Friday, December 23, 2011

A holiday on the Anhinga Trail

For several weeks now, I have had so little opportunity to get out with the camera as I anxiously wait for our yearly holiday Everglades adventure. At last, today I took time away from my busy preparations and headed out to the Anhinga Trail. I try to visit the trail 2 or 3 times during the winter months, but it had been almost 12 months since my last visit. I had no expectations.

I arrived shortly after 7:30 am and was the only one on the boardwalk. The sun was coming out from behind clouds and soon, it lit up the water and grasses. Anhingas, both male and female were resting in trees, but I did not see one nest. Photographing the birds as they rest is difficult with the busy background of the trees and grasses. With the anhinga birds, they will almost always face away from you because you are generally shooting with the sun behind. The bird fans out its wings to warm and dry itself, so you get a beautiful view of the anhinga feathers. As they preen I like to capture the bird with its head slightly turned toward the camera. As these birds can be relatively close, you can play around with many compositions. The anhinga, as a result, is one of the most photographed birds in southern Florida. With a wide enough aperture, the background is blurred out of focus enough to provide a nice bokeh. For the photograph below, I cropped out the top to exploit the panoramic position of the bird. Next, I applied a gaussian blur to the background, in attempt to give the bird more definition.

The large pond was very calm this morning, perfect for photographing a gator or water bird. The thing I like most about alligators is how they appear in the water. Their presence commands attention as they quietly move with a serpetine movement of their tail. One of my best times photographing gators was in Fisheating Creek several years ago. I paddled on to an area that was crazy with sunning gators. As soon I approached, they all disappeared into the water. I sat quietly, not moving and waited. Within a couple minutes, they appeared again with their binocular eyes sticking out of the water. Awesome to capture them like that.

In calm and debris-free water, a single gator stands out, with its leathery skin and dramatic textures. Because of this, I am compelled to photograph them with a lot of negative space surrounding them, whether it is only their binocular eyes sticking out of the water, or their head spaced a short distance from the back, which is separated from the tail. I like back or side light because of the contrast of light on the gator's skin. This first photograph of the big reptile is pretty much as shot, except I lightened the water and converted to grayscale. I really like the spiny tail above the bulky body.

For this next one, I played a bit more with it. This time, I lightened the water, but not enough to remove the ripples in the foreground. I converted to grayscale, and because I liked the pattern in the water, I added warming filter to the scene, while masking the gator.

The next one is also converted to grayscale, except this time, I added a diffuse glow filter to it.

And last, I liked the contrast of the sidelit gator against the reflections in the water. Nothing was done to this photo, except a bit of cropping.

After the gator, I found a purple galinule, which is probably one of the most difficult birds to photograph, at least on this Anhinga Trail. They are rather shy and with the messy surroundings, difficult to capture isolated. Nevertheless, the bird allowed several of us to look on from only a 10-ft distance. I always try to capture this bird with its magnificent feet showing, but this bird did not cooperate much in that regard. Here is one attempt at capturing it as it captures its food.
If you have anything against photographing vultures because you think they are ugly and disgusting, than you will be disappointed on a grand scale here at the Anhinga Trail. Today, there were a few hundred black vultures, literally on the trail. Many in the trees and flying overhead, but dozens of them at your feet. With that, they are irresistible to photograph. I do like the vulture; it has a certain charm and twinkle in its eye. For these guys, I get down at eye level and attempt to capture a portrait with a nice background. For this one, the water and grass served that purpose. Then I wait for that shot where the bird is turned toward the camera. As I am approximately 6-10 feet away from it, I close the aperture (f10 or 11).

Along the canal, I tried to capture a fishing anhinga, but she was almost always behind the grasses, where she seemed to be successful at capturing small fish. A few cormorants were swimming, but I never saw one capture a fish. Usually, the cormorants are good for photographing, but not today. I was there for only 3 hours, a short dose of the Everglades was just what I needed. Now, I will get back to preparing for our trip. Next blog will hopefully be about that trip. I will have the new camera and will be experimenting for the first time with neutral density filters while camping on the gulf beaches. Until then, happy holidays to all.