Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Black Skimmer Landing

In keeping with the bird theme that seems to be very popular this week on our blogs due to a couple meetups that included bird shooting, here's just one more.

Just before sunset every night, the Black Skimmers, Laughing Gulls and Terns gather on the beaches to roost. This one, a Black Skimmer is just coming in. It's a pretty amazing sight to see them all lined up--usually facing the same direction roosting on the beaches.

As a bonus, I'm attaching a second image showing more of the flock. There are probably 100 or more birds on this beach just like this.

I've seen them flying at night picking up food on my canal in my back yard. It's amazing to watch how they get their food. If you look closely, you'll notice that their lower beak is quite a bit longer than the upper beak. That's so they can fly (really fast) with their lower beak in the water scooping up food to eat. They have very long wings for their body size. I'll see if I can find a photo where I've caught them swimming for a post later on.

Settings used for these photos are as follows. The shooting mode is in continuous in case one of them or many of them take off, ISO is 200 because although it is nearing sunset, it's still quite bright. The exposure is 1/250 at 7.1, in aperture priority at 250mm with my 55-250mm lens. I used partial metering off the beach so as to not blow out the whites. The shadows were lightened slightly using Lightroom.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tricolored Heron

This Tricolored Heron was sitting at the edge of this pond the same morning I was out with my friends looking for Deer. Although my trip was primarily to hunt and capture Deer photos, I'm not one to pass up a bird shot.

This fellow was very accommodating. He was so busy gazing out over the water, I don't think he noticed me, because I was able to fire off several shots from several angles before I made him nervous enough to fly to the other side of the water.

The trick to bird photography is pretty much the same as for all wild life. Don't run up on them, instead move slowly toward them. Take a few shots from far away so he sees what you're doing isn't hurting them. Crouch down, as low as possible, so you appear less threatening. As you move closer, go even slower. Try not to appear to be stalking them as a hunter or a predator would. If the bird looks at you, look away and pretend you're not watching them. They'll think you're probably stalking something else. Practice your panning technique before your big hunting day, so you'll capture him in flight should he fly off. Be patient and you'll get the shots you want.

Settings used for this image were: Aperture Priority mode with partial metering on the Heron at 400 ISO for speed in case he flew off, and continuous shooting mode. Shutter set at 1/40th at F7.1, the sweet spot on my lens and 0 exposure compensation at 250mm with my 55-250mm IS lens.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


This is a little bit more unusual for me. A friend of mine has been going to John Chestnut Park in the very early mornings and seeing many Deer. So, we decided to make it ladies day out and six of us met at 7:00 am to see if we could find some Deer.

We sure did see Deer--everywhere! The Deer were right in the field in front of the parking lot; I'd say about 20 of them in all. At first they were OK with us making pictures as long as we didn't get too close. We stayed with them as they slowly moved on toward the picnic shelters and kept right on shooting. It's strange, we were all thinking that the thrill wasn't just the fact that we found and were capturing Deer with our cameras, but the hunt was just as thrilling.

I still haven't had time with working diligently on the Safety Harbor project to edit most of the photos I've been taking recently. This is only one from this shoot.

Settings for this image were: ISO 800, because it was still pretty dark, 1/40th at F5.6, +1/3 expsure compensation to allow more light. Partial metering off the Deer, and 250mm with my stablized 55-250mm lens.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Safety Harbor Marina

Monday nights at the Marina, my photography club has their weekly meetup. While some of us shoot photos, most of us don't; we just sit around trading tips and techniques.

This Monday night, I saw these amazing clouds and liked the way they formed a semi-circle with the reflections in the water. I knew this called for a wide-angle lens. I love the way this came out. Usually, I have to tweak stuff a little bit in Lightroom and/or Photoshop. I didn't touch this one, other than resizing.

Funny thing, I like it and it's not really my style at all. I hardly ever use a wide angle unless I have to. I'm beginning to think it's time to explore what I can do with this lens.

Settings used for this image were 1/250th at F10 using 200 ISO and +1/3 exposure compensation with partial metering off the water to be sure I'd capture the reflections of the clouds at 18mm with my 18-55mm lens. The shot was made at 5:15 pm.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Muscovy Chick

This little Muscovy chick was trying to keep up with his mother. He looked so cute with those huge feet, trying to run and waddling at the same time. It's amazing how big their feet are as soon as they're hatched. They grow into them rapidly, but they just look so clumsy at this stage.

This was taken during a project for the City of Safety Harbor. One of the places to see is the Safety Harbor Linear Greenway. I've gone by it so many times on my way to our meetups at the Marina. Every time I go by it, I think that I really need to stop there for pictures. This time I finally stopped and was happy I did. This photo, of course, is not one of the ones for the city. I just love to photograph birds and the babies are just so cute, I can never resist them.

