Posts

Showing posts from July, 2011

Orlando Wetlands Park, 7/31/2011

Image
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
G…

Warm and Cool Compositions

Image
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.

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?


Basic Color Theory

Image
Beginning 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 thi…

Texture

Image
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 thi…

Story Telling

Image
"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 …

Interpreting your Subject

Image
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:
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.Knowledge of Yourself: You must understand what'…

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

Image
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

Orlando Wetlands Park, 7/23/2011

Image
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 Ha…

Balance in Composition

Image
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 f…

Choosing Black & White

Image
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 pho…

Radial Patterns in Composition

Image
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 …

Repetition in Composition

Image
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 f…

Visual Elements of Composition

