Happy New Year! I hope that all of you, your families, and your friends have had a joyful and happy holiday season!
The beginning of the year is a good time to review results and contemplate how to improve any endeavor and photography is no exception. I’ve put together these “Favorite photos of the year” posts since 2009. This is a hard process for any photographer. For me, it’s difficult to separate my opinion about a photograph from the emotional connections that I have with the subject, scene, or situation. But making the effort is important and part of the learning process. I don’t claim to be objective – these are simply the photos that I like best. Feel free to disagree, but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve picked.
This year, all of my favorites were made in Florida. I’ve listed the date and place for each and included a link to the blog post where you can find out more about the image. You can click on the photos to go to Flickr where you can see a larger version. Or you can click on this link to view the complete set on Flickr.
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.
My favorite program for converting images to black and white is the Nik Silver Efex Pro plug-in. I wanted to try a new one called “Tonality” by Macphun software. I processed these next two photos in both programs so I could compare results.
Cypress and calm water
Clear and very calm
Tonality is an exceptionally complete B&W conversion program with lots of presets and sliders to play with. It also has some built-in capabilities you might not expect such as layers, gradients, and selective edits. These come in handy when you want to combine several conversions without going through layers in Photoshop. Silver Efex Pro’s control points provide some of the same selective edit capability, but for me, the Tonality controls are more flexible. Tonality also has lens blur and glow simulations and the ability to blend in texture patterns. Lots of presets, options, and control!
I noticed that the clarity control in Tonality sometimes resulted in halos that I has to tone down. But I found that overall I preferred the Tonality result over the Silver Efex version for these two photos. I don’t know if this will hold up long-term, since I’m pretty sure you can achieve very similar results with either one. I’m going to keep playing with it and see.
By the way, Tonality is Mac only, Silver Efex runs on both Mac and PC. There are free trial versions you can download, so check them out yourself and see what you think.
Tranquility at Bubble Pond. This is a two frame, hand merged image. ISO 100, f/16, 1/10 sec, 16mm, using a polarizing filter.
Apparently, my web server glitched and didn’t send emails to the subscriber list when I posted the new entry about Acadia National Park earlier today (Sunday, 17 August, 2014). If you’d like to read it, please go to this address in your web browser: http://edrosack.com/2014/08/17/acadia-national-park-maine/
Sometimes, you can arrive at a “bucket list” location and it’s disappointing when it doesn’t live up to your expectations. So let’s get that out-of-the-way now: That won’t happen at Acadia National Park. It’s an utterly awesome place. If you haven’t been there yet, make sure it’s on your own bucket list.
“The Bubbles” mountains from the southern end of Jordan Pond. I used a polarizing filter for this and I like the way it renders the nearby rocks through the water and the trees on the left. ISO 100, f/16, 1/10 second, at 16mm.
This place on the south shore of Jordan Pond is one of the most iconic views in the park. I looked and was surprised there weren’t any holes worn in the rock from all the tripods over the years. But I didn’t let the fact that everyone takes a photo here stop me – I couldn’t resist making one of my own.
I’ve wanted to go to Acadia for a long time. My friend Kevin M. went last year and raved about it. When Mary Kate suggested I go up with her, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
It’s a landscape photographer’s paradise. I spent almost 6 full days there. I met MK and her coworker Ryan on Friday evening and they left Sunday afternoon. Fellow Photography Interest Group member Tom M. arrived Monday afternoon and we stayed until Thursday morning. It’s brimming with photo ops: rugged shorelines, sandy beaches, granite mountains, calm mirror like ponds, beautiful forests, gnarled trees, lighthouses, fishing villages, whales, birds, and more. It felt like there were photos everywhere I looked.
Acadia is small for a national park (at least compared to some of those out west) but it still covers a very large area. And getting from the Bass Harbor Head Light all the way to the Schoodic Peninsula can take some time, especially with traffic during the peak summer season. This map shows where I made my photos.
You can see I made it to much of the park, but I missed an even larger part of it. Not to mention that I mostly stayed close to the car. I didn’t explore any of the hiking trails and carriage roads. I guess I’ll have to keep it on my bucket list and go back!
I visited several places more than once and the changing light and weather made them look very different. Bubble Pond, Schoodic Point, and Cadillac Mountain were my favorites.
Looking north-west from Otter Creek Drive, with Cadillac Mountain in the distance. A 5 frame panorama, captured in infrared and converted to B&W. ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/160 sec, at 28mm (equivalent focal length).
I found the spot above just driving around, not from a guidebook. The fog in the distance and the lily pads in the nearby pond called out for a photograph.
Schoodic Peninsula is in all the guidebooks and you must go there. We spent hours looking for compositions hidden in the rocks, cliffs and waves. Just make sure you’re careful. The rocks can be slippery and unexpected waves have washed people into the water.
Schoodic Point Waves. I used a Hoya ND400 filter on this to slow my shutter speed. Even though the sun had been up for a while, I could expose at ISO 100, f/16, 4.2 seconds, at 16mm.
Sieur de Monts is in all the guide books too and when I saw photos of the birch forests I knew I had to stop there. Tom and I initially made a wrong turn, but finally found it. And what a wonderful place it was – well worth the walk!
Paper Birch and sedge grass forest, along Jessup’s Path. This is a 6 frame panorama, captured in infrared and converted to B&W. ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/100 sec at 28mm (equivalent focal length).
We saw wildlife too. On Saturday morning, MK and I took the Puffin / Whale tour offered by Bar Harbor Whale Watching. It was a bit foggy, but nice enough and the captain managed to find both Atlantic Puffins and Humpback Whales for us. We also saw several lighthouses that we wouldn’t have spotted otherwise. In addition to the puffins, I photographed four other new life birds: Arctic Terns, Black Guillemots, Great Shearwaters, and Great Black-backed Gulls. And there may have been a few others that I didn’t recognize / identify. Back on land we saw deer a couple of times, and (heard about) a bear. But sadly, no moose.
Two Humpback whales show their tails on the way back down after surfacing. We watched a group of three feeding together. As the boat idled they often came close. Researchers keep track of the whales and ID them from the patterns on their tails and backs. The whale on the left is “Bottleneck.” (HWC #8807) and was first sighted there in 2004. The other whale is “Vee” (HWC # 0372) and it was first sighted there in 1983 and has also been seen in Puerto Rico.
ISO 400, f/8, 1/1000 sec, at 155mm.
After the boat tour, MK and I drove up to Prospect Harbor to visit Janet M. She was Mary’s music teacher in Orlando and retired to Maine. She and her husband Arnold are outstanding tour guides – they drove us around the Schoodic area and showed us many sites from a local’s perspective. And then they shared a delightfully delicious dinner of Maine Lobster Mac and Cheese, salad, and Maine Blueberry pie for desert. What wonderful hosts!
There’s a lot of information available about this area, so I won’t try to write an exhaustive how-to guide, Instead, here are some of the references I used. I bought and read these two books and I’d recommend either one (or both):
The Bar Harbor Whale Watching Puffin / Whale tour posts photos taken on their tours on their Flickr stream.
Finally, I’ll offer these hints that may help when you go:
I brought a full (and heavy) photo backpack and used a lot of the gear. We flew into Bangor on smaller planes so be careful that your photo luggage meets the carry on restrictions. I was very glad I had a wide-angle lens, my IR modified camera, a tripod, and polarizing and ND400 filters. Kevin M. loaned me his 70 – 300mm lens and I used that for whales and puffins.
I filled up my camera memory cards for the first time in a long while. Bring extra, or some way to back them up so you can safely erase them.
Atlantic Puffins are small – and far away from the boat! There’s one tour that actually puts you on the island where they nest inside blinds close to the birds. But I heard that the waiting list is over a year long.
Whales on the other hand are large and sometimes close to the boat. You can get some good photos even with a phone.
Make sure you practice your photography skills before you go. And know your equipment – no new gear right before the trip. You want to know what to do when you get there, not figure it out in real-time.
Guidebooks and research are helpful, but don’t get too focused in on what others have photographed. Photo ops are easy to find and I enjoyed trying to put my spin on some of the well-known locations.
It’s crowded in July and August. Especially Bar Harbor and the main park visitor center. But you can avoid those areas and find places / times where there’s no one else around.
The food (especially seafood) is wonderful – arrive hungry!
I’m from Florida, but the weather was hotter than I thought it would be (highs in the 80s) and the biting bugs were worse than I thought they would be.
The weather varied too. There was some fog / mist and drizzle. I was actually glad, because the coast of Maine is known for that, and it gave us some distinct looks. Bubble Pond looked very different depending on the time of day and the wind and visibility. But fog did spoil one sunrise (after getting up at 3:30 am!) and Tom’s offshore lighthouse tour. So plan on some reduced visibility and stay a few days longer if you can so you can go back to some locations.
Finally, enjoy yourself. Relax – don’t get overwhelmed. Create a lot of memories, not a lot of stress.
Bar Harbor Blue – The town lights at night from Cadillac Mountain. ISO 200, f/8, 25 sec, at 120mm
I thoroughly enjoyed myself and came home exhausted. I took too many photos and spent too much time going through them after I got home. But I like how they turned out – please take a look at the other ones in my Flickr album when you get a chance.
I’ll leave you with a short conversation I overheard on the top of Cadillac Mountain while Tom and I were photographing Bar Harbor after dark.
A little girl, pointing at Tom and I: “What are they doing Daddy?“.
Her father: “Taking pictures with really big cameras.”
Girl: “Do we have one?”
Dad: “No, but Mommy wants one.”
Girl: “Why don’t they use their phones?”
Dad: no answer
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos! And use the biggest camera you can!
Let’s go fishing! Two fishermen head out before dawn.
I’ve made this kind of photo before – you can see some examples in this set on Flickr. I think this one turned out better than my earlier tries. I used a different approach and because it’s been a while since I’ve written a “behind the scenes / how-to post”, I thought I’d fill you in on how I made this.
The boat ramp at this little park where SR 520 crosses the St. Johns River is pretty busy around dawn. It seems to be a popular place for fishermen to put in. I waited several times while they cleared my frame and the water calmed down before I could make my next exposure. So I decided to make an image that included a boat.
It’s a challenging shot. I wanted to capture the intense sunrise colors so I had to be careful not to over expose and blow out the sky. I also wanted some detail in the boat, so I needed to over expose there a bit, but still minimize motion blur. At sunrise, I normally use a low ISO for the best quality image, and a small aperture for good depth of field. This results in a long shutter speed, which is bad for photographing moving boats. And if I want to bracket and use multiple frame HDR to capture the huge contrast range in the scene – that’s even worse for moving boat photography. So how did I make this image? Glad you asked!
The secret is to carefully capture two frames and blend them together by hand. The first frame is exposed for the boat: I used a high ISO and a wide open aperture to get my shutter speed as fast as possible, and I overexposed slightly to capture a little shadow detail in the boat and in the vegetation on the shore. With my camera set and on a tripod, I composed and waited for the next boat to get to the right point in the frame. Here’s that RAW file:
The second frame was my main exposure and I wanted it to be the best quality possible. I also wanted to slightly under expose to capture color and detail in the sky. I waited until the boat was gone and the water was calm again and then made this exposure:
When I got home, I preprocessed the two raw files using identical color balance and paying careful attention to noise reduction (especially on the higher ISO frame with the boat). I’ve used DxO Optics Pro lately when I want the best RAW conversion. It does a wonderful job on both lens corrections and noise reduction for supported equipment. After a few tweaks to exposure in each file, I brought them into Photoshop on separate layers.
The next thing to deal with was the boat. Even though I’d pushed my shutter speed as high as I thought I could, 1/20 second still left a little motion blur visible. The “Filters / Sharpen / Smart Sharpen” command in Photoshop has a “Remove Motion Blur” option and I’ve found that it works well in situations like this where the direction of motion is known. I used it selectively on a duplicate layer to enhance detail in the boat. Here are before and after crops at 200%. I think it’s a nice improvement:
Next I used layer masks to blend the multiple frames together. I worked carefully around the boat and painted it into the main / second frame. I like a little detail in my shadows instead of a straight silhouette. Since I’d slightly overexposed the first frame (and was careful with noise reduction) I painted some of that into the vegetation. Here’s the first merged result:
The only filter I used on this was Topaz Clarity – I like the way it increases mid-tone contrast without adding halos.
