Monday, January 18, 2016

Web Designs

Nothing technical here. This is about the Big Cypress in the early morning after a hard rain. It is about paddling gently through a grassy prairie covered in delicate spider webs. It is about those dewy webs that sparkled like diamonds in the foggy haze of the sunrise. I was taken in by the abstract beauty of the web designs and couldn't decide if I preferred frontlit or backlit webs more. Either way, I wanted to photograph them. Thankfully, I brought my macro lens.

 I experimented with several ways of capturing the interesting designs of thin white web lines heavy with water droplets that hung like little jewels on a necklace. The repeating reflections in the tiny droplets were subtle, as is the landscape. As a result of the low lying landscape, creativity is challenged as I wander around assessing the morning light on the grasses and trees and their reflections in the shallow water.

This is where my macro lens comes in handy because sometimes you have to move in and look closely.

So I played with the spider webs, never seeing a spider. Mostly, I handheld my camera, confident in the sharpness of the lens. To enhance the sharpness, I stayed within the len's aperture sweet spot which is f8 to f11. With that range, I had a relatively narrow depth of field for these complicated spider webs. I decided that limiting the DOF could make the web compositions more interesting, though challenging. For this, I focused on a strong point and built the composition around it by moving the camera this way or that until I found one I liked. With parts of the web out-of-focus and some of it in focus, composition was key. Background was often distracting and the reason for not composing an image as I went in close to fill the frame with only the web.


 I was also attracted to the low lying webs that hung over the water and their reflections.I tried some images that would include the reflection, but often times a grass poked out of the water and interrupted the web.

I found a beautiful web on a mangrove tree high above the water. I decided to set up the camera on the tripod next to the canoe and attempt to capture multiple images with varying focus points (later to be stacked into one image). This was not easy as there was little room for setting up in a good spot. But, I managed to hang over the edge of the canoe to see the image through the view finder. While viewing, I used manual focus and focused on the left side of the image. Then I worked my way to the right while adjusting the focus point to get a total of nine images. I used the cable release to minimize movement. Once at home, I put the images together and while the focus stacking software worked well, there was an out-of-focus branch that I was not able to avoid. With some significant cropping, I got this image.

Once I examined the images at home, I was amazed at the variety that can be captured. What a productive way to push yourself creatively and technically. As always, when I have my first encounter with a photo subject, I see it as a jumping off point and begin to strategize my next encounter. Such is the Big Cypress.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Everglades is beautiful, but...

  I recently finished a 4-day trip through a part of the Everglades known years ago as the Bill Ashley Jungles. All within the park, this complicated area is lightly speckled with chickees from Pearl Bay to Watson River. Daily distances traveled between them can be as little as three miles; a perfect set up to spend more time exploring. This is an area of the Everglades that was once known to only the heartiest of the gladesmen, the hunters and fishermen of days long past. Now with satellite images and GPS, the less heartier can manage to get into the jungles; but many still get lost.

In addition to exploring new routes, I wanted to photograph. Without expectation, I was on a quest to capture the landscape. To pull it off, I needed two important elements, clouds and a foreground subject. I've been in here many times, but these elements have mostly eluded me. You see, this area of the Everglades is quite challenging for several reasons. One reason, it is flat. No matter where you are, water and sky dominate, leaving little room for anything except for a thin line of mangroves to separate the two. Harry Truman once said of the Everglades, "Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land." He got that right.

This is by far not the first choice for a landscape photographer to pad her portfolio. Doubtful you will see many images of this low lying maze of mangroves and water on 500px among the glorious mountain ranges, dramatic rocky shorelines or picturesque waterfalls. If you really want to photograph this part of the Everglades, your best hope is for clouds in the sky. The Everglades produces dramatic skies which can go up against a mountain range image most days. But, they are unreliable and infrequent during winter months. 

Strong foreground subjects are few and far between in these parts. Best bet is to come here when water levels are relatively low so the grasses and sea floor patterns are revealed. Or maybe get yourself into a spot where a small mangrove tree stands alone. Without an interesting sky as background, you have very few strong elements to place in a landscape image. Sounds fruitless in every way, yet there I was.

And I have very little to show from this trip. It was a short trip comparatively and the wind was relentless. It was the wind that kept us on the chickees in the afternoon; no reason to go back out and explore the area to find an image when there are 20-25 knot winds blowing. At least on Lane Bay chickee I was able to photograph the wind-driven water. The wind created froth trails and with those afternoon cumulus clouds in the sky, I was attracted to the scene. The trails offered leading lines that worked well with the clouds. I attached a 50-lb water container to the tripod to secure it and attached filters to the lens under the midday sun. Using 2-sec exposures, I proceeded to capture the water as the wind drove it toward the chickee. That was about as exciting as it got behind the camera lens.

So why bother? It's the challenge of the off-the-grid Everglades that keeps me going. Take a look at the satellite image above. It's the Everglades, that's why.