Thursday, January 23, 2014

Happy to be in Hell

I often take camping trips in the Everglades that begin on the long and tedious Hells Bay Trail. I have dozens of photographs taken while paddling there as I am irresistibly attracted to the morning sun's light on the mangroves and their reflections in the water. For something different, the image above shows a clump of paurotis palms seen along the trail. I keep saying that while mangroves are one of my favorite subjects to photograph, they are also among the most challenging. This is because in full light, mangroves have lots of contrasts. The human eye has no problem with this and can easily discern shadowed objects from highlighted objects. But no matter how well you use it, the camera cannot replicate that scene from a single exposure. Expose for the shadows, and the brights blow out. Expose for the brightness, and much detail will be lost among the darkness.

Of course, one way to overcome this limitation is to use multiple exposures. But, you really need a tripod to do that well. But what the hell, I decided to give it a shot while paddling on the trail. I got the boat steadied and metered the scene. I first metered off the brightest area and then again on the darkest and found that 4 stops would provide the necessary range with three images. I was pleased with the results and have decided that the tripod will start getting more use for shooting mangrove scenes. The two images (one above and one below) are both 3 images merged together.

The trail continued to delight me when at one point Vivian, who was a 1/4 mile or so ahead of me called me to say that hundreds of black birds where flying everywhere around her. I could see them ahead of me and as I paddled closer, realized they were tree swallows (I recently learned how to identify these birds!). There were hundreds of them swirling around above the mangroves, most likely catching insects in flight. What a treat to see them here!

Soon after that, I spotted a large flock of white pelicans. The wing span of these birds is so great that even 1/2 mile above ground they appear large). Their high wing aspect ratio (wing length squared to surface area ratio) and relatively low wing load (9-ft wings carrying 15 lb of body weight) allows them to soar effortlessly in the air thermals and currents.

While the trail offered some pleasant surprises to photograph, I was looking forward to some night photography while camping on the chickee. Pearl Bay chickee is challenging for sunset and sunrise shots because the sun sets directly to the right and rises directly to the left. So, for this trip, it was the moon that offered some opportunities. While I exposed for the night scene, I added a little artificial light to illuminate the foreground, which was the chickee and a tent. The first image below is taken just before the moon rose over the mangroves and the next one was taken in the morning, facing west. So surprisingly, this one overnighter in the Everglades turned out to be a fun experiment in photography with use of flashlights and multiple exposures. The learning curve remains steep.

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