The settings for this image were 1/30th of a second at F7.1 in aperture priority mode at ISO 200. I used partial metering off the duckling and opened up 1 stop to be sure I'd get detail in his eye and dark feathers. It was taken in the early evening at about 5:00 pm under a cloudy sky.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Safety Harbor Shoreline

This beautiful scene was shot the same morning as I shot the pier at sunrise. This little part of the shoreline is to the left of the pier. I've seen this many times, but during the day it looks kind of bland. It just goes to show you how the various qualities of light can affect a scene.

When you've found a beautiful landscape, you should always photograph it at different times of day. You'll never know what beauty you can find otherwise.

Settings for this scene were as follows: It was shot at 6:50 am, just 20 minutes before sunrise at ISO 200 for 13 seconds at F16. I chose ISO 200 so I'd get less digital noise (grain) and F16 for two reasons; I wanted to be sure everything was in focus from near to far and I wanted a slow shutter speed to blur the water and make it smooth. I used Aperture Priority mode so I could set the aperture, with 0 exposure compensation and partial metering on the grass (which is as close to 18% gray as I could get. Since the light was changing very fast, I set my White Balance to Auto; not that it makes a whole lot of difference when shooting RAW. The focal length was 18mm with my 18-55mm lens.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Muscovy Family

It's so sad when I see only one duckling left out of a clutch of 8-12. These two Muscovy's are fiercely protecting this little one. In this shot, they're running for cover beneath this Elderberry bush because three Red-shouldered Hawks are flying above them searching for food. I stayed around until the hawks left so they wouldn't grab the baby.

Nature is wonderful, but so cruel at times. I don't know how these birds grieve or even why they choose to have their clutches in a lake filled with 'gators and many hawks. Year after year I watch their broods disappear. It's no wonder their clutches are so large. That old cliche, "only the strong survive" must've come from the natural world. Sometimes I wish I could protect the little babies. At least I know that if I'm outside nothing will happen to them. The hawks and the 'gators take cover. Unfortunately, I can't be there all the time. On the other hand, the 'gators and the hawks have to eat, too. It must be tough being at the low end of the food chain.

If you've never encountered Muscovy ducks, you don't know how friendly and how gentle they are. Everytime they have a new clutch, they always bring them to our yards to "visit" and show off their young. They're so adorable.

Some of the people in my neighborhood complain because there are so many of them and they even tried to have an ordinance put in place to get rid of them and make it unlawful to offer them food. We don't live within city limits so our opinion will not be heard, but the ordinance didn't pass. I'm happy about that. They know they're safe in my yard and in my neighbors' yards.

Watching them communicate with one another is such a treat to me. Muscovies don't make very loud sounds. The males sort of blow wind through their mouth; I think it comes from their throats and wiggle their tails. The females have a very low whistling sound. When they're communicating with one another, they face each other wag their tails and bob their heads and necks. It's the cutest thing to watch.

Muscovy Ducks are always welcome in my yard.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Daybreak at the Safety Harbor Pier

You'll probably be seeing a lot of Safety Harbor through my blog in the coming weeks. I'm currently working on a project to update the Safety Harbor website and for their magazine.

This is the Safety Harbor Pier taken from the Safety Harbor Marina. I've probably taken thousands of photos at this site over the last 1 1/2 years of going there every week for our regular meetups. Of all of them, this one is definitely my favorite. It was worth the effort to get up early to capture something like this.

Speaking of getting up early, I was supposed to meet my friend, Jim, there this morning at "first light". I got up, looked at my watch before putting on my eye glasses, and took off out of the door and drove like a maniac to Safety Harbor so I wouldn't miss the sunrise. Just as I was rounding the corner to the marina, I noticed the clock in the car and it said, 5:50 am. I actually got up at 5:00 instead of 6:00! So, here I was an hour early. How funny.

The settings used to capture this image were at ISO 200 (to avoid noise and to ensure a long exposure to blur the water), F16 to maximize depth of field and sharpness, at 5 seconds. The area is very well lit, so without an ND filter, I couldn't get a longer exposure. I probably could have pushed the aperture to F22 or more, but I didn't want to have to deal with sensor dust, which would get magnified at that level.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


For the last five days, I've been working on a challenge with my photography students to spend 5-15 minutes every day creating one photograph of something they've found in their back yards.

While I was looking for something to photograph, I remembered seeing something that I wanted to try. This is my result. I photographed subjects that looked like the letters in my first name, then created a montage. It only took me 15 minutes to find all the letters.

It was fun looking for these, and I'll tell you that it's quite a challenge to find a new photograph every day in your own back yard. The exercise is to help my students to develop their photographic eye. It also proves that you don't have to drive 50 miles to a "great" place to make a "great" photograph. A good photograph can be found right under your nose if you just look hard enough. The previous four posts in this blog are other things I found to photograph in my yard.

If you want to develop your photographic eye, this is a simple, yet very effective way to challenge yourself. Give it a try; you'll be surprised at what you might find that you've never seen before.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

They're Back!

Every year these Mottled Ducks come here to breed and raise their chicks. Today is the first day I saw them and they are a pleasure to see.

