Friday, December 19, 2014

The Moody Blues

This blog is all about the little blue heron, not the British band. To begin, here is a quote from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" website:

"A small, dark heron arrayed in moody blues and purples, the Little Blue Heron is a common but inconspicuous resident of marshes and estuaries in the Southeast. They stalk shallow waters for small fish and amphibians, adopting a quiet, methodical approach that can make these gorgeous herons surprisingly easy to overlook at first glance". 

That has got to be the best description of the little blue heron I have ever read. On Biscayne Bay, I have had many opportunities to photograph the gorgeous little blue. One might think that the little blue heron is not the easiest bird to photograph because it is a relatively small heron (comparable in size to the more conspicuous snowy egret), its dullish feathers blends in with the bay environment all too easily, and it doesn't display extravagant hunting behaviors like its slightly larger cousin, the tri-colored heron. So what is it about the little blue heron that makes me want to photograph it?

One cool thing about this bird is how its feathers change from white to blue as it matures. The process takes a couple years and before turning completely dark, the feathers are a patchwork of blues and white. This can be quite beautiful to see.

Another reason I enjoy the little blue heron is that it is relatively easy going. While other birds will not allow me to get too close, the little blue heron has been very accommodating. I remember one morning I was facing the shoreline at a very low tide. I got myself grounded as I attempted to photograph some roseate spoonbills. At one point I turned around toward the sun and there must have been a dozen little blue herons within a 50-ft range of my boat. Quietly, they foraged the shallows, ignoring me totally.

I suppose the main reason I like to photograph the little blue heron is that is is so unassuming. I was on the bay yesterday morning attempting to capture the sunrise. The water levels were too high for wading birds until about 9 am. Scattered in various places along the shoreline were clumps of grass revealed as the water receded. All of a sudden, I noticed about five little blue herons, including a juvenile still donning its white feathers. What seemed out of nowhere, more of the birds quietly appeared to forage the grasses, as  I have seen them do so many times before.

Not having photographed many birds over the past several weeks, I overlooked the increasingly harsh sunlight and attempted to photograph the dark bird in its messy surroundings. I kept the sun to my right to give the bird some sidelight to avoid flattening the images with full frontal sunlight. The sidelight would give the bluish dull feathers more texture and character. I also kept the exposure lower than usual to reveal a darker mood.

From yesterday morning's images, I did some post-processing to isolate the bird as I have done many times with white birds. I love the mood of these images that help illustrate some of the different poses of the bird. And of course, water action is always a plus.

Enjoy these images of the moody and unpretentious little blue heron.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Visualization in Photography

"Visualization is more than just seeing; it is what we consciously and deliberately do with what we see." Guy Tal, Thinking in Monochrome

Each of us has a vision of what we "see". As a photographer, I attempt to create that vision on an image. This process begins with how I shoot the image in the first place. But lately, I have learned that my visualization sometimes is not fully realized until years after the image was shot.
There is a sense of freedom I get knowing that I can take an image from long past and reinvent it to some degree. I believe that one's visualization evolves as we learn more about the art of photography and art in general, or as we gain experience.  Lately, I have been studying black and white. I've been reading about it and studying images. Part of my studying is using instant visual feedback as a means of determining if black and white is better way to present an image. I casually do this on an ipad where I take a photo album image and edit it with a black and white filter. If my immediate response is a positive one, I save it and then later, work with the RAW image in Photoshop. Sometimes the instant response is validated, sometimes it is not.

Certain things work very well in black and white; textures for instance. To convert a color image to black and white with the idea that it will better represent your visualization implies that color is simply getting in the way or not adding anything to the image, or perhaps not illustrating the right mood. No doubt, some images must be in black and white to have impact or strike the right mood. In color, they simply would not work. Because of this, I believe a photographer should attempt to create black and white images and should learn when to go with color and when not to. I also believe it should begin with a visualization of a scene, in other words, I am obliged to "see" black and white.

So, part of the learning process is to figure out what works in black and white and what doesn't. This is huge. Next, it takes a certain amount of post-processing skills to pull it off. Ultimately, you are learning to best illustrate your visualization of a moment or scene.

Included here are a few images taken over the years. I went back to these images with the idea that my visualization of the scene was originally in black and white. The images above are of a white ibis on Biscayne Bay. I loved the dark mood set by the mangroves, contrasted by the brightness of the white bird. I think the black and white enhances that mood.

The next image was taken while paddling along the Lopez River. It was early morning and the calm conditions of the water provided beautiful reflections. The shapes of the clouds complemented the textures and tones of the mangroves. While I find this very common scene to be beautiful, the color is a bit distracting and does not do the mangroves justice. On the other hand, the black and white version really brings out the shapes and textures of the trees, which is what draws me to the mangroves in the first place. The clouds are a bonus.

I have photographed white pelicans so many times but never considered a black and white image of them. But, after realizing that what attracts me to these birds is their shapes and feathers, black and white started to make sense. I look at the black and white image and immediately see the variety in the birds, whereas the blue water is very distracting.

While camping on Tiger Key recently, I played with my macro lens to capture various tree snails living on the driftwood that covered the storm-swept beach. In reality, it was not the snails that attracted me but rather it was the textures and patterns of the driftwood. Converting this image to black and white seemed natural to me. The boring snail is no longer the focal point but instead, moderately interrupts the bold patterns of the wood.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Playing in Miami

The wilderness is where I choose to take my camera. But every once in a blue moon, I take it to the city. I've been wanting to see the new Perez Art Museum in downtown Miami for the longest time. At last, with friends and public transportation, I explored the urban wilderness.

