Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mangrove Tunnel Paradise: achieving sharpness from a canoe

In the Everglades National Park, there is a creek that connects two bays and is only a quarter mile in length. It is easily accessed by canoe or kayak and is traveled heavily during the winter season. Yet, it is the most beautiful (or maybe second most beautiful) creek I have seen in the park. In March, I spent an entire morning photographing inside the creek, working my way slowly from one end to the other. I took all my shots from the boat and did not step out to use a tripod.

The experience I had that morning directed me toward two paths, both concerning sharpness of an image and ability to stitch multiple images into one. Landscape photographers do whatever is possible in the field to get a sharp image and minimize parallex effect when taking multiple images for a single panoramic. See for yourself the amazing results from multiple images from one of the best landscape photographers in Florida, Paul Marcellini. How can I address these issues from a canoe? At the very least, a tripod is essential.

Which brings me to my strategy. The entire time I photographed in that creek, I kept thinking of ways that I could place the tripod in the water next to the canoe. Since that day, I have practiced a technique in other waters. It requires that there be absolutely no boat movement and that the tripod be firmly on ground and tethered to the boat.

There are a few specific locations where I want to test this out. Even more, I want to get back to that creek. In the meantime, I show images here taken from the boat. My Sony camera has an amazing image stabilization mechanism, which is why I went with Sony in the first place knowing I would do most of my photographing from a canoe. Hand holding the camera, I shot theseimages and the one directly above has been printed at 15x30. With some post-processing sharpening and chromatic aberration removal, it looks great and now hangs in my home and another in a friend's home.

Going out on a limb, the two images below are both stitched using two images each. These images demonstrate adequate sharpness as a result of Sony's IS and of course, lots of practice keeping the hands and boat steady. But, the quality of the images can get better, always.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Manmade structures as a complement to nature

Naturally, nature photographers avoid man made structures like the plague. Speaking from experience, when these structures are unavoidable, a photographer may attempt a composition that minimizes the impact of the structure(s) and/or attempt to remove the structure(s) during post-processing. And quite often, man made structures are the reason for NOT photographing a scene.

But there is another scenario and that is, maybe the man made structure can complement the composition and be the reason for taking a shot. Specifically, I see this potential in water reflections that include a bird or another type of animal. For instance, the shot above of the Portuguese man-o-war was taken on Biscayne Bay. As a tan canoe passed by, I saw this as an opportunity to photograph it with the boat's reflection offering a complementary color to the blue.

On Biscayne Bay, there is a location where condominium high rises reflect on the water. This area also happens to be where birds, especially great white egrets, feed during the low end of the tide. While I prefer that those condos were not there, they do give off some colorful reflections. Instead of seeing these reflections as "noise" to be avoided, I attempt to use them to frame a bird and add some color to the composition, as seen in the two photos below.

On Florida Bay near the Flamingo marina, the large pink visitor center building is quite a distraction along the shoreline of the bay. However, sometimes its reflection fills a significant part of the water where birds congregate. The reflection paints a pastel scene that is quite pleasing. So I purposely looked for an image that would include it. This shot of a willet might otherwise be extra boring.

At home, there is a small pond that is surrounded by condo buildings and fences. During the right time of day, they reflect beautiful colors onto the water. These reflections can make an uninteresting image of a bird more eye-catching.

On my patio, a spiny orbweaver spider made its web. Fortunately, the building to which the spider's web was attached, gave it a beautiful background to this image.

Of course, colors can be pleasing and complementary from any source. Nature provides many colors and when possible, we try to capitalize on them when composing a shot. Not only in reflections, but also as background. Here are two images where red from a poinciana tree reflects in the water and another where the red background is a bougainvillea vine. For both these shots, had I positioned myself slightly away from where I took the image, the colors would not have been in the frame.

When shooting in a busy location, play around with the composition (shoot lower or higher, move to the right or left, zoom in, use a shallow depth of field, etc) and get the colors where you want them. Instead of avoiding man made structures or busy backgrounds, try to use them to the advantage of your image.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Nothing Lasts Forever Out Here

In the Everglades, things change. Mostly, the change is so subtle as to not be noticed by a frequent visitor. But occasionally, a change comes dramatically, usually at the whim of the wind or water. In Florida Bay, there is (was) a small mangrove tree that stood alone, about 1/4 mile from the Flamingo marina and near the channel that exits out toward a distant key in the bay. Anyone who has been to Flamingo knows what tree I speak of. Here is an image of it taken back in 2007 with my friend David fishing near it.

Four years after the above photo was taken, I took another shot of this beautiful tree that served as a roosting spot for egret, pelicans and cormorants, and as a nest canopy for osprey. Compared to its form in 2007, the tree looked thinner and a bit worn around the edges. But still standing strong.

 Last year, an osprey nest stood out high on the tree and I was able to get close enough to capture the female parent and a chick. Compare to the two years prior, the tree looks leaner still.

 On Sunday, I paddled from the marina with the intention of capturing some wading birds near Snake Bight with the low tide around 7 am and an incoming the remaining morning hours. This is perfect tide conditions for me to shoot birds in the canoe.  I spent most of my time chasing this guy (gal) around.

Also found the croc I photographed up close and personal last year. This time, it was not so cooperative. And always a remarkable siting in the summer were three white pelicans swimming casually in the bay.

Although it was a gorgeous morning on the water with perfect conditions, I felt sad. As I left the marina in the morning, I noticed the beautiful tree was down. This was my first visit to Flamingo since March and apparently the tree has been down for several weeks already. I asked about the osprey and a ranger believes that the young were fledged at the time. I can only hope so. Snagged in the nest were several skeletons of fish and maybe other animals as well.

My trips to Flamingo will never be the same. But then again, they never are.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A dangerous spider

I was visiting Biscayne National Park's visitor center and talking with Ranger Gary Bremen when a woman approached and asked Gary if he was a ranger (I guess the green uniform was not a give-away). He confirmed that he was and then the woman pointed toward the building breeze-way where a very large goldensilk orbweaver spider was resting in her massive web near the ceiling. With an anxious tone, she asked, "Is that spider dangerous? Shouldn't it be taken down?" Upon which Gary walked with the woman over to the spider while explaining to her that not only is she not dangerous, but she is a pretty cool spider. And with that, Gary proceeded to educate a park visitor, which is one of the job responsibilities that park ranger's do best. And Gary is a pro and loves that part of his job.

Back to the spider. The goldensilk orbweaver is one of my favorite subjects to photograph. A few years ago, I described my technique for capturing images of the spider from my canoe. I primarily do this on Biscayne Bay that offers various creeks along the shoreline. These spiders are so prevalent in shady tree canopies here in south Florida, that there is no need to paddle a canoe into a creek and photograph them.

The way I see it, if I can photograph it from the canoe, I will photograph it. Sometimes, it takes an exceptional amount of effort and trial and error to accomplish this. Capturing a sharp image of a spider overhead while managing a boat is one example. And for that, the goldensilk orbweaver has become a mission, and consequently, the images have become a significant part of my Biscayne Bay gallery. I am motivated to photograph the spider for the challenge of it, but also because it is a "pretty cool spider", and I love to watch a female spider in her web. She is beautiful.

As we work our way into summer, I expect to be in the creeks again to photograph the goldensilk orbweaver, dangerous or not. In the meantime, enjoy these images that go with this blog, posted for no particular reason other than my recent encounter with Biscayne National Park's dangerous spider.