Sunday, July 31, 2011

Orlando Wetlands Park, 7/31/2011

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
White-Eyed Vireo
I was planning to go to Viera Wetlands today, but I decided on the way to go back to Orlando Wetlands Park.  I didn't have much time--I only had about 3 hours--and I wanted to spend more time birding and less time driving.  Anyway, the sun did it's best to make me feel like I was birding in mid-afternoon.

I saw the usual suspects here today, though I got my first presentable pictures of a White-Eyed Vireo.  That in itself was enough to justify the drive.  The only other species of note was the Downy Woodpecker.  I should also note the lack of Purple Gallinules.  For the first time since May or early June, I did not observe any.  You can see my gallery photos from today here.

Below is my species list for the day.  Again, an X means I didn't count the species, and a number refers to the number of a species I observed.

Non-Birds
American Alligator X
White-Tailed Deer 2
Various Dragonflies X

Birds
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck X
Anhinga X
Least Bittern 2
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret X
Snowy Egret X
Little Blue Heron X
Tricolored Heron X
Cattle Egret X
Green Heron X
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 2
White Ibis X
Glossy Ibis X
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Common Moorhen X
Sandhill Crane 2
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Common Ground-Dove X
Chimney Swift 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Crow X
Carolina Wren X
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Northern Mockingbird X
European Starling X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Boat-tailed Grackle X

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Warm and Cool Compositions

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Sunrise at Deep Creek

I'd like to look a little more closely at groups of analogous colors, particularly when making compositions using warmer colors or cooler colors.  If you're not familiar with the distinction, the best way to begin to distinguish between warmer and cooler colors is to think of the colors of the rainbow:  Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.  The colors closer to the red side of the rainbow are warmer colors.  The colors closer to violet are cooler colors.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Sunrise at Crescent Beach
The two sample photographs above were both taken at sunrise, but the colors in the photograph at Deep Creek are distinctively warmer than the photograph taken at Crescent Beach.  Look at the feel of both photographs.  I know that they are different subjects, but on the basis of the color alone, how does the "temperature" of the photograph affect the mood of each image?


Friday, July 29, 2011

Basic Color Theory

Brookside Gardens 070-3Beginning photographers are often attracted to a particular composition because of a particular color in the scene.  It may be the blueness of the sky or the greenness of the grass. Perhaps in the fall, you are amazed by the brilliant red leaves of a sugar maple tree.  Color is a great compositional device.  However, it can be made even stronger when colors are composed in relation to other colors in your scene.

You can take a picture of a beautiful purple flower, but what's the color of the background?  Is it grey gravel from the nearby road?  What would happen if you took the picture from a different angle so that the background was green grass?  Compositions can be vastly improved when the colors surrounding your subject are taken into account.

Even those of us who pretend not to care about the clothes we wear know that certain colors clash when put next to each other.  In photography, you can arrange the color patterns to make sure that they fit well with each other.    In this post, we'll look at three different ways to arrange colors:
  1. Monochromatic.  Monochromatic images are made up entirely of gradations of one color.  For instance, you may compose an image made up almost entirely of gradations of the color yellow from dark to bright.
  2. Analogous.  Analogous colors are a set of colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel.  The colors between yellow and orange are analogous colors because they appear next to each other on the color wheel.  Analogous colors are more likely to look soothing in a composition.
  3. Complementary. Complementary colors are a set of colors opposite from each other on the color wheel.  Purple and yellow are complementary because they are opposite from each other on the color wheel. Complementary colors will contrast with each other more strikingly than analogous colors.
IMG_5543a-3Notice the striking contrast between the purples and yellows in the above photograph compared to the more subtle yellows, oranges and pinks in the photograph to the right. As much as your scene allows, be intentional with the colors you include in your composition. There's no right way to arrange the colors in your image, and often there's only so much you can do.  You have to work with the colors that are available to you.  But the more you can be intentional about arranging the colors available to you in your scene, the better your compositions will be.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Texture


Texture to me is one of the most interesting features of composition. After all, a photograph is generally found on flat, smooth surfaces with no real textures to feel.  But photographs can imply textures in a variety of ways.  The roughness of tree bark, the smooth surface of still water, raindrops on flower petals, all these kinds of things affect the mood of an image through implying texture.

The photograph to  your left is basically a picture of texture.  I loved the way the rain drops  weighed down the lower petals of this flower to separate them from the rest.  This allowed me to shoot the textures of the raindrops and the textures of the edges of the petals above. On the other hand, the flower below contrasts the smoother textures of the flower with the rougher textures of the leaf below it.


You can combine contrasting textures using the rule of thirds.  The photograph above is nearly split through the middle, but the photograph below puts the rougher textures in the lower third of the frame and the smoother texture with radial pattern in the top two thirds of the image.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Story Telling

Cattle Egret with Frog
"A picture is worth a thousand words." We've heard the proverb many times.  Newspapers are filled with journalistic photos that capture the essence of a news story.  We look at those piercing eyes of the woman from that amazing photo from the cover of National Geographic--you know the photo, I know you do--and just her eyes tell the story of her struggle.  Street photographers capture moments that tell the stories of a culture--the mood, hopes and fears of a people at a time and place.

But with nature photography, things often change in our minds.  We commonly we think of nature photographs as static snapshots of a beautiful sunset or a rare bird.  But nature photographers can tell stories too. Photographs capture a moment in time, but they capture a moment often with a record of the past and with an anticipation of the future.  Life and nature is always dynamic and changing, so capturing a moment can give you evidence of the past and a hope for the future.

Consider the above photograph of a Cattle Egret.  You know what he's been up to.  The frog in his mouth tells you the story of what he's been doing and why.  "Bird's gotta eat," you know.   Do you feel happy for the Egret, sad for the frog?  So the photograph can tell a story of the struggle for survival, and the Egret is now more than just a pretty bird--his survival directly impacts the lives of other animals at Orlando Wetlands Park.