They usually have 12-15 chicks or more per clutch, but unfortunately, they lose a lot of them to the 'gators. Most of the time only 3 or 4 from each clutch survive. It's so sad.

I look forward to seeing them because not only that they've come back, but it's a sign that the weather is cooling off. This is my favorite time of year. It's not too hot and not too cold. It's just perfect. Most of the vacationers have left with their children back in school, and the snow birds haven't arrived. The beaches have emptied out and we Floridians can now start to really enjoy our paradise.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Blue Dasher Dragonfly

My photography students haven't been posting a lot to the photo albums and haven't been very active on the board in the last couple weeks. So today I gave them an assignment for a week--and told them I'd do it with them to give them ideas about subject matter.

This Blue Dasher Dragonfly is my today's contribution to the assignment.

After explaining to them that the best way to learn photography is by making pictures, looking at others' pictures and critiquing pictures. I'm sure they feel intimidated because they are beginners and they don't know how to critique, but it's all about forcing them to look--I mean REALLY look at photos taken by others and their own. In order to critique a photo, they need to look at it long enough to decide what they like about it and what they don't like. By analyzing what they like, they're enforcing that concept in their brain and getting ideas which will eventually develop their own style. Be looking at what they don't like, will make them remember that, and they won't make the same mistake. Again, they'll be developing their own style.

Back to the assignment, just in case you want to try it for yourself. They were asked to spend 15 minutes in their front or back yard every day and make a photograph. The first thing that comes to mind is there's nothing out there except grass! That won't work because in the grass, they can find all kinds of critters to make photos of, there's all kinds of detail on the house, maybe a rusty spigot, a coiled hose, well you get the picture (no pun intended).

Everyone is busy these days, and there's very little time--so we think. However, 15 minutes or 5 minutes in your own back yard will definitely yield some very good photos. Once you've made the first one, they get easier to do. People think that they need more time to make a great picture, because they have to drive 50 miles to a great place. That's not true at all. We all need to see right under our noses. Sometimes the best photographs can be found right there. Today, I went out to make the first picture. I was out there 12 minutes, I took photos of 9 totally different subjects. I'll admit, some of them weren't great, some were pretty good, but I'm trying to prove a point here. They don't all have to be great. Although I'd like it if they were.

So, those of you who are wanting to better your photography. Why not give it a try?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Roseate Spoonbill

There's a lot to said about never having to leave your own yard to get photos of beautiful birds like this one. I think I've mentioned this before, but every day I challenge myself to make at least one decent photo a day. This is today's bird. It's not always feasible to go out to find photo opportunities. Sometimes you just have to look right under your nose.

Actually, I was trying to get one or two of the Red-shouldered Hawks that have taken up residence in the Camphor tree right over my roof. There's three of them living there, and the problem is they stay on the branch right over my door, so they spot me as soon as I come out. They've been hanging around here all week, staying on the same branch. It is driving me insane that I can't get a shot off one of them. I'm not sure if they hear the alarm beeping when I open my door or if they hear the door opening, but they wait until I come out then glide right over my head. They don't even bother to screech at me.

This afternoon, I came out without my camera for a change, and one of them stayed on the branch. He looked down at me and stayed there as long as I was talking to him. So I thought, maybe I can just duck in and grab my camera. As soon as I came out with the camera, he glided off. I still didn't get the shot off! They are really starting to get me frustrated. I'm determined to get them though.

For now, I'll just have to pacify myself with this Roseate Spoonbill; not that it's that bad getting a shot at one these beautiful birds.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Eastern Screech Owl

I spottrd this little guy sitting on the high tension wire in my backyard last nught about 11:30. I wish he had turned his head, but after waiting a long time, I let him win and took the picture the way he was looking. I didn't dare move around too much, because I didn't want to scare him away.

I attached my flash and turned down my flash exposure by -2 stops so it wouldn't be so harsh. It was still a bit bright, but i was able to tone it down in Lightroom. I used ISO 400, F6.3 in Aperture Priority Mode. The focal length of my 55-250mm lens was tapped all the way out at 250mm. In Lightroom, I cropped it to get a larger image of the little Owl and toned down the exposure. After removing the noise, I was done.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Another view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge taken from the North Pier Rest Area Park. This bridge always has fascinated me and it has only been recently that it doesn't scare me to drive over it. I used to be so afraid of this bridge. It doesn't seem that bad now.

I like the way this shot of the bridge is framed by the tree and the gravel near the shoreline, although it seems very far away. This is the effect one gets when using a the shortest end of my zoom. It makes things appear further away than they actually are. In doing that, it creates depth in a photo, as does the framing in the foreground. By framing both the top of the frame and the bottom, it creates balance.

This image was shot using my 55-250mm lens at 55mm. With the Canon crop factor, that would be 88mm or a moderate telephoto. The framing makes it appear further away. It was shot at 1/6000 @ 7.1 and 400 ISO in Aperture Priority mode. I used partial metering and metered off the sky.