Thursday, May 27, 2010

The View from My Hotel

We're staying in the Rosen Center Hotel in Kissimmee (just outside Orlando), and this is the view from our window on the 20th floor.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Blue Skies of Florida

I took this photo just outside of Tallahassee this afternoon, and after we arrived at our hotel I tried adding some texture in Photoshop and boosting the color and contrast. So, even though Florida's skies are very blue, they're not quite this blue.

My condolences to those of you in the Pacific Northwest. I'll see what I can do to send some sunshine up your way... ;)

32mm, f5.6, 1/750, Canon 7D, 24-105 f4L,
processed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Driving through "Cajun Country"

This morning, a co-worker and I headed out for a two day drive to the FPEA Homeschool Convention in Florida. It was a very last-minute decision to send me along, and originally I thought I would be flying out on Thursday, but they decided to have me drive with David to save on airfare. Yesterday afternoon I was told, "Ben, you're going to Florida...and you're leaving early tomorrow morning."

I'm flexible. I can handle it. :)

So here we are, in the town of Mobile, Alabama. Tomorrow we have another 7 hours or so before we get to Orlando. Here are a few quick shots I grabbed while we were driving and several I took once we arrived here in AL.

(Note: I chose to process all of these in black-and-white mostly because they had a strong bluish cast from shooting through the car window and/or very little interesting color to work with. The LongHorn Steakhouse shot got special treatment.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Coastal Photo Expedition: Part 5

It's pretty much a universal rule: the professional wildlife photographers carry the "big glass." The Canon 500mm f4, for instance, is probably the most popular lens among wildlife photographers.

(This is not me by the way...)

If you think the size is daunting, go look up the price! This is a lens that resides in the land of dreams and wishes (for me at least).

For my trip to the coast I needed to rent a quality lens that wouldn't break the budget, so I went with this guy's younger brother - the Canon 300mm f4 with a 1.4x teleconverter (which multiplies the focal length of the lens by a factor of 1.4, giving this setup a reach of 420mm). Since I don't get out to do wildlife photography very often, it wasn't worth my money at that point to go buy myself a telephoto lens like the 300mm, so I rented it from a great company called Check them out, they have a great selection!

Here are the lenses I brought with me: (left to right) Canon 300mm f4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter, Canon 24-105mm f4L

As expected the 300mm performed extremely well. I could go on and on about how much I like it, but I'll spare you for now :)

I learned several lessons about equipment and photography in general during this trip.

1) Just because you are using "professional" gear does not guarantee that you will get "professional" looking photos. The camera is only as good as the photographer.

2) Wildlife photography is usually 'uncomfortable'. You have to work to get the shot you want because your subject will rarely cooperate - and sometimes that means getting down in the mud or sand, or enduring swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitoes to get the shot...

3) Visualize the photos you want before you get out in the field. It may be difficult at first, but if you have at least a general idea of what you want to shoot your chances of getting "the shot" improve dramatically.

4) No matter how many images you shoot, expect that very few will ultimately turn out. This isn't a bad thing. It means you're holding yourself to a high standard (just make sure it's not too high!), and are willing to "fail" repeatedly until you get the shot you envision.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Coastal Photo Expedition: Part 4

On Saturday morning I woke up around 4:30 a.m. to get an early start on my 60 mile drive up to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

I arrived at 6:30 a.m. just before the sunrise, and parked at the information center to get, well...some information. It turns out they didn't open until 8:30, so I signed in, grabbed a map and headed back to my car.

All the while I was hearing this strange noise. It was this loud, deep roar like a big truck engine starting, except there wasn't anyone else around so that hardly seemed likely. I walked over to the edge of the parking lot overlooking a small pond, and I soon realized where that noise was coming from.

There was a big alligator laying in the pond - the first one I had ever seen in the wild! After a few minutes, he reared up out of the water, opened his jaws and let out a deep rumbling roar! It was slightly unnerving to say the least. Apparently Aransas NWR refuge is filled with alligators.

There is a 16 mile paved road looping through the northern end of the park, and as I drove along I came to a nice overlook. The sun was just rising, and I stopped to get some photos.

I continued along the road with the windows rolled down so I would be ready if any critters showed themselves. If I slowed down, I immediately became very popular with the local mosquito population (there must have been millions of them!), so I just kept moving. Along the way this pretty doe paused for me to take a portrait.

I was several miles into the auto-route when I spotted this big lumpy thing in the road ahead. Stopping, I scoped it out through my lens and, sure enough, there was an alligator - just waiting for me to take his picture! I parked a ways off to give him some space, and slowly approached where he was lying. After taking a few shots, I realized I would need my tripod for extra stability, so I went back to the car to get it, came back and took several dozen more photos. I was able to adjust the tripod to give me a really low angle, and then used Live View mode and focus zoom in Manual focus mode to confirm that I had his eye perfectly in focus. Then, it was just a matter of adjusting the aperture to give me sufficient depth-of-field so his nose would also be sharp.

I wasn't as close as these photos make it appear. The whole time I stayed 25-30 feet away.

It was such a treat to find such a cooperative gator and to get my very first photos of such an amazing creature! I was just about ready to go give him a hug...just kidding.

Here is some of the scenery I saw along the rest of my drive.

And here is a photo of the Wild Turkey I saw on my way out of the refuge. It would have been so cool to photograph a gator eating a turkey, but you can't have it all!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

This Isn't the Zoo

Being a native northwesterner, I had never seen an alligator in the wild before. Tomorrow, I'll put up a bunch more images of my time at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, but for now let's just say that you won't find me wading around in any swamps down here...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coastal Photo Expedition: Part 3

After a relaxing afternoon on the beach, I began getting ready for an evening of shooting shorebirds - with my camera (just thought I'd clarify that)...

Although the day started out overcast it really cleared up in the afternoon, which promised some really beautiful light in the late afternoon as the sun began to set. Sure enough, around 6:00 p.m. the light started to get really good. I had been waiting for this, but then the question hit me. What exactly do I plan on doing here?

Many photographers will spend hours crawling on their bellies in order to get that "eye-level" perspective with the bird they are photographing (that's how I achieved the Laughing Gull photo in yesterday's post), but I found that every time I got out of my car the birds would spook and run away.

My solution was simple. I stayed in my car, rolled down the window and drove very slowly, staying about 20 feet from the waterline. The birds didn't seem to mind, plus they were now sandwiched between my car and the water, with the setting sun at my back - a perfect setup to get some killer shorebird shots.

Black-bellied Plover

I caught this little guy on his afternoon jog.

Knowing that I would probably shoot several hundred images before the evening was out, I set up my Macbook Pro in the passenger seat on a makeshift stand, and every time I filled up a card I would swap it out for a new one, and import the photos on the full card into Lightroom while I continued shooting.



Ruddy Turnstone

Finally, the sun went below the horizon and I didn't have any more light to work with. Just before leaving, I grabbed this shot of the setting sun over the dunes (HDR image by the way).

I think this evening was my favorite experience shooting wildlife to-date!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Coastal Photo Expedition: Part 2

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I would post some more details on my first night camping on the beach. Well, I wouldn't exactly call it "camping," because we generally define camping in terms of tents and campfires, sausages and stories, lawn chairs and lanterns...and I'll stop before I get carried away.

The fact is, I had most of that. But what I hadn't counted on was the wind. It was coming right off the ocean, not more than 70 feet away, and completely inverted my poor little tent. I wasn't too excited about the prospect of being flattened and covered in sand, so I decided to stick it out in my car that night. Needless to say, I got very little sleep.

But it wasn't all bad. I got a nice little campfire going despite the wind, using my secret ingredient - instant-light charcoal - and enjoyed some roasted sausages while listening to a historical lecture by Geoff Botkin on my iPod.

The next day (Friday), I spent the morning in the nearby town of Port Aransas visiting some of their local birding sites, enjoyed an afternoon on the beach in the sun, and that evening had one of the coolest photographic experiences ever. Stay tuned...

Horned Lark

I was excited to finally see one of these birds. Several times I've identified their calls, but I don't think I had ever seen one until now. I took this photo at "Paradise Pond," which was mostly a dried-out mudflat, not a "pond."

Laughing Gull

You would have to hear one of these guys to understand why they call them "laughing" gulls. This particular fella' was laughing at my hair, or maybe it was the fact that I was lying flat on my belly in a sandy parking lot...

Caspian Tern

Monday, May 10, 2010

Coastal Photo Expedition: Part 1

As I mentioned in my last post, I have wanted to visit the Texas coast in spring for a long time, and I spent the last month or so pulling together the gear and final details for my trip which happened last weekend. Over the next few days I'll be posting a series of entries on the trip, including a special post on the photo gear I used, many of my favorite images, stories, geeky tidbits and more.

I'm a cheapskate by nature, so I decided to camp on the beach to save money on a hotel. Mustang Island State Park was "base camp" and I mapped out a few other nearby locations I wanted to visit during my stay.

Mustang Island is not really it's own "island," but it essentially the northern tip of Padre Island, which stretches about 130 miles along the TX coast in the Gulf of Mexico (it's also the world's longest barrier island). It's located about 10 miles from a quaint little seaside town called Port Aransas (which I'll post some pictures of later).

I've heard stories about camping on the beach. I have friends and family who have done it...but I never had. So, I had no idea what to prepare for - and that's usually a recipe for disaster.

Tomorrow, I'll post more details about my first night "camping." In a nutshell, I roasted sausages over a little campfire and listened to Geoff Botkin on my iPod, my tent broke in the wind so I slept in my car, and hardly got any sleep at all... Like I said, more on that later. For now, enjoy some of the images I shot on Friday.

Brown Pelican

(I'm super happy with these images - they're some of my very first successful flight shots, and let me tell you something - they're not easy!)

Laughing Gull

(if I knew the specific species I'd include it, but to me a turtle is just a turtle :)

The pond and boardwalk where above turtle was photographed (no alligators in here thankfully - at least, I didn't see any...)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

My Texas Coast Photo Adventure: A Sneak Peak

This weekend I fulfilled a dream. For years I've wanted to visit the Texas coast during late April or early May (the peak of spring migration) to do some bird photography, and I finally made it happen. I still have 1,200 photos to go through, and sleep to catch up on, but there will be many more images and posts to come in the next few days! In the meantime enjoy these two shots I took on Friday morning.


Laughing Gull