Tricolored Heron

And the above photograph of a Tricolored Heron in flight is not just a record of a pretty bird flying to some destination.  At least for me, it tells the story of renewal.  The worn and faded feathers are being replaced by new ones--a process the heron must go through throughout his life that is essential for the continuation of the species.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Interpreting your Subject

Reddish Egret Feeding
One of the qualities of an image that can set it apart from others is its ability to interpret a subject.  It's always great to view a properly exposed and well-composed photograph.  But some photographs also reveal something about their subject matter that causes the viewer to think differently as a result of interacting with the photograph.  And that a very good thing.

Of course, photographs can't generally explain their subject matter in words--even if there are words in the photo, the photograph depends on more than those words to communicate.  You must use your exposure and composition to portray what you wan to communicate.  There are three essential aspects to turning beautiful pictures into interpretive images:
  1. Knowledge of Your Subject:  You must understand your subject to interpret it.  What ever you're shooting, the more you know about the subject the more expressive you can be as you portray ideas in your image.
  2. Knowledge of Yourself: You must understand what's going on in you as you view your subject before you trip the shutter.  What is it that attracts to you to your subject?  What is it causing you to feel?  What do you want the viewer to get from the experience of viewing the photograph?
  3. Connect the Two Photographically: You need to be able to put these understandings into the composition of your image.  The viewer can then see what you loved about the subject and feel what moved you as you took the photo.
I took the above image of a Reddish Egret when I was at Merritt Island NWR.  One of their distinctive behaviors is to run as they're feeding and spread their wings as they thrust their beaks in the water to catch their prey.  They spread their wings to cut down on the glare from the sun so that they can see their prey in the water more easily.  It's one of the behaviors that can help identify the species, and for me, it's one of the attractive features of the bird's behavior.  As I was shooting this particular bird, the lighting was just right to capture both the bird and its reflection.  I wanted a photo of him (and his reflection) spreading his wings as he was feeding; for me, the reflection would help the viewer understand why the bird behaves the way it does.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

J Blanchard Trail (Central Florida), 7/24/2011

On Saturday, I drove back from Orlando Wetlands Park by a different route than I normally do.  I took Econlockhatchee Trail north from Colonial Drive to University Blvd.  As a crossed the stream there and saw a bird I couldn't identify--a small black and white bird, with white wing-tips--flying a way from me.  So I decided to return on Sunday to see if I could find that bird again.  Unfortunately, I didn't, but I was impressed with what I did find in a predominantly residential area.  I walked the Little Econ Greenway for about 1.5 miles.

I also saw about 5 domesticated geese.  They looked liked snow geese with no black visible on the wings, but that would be impossible.  I'm pretty sure they were domesticated greylag geese.  I didn't include them in the list below.

Non-Birds
Fire Ants (I got bitten)
Rabbits

Birds
Mallard 1
Anhinga X
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret X
Snowy Egret X
Little Blue Heron X
Tricolored Heron X
White Ibis X
Glossy Ibis X
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Limpkin 5
Sandhill Crane 2
Killdeer 2
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X

Orlando Wetlands Park, 7/23/2011

Nothing new at Orlando Wetlands Park this time, but it was still a pretty good morning.  As soon as I walked in, two Pileated Woodpeckers came and greeted me.  When I made it onto the birding loop, the alligators were feeding on fish, so there were about 50 of them splashing and thrashing all in a group.  I took pictures there for about 15 minutes of them catching fish.  I don't care too much about photographing alligators, but if that's what you would enjoy, Orlando Wetlands Park is your place.

Here's my species list from my visit.  Numbers refer to the species count on the day.  An X means that I didn't count the number I saw.

Non-Birds
American Alligator
Various Dragonflies

Birds
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck X
Anhinga X
Least Bittern 4
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret X
Snowy Egret X
Little Blue Heron X
Tricolored Heron X
Cattle Egret X
Green Heron X
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron X
White Ibis X
Glossy Ibis X
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Purple Gallinule 1
Common Moorhen X
Limpkin 1
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker X
Pileated Woodpecker 2
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
White-eyed Vireo 1
Blue Jay 1
American Crow X
Fish Crow X
Carolina Wren X
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Northern Mockingbird X
Red-winged Blackbird X
European Starling X
Common Grackle X
Boat-tailed Grackle X

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Balance in Composition

You've probably seen photographs that catch your attention, and you wonder why all the elements of the photograph are "where they ought to be."  It's odd to say that, since in nature things simply are where they are, but in a photograph, this is what we call balance.  The photographer has arranged all the visual elements in the image so that they seem like they're where they're supposed to be.

When we think of balance, we often think of symmetry, where one half of the image is mirrored by the other half.  As we discuss in the posts on the rule of thirds, this style of composition often divides the frame into two halves and it therefore splits the attention of the viewer.  A better way to think of balance is in terms of what you may remember from high school physics, or at least from seesaws in the playground growing up.

In the above diagram, a heavy object has to balance a lighter object on the line by moving closer to the fulcrum.  When you were a kid, your father had to sit closer to the center of the seesaw to balance out your weight at the end of the other side of the see saw.  So while diagram isn't symmetrical, it's still "balanced."  Objects "weigh more" the further removed they are from the fulcrum.

In photography,  images are often made up of contrasting pairs: light/dark, large/small, filled space/empty space, smooth/rough, etc.  The presence of one visual element somewhere in the frame can be balanced out by an element somewhere else.

In the the photograph above, the tree is darker and the background is generally lighter.  But rather than putting the darker tree in the center, I put it off to the left in the frame, where it has more "weight."  Also notice in the photograph to the right that the top left is lighter than the bottom right.  The fallen trees in the foreground lead you from the darker area to the lighter area, but rather than the fallen trees meeting the upright trees in the center, they meet towards the upper left part of the frame.

