, here’s one last photo combining the sky and wispy sunset clouds with a sun or beach totem – not something I see everyday.
I have more photos from Casey Key as well as larger versions of the ones above in this set on Flickr.
Clear skies are often boring. Clouds and storms add interest and drama, and enhance almost any photo. Add some clouds to your compositions.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go find some clouds – and make some photos!
Lynn and I went back to Lake Louisa State Park last weekend and spent a very relaxing couple of days. It was a little chilly – our first Florida “cold” front rolled through while we were there and made us both appreciate the gas fireplace in the cabin. We didn’t see as much wildlife this time, but I did enjoy making some photos. Here’s one at sunset from just behind the cabin, looking out over Lake Dixie. I like the way the field glows in the light coming through the trees.
Grass, trees, lake, and sun
The sky was very clear after the cold front, so there were no dramatic clouds to work with. I think the low morning sun on the trees and the mist on the water look nice in black and white.
There weren’t as many flowers blooming as there were last May. But the few we did see were lovely. These were along a path just off the road.
I’ve always wanted to see Chicago. It’s my birthplace – but we moved away shortly after I was born. For some reason, I never made it back until this year. I spent a few days exploring at the end of September. My daughter had a business trip there and some spare frequent flyer points, so she gave me a ticket. Thanks, MK!!!
Chicago and Lake Michigan from the air – my first photo of the trip. It was wonderfully clear as we approached the city. You can really see how large Lake Michigan is.
Mary was busy, so I booked a hotel downtown and spent the first afternoon and evening wandering around by the lake shore. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a bit of a problem. I wasn’t used to all that walking and ended up with sore feet and blisters. Which didn’t help me to walk around on the following days – but I still managed to get a few photos.
I did some research online and asked a few questions about places to photograph. One of my Flickr contacts (Brian Koprowski) lives in the area and gave me several good hints. Thanks to him, I ended up at the Adler Planetarium on the first evening. The sunset wasn’t that exciting, but I thought the city across the water at twilight was pretty.
City at twilight
I also liked this fisheye view of the Field Museum that I made on my way back to the hotel. It reminded me of the movie “Night at the Museum“, although that wasn’t filmed here.
Night at the museum – Field Museum
The next day I again walked the city (and made my feet worse). My first stop was the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), where there’s a view from the glass balcony observation deck on the 103rd floor. A wonderful place for a fisheye lens!
From the top of Chicago – Another fisheye view. This one is from the Willis Tower observation deck, 1353 feet above the city
There’s a lot to see around the city including a great deal of sculpture and artwork. And glass on the buildings creates many compositional opportunities. In this image, I waited for the photographer on the near right to get into place so I could finish my photo – I had hoped she’d move a bit more to the left, but oh well.
Flamingo – This artwork by Alexander Calder is in the Federal Plaza
Here’s another rather strange piece of street art. I couldn’t resist adding a little “digital makeup” in Photoshop.
Later that evening I ended up in Millennium Park where the Cloud Gate sculpture is located. I liked the scene – with all the people contrasting with the buildings and sculpture.
Cloud Gate (AKA “the bean”)
My son Mike drove down to meet us and we spent the next morning riding the “L” train, bicycling along the lake shore, and visiting Portillo’s Delli for a Chicago Dog. When Mary joined us that afternoon we took a boat tour on the Chicago River and ate some very good Chicago deep dish pizza for dinner. The final morning before our flight back to Orlando we toured the Museum of Science and Technology and drove by Mercy Hospital where I was born. I was only a little disappointed that there was no “Welcome Back Ed!” banner above the hospital entrance.
I enjoyed my short visit and definitely felt a kinship with this wonderful city. I want to go back again and see more. It’s so diverse that no trip as short as this could possible do it justice.
You can see larger versions of these photos and some others from our Chicago trip in this set on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Short post this week: my son Mike is visiting and I didn’t have time for a photo expedition.
He wanted to go to the University of Central Florida football game last night. Since it was a 7pm kick-off, I checked the open seats on the east side and there were still some available up in the nosebleed section. We enjoyed the first quarter while I waited to see if the Florida sky would do it’s thing. It cooperated – here’s my version of a sports photograph:
Football foreground: The sun set early on the visiting Akron Zips in the UCF football opening home game.
The Akron team was overmatched. We had a good time watching UCF win – the final score was 38 – 7.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go sneak in a sunset photo!
Lynn was out-of-town last week at the Pressing Iron & Trivet Collectors of America Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. I talked her into letting me out of my spousal support services subcontract, so I had a chance to sneak in a few days of photography while she was away. I spent the time in St. Augustine, Florida, which is “the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States”. I’ve written about it many times (see this link) and it’s one of my favorite places to photograph. Photo ops abound and include landscapes, architecture, street scenes, beaches, historic landmarks, wildlife, and much more. It’s hard to go anywhere in the area and not come back with a photo! Here are some of mine along with hints on how I made them.
There are some wonderful sunrise and sunset spots. Friends told me about Marineland Beach (thanks Kevin M. and JT) which is just a little south of St. Augustine. It’s now one of my new favorites. The coquina rocks there worked really well as foreground objects in my photos.
Long exposure sunrise – Marineland Beach, Florida
This is a single exposure, made through a Hoya ND400 filter right after sunrise. The waves were coming in around me, but I stood my tripod on one of the rocks to keep us dry. I used my lowest ISO setting (50) and even with the sun in the frame, the 8 2/3 stop ND filter gave me a 14 second exposure at f/8 . The long shutter speed makes the water surface contrast nicely with the rock texture.
One thing you’ll run into in Florida on summer mornings is condensation. It’s so humid that if you take your camera gear directly from your air-conditioned room or car out into the moist air, you can expect 15 to 30 minutes of fog before they clear. You can decrease this by not running your car’s AC on the way. You can also seal your camera and lens in a plastic bag with as much air removed as possible until it warms up. And it’s a good idea to bring along a micro-fiber cloth to remove condensation if needed. The larger your camera / lens is, the longer it will take to warm up. This is one time that good glass works against you – at least until the temperature equalizes. One more point: try not to change lenses under these conditions. If water condenses on your sensor, it can be hard to remove and may cause dust to adhere to the surface.
The harbor and fort (Castillo de San Marcos) also provide interesting detail for sunrise or sunset and landscapes in general.
A calm morning in the St. Augustine harbor: Clouds to the north over the Castillo de San Marcos and the quarter Moon above the Bridge of Lions add interesting detail to this image.
This photo and the next were both multi-shot panoramas made with the techniques I described last week. Images like the harbor scene can be tough to blend due to smooth gradients in the sky and water. Be sure you check carefully and correct any glitches.
Another thing about summer in Florida: We have awesome afternoon thunderstorms. Clouds add a lot of drama to photos, but the storms were so bad on two of the days I was there that I couldn’t go out for sunset. Plan accordingly.
St. Augustine Sunset behind the Castillo de San Marcos
On this evening at the fort, there was a large thunder-storm to the west. The sky wasn’t colorful at all until the sun moved down below the thunder head, resulting in these shadows and rays. One big advantage of sunset photography vs. sunrise is that you can wait to see what develops. At sunrise, you need to be in place extremely early to see all the variations happen.
I had a great time walking around the fort at sunset with my large tripod and big DSLR camera. Most people were oblivious and walked right through my photos (I don’t blame them – I don’t own the place). I’d wait for a clear spot in the traffic and make another exposure. Other folks stood next to me since they thought wherever someone with a big camera is has to be a good spot. At one point, a tour guide in a pirate costume leading a group of 20 or so people saw me and stopped his group from walking in front of me until I finished my exposure. It turned out he’s a photographer too.
I wanted to try a night photo of the lighthouse. I also wanted to capture the look of the beam coming out of the light. This turned out to be a tough assignment. The contrast range is huge and there’s a lot of glare from the lights in the scene.
St. Augustine Light Station
I ended up merging two exposures. The first one was long (f/4 @ 3 seconds) at a low ISO (400) to decrease noise. The slow shutter blurred the light beam, so I made a second exposure (ISO 3200, f/4 @ 0.4 seconds) and this stopped the beam enough to highlight it. The second exposure had some noise, but was fine with a bit of post processing before I blended the two manually in Photoshop. I made this photo about an hour before sunrise. It was dark and there was no one around. One of my contacts on Flickr commented that spooky things happen in this area. I’m glad I didn’t notice any when I was there.
Tom M. met me up there on one of the days and we spent several hours just walking around. There were many interesting scenes, and I never saw any two doors alike.
Red door #33
We were walking down one street and saw someone in the distance photographing this house with his iPhone. He was really working it, making multiple photos / compositions and was still there when we arrived several minutes later. We waited for him to finish and when he looked up and noticed us he asked what kind of cameras we had. It turned out he’s a photographer too and was there on vacation, but forgot his Nikon D3S DSLR. He said using the iPhone was “very liberating”. Photo hint 101: If someone’s taking a picture, look at what he’s photographing – it might be interesting. Photo hint 102: Don’t forget your camera.
A little later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this waiter zipping through traffic on the way to work. On a skate board. I managed to make a quick photo.
Morning commute – very eco-friendly
We also noticed this person reading on the bench. I really liked the symmetry of the columns and how they led my eye towards the subject. Tom posted a different composition (sorry – no longer available) that I think is really good too.
By the way, if you have Lightroom 5, try out the “Upright” settings in the Lens Corrections panel on photos like the one above. It does a great job squaring things up.
Like I said, there’s a tremendous amount of photo-ops in the area. I didn’t make it by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm on this visit, but from March to June, it’s one of the best places in Florida to photograph a variety of wild birds nesting in the rookery there. I also didn’t get to Fort Matanzas. It’s a little south of the city and makes a nice side excursion. The Nombre de Dios Mission in the northern part of the city has a beautiful chapel and grounds as well as a view into the harbor. And I’m sure that there are a great many more photo ops that I still have to discover in this beautiful place.
You can see these photos larger if you click on them and I have many others from St. Augustine in this set on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
First, an apology: It appears that a couple of the species names for birds we observed in the Dry Tortugas triggered some people’s spam filters. So if you’re an email subscriber and didn’t get the email with the Dry Tortugas post, please check your spam folder or click here to open it in your browser. Sorry about that. Although there’s not much I can do about it. And it is funny.
Second: Happy anniversary, blog! The first Central Florida Photo Ops post went up on May 7th, 2007 – 6 years and 270 posts ago. Thanks once again for all your encouragement. I enjoy writing the blog, but I don’t think it would have lasted this long if not for the occasional comments and questions from readers. Please keep them coming!
Third: Here’s some info on the rest of our South Florida trip. The Dry Tortugas were the focus of our expedition, but we also visited Blowing Rocks Preserve, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Largo, Everglades National Park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and Brian Piccolo Park. Since these were such short visits, I can’t really provide detailed reviews of each. Instead, I’ll show sample images to give you some background and an idea of what you can see in each place.
I’ve heard that Blowing Rocks Preserve in Jupiter Florida is an awesome landscape place under the right conditions. The morning we were there, the light was harsh and the weather wasn’t ideal to show off the rocks. I think studying the tides and winds (and some luck) are required to make the most of a visit to this place. Here’s one photo I came up with.
Blowing Rocks Preserve – Sand steps, Three sets, Two close, No return?
We stopped at Bill Baggs to look for a couple of birds that had been spotted there. We didn’t have much luck with the rare birds, although I enjoyed seeing the light house and this awesome lizard.
This Cuban Knight Anole was over a foot long, much larger than the anoles we see in Central Florida
We spent a day driving through the Everglades, stopping at each area along the main park road and side roads. It was very overcast, and I found it tough to compose landscapes. I’m sure there are some great spots that people more familiar with the area know about. I guess I need to go back and find them.
Brewing storm, Everglades National Park – A pine tree and grass reflect on the inches deep Everglades “river of grass”
We made it all the way to the end of the road in Flamingo. I was very excited to see a couple of American Crocodiles in the marina there. Only about 2000 of these remain in the wild. They look different and somehow even more menacing than the alligators we’re used to seeing in Central Florida.
We had tentative plans to find some night-time / star trail photography dark sites in the Everglades, but with the long days and cloudy weather, we never got to it (another reason to go back). While in the Everglades we saw Purple Martins (rooming with House Sparrows), Shinny cowbirds, Brown Cowbirds, Spotted Sandpipers, Red Headed Woodpeckers, Swallow Tail Kites, Red Shouldered Hawks, an Anhinga rookery, Black Vultures (that were eating rubber off of cars!), the American crocodiles, and of course Alligators, Turtles and many other common birds.
The place we were staying in Key Largo had a private beach and boat ramp, and we spent one sunset there. It was pretty – the rocks in the foreground look like a Japanese garden. So much so that I wonder if someone arranged them.
Gulf view from Key Largo at sunset
On our way home, we stopped at Brian Piccolo Park to see the Burrowing Owls. They were easy to find in their marked nests and fun to watch. We also saw a few Monk Parakeets there.
Brian Piccolo Park: Burrowing Owl guarding nest
Other wildlife seen on the trip included Loggerhead Shrikes, Ground Doves, Eurasian Collard Doves, White Headed Pigeons, a Great White Heron, Cardinals, a Northern Curly Tailed Lizard, and Iguanas.
It’s April and birds are heading north again through our area. Fort De Soto south of St. Petersburg, Florida is a “migrant trap” because they stop there on the way. If you’re a photographer or birder and you’d like to see many types of birds – now is the time to visit this wonderful place.
I went over last Saturday with Kevin M. and Lutfi E. There were a lot of other birders there as well as a few photographers. It was fun talking with the birders. They’re all helpful and I learned a lot from them. If you’re just starting out in birding, go with a knowledgeable friend (thanks, Kevin!), or check with your local Audubon group. They often organize field trips with an experienced leader. The Orange County Audubon Society has a trip planned for next weekend.
Migration at Fort De Soto – As a beginning birder, I was excited to photograph these 11 life birds on Saturday: Chimney Swift, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Merlin, Black-throated Green Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, and Orchard Oriole.
In addition to the 11 life birds I managed to photograph, we saw many others including: Worm Eating Warbler, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow Throated Vireo, Northern Parula, European Starling, Black and White Warbler, Common Ground Dove, American Crow, Magnificent Frigate bird, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Laughing Gull, Sandwich Tern, Caspian Tern, Brown Pelicans, Eastern Kingbird, Ospreys, Cormorants, Anhingas, Vultures, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets.
If you go, plan to get there early and stay all day. Fort De Soto is a big place and we couldn’t get to all of it on Saturday, so I’m sure there were many other species we missed.
You must be patient and quick to photograph these smaller birds. They move fast and flit in and out of trees and bushes so catching them out in the open is tough. A long, fast lens helps too!
This is also a beautiful place for landscape photography because there are both sunrise and sunset views. Here’s a photo I made last year:
The end of the day at Fort De Soto – Looking southwest toward Egmont Key from the base of the bay pier. The ferry to the Key is on the left.
Deborah Sandidge and Jason Odell led a sunset photo walk around Lake Eola in downtown Orland on Friday evening. I’ve followed their work online and wanted to meet them, so I signed up. Conditions weren’t the best for sunset photography, but I still had a good time. I used a neutral density filter to make several long exposure photos and I thought I’d walk you through my process. First of all, here’s the final version:
Lake Eola – Orlando, Florida. Long exposure, cloudy, sunset. You can click on this image to see a larger version on Flickr.
And here’s the initial version of this photo:
f/8, 25 seconds; after initial adjustments in Lightroom.
Here are the steps I went through to get to the final version: First, I corrected the distortion to make the buildings vertical in Lightroom. Then I edited it in Photoshop. I used content aware fill to finish the vertical distortion fix, then added a layer and masked out noise from darker areas. Finally, I ran the single image through Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 to enhance color, contrast and details. Back in Light room again, I finalized exposure, contrast and white balance and applied sharpening and a small amount of vignette. I like how it came out.
For comparison purposes, here’s a 1/20 second exposure of the same scene.
f/8, 1/20th second; Same initial adjustments as the version above.
Looking at the long exposure version, the main differences I see are: the smooth sheen on the water surface, the much more prominent tree shadow in the lower right, and the radial motion blurring in the clouds. The tree shadow surprised me the most. In the short exposure version, the water ripples break up the shadow. They don’t in the long exposure version, which makes the shadow much more interesting.
There are lot of upsides to long exposure photography and a few downsides. For instance, since the wind was blowing so hard on Friday, some of the smaller tree branches are a little blurry. Also, when you use very dense neutral density filters, your camera probably won’t auto expose or auto focus correctly, so you’ll have to take care of those things on your own. And some of these filters can also add a color cast to your photos, so you may need to be careful with your color balance. But all in all, it’s a great technique to have in your bag of tricks. Have you tried it yet? Why not?
Season’sGreetings! The holidays are here once again and many of you are traveling to visit family and friends. Please have a safe journey and enjoy the time with your loved ones.
Well, I think I now have another favorite photo-op! I’d heard many things about Fort De Soto and a couple of my friends had great experiences there, but it’s a ~2.5 hour drive from Winter Springs – so I’d never gone until last week.
Lynn, Mike, Sara, and Mary got me a wonderful birthday present this year – a 1 on 1 photo workshop with Jason Hahn of Outdoor Photo Workshops. I’d been waiting to use it until the weather cooled off a bit and I finally scheduled it for last week. Jason lives in the Tampa area and he’s an expert on Fort De Soto, so it seemed like a great opportunity for me to visit with a local guide and learn more about the place.
Since we were meeting at 6:45am for sunrise, I went over the night before to make sure I knew the way and to try to get a sunset shot. Before I left, I used the Photographer’s Ephemeris app on my phone to do a little virtual scouting and noticed that the setting sun would be in nearly perfect alignment with a section of beach near the Bay pier at De Soto. If you don’t have this app or another like it, get it. It’s extremely useful when planning photo-ops. This setting looked like it would be different from the sunrise and sunset geometry I usually get, so that’s where I ended up on Thursday evening. I was blessed with some very nice clouds and light, and the geometry led to this composition. What do you think?
The end of the day at Fort Desoto – Looking southwest toward Egmont Key from the base of the bay pier. The ferry that travels back and forth to the Key is on the left.
Fort De Soto park is south of St. Petersburg, Florida and is run by Pinellas county. It’s made up of a number of islands (keys) and the location and geography make it very unique, especially from a birding perspective. It lies along the migration routes and is a landing-place for birds flying across the Gulf of Mexico. If the conditions are favorable, a knowledgable birder can see over a hundred different species here in a single spring-time day. I’m definitely going to keep an eye on the birding lists and plan to go back next April.
It’s also quite diverse from a landscape photography perspective. The Sunshine Skyway bridge can add to a scene, and the tides cover and uncover shoreline features that can vary the foreground interest in your photos. Storms also come through occasionally and these can cut new channels or shift sand to change the layout of the smaller islands. So it’s possible to see changes on both a daily and seasonal basis. When I arrived there Friday morning, the light wasn’t good for a typical sunrise shot, but I set up anyway and made this photo. I think the reflections from the bridge on the low clouds and water add a lot to the image.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay Florida, before dawn. From the East Beach turnaround at Fort De Soto
Jason showed me around, and was quite knowledgable about the site, the wildlife, and how to photograph all of it. He was also patient and easily dealt with my many questions. It was interesting to hear him talk about the behavior of the animals and how they interact with the terrain and tides and then explain how to use the knowledge to make better photos. It was a greatly enhanced scouting expedition and I only hope I can remember half the things he told me!
The wind was blowing at 10 miles an hour or more, so many of the normal birds were hunkered down out of sight, but we did see Laughing, and Herring Gulls (including one with its breakfast), an American Oystercatcher, a family of Raccoons, Common Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, Ospreys, Tri-colored and Great Blue Herons and maybe a few other species.
American Oystercatcher – a very cooperative bird. He strolled right by us, leaving a wake.
There was a pretty interesting scenario with the Herring Gull below. They catch crabs and then fly them up to 40 or 50 feet above rocks or hard sand before they drop them to crack the shells open. This particular gull was going to crack his crab, but another gull came close, so it flew off somewhere else to dine in private.
Herring Gull flies off with crab
On this trip, I met a fellow photographer for the first time, scouted a new place (which definitely made the “must do” list), learned lot in the process, and had a great time. A pretty fine photo-op, in spite of the clouds and wind.
As usual, you can see larger versions of these images on Flickr by clicking on them. And I have a couple more photos from Fort De Soto in this set.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!