I spotted this large fish (~2 1/2 feet long) resting near the shore. My long lens was stowed in my backpack and I knew it wouldn’t stay there long, so I quickly made a photo with my IR camera. If you click through to the larger version on Flickr, you can better see the small minnows swimming nearby.
Dragonflies are out and about. This is the first time I’ve noticed them this year.
And finally, here’s a photo of my walking companion. This bird joined me for a bit on my stroll around the park.
The park offers free Tram Tours on weekends – check their site for details. I much prefer to walk so I can pause and photograph any time I want and get a little exercise too.
Thanks for stopping by the blog. Now – go make some photos!
It’s been a while since I’ve discussed any photo techniques, so I thought I’d share two hints that you might not have tried recently. I also wanted to let you know what’s going on at Gatorland now that breeding season is in full swing.
#1 – Focus stacking: I’ve written about this before. You can read the posts here:
Both of those were macro-photography related. But the technique can also be used for other situations such as landscapes.
Beneath the bridge, by the rocks – Parish Park in Titusville, about a half hour before sunrise
I was at Parish Park in Titusville one morning, looking for a new view point and discovered this area where I could place these rocks in the scene as a foreground for the bridge and far shore. My problem was that without a tilt-shift lens, using the Scheimpflug principle, it’s hard to get the entire composition in focus.
I decided to make three exposures, changing the focus point in each. In the first, I focused on the rocks in the foreground, in the second on the nearest portion of the bridge, and the last was on the far shore. At home, I did some initial processing (the same for all three) and brought them into Photoshop on separate layers. Then I aligned the layers and manually blended them together using masks. I could have used Photoshop’s focus stacking capability, but doing this myself with layers gave me more control. The resulting depth of field is just how I wanted it. What do you think?
#2 – Fill flash: I often carry my flash and use it to add fill light or catch lights in eyes. It helps and doesn’t seem to bother the animals. I’ve also used fill flash for sunrise or sunset portraits of people. It can do a good job of balancing the exposure of your subject against a bright background.
When I saw this Tri-colored Heron posing in the bush, I made a few photos. But then I thought about adding flash. When I got home, the photos with the flash looked much better. The bright, ambient sunrise was balanced with the fill flash on the nearby bird. There’s a better detail in the bird when I used the flash.
Early bird – Tri-colored Heron at dawn (ISO 800, f/5.0, 1/320 sec, on camera flash in auto slow sync mode, -1 stop flash exposure compensation).
If you try this, you’ll need to practice a bit before you use it in a pressure situation. Make sure you know how to adjust exposure compensation (on both the flash and the camera), shutter speed, and aperture to get the best results. And if your camera has it, try enabling high-speed sync. This lets you shoot with flash at higher shutter speeds without getting any black bands on your photos (at the expense of a lower light output).
I went by Gatorland again last week. The Great Egrets continue to breed and their hatched chicks are growing fast. There are Snowy Egrets and Cormorants on eggs now and I saw Tri-colored Herons, Anhingas, and Wood Storks gathering nesting material although I didn’t spot their nest or eggs yet. A few cattle egrets have also arrived and are courting. And the gators are getting more active too.
Just before I left, I spotted this large turtle there – I’ve never seen one before. It looks quite intimidating and I wouldn’t want to be too close to it in the water.
I spent some time at Silver Springs State Park in late May. This is Florida’s newest park, created in October of last year when the former Silver Springs and Wild Waters commercial attractions were merged with Silver River State Park. Lynn and I used to visit when our kids were younger and the commercial attractions were going strong. But that was a while ago and it’s a different place now.
Silver Springs headwaters – A glass bottom boat returns to the dock before a storm
Florida’s renovating Wild Waters and has already re-opened some of the water rides. The Glass Bottom Boats still run in the Silver Springs area, although the jungle river boat tour and antique car museum that I remember from past years are gone. It’s a little soon to say what the park will look like after the state is finished merging the areas together, but it always was and still is a fine place to visit.
Info for Photographers
There are hiking and biking trails throughout the park, but I think the real attraction is the water. You can rent canoes and kayaks or bring your own, and there are several places to put in. I used the launch close to the headwaters. It’s a short paddle to the main spring. It’s also very close to the Fort King paddle trail (where the Jungle Cruise used to go) which is open to paddlers now for the first time since the 1800s!
In addition to the put in I used (off the Silver Springs parking lot) there’s also one inside the main park, but it’s about a 1/2 mile carry to the water – too far for me! One other place you can put in is at Ray Wayside Park where you can paddle upstream to the spring. Silver Springs also offers guided kayak tours and a shuttle service to / from Ray Wayside.
A view from my kayak – Along the Fort King paddle trail near the Silver Springs headwaters
Here are a couple of articles from other sites about paddling at Silver Springs. Take a look – they like it as much as I do!
If you can’t go on a paddle, at least ride the glass bottom boat or take an air boat excursion. You’ll get to see more of the scenery and wildlife than you can from the land.
Airboat ride on the Silver river
Tripod/Monopod: I did have mine, but didn’t use it as much as I thought I would. It’s a very wooded area and landscape opportunities aren’t as numerous as they are in some other places.
Lenses: Bring what you can carry. I got the most use out of a normal range zoom (~24-70), but longer and wider would be nice to have in your bag if you need them. If you have any waterproof equipment, bring it for paddling expeditions.
Best time to visit: It’s starts getting very warm in May and doesn’t cool off until September or October, so plan accordingly. If you’re going on the rides at the water park or kayaking, the heat is a bit more tolerable. I went during the week. Weekends will be crowded.