The balance in both these compositions is designed to lead they eye into the frame, rather than your attention being split into two halves of a photograph.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Choosing Black & White

Sometimes I hear people say that either color or black and white photos are superior than the other format because it's more realistic or more artistic.  I think that misses the point.  Both color and black and white photography have equal artistic value. Have ever heard someone say a painting would be more artistic if it were in black and white?  What makes a photograph less artistic than a painting just because it's in color?  And both of them are far removed from "real."  Even color photographs freeze scenes in motion and change and flatten them into small, flat files made up of pixels.

But preferences are another story.  I have red-green color blindness, and probably because of this, I tend to gravitate more to photos with saturated colors.  On some level I think because I see the colors better that way, I like that kind of photography. Others prefer black and white photographs.  We all have our preferences, and that's just fine.  But part of growing as a photographer is trying new things and expanding our preferences.  For me, that means in part looking for ways to present photos in black and white.

But if both have equal value, what would make you choose one over the other?  I think the answer goes back to the basic rule of composition we've been using throughout this site: simplify to emphasize what's important to you and exclude what isn't.  What's important to you in the scene you're shooting?  Is it the color?  Then by all means keep it in color.  Because of my own personal preferences, that' often the case--I want others to see the colors I find so beautiful.  But if you're interested in other aspects of your image--the texture of the flower or the, the S-curve of a bent leaf, the patterns created by raindrops on a fern--consider presenting your photograph as a black and white image.

Then there's also that intangible "feel" of an image, and sometimes the photo just feels right in black and white.

Now many of your cameras have a black and white mode.  DON'T USE IT!  EVER!  There's absolutely no point in it.  You want to record as much data as possible. And believe it or not the color data you record can be very helpful to you if you decide to present it as a black and white  Use your software to convert it to black and white, and then you can change the brightness of the different colors in your image to adjust the brightness of different parts of your black and white photo.  If you only record black and white pixels, you lose the ability to be able to do this.  And if you decide later that you want to display your photograph in color, you can't.

To your right you can see the color version of the black and white image above.  At least to my eyes, the color in the trees in the background was doing nothing to help the image, and the Great Egret is mostly white anyway, aside for the yellow-orange in the beak.  So I thought I'd see how it looked in black and white.  I immediately liked the feel of the image more in black and white--it has a more somber feel to me.  So I played with the color channels until I liked it and presented it in black and white.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Radial Patterns in Composition


Along with repetition, lines and curves, it is also valuable to to look for radial patterns to aid your composition.  Obviously flowers lend themselves well to these kinds of compositions.  But most flower pictures look straight at the flower petals and put the stamen in the center of the frame.  Consider also including only part of the flower to emphasize the designs that interest you most about it.  You can put the center of the flower at an intersection in the rule of thirds, or even put it in the corner of the frame.  Your subject then becomes the radial lines coming from the center of the flower.

Many photographers take pictures of flowers, so it's hard to make a flower picture unique.  Don't limit yourself to a top down view; you may even choose to emphasize the underside of the flower, as in the last photo.  The more you can approach the flower with the patterns in the flower in your mind, the more you'll be able to distinguish your photos from others.  To make the most of radial patterns, try not to think of the boundaries of the flower as important as the design your're trying to achieve.  Select what's important to emphasize and exclude everything else.

Also, the radial pattern does not have to take up the whole frame.  It can be used in part of the frame, as in the photograph below, or it can be repeated multiple times in the frame, as in the photograph to the right.  You can arrange the visual elements of your composition to give you the interpretation of the scene you want to present to your viewers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Repetition in Composition

Repetition is a very useful visual aid in compositional design. A repeated pattern that you can lead your eye through the frame (I almost always prefer diagonals) can often strengthen a composition.  In order for something to feel like a repeated pattern, it's usually good to have three or more in the pattern.

We don't often notice patterns of repetition in nature.  In the photograph to the left, the repetition is obvious to everyone looking.  But very often, patterns of repetition only appear to be so when you are looking at the pattern from a particular angle. In the photograph below, the daffodils were simply a few in a group of about 20 to 30 flowers. I had to find an angle of view that would allow them to show up as a repeated pattern, and I had to place the camera close enough to the flowers to exclude other flowers that competed with the design pattern I wanted.

Also, you do not have to have all your points of repetition in focus, as in the above photograph.  They can fade softly out of focus, as in the photograph to the right.  Sometimes using a shallower depth of field can hide elements of the scene that do not quite fit the pattern.

Seeing patterns of repetition comes with practice as you learn how to arrange all the visual elements of a scene to support your composition.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Visual Elements of Composition

When you look at the scene you're going to photograph, what do you see?  The distinction between looking and seeing is perhaps the most important in composition.  When you look at a scene, there's a tulip.  When you see the scene, it's made up of colors, shades, shapes, textures, lines, and patterns.  You see visual elements to be arranged and balanced in your composition.

I took art classes when I was in elementary school, and my teacher made us do exercises that I hated.  She would give us an object to draw and tell us to draw it upside down.  We would have to turn the object upside down in our heads and draw it on paper.  It slowed me down, and it made me think too hard, so I hated it.  Then she would have us draw it right side up.  When we compared the two drawings, inevitably the one I drew upside down was better than the one I drew right side up.  Why?  Because my brain was thinking differently.  I wasn't trying to draw a log on a table.  I was paying careful attention to the lines, shapes and textures that made the log what it is.  I was seeing, not just looking.

When we start to see instead of just look, things that bind us are no longer important.  After all, if you're not just photographing a flower, it no longer matters what the boundaries of the tulip may be.  You're not photographing a flower.  You're photographing the color and texture of the flower--the straight line coming up from the bottom of the frame to meet the curve of the tulip, etc.

And this perspective of "seeing" also opens the door for the third aspect of photography--beyond exposure and composition is the interpretation of your subject matter--evoking feelings, causing people to think, telling stories, etc.  For this kind of interpretation to take place, we need to be aware of what's going on in the scene as well as what's going on in us--we need to see.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Arrangement in Composition


Compositional design is all about arranging the visual elements of your scene to create the image you want.  It lets you simplify your compositions and exclude those things that are unimportant to you so that you can emphasize what is.  Commonly photographers compose their photographs by finding a subject they like and photographing it head on with the camera at eye height.  This means that most photographs are shot about 5-6 ft above the ground looking directly at the subject.  This isn't wrong or bad, but it also isn't unique or intentional.  As a photographer, you have the ability to employ several techniques to arrange the visual elements of your image.
  1. Physical Arrangement.  Often you can physically arrange the visual elements in your compositional design.  You can move a leaf or a rock to be positioned in the frame as you like.  You can remove distracting branches from the scene.  You can plan to come early enough to the scene so that you will not have to contend with other visitors.
  2. Move the Camera.  Look for different angles to view your subject.  You can place your camera where it will hide distracting elements from view or reveal aspects that would otherwise be hidden.  You can also look for unique perspectives on your subject.  Lower your tripod low to the ground.  Raise it up higher than normal eye level to give you a unique point of view.
  3. Zoom the Lens.  You can change the focal length of your lens either to "crop" your image or widen your perspective on your subject.  This can help you compose what you want to show up in the foreground and background of your image.
  4. Move and Zoom.  You can use zoom lenses to zoom in on your subject, but you can also move closer or farther away from your subject and zoom to keep the subject the same size.  Doing so will change the size of the background relative to the subject.  Moving closer to your subject while zooming out will make background elements smaller relative to the foreground.  Moving farther away from your subject while zooming in will make background elements larger relative to the foreground--this has the benefit of allowing you to have the background cover a smaller area. 
  5. Focus and Depth of Field.  You can can change where your camera is focused and how much of your scene will be in focus (depth of field).  You can blur distracting elements out of your composition.
These three photographs of Muddy Creek Falls in this post illustrate how simple camera placement can change your composition.  These shots were taken over several visits to Swallow Falls State Park.  With each successive shot the camera is closer to the falls.  In the first shot, the falls and the river forms a diagonal "S" shape through the frame.  In the second, the falls and river forms a curved diagonal line.  In the third, the river is not even part of the picture.  My only concern is with the falls.  In my opinion, the first image is the strongest composition, but I didn't think of it until photographing the scene from many different places over the space of probably a couple hours.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lake Lotus Park, 7/16/2011

Giant Swallowtail
From a birding perspective, this was a pretty bad day.  But Lotus Lake Park is pretty, and I had a friend with me, so it was a good morning.  We were only there for about an hour and a half, and we didn't see many birds, but I did get my first photos of a Giant Swallowtail butterfly.  We also saw a gigantic Golden silk Orb-Weaver spider. You can see my gallery at my smugmug site.  There's a couple spider pictures in the gallery, so be warned if you don't like pictures of spiders.

Non-Birds
American Alligator
Great Swallowtail
Black Swallowtail
Golden silk orb-weaver

Birds
Anhinga X
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret X
Turkey Vulture X
Common Moorhen X
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Tufted Titmouse 1
Carolina Wren 2
Red-winged Blackbird X

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lines in Composition

Leaf at Brookside Gardens
Much of composition is arranging the elements in your scene into a pleasing or interpretive design.  Intentionally using lines can be very beneficial to your compositions.  Lines exist everywhere in nature, so you can use them to your advantage.  Generally speaking, I prefer lines that flow diagonally through the frame.  They tend to guide your eye through the frame more dynamically.  Now of course, some lines are meant to be horizontal, like a horizon, or vertical, like a tree.  You certainly would want to have a reason to intentionally make them diagonal lines in your composition.  But many lines can be arranged in your frame as you choose.

Consider the photo to your left.  Here I rotated the camera so that the main line would run diagonally through the frame.  If your lines run to the edges of the frame, it's often beneficial if those lines don't hit the corners of the frame.  If a line runs from corner to corner, it can have the effect of splitting the composition in two.

Hooded Mergansers at Viera Wetlands
Lines do not have to be continuous lines.  They can be implied by three or more points in nature.  Now, you geometry fans probably just balked at what I said.  After all, in 10th grade geometry we learned that two points define a line.  But photographically speaking, that's precisely why you need three points.  After all, any two points define a line.  So if you have points in your photograph, you could draw line through any two of them.  But three points arranged in a line suggests intention and composition.

Hooded Mergansers at Viera Wetlands
Consider these two photographs of the exact same three Hooded Mergansers taken at Viera Wetlands.  But notice that composition in the composition directly above the ducks are not in a line, while in the top composition above, they do form a line.  Which do you think is a stronger composition and why? Personally, I like the arrangement in the above photograph better, but I think I cropped the image above too close to the leading merganser.  I think perhaps I should redo the crop on the above photo.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Curves in Composition

Curves, and particularly those that make an "S" shape, can create very dynamic compositions.  They can generate calming, sensitive, even sensual feelings in the viewer. For myself, I prefer curves that form a diagonal through the frame.  In the above photograph taken at Swallow Falls State Park, the rocks cut into the river to force the current into an S-curve. Imagine the change in feel of this photo if the current simply flowed straight through the frame.

Now the lines do not have to be continuous lines. They can be implied by patterns in your composition. In the photo to the left, these Scaup were kind enough form a curve. So instead of zooming in on one duck, I decided to place four of them into my composition.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Orlando & Central Florida Photography Locations

River Otter
I moved to Central Florida a little over a  year ago, and I've been looking for great places to go for nature/wildlife/bird photography. I've found some pretty good places to go, so I thought it would be good to collect the places I've found into one post.  I'm sure there are some great places to visit that aren't yet on my list.  If you know of any, help me (and other readers) out and let me know where you like to go.  Follow links below to maps and photo galleries.  Also, for more detailed species counts, see my Locations page.

Merritt Island NWR--From the Fall through the Spring, this is the best place I've found for seeing a variety of birds.  Wading birds are always here, but ducks and shore birds show up here in abundance, and you're likely to see birds of prey here too.  Look for Reddish Egrets, Roseatte Spoonbills, Black-Necked Stilt, Northern Harrier, various Terns, Marbled Godwit, Northern Flicker, Belted Kingfisher, and Loggerhead Shrike.  You can see my gallery here.
  • Blackpoint Dr. is about a 5 mile gravel road, and it's wide enough for cars to pass you if you pull of to the side to look at something you find interesting.  You can stay in your car to observe, but there's a couple places for parking along the road.  During the prime months, I'll often see more than 40 species of birds on a single morning, as well as bobcats, river otters, alligators,. armadillo, and other wildlife.
  • Peacock's Pocket is a 12 mile long gravel road, and it's not in as good of repair as Blackpoint Dr, but it follows open water.  In my experience, birds are often farther away on this drive, but there's a lot to see.
  • Scrub Ridge Trail is a great place to go to see the threatened Florida Scrub Jay.  I see at least one every time I go.  But be warned, after you walk a little ways down the trail, the mosquitos become unbearable.  I've never been able to put on enough bug spray to keep them off me. Thankfully, I can often see the scrub jay before the mosquitoes get too bad.
Viera Wetlands--From the Fall through Spring, this again is a fantastic place to see a wide variety of birds.  It's much smaller than Merritt Island NWR, and you drive around a loop to see birds and other wildlife (you'll need to be able to see out of the left side of your car).  Anhinga and Great Blue Herons nest very close to where you can drive, and you can often see many wading birds, ducks, shorebirds and birds of prey at the right times of the year.  You can also see Savannah Sparrows, Palm Warblers, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Loggerhead Shrike with some frequency.  You can see my gallery here.
  • The main loop is hidden behind the water treatment facility.  You need to drive through it to get to the main part of the wetlands.  In addition to the above, look for Limpkin, Sora, Least Bittern, American Bittern (in the winter) and Crested Caracara.
  • There's also a dirt road that continues west on the north side of the wetlands.  There's often much to see there, including American Kestrel and Eastern Meadowlarks.
  • Also look for the Click Ponds.  The entrance is just north of the dirt road. This area is not usually as populated as the wetlands, but on several occasions I've seen a flock of White Pelicans there.
Orlando Wetlands Park--This park is great all year round, though it's not open from Oct to Jan.  You can't drive on the wetlands.  You must walk.  There's a 2.5 mile birding loop, but I would highly recommend departing from it and walking to where the influent is (get a map when you go).  I almost always see Purple Gallinule, Least Bitterns and Black-Crowned Night Herons, and I frequently see Yellow-Crowned Night Herons. Perching birds are also there: I've recently seen Carolina Wren, Red-Eyed Vireo, Pileated Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Cardinal on the road leading to the influent from the parking lot.  Also look for alligators, raccoons, white-tailed deer, river otters, florida soft-shell turtles, and gopher tortoise in the park.  You can see my gallery here.

Mead Gardens--This is a smaller park, without the same kind of bird diversity, but it's much closer to Orlando, so if you're from here and don't have time to make the drive, this is a great place to go.  Probably my nicest find here was a Barred Owl that stared at me and dared me to take his portrait.  Here's my gallery.

Lake Lotus Park--I'm told this is a great place to go, though I've only been there once.  It was a good time, though.  I saw plenty for a morning--Bald Eagles, Limpkin, Osprey, Red-Shouldered Hawks, a Red-Tailed Hawk, and many others.  The park doesn't open until 8:00am, though, and I often want an earlier start.  I'm told you can see Painted Buntings here, so I need to go more often.

Jay Blanchard Park--This is a very small park (comparatively).  It's a road that connects Dean and Rouse Rd south of University Blvd.  There are playgrounds on the south side of the road and a river on the north.  There's not a lot of diversity here, but I've seen a Red-Shouldered Hawk Nest here, as well as Swallow-Tailed Kite, Limpkin, Tufted-Titmouse, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, and even a hybrid Mallard x American Black Duck pair.  I wouldn't make a special trip to go here just for birding, but if you're in the area, it's worth dropping by.

If you know of other places to visit in Central Florida and Orlando, I want to hear it!  Comment below and let us all know.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Rule of Thirds, Part 4--Breaking It

We've looked at using the spaces, lines and intersection points of the tic-tac-toe grid we call the rule of thirds.  But the rule of thirds is sometimes better broken than followed. Knowing when your composition would be improved by breaking it is part of the fun of learning photography.

You're a rebel and you know it.  Go ahead, make your day.  Break the rule and like it.  You know you want to.

Much of this decision is based on what your subject really is. In the photograph to the left, the subject is not simply a gazebo with overhanging trees.  The subject is actually the design caused by the trees, the gazebo, and their reflection in the water.  Because of this, I thought it best to split the composition into two halves, one half the reflection of the other.

You may also choose to break the rule of thirds when your interest is in many other types of symmetry.  You may be interested in the symmetry of a flower with petals radiating from a center, and so you may "bulls eye" your composition by placing the flower in the center.  But keep one thing in mind.  There are thousands of photos of flowers centered in the frame, looking directly into the petals.  Look for unique compositions as well.

The Rule of Thirds, Part 3--Points

Now that we've looked at the spaces and lines in the rule of thirds, we need to consider the points of intersection within the rule of thirds.  Think again of the tic-tac-toe grid overlying your photograph.  When the subject of your photograph is small enough in the frame to allow you to do so, one way to make use of the rule of thirds is to place the subject on one of the four points of intersection in the grid.  You can then orient  your subject so that it is facing into the frame, and you often will have a very fine composition. Again, the placement does not have to be exact.  For instance, if you were following the golden ratio, your subject would be slightly "inside" the intersection of the rule of thirds anyway.

Don't make the rule of thirds the sole aspect of design in your composition.  In the above photograph of a Gulf Fritillary, there are many compositional concerns concerns to keep in mind.  For one thing, I wanted a softly-focused but pleasantly arranged grouping of leaves in the background.  For another, I wanted a couple white flowers in the frame.  Notice in this picture, you could rotate the camera significantly while keeping the butterfly on the same intersection point.  Because of the angle of view on the butterfly, many orientations would still look natural.  Other than keeping the shadow side of the butterfly's body below the lit side, you have freedom to rotate the camera to frame the shot the way you want and still put the butterfly near the intersection of the rule of thirds.  You should make sure take all that is important to you and include those in your composition, removing what is not important, and let the rule of thirds help you do that.

I sometimes hear people review photographs with statements like, "I like the way you followed the rule of thirds."  Well, what makes the picture work or not work is not precisely that you followed or didn't follow the rule.  The rule of thirds is a tool that can help you achieve your goals.  Our critiques should actually be something like, "I like the way your use of the rule of thirds affected your composition in this way."  This is probably what reviewers mean, but it brings up a point to keep in mind when photographing any subject.  Use the rule of thirds to your advantage when it helps.  It just so happens that it often does, but don't let your goal be to follow it--instead, use it to aid your compositions.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Rule of Thirds, Part 2--Lines

In my first post on this series on the rule of thirds, we discussed the benefit of thinking of an image divided in thirds horizontally and vertically, like there's a tic-tac-toe grid overlaying the image.  In the first post, we looked at using the spaces provided within this grid, and in particular, positioning large subjects into a grouping four of the nine spaces (four in a corner), with the subject facing into the frame.

I now want to consider the benefit of using the lines of the rule of thirds.  Think of a photo that includes the horizon or a photo of a tree.  It's very common, especially for beginning photographers, to put the horizon in the middle of the frame or to put the tree in center.  There are good reasons for doing this on occasion (especially if your subject is a mirrored reflection), but very often these kinds of shots make your image feel split in two, like there's two photos stitched together.

Very often your composition will be improved if you put horizontal lines at or near one of the horizontal lines in the rule of thirds, of if you put vertical lines at or near one of the vertical lines in the rule of thirds.  This can open up your composition and can help the viewer see what's of greater interest.  Consider the above photograph of a sunrise taken at Crescent Beach near St. Augustine, FL.  The rocks in the foreground were of greater interest to me, so I put the horizon up near the upper line of the rule of thirds.  Notice that it's not exact.  Some other photos I took that morning follow the rule more closely.  But the horizon is far enough off center that the eye can move freely around the frame, creating more interest for the viewer.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Rule of Thirds, Part 1--Spaces

Click on flower to see the image without lines
Rules aren't really rules in photography.  That's the first thing  you need to know about the "rule of thirds."  Even before I define it, you need to know that.  In fact, even the rule of thirds is just an approximation of the "golden ratio," which artists have used in composition since the Renaissance.  Generally speaking, the golden ratio corresponds to patterns seen in nature, and it seems to coincide with the way the human mind perceives beauty.  But especially in photographic composition, there's no need to compose precisely by the golden ratio, so we approximate it with the "rule of thirds."

Imagine your viewfinder divided up into thirds both vertically and horizontally so that it contains 9 equal segments, or just look at the above photo.  The spaces, lines and intersections of this grid can be very useful in composition.  When you compose with the subject smack dab in the middle of the frame, the composition often (not always) seems too direct and less pleasing.  So photographers generally frame their compositions with the subject off center.  When the subject takes up a large part of the frame, as with the above flower, I often fill 4 of the 9 frames with the subject, leaving the outer 5 for other parts of the image.  When you compose this way, it is often good for the subject to face into the frame.  This gives the subject room to look or "move."

Old House
Old House in Sykesville, MD
Of course, there are good reasons to break this rule.  Sometimes you want to emphasize the symmetry of your subject, so you can "bulls eye" your composition.  You may want to face the subject out of the frame to make it seem like your subject can't wait to get out (think of a picture of boat fleeing an approaching storm).  You're the artist, not the rule.  Make decisions based on you're artistic vision, and let the rule help you along the way.  But the rule is simply a tool for you to use, not a rule to follow.

Orlando Wetlands Park, Tosohatchee WMA, 7/9/2011

Overall, this was somewhat of a dreary day.  It was overcast the whole time I was out, so shutter speeds were slow, and I have a lot of blurry pictures.  Thankfully, I got there at 6:30am to take pictures of roosting Black-Crowned Night Herons (they weren't roosting where I was told they would be), so I had my tripod with me.  I've been spending more time in places where I'm more likely to find perching birds, but I found nothing extraordinary.  I did see a Pileated and a Downy Woodpecker, which I haven't seen in the park before.

After I left OWP, I went down to the Tosohatchee WMA to see what I could find there.  I didn't realize how large that place is.  I'm going to have to read up on where to go there.  I only saw a few species while I was there, but I didn't spend much time there, and was mostly trying to get the lay of the land for future trips.  I got very irritated with a few fishermen--I didn't see it happen, but I'm pretty sure they fed a large catfish to a huge alligator.  I suspect they don't realize how dangerous that is for future encounters with the alligator.

So here's what I saw.  Again, X means I didn't count the number of species, and a number refers to how many I observed.  If you want to see photos from my day, check my smugmug site.

Orlando Wetlands Park

Non-Birds
American Alligator X
Black Swallowtail 2
Tiger Swallowtail 1
Various Dragonflies X

Birds
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck X
Double-crested Cormorant X
Least Bittern 4
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret X
Snowy Egret X
Little Blue Heron X
Tricolored Heron X
Cattle Egret X
Green Heron X
Black-crowned Night-Heron 3
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 3
White Ibis X
Glossy Ibis X
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Osprey 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Purple Gallinule 1
Common Moorhen X
Limpkin 2
Mourning Dove X
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Downy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 3
Red-eyed Vireo 2
American Crow X
Fish Crow X
Carolina Wren 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
Northern Mockingbird X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Boat-tailed Grackle X

Tosohatchee WMA

Non-Birds
American Alligator X

Birds
Anhinga X
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 3
Cattle Egret 5
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Black-necked Stilt 3
Mourning Dove 3
Red-winged Blackbird 3
Boat-tailed Grackle 2

Friday, July 8, 2011

Orlando Wetlands Park, 7/2/2011

I took a 4-5 mile walk through this park, and I have to say it was a pretty good day.  The map showed a trail near the birding loop, and I tried to find it, but it's either poorly marked or overgrown.  But there's always a lot here to see.  Here's my list of species that I found.  An X means I didn't count the number, and a number indicates the number of the species I observed.

You can see pictures from my day on my smugmug site.

Non-Birds
American Alligator X
Florida Soft Shell Turtle 1
Various Dragonflies X
Black Swallowtail X
Gulf Fritillary X

Birds
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck X
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Wood Stork 1
Double-crested Cormorant X
Anhinga X
Least Bittern 2
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret X
Snowy Egret X
Little Blue Heron X
Tricolored Heron X
Cattle Egret X
Green Heron X
White Ibis X
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Osprey 2
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Purple Gallinule 3
Common Moorhen X
Limpkin 2
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Common Ground-Dove X
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Northern Mockingbird X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Boat-tailed Grackle X

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Merritt Island NWR--Blackpoint Dr. 7/2/2011

I normally love Blackpoint Dr. at the Merritt Island NWR, but since there's been so little rain over the past few months, it's been pretty dry and the birds have moved on.  But since over the last week we've had several thunderstorms, I thought I'd give it a try.  There is plenty of water there, that's for sure.  But the birds weren't cooperating with me.  I saw comparatively few birds there (though more than many other places), and many of them were too far away to photograph well.  I've included a list of what I saw.  An X means I saw too many to count and a number refers to the actual number I observed.

You can see pictures from my day at my smugmug site.

Non-Birds
River Otter 1
American Alligator 2

Birds
Anhinga X
Brown Pelican 1
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret X
Snowy Egret X
Little Blue Heron X
Tricolored Heron X
Reddish Egret 1
Green Heron X
White Ibis X
Glossy Ibis X
Roseate Spoonbill 2
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Osprey 1
Common Moorhen X
American Coot X
Killdeer X
Least Tern X
Caspian Tern 1
Royal Tern 1
Mourning Dove X
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Eastern Kingbird 3
Northern Mockingbird X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Boat-tailed Grackle X

Three Styles of Composition

We can think of styles of composition as a continuum between two poles.  On the one side of the continuum look at the photo above.  Here there is a very identifiable subject--the Cattle Egret in flight.  There's a distinct foreground and background.  The focus of the composition is to direct your eye to the subject and to separate it from the background so that it is made as non-distracting as possible.

On the other end of the continuum is the photograph that you see to  your right. The picture may be of ice on a frozen river, but the composition is really about the design and angles of the intersecting lines.  In this image the "background" is brought so close to the foreground that there really is no background distinct from the foreground.  The picture is the design, and the "subject" takes up the whole frame of the photo.

There is a third style of composition, illustrated by the third photograph below.  This style is in many ways in the middle of the continuum between the two poles described above. Here the interest lies in the relationship between the foreground and background.  Foreground elements are placed in an environment that is also part of the design.  So the background is brought closer to the foreground to be a part of the setting for the foreground elements.  The background is usually in focus and an integral part of the image.

All three types of compositions have value, and there is a continuum between these three points in the continuum as well.  It can be easy for photographers to get caught in a rut and focus only on one style of composition.  For instance, in bird photography, the focus can often be on isolating the bird from the background to remove all distractions from the bird.  But if that's all you shoot, then your gallery of bird photos can begin to look like a bunch of different birds on sticks.  Each individual photo might be fantastic, but as a whole the gallery can be missing other aspects of bird life, since birds do live in environments, and setting the bird in its environment can be a great way to compose your image.

So it can be a great challenge to become aware of the styles of composition you may gravitate to most and then look to develop in other styles of composition as well.

Simplify, Emphasize, Exclude in Composition

IMG_7357-1
For me, the essence of composition can be summarized in three words: Simplify, Emphasize and Exclude.  Simplify your compositions by emphasizing what's important to you and excluding what isn't.  Composition is all about SEEing.  The most significant problem that photographs have is a cluttered composition.    When we look through the viewfinder, we care most about the subject--we want to make sure that we get that part right.  We don't as readily think about all that surrounds the subject.  It takes time and practice to learn to pay attention to the background and the edges of the frame to see what's going on there as well.

As you are getting ready to take your picture, ask yourself some questions.  What's most interesting to you about what you're shooting?  Is it the colors? Is it the texture of the subject or the way it's lit?  Is it a pattern or design that strikes you?  Is there a message you want to convey or a story you want to tell?  If you can isolate what you think is important about the scene you're shooting, you then can emphasize those things and exclude all those things that distract from what you find most important, interesting or pleasing about the image.
    Muddy Creek Falls Closeup
  1. Are you mostly interested in the textures of your photograph?  If so, perhaps a black & white image will highlight the textures and simplify the composition by removing distracting color.
  2. Is there clutter in the background?  Try shooting with a very narrow depth of field to blur it so that it's not noticeable.  Is you interest in the grand expanse of a landscape?  Make sure you have a lot of depth of field to have it all in focus.
  3. Is there a pattern that has caught your eye?  Try zooming in around that pattern so it fills up your frame as much as possible.
  4. Perhaps you've found a very interesting subject--try shooting from an angle with a lot of distance between the subject and background so that the background can be a solid color and the subject will stand out.
We'll cover a lot of these kinds of techniques when we cover elements of design and composition, but the main theme that will be consistent throughout is SEE: simplify, emphasize, exlcude.  Know what you think is interesting, important, or beautiful about your scene and remove as many distractions as possible so that the message of your photograph can come through most clearly.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Orlando Wetlands Park Under Beautiful and Spacious Skies 7/4/2011

For those of you who live in or visit the Orlando area and love photography of nature and wildlife, I thought it might be helpful to give you a "species report" of the wildlife I see when I visit places around here.  One of my favorite places to visit is the Orlando Wetlands Park.  I normally take a 4-5 mile walk through the park when I go, and it boasts a great variety of birds and other wildlife.  Here's what I saw on Monday morning.  I've listed the species followed by either an X or a number.  The X means that the species was so numerous there that I didn't estimate the population there. The number refers how many of that species I actually saw.

You can see pictures from the day on my smugmug site.

Non-Birds:
River Otter 1
Raccoon 4
American Alligator X
Various Dragonflies X
Black Swallowtail X
Gulf Fritillary X


Birds:
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck X
Wild Turkey 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Anhinga X
Least Bittern 5
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret X
Snowy Egret X
Little Blue Heron X
Tricolored Heron X
Cattle Egret X
Green Heron X
Black-crowned Night-Heron 2
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 3
White Ibis X
Glossy Ibis X
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Osprey 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Purple Gallinule 6
Common Moorhen X
American Coot X
Sandhill Crane 4
Mourning Dove X
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 3
Red-eyed Vireo 1
American Crow X
Fish Crow X
Carolina Wren 1 (heard, not seen)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Northern Mockingbird X
Northern Cardinal X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Boat-tailed Grackle X


Composition

You know how your mother used to tell you that you had to finish your broccoli before you could have your dessert?  Now I like broccoli, don't get me wrong.  I know it's good for me, and I like it, but let's face it; broccoli isn't nearly as fun as ice cream.

So I've been talking a lot about the mechanics of getting the right exposure for your photographs.  I like this stuff, but it's kind of like broccoli. Exposure mechanics are essential for your photographic health, but composition is the dessert that makes photography fun.  Well, at least it is for me.  So I'm going to take a fair amount of time to write posts on different aspects of composition.

I'm going to use a fairly broad definition of composition.  Composition will include everything that goes into the look and feel of your photograph.  Photography is not simply about recording what you see in film.  The scene you're photographing is the canvass upon which you are working.  The tools of composition are what you can use to create interest, heighten beauty, and even offer interpretation to your subject matter.

In the above photograph taken at Brookside Gardens, hopefully you can see that I designed my composition to place the rose off center (we'll call this on the "rule of thirds" later) rather than centering the rose in the frame.  You can see texture in the water droplets on the rose petals and in the out of focus flowers that form patches of color in the background.  Obviously, I chose to keep this photograph in color, since it (to me) was a significant part of the interest in the scene.  The scene was lit by sunlight, but I chose to put the sun to my back to limit shadows in the scene.  And I chose to use a wide aperture to ensure that flowers in the background would blurry, while the rose was sharp.

These are the kinds of decisions you can make to shape an image to fit your artistic vision, and I'll include all five of these aspects of the photograph under the heading composition:
  1. Design--The most common way we think of composition is the design of your photograph, including the arrangements of elements in a scene, using patterns, repetition, lines, curves, and other design strategies that can add creativity and interest to your photograph.
  2. Texture--Obviously your photographs are normally going to be presented on a flat surface, but many of the subjects we photograph have textures, and capturing those textures in pixels is a valuable but often overlooked aspect of photography.
  3. Color--Your photographs can be presented in color or black & white, and the placement of different colors (or shades) in the image can have a dramatic effect on your photograph.
  4. Focus--You can decide what to focus on and how much of your image should be in focus.  These decisions can also have strong effects on the look and feel of your photograph. 
These tools of composition are not authoritative rules that you must follow to make your photograph good.  The principles we'll discuss are simply patterns that people have identified that seem to correspond with what we find pleasing or beautiful.  Knowing the "rules" can help you create better compositions, but knowing when to "break" the rules is just as significant as knowing how to follow them.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fireworks

So the fourth of July is tomorrow, and I thought it would be a good idea to give a few pointers on getting good fireworks photographs.  Those brilliant photographs seem like they may be impossible to get, but you'd be surprised what you could get out of your camera.  Here's some tips on getting a good shot.

  1. Tripod. A tripod is a necessity.  You will have exposure times around 2 sec, so you won't be able to hold your camera still for hat long.
  2. Cable Release.  While not absolutely essential, it is preferable to have a remote way of tripping the shutter.  The motion of pressing the shutter can move the camera slightly.  If you don't have one, that's okay.  Just be careful to gently trip the shutter.
  3. Manual Mode.  I'd recommend shooting in manual mode.  Set your camera's ISO to 100 (or 200 if that's lowest on your camera) and your aperture somewhere between f/8 and f/16.  Proper exposure will depend on lots of factors, so make sure to take a few pictures and check your preview/histogram to make adjustments.
  4. Shutter Speed.  You can set your shutter speed  one of two ways.  You can try setting it to 2 sec. and then adjust if that's too long or two short.  Or, if you have a cable release and a camera that supports the feature, you can try setting your shutter speed to "bulb" (B).  Press and hold the shutter on the shutter release at the beginning of the blast you want to focus and let go at the end.  Count how long your shutter is open--don't go too long our you'll over expose the fireworks.
  5. Compose Wider.  Since you don't know know what fireworks are going to do ahead of time, it's best to compose using a somewhat wider angle, and then crop in your computer, especially if you want to catch the whole "explosion" in the frame.
  6. Take Lots of Pictures.  Since fireworks are somewhat unpredictable, and some are brighter than others, shoot many pictures and delete the ones that didn't turn out.
I think the biggest challenge you'll have is with overexposing the fireworks.  You want a relatively long shutter speed to capture the trails of light, but if it's too long, they'll be too bright.  You'll have to find the right balance for your situation, but try keeping your ISO on 100-200 and your shutter speed to 2 sec and vary your aperture to get your exposure right.  If you're shooting at f/8 and your shots are too bright, try shooting at f/11 or even f/16.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

ShareThis