After selective sharpening on a separate layer, I returned to Lightroom for final adjustments (black and white points, vignette, etc) to get the first image in this post.
I struggled some with the cropping. I tried a 16×9 aspect ratio, but because I wanted to keep all the sky, I thought the horizon ended up too close to the center. I decided to keep the original composition since the dark water at the bottom holds my eye in the frame. I might play with it some more.
I like how it turned out and I hope you do too. I also hope the info helps with your photography. If you have any questions on details or other photography related things, let me know in the comments.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
It’s a dirt road, and although a bit narrow it’s well maintained. I didn’t have any problems with my car. There are some interesting landscape views:
Views from 5 Mile Road #2
And some interesting wildlife views too:
Guarding the burrow
I made these photos on May 21st. One of my Flickr friends told me he visited the Burrowing Owl nest on the 26th and it looked abandoned. That’s sad. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe the chicks fledged and flew off. That’s what I want to believe anyway.
Lynn, Mary, and I spent the first weekend in May at Lake Louisa State Park (LLSP). It’s located just southwest of Orlando in Clermont, Florida. LLSP is 4500 acres of rolling hills including six lakes with 105 acres of shoreline. There’s a range of camping options and 20 very nice, two bedroom, furnished cabins that you can stay in. Activities include fishing, canoeing and kayaking, biking, swimming, hiking, and horseback riding.
This is another case of me wondering why it took so long to visit somewhere. My friend Kevin M has mentioned it several times, but I never seemed to get over there – until now. It’s truly scenic and I’ve included more images than normal in this post – I apologize if it loads slowly.
Info for Photographers
There’s a lot to photograph there and the variety of landscapes is greater than many places in the area. Hills are rare around here, but this park has them, some over 100 feet high. I made this photo on the hillside above the road by the cabin where we stayed.
Wildflowers and dewey grass at dawn
May 5-11 is national wildflower week and LLSP was doing its part. Several wildflowers were blooming, including Prickly-pear Cactus, Passion Flowers, Lantana, and others. I think we were lucky to see such a variety in bloom. The Passion Flower blooms are supposed to last for only one day.
All of the lakes in the park are great habitats for Cypress Trees and Spanish Moss – very scenic and a classic Florida landscape look.
Lake Dixie shore – From the fishing dock in the campground on the south side of the lake
The Cypress tree trunks can also be very interesting.
Nature’s sculpture – The older, weathered cypress tree shapes can be very unusual
There’s a variety of wildlife at LLSP, although not as much as some other locations in Central Florida. For instance, eBird lists 112 species at LLSP vs 293 in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. We spotted nesting Ospreys (with chicks / juveniles), Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Black Vultures, Wild Turkeys, Nighthawks, a Swallow-tailed Kite, wading birds, vultures, Gopher Tortoises, Alligators, Deer, Crayfish, grackles and a few other species.
An Osprey returning to her nest to check on her chick
Most state parks in Florida seem to open at 8am, which makes early morning photography a challenge. Since we were staying there, we could photograph whenever we wanted. This one is on the western shore of Lake Louisa.
Cypress dawn – by Lake Louisa.
Tripod/Monopod: Yes – take yours and use it when needed.
Lenses: There are so many photo ops here that you could probably make use of every one of your lenses. Macro for flowers, wide-angle for landscapes, long telephoto for wildlife, etc. You’ll have to decide how much to carry and what to concentrate on.
Best time to visit: Any time, but of course winter months will be cooler. Late April and early May will be better for wildflowers and nesting Ospreys too. We often heard Ospreys calling. It was fun to watch the parents bringing food back to their very demanding offspring!
There’s a nice beach and picnic area on Lake Louisa. If you swim there be careful though, there’s no life guard and there are alligators.
The park also is a popular place to bicycle, so bring yours if you have room.
The kayak launch at Lake Dixie across from the cabins is an easy put in. The one at Lake Louisa requires a long carry, so bring a friend or a kayak trolley if you plan to paddle there. You can also put in at the Crooked River Preserve just to the north of Lake Louisa and paddle down to the lake.
I didn’t get a chance (yet) to hike the many trails in the park. There are 9 main ones ranging from 1/2 to 5.5 miles and some of these lead to smaller lakes which might be very scenic.
The Citrus Tower is close to the park. It was built as a tribute to the citrus industry in the area. There’s a great view from 226 feet up, but a lot fewer orange trees visible now than there were in 1956 when it opened.
Cloudy in Clermont – View from the top of the Citrus Tower, looking south along HW27.
There are also many restaurants within a short drive from the park if you don’t want to cook in your cabin.
Lake Louisa State Park is a relaxing and scenic destination. It seems a world away from busy downtown Orlando. It’s perfect for a weekend get away. If you haven’t been there yet, you should go. I’m very glad we did.
B&W with film used to be simple. Get some Tri-X film, put it in your camera, and make exposures. Take the film to the drug store and wait to get your prints back.
OK, it’s never been all that simple. If you’re really hardcore, you get out your chemicals, develop the film yourself and print your best ones. And if you were really, really hardcore – you could dodge and burn while printing to decrease and increase exposure in specific parts of the print.
You can still do all that. But many people today use digital cameras for B&W photography. And things are still as complicated as you want to make them. You set your camera to color mode (yes color, unless you have a Leica M Monochrom camera) and RAW format and make exposures. You load the resulting files into your favorite processing software and adjust / convert the color images to B&W. Then you print carefully to maintain and display all the tonality present in your carefully crafted image.
Along the way, you’ve got to make many decisions on what software to use and how to use it. It’s very easy to get lost and see only trees, no forest. And if you want the best results, you need to know what tools are available and how to use them.
Composing – A recent photo I made and converted to B&W
I purchased and read Monochromatic HDR Photography by Harold Davis. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and I admire his photographic expertise and creativity. It’s a real treat to read this book and follow along as he makes some absolutely lovely B&W images. He covers info that will help beginners as well as experienced photographers and it’s not just post-processing technique. He also talks about the reasons behind choices and creative aspects.
I won’t give away the whole book. It’s a good one and covers the subject well, with a tremendous amount of information that everyone could use. If you’re interested in B&W, you should buy and read it. Basically, Harold’s work flow consists of:
Capturing the image as a set of bracketed exposures to make sure you preserve all the tonality that’s present in the scene
Converting the bracketed sequence into the best quality, color, high dynamic range image possible
Making multiple passes of B&W conversion on the color HDR file and saving them. With each pass you can vary tonality, contrast, detail, etc. to enhance parts of the image.
Using layers to blend the different B&W versions into a single “magical” result
I’ve been trying out his ideas and the photo in this post is a recent example. Below are some intermediate steps so you can get an idea of how this works.
Step 1: I like the general look, but thought the trees should be darker
Step 2: I like the tree in this version, but the fern, photographer, and parts of the canopy are too dark
Step 3: Fixing the exposure / contrast of the photographer
Final: All layers blended together to create the version I posted on Flickr. I like the sky and canopy glow, the dark tree, the bright ferns and the photographer’s appearance compared to the background.
Although I have a long way to go to even get close to Harold’s level, I really like his approach. There are a great many advantages and the only disadvantage I can think of is that it takes time. But if you have a scene that you want to render into the best B&W image possible, this is a great way to do it. And Monochromatic HDR Photography by Harold Davis is a wonderful guide to “Shooting and processing Black & White High Dynamic Range Photos”.
Central Florida Photo Ops Book Review Rating: 5 star, must read!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Beacon 42 boat ramp, before dawn. Venus in the upper right, reflecting in the lower right.
It looks like a great place to launch from, with easy access to Mosquito Lagoon in the distance to the east.
I also went by the Visitor’s Center since I needed to renew my MINWR annual pass. The very nice man at the desk asked me how old I am. When I told him I’d be 62 next month, he told me to come back then and get a senior pass. I’d heard about this before but didn’t know it started at age 62. And that it’s a lifetime (not annual) pass! And that it gets you in to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites including national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation! It’s quite a deal – I’ll be back there next month to get mine.
I did make a few more photos that day. Here’s one more:
Reflecting mangroves: Something about mangroves always seems photogenic to me. Especially in mirror like water.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – if you’re a US citizen age 62 or older – get your pass. Then go make some photos!