I brought a point and shoot camera, one that I rarely use. I had no expectations, I just wanted to shoot and run. In the city, I am totally out of my comfort zone with the camera. Excellent! This is a perfect way to practice and challenge oneself with the camera, or as I like to call it, "play".

We were on the go beginning with the Dadeland South Metrorail station, to downtown Government Center and then the Metromover to the museum. I shot images as we moved and I shot images inside the museum.

Shooting scenes on-the-go in Miami is especially challenging. Clyde Butcher once said about his photography, "I look for chaos, because if you find chaos, you find biological order". I am not sure exactly what he meant by that, but I think one can find a few meanings to it. One is that it is very difficult to photograph a chaotic scene (such as a swamp) and provide the viewing eye a sense of order (which subconsciously is what we try to do when we look at an image). My point and shoot exercise in downtown Miami was a lesson in making order out of chaos.

Miami is perpetually morphing and always in a state of disrepair and reconstruction. It is a chaotic city, as most are. The new and old are juxtaposed everywhere you look. A cityscape without construction cranes is rare. In the background is the bay and its palm-tree lined shoreline and blue skies above it. In the foreground is the destruction of large buildings (i.e., Miami Herald) and locations where "The Future Begins Here" (i.e., Miami Science Museum).

The Perez Art Museum sits amidst all this building up and tearing down.

Once inside it, the beautifully designed museum offers interesting glimpses to the city from the inside.

What can be taken from this little experiment? Maybe not great images, but just taking the time to simply play can free up the mind and give a fresh perspective on one's photography. Regardless of what photography means to you (a job, a passion, a hobby, something you do with a phone, a way to remember a moment, etc), there may be more value to a play day than you realize.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Where Mangroves and Grasses Mingle

Within the Big Cypress National Preserve is an area that I love to explore with the canoe. It is where old airboat trails still exist (including the markers) and where sawgrass and cattails intermingle with mangroves. Nothing spectacular about the quiet beauty as you paddle through gently flowing waters, but there is something about this place that makes me want to photograph it.

On this day, I was not on the water until about 15 minutes after sunrise. The clouds were beginning to form their telltale patterns that indicate a front was eminent. Sure enough, the next day brought us much rain and cooler temps. By the time I was on the water, those glorious sunrise colors were gone, leaving a brilliant blue sky coated thinly with clouds.

I placed the polarizer filter on the lens and decided to lazily photograph my surroundings paying attention to the tall cattails and the reflections of the clouds in the water. I attempted to compose some vertical as well as horizontal images and played with foreground objects. I also played around with light and dark contrasts that seemed to occur very naturally; mangrove leaves being darker than the surrounding sawgrass.

Birds, including woodstorks, were plentiful. Unfortunately, they can hide very easily as they forage in the grasses and not one of them allowed me to approach.

So I stretched my imagination a bit and turned my attention to a little spider I have paid little attention to while in the canoe. It is the orchard orbweaver and if I had a dollar for every one I saw that day I would be a millionaire. They make their webs among thick brush, primarily mangroves. Unlike the larger goldensilk orbweaver, this spider makes her web lower and consequently, it is easy to run into them as you paddle through mangrove tunnels.

With the front light of the sun, the little orbweaver glimmers. In fact, its genus name is Leucauge, which is Greek for "with a bright gleam". Its species name is Venusta, which is Latin for charming or elegant. So how could I resist photographing this gleaming and elegant spider. Here are a few images. One of them includes both female (larger of the two) and male. In each image, I attempted to get a clean background, sky, mangrove or sawgrass.

My goal is to get back to this beautiful piece of the Big Cypress before sunrise or sundown and capture some beautiful sky colors to complement the landscape. Awesome place to be in a canoe.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Canoe Explorations of the Everglades

This cold front got me thinking its time to go camping in the Everglades. It is time to take the canoe to new areas to explore, to go back to familiar places and view them with a fresh perspective. This year, I plan to spend longer periods of time in one location before going on to the next location. Photography opportunities in the Everglades are influenced by many things; the weather, tide schedule, time of day, direction of the sun, time of year, marine conditions, etc. If all I did was go out there and spend all my time at one location, I believe the variety of images captured over time would be outstanding because any one or all of those factors will differ on any given day. So it is for that reason I want to keep going back to familiar places.

If I had a dollar for every time I canoed through a new location and said "I wish I had more time here or I wish I had my tripod, or I wish I had my wide angle lens", I could retire today and spend more time there. It is frustrating to travel through a location that just begs to be photographed but because of various factors including lack of time, I have to store away the information and wait for a another time to go back better equipped and with more time.

My passion for photography grew from my passion to explore the Everglades. The canoe came first, then the camera. When I take an image, I have one goal in mind and that is to offer the viewer a chance to feel as if they are there with me, in the Everglades. Someone who has never paddled in the Everglades can be given the sense that they have done this. They can see that the Everglades provides unique offerings to those that paddle through it.

So with that, I give you here some of my favorite scenes from the Everglades, each of them captured during a camping trip.  It's time to prepare for the next camping trip, coming soon.