There’s a variety of wildlife, but not as much as some other locations in Central Florida. For instance eBird lists 112 species at Silver Springs vs 293 in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I spotted Ospreys, Cardinals, Black Vultures, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, a few wading birds, Alligators, Deer, Turtles, Cormorants (on the water and in nests, and one swimming underwater), Barred Owls (calls and one in flight), Hawks and a few other species. There are recent reports of Manatees in the springs. And although I didn’t find any, there’s a troop of feral rhesus macaque monkeys descended from ones let loose in the 1930s.
Typical Turtle – Along the the Fort King paddle trail near the Silver Springs headwaters
The River side of the park is home to the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center (open to the public on weekends and holidays). Tours through the pioneer cracker village are offered once a month, except in the summer. You’ll have to call the park for details.
I didn’t put much effort into this photo of last Saturday’s super moon – so the result isn’t that exciting.
Super moon over Melbourne Beach – The full moon and sparse clouds helped get our shutter speeds up just a little during the turtle walk.
What did excite me was what the super moon illuminated. Kevin M. and I attended a turtle walk led by the Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Melbourne Beach, Florida – what an incredibly awesome experience! NOTE: this was an FWC Permitted activity that should not be attempted personally.
Loggerhead sea turtles are endangered in the US and many other countries. They seem to be making a comeback recently since “turtle excluder devices” were required on fishing nets starting in the late 1980s. They’re found over most of the world, although the east coast of Florida is a prime nesting area. Nesting season peaks here June and July. Last year, Florida recorded 58,000 nests with many of them in Brevard County.
I’ve spotted sea turtles off shore on the surface before, but until Saturday I’d never seen one on the beach. Since they’re endangered, it’s illegal to approach or harass them in any way. But there is a way to see them up close on shore. The Sea Turtle Preservation Society has a Florida State permit to conduct Turtle Walks for the public several nights a week during nesting season at three different locations in South Brevard County. They give a presentation with lots of good background on sea turtles. During the presentation, people from the organization scout the beach looking for a nesting Loggerhead. When they find one, they lead the group out to observe.
Loggerhead sea turtle laying eggs – The guides keep everyone behind the turtle where she can’t see them and put a small red light in the nest to illuminate the eggs.
There are some rules for the walk:
Stay with and obey the guides. They’ll lead you to the nest along the water line after she starts laying eggs.
No lights at all are allowed, including cell phones and especially flash photography.
Everyone is kept behind the turtle out of her line of sight.
When she’s done, the guides will move the group to one side away from her path back to the ocean.
Stay off the outgoing turtle tracks. Researchers use them the next morning to count nests.
If you go, check with your group for their rules. They may be different.
This is very tough photography assignment. In fact it’s much more of a Central Florida Nature Op than a Central Florida Photo Op. But if you want to try to make some photos, here are some hints:
The group we went with says they see turtles on 90% of their walks. I’m not sure what it’s like with other groups. You might want to ask before you go.
Check with the leaders of the group you’re going with about photography. Rules seem to vary and some groups don’t allow any photography at all.
Schedule your walk to take advantage of conditions. The beach is very dark. Hotels and homes in the area are even required to keep their lights off during nesting season. You’ll have a bit more light if you go during a full moon and when there’s minimum cloud cover. Also, The turtles seem to prefer coming ashore at high tide. Our walk was just after. We were also fortunate to have a 10 mph east wind that kept us very comfortable and insect free. I wasn’t even sweating at the end of the walk – and this is Florida – in late June! But if the wind is too strong, you’ll have to watch out for tripod vibrations.
Other than the small flashlight in the photo above, all the other photos in this post were made with just ambient light well after sunset. You’ll need a tripod and fast lens.
Be careful with your tripod. The group was pretty large the night we went and I worried about hitting or tripping someone in the dark (I didn’t).
Bring a fast lens. Kevin and I both used 50mm f/1.8 lenses and shot with them wide open. This was a pretty good focal length for the subject distances.
The moon was very bright – I shot at ISO 800, f/1.8 and my shutter speed varied around 1 second. If you go at another time of the month, your shutter speeds may be even slower.
Your tripod will help stop camera motion, but you’ll need to time your shots to minimize turtle motion.
The crowd was pretty large and I had to maneuver to get a clear view with my camera. Be courteous.
Make sure you can work your camera controls in the dark. You need to know how to at least change to manual focus and adjust the ISO without a flashlight.
Turn off your auto focus assist light and auto photo review – no lights, remember?
Auto focus was very difficult. The only time it worked at all was on the guide’s red flashlight in the nest. The rest of the time, I used manual focus and guessed since it was so dark. You’ll need to take your chances and hope for some sharp shots. Since it was so dim, I found the optical view finder on my Nikon easier to use than the EVF on my Olympus. Your mileage may vary.
Depth of field will be very shallow. Try to focus on the middle distance of your subject and if possible compose with the long axis of your subject parallel to the camera.
Surprisingly, shadows can be an issue. There were times when people blocked the moon and shadows on the turtle were pretty dark. Move around to find a better point of view.
Turtle walk crowd
When she’s done laying her eggs, she buries them and disguises the nest.
Loggerhead sea turtle covering nest
And then heads back out to sea.
The Epic Journey Continues – Loggerhead Turtle returning to the ocean. Photo by Kevin McKinney (used with permission).
As you can probably tell from my write-up, I really enjoyed this outing. It was wonderful to witness a natural event that’s been on going for 165 million years. A big shout out and thank you to Kevin’s wife Traci. She’s the one that recommended we go on the turtle walk. And thanks to Kevin for scheduling it on the perfect night.
If you want to know more, here’s a couple of links to recent sea turtle news: