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Showing posts from August, 2011

Northern Harrier

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Northern Harriers [gallery] are, for me, a special treat whenever I see them.  They are easily recognized in flight by the white patch on their rump.  Males are mostly grey and females brown.  They also have a distinctive flight pattern--they fly low to the ground  as they hunt for prey.

You are most likely to find them in grasslands, wetlands, and meadows.  I see them most frequently at St. Marks NWR, Viera Wetlands and Merritt Island.  I've seen them frequently flying near the first parking area on Blackpoint Dr. in Merritt Island NWR.  I've also seen them on the Eastern Shore of MD near the Blackwater NWR.   Here are a sampling of my photos of Northern Harriers.

Tricolored Heron

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Tricolored Herons [gallery] are gorgeous and graceful birds.  They are medium-sized herons, easily distinguished from other herons by their blue-grey head, back and wings with a white stripe down the front of the neck and white underparts.  Juveniles often look a little more reddish.  You are most likely to see these birds in the southeastern states of the U.S. and farther south.  I particularly enjoy watching these birds, especially the way they feed.  They frequently run as they feed, and I find it humorous.

In Central Florida, I see them everywhere there is shallow water, including Viera Wetlands, Orlando Weltands Park, and Merritt Island NWR.  But you frequently see them even in retention ponds by highways and residential communities. Here's a sampling of photos of one of my favorite herons.

Photographing Waterfalls, Part 2: Composition

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My first article on this blog was on how to photograph waterfalls and cascades.  I looked at it recently only to notice that that post dealt almost entirely with exposure.  So I thought it fitting add a second about composition.  Waterfalls are often so beautiful that almost any photograph of a waterfall properly exposed will look pretty great.  But there are some strategies you can use to build on the natural beauty of the waterfall.
Timing.  Obviously, the look of a waterfall will change throughout the year through the seasons, with late Spring, Summer and early Fall giving you the bet colors.  Nothing beats a photograph of a waterfall in fall colors.  But the look of the water fall can also change almost daily depending on the amount of rain your'e having.  So if you don't like the look of a waterfall one day, it may still be great on another.Rule of Thirds.  Sometimes photographers zoom in on a waterfall and fill the frame with it.  Of course, there's nothing wrong with…

Photographing Flowers, Part 4: Breaking Your Mold

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Now that we've looked at the needed equipment and strategies for composition and lighting to develop your own style for flower photography, I'd like to consider the need to break the mold you set, at least on occasion. When I lived in MD, I used to go to Brookside Gardens [gallery] every Saturday morning.  I love that place--I suspect it's the best free place to photograph flowers in the state.  One day I was looking through my photos from Brookside, and it hit me that all my photos were taken at 180mm (the focal length of my macro lens), and almost all of these were closeups of flowers.  I was in a flower photography rut, and I didn't even know it.  Breaking that mold was hard, and in fact I'm not sure I ever did.  In some ways I guess I decided I liked my rut and I was sticking to it.

But I also realized that on occasion I need to try something different--I needed at least some variety in my approach to flowers.  As you develop your own style of photography, it…

Photographing Flowers, Part 3: Lighting

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Now that we've looked at necessary equipment and strategies for composition, let's consider lighting.  Lighting can be a significant challenge in all forms of outdoor photography, but thankfully in closeup photographs of flowers, it's one challenge where you can exert a great deal of control.   Cloudy days are your best friend; they often create the ideal lighting situation for flowers.  If you happen to have a slight drizzle, even better.  I love flower photos with water drops.  I usually bring plastic bags with me and cover my camera with them when shooting in a slight drizzle.  Early morning hours are also great for photography, before the sun shines directly on the flowers.  Nothing beats flower photography on an early, still quiet morning, with nothing to hear but the birds chirping and the shutter tripping.

Once the sun rises and shines on your flowers, everything changes.  The heat from the sun excites the air, which in turn creates a slight breeze.  And then there&#…

Photographing Flowers, Part 2: Composition

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In my last post, we looked at the equipment needed for closeup photos of flowers.  Now I want to consider some strategies for composition.  There are two significant challenges to composition when it comes to flower photography.  The first challenge is largely aesthetic and the second largely technical.

Aesthetic Challenge
Flowers are pretty, so there are lots of flower photos to see out there.  Even good flower photos can appear to be "just another flower photo" when seen in the context of all there is to see.  But interestingly, most flower photos are shot largely the same way.  They show the whole flower, and they are often look at the flower from the top down.  Please understand, there's nothing wrong with this, and I wouldn't discourage you from doing this if that's what you enjoy.  But consider also that not only do these images share many similarities with each other, they also look much like the way we normally observe flowers when walking through a garden…

Photographing Flowers, Part 1: Equipment

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When I first fell in love with photography, it was largely because of what a photograph could do to a flower, especially getting up close to them to portray them in ways we normally don't look at them.  They are marvels of nature, so I'm excited to begin a series on how to photograph them.  I'm going to concentrate on macro & closeup photography of flowers, at least to start off.  This is not the only or even best way to photograph them (since there is no "best way"), but it is the way that I prefer to photograph them.  Shooting close up photos of flowers properly is demanding and exacting work. It's also painstakingly slow.  But the results you can get are worth far more than the effort it takes to get the photo.  Here's what you need to get started shooting close up photos of flowers.

Camera.  Well, of course.  Most any quality DSLR will do just fine photographing flowers, but there's one feature that I highly recommend for flower photography--m…

Circular Polarizer Filter

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A Circular Polarizer (CP) filter is the only filter you absolutely need for outdoor photography.  Sure there are others that can be helpful in certain situations, but a CP filter is essential gear.  They are extremely beneficial for cutting down on reflections on leaves and flowers, water, and anything else that reflects light.  This allows you to take photographs with more saturated colors, and the difference can be rather striking.  CP filters are also used to make the sky a deeper blue, though in my opinion, this effect is often overdone.  There's no way to duplicate the effect of a CP filter in Photoshop, so you have to use it in the field.  
There are a few things you should know to make the most of this filter. Rotating Filter. The filter works by selecting directional of light--this means that the effect of the filter will change as you rotate it on the front of your lens.  After screwing on the filter, you will be able to continue rotating the filter.  You'll see reflect…

Filters: What you Need and Don't Need

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One of the great benefits of digital photography is that you no longer have to carry around a vast array of filters.  Digital cameras have the ability to let you set your white balance for way your scene is lit, and many issues can be solved in Photoshop better than with filters.  Those of you starting out in digital don't know how good  you have it.

I should begin by explaining what a filter is.  A filter is a thin piece of glass that is designed to modify the direction, amount or color of light entering the lens.  Usually this piece of glass is circular with threads on the edges so you can screw the filter right on the front of your lens.  This means that one filter will fit only one diameter lens.  Check the front of your lenses to find their sizes so that you can know what size filter to use with each lens you own.  I have a couple bits of advice about filters in general: Because all filters add a layer of glass between your subject and sensor, you want to buy high quality filt…

The Art of Compromise

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If you haven't already gathered from my other posts on the three exposure elements: aperture, shutter speed and ISO, photography is an art of compromise.  You can't always get what you want most without giving up something you want less.  This is a dance we all must learn.  Let me explain the need for compromise with a couple examples.

Bright Light Situations. Suppose you want to get that nice, silky effect on a waterfall on a bright, sunny day mid-afternoon.  The sun is shining directly on the the falls, and it looks so pretty you have to get the picture.  Here's the problem.  On a bright, sunny day, there's so much light that can be impossible to make your ISO slow enough and your aperture small enough to get your shutter speed in the 2-3 sec. range.  If, on top of that you want a narrow depth of field (large aperture), well, you may as well ask for the moon.

This situation forces a compromise--the best solution is to return in the early morning hours before the sun …

Alberton Area, Patapsco State Park

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Alberton Area [map] is a relatively unknown portion of Patapsco Valley State Park [gallery], and it's a fairly unique part of the park as well.  This section of the park is actually an old road that once led to an old town called Daniels, MD.  Daniels was a mill town that had its beginnings in the early 19th century, but was abandoned in the late 1960s.  The remnants of the town were later destroyed by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.  The storm flooded the banks of the river, destroyed the town and pushed cars up the hills.  The area was never rebuilt, so the forest grew up around the ruins of buildings and old cars.  In a very real sense, this area is the reversal of the general trend of human interaction with nature.  Here, nature is reclaiming and renewing what man had made and abandoned.

I love going to this part of the park.  It reminds me of the resilience and renewing strength of nature.  There's a small parking area at the entrance to Alberton Rd, and you can walk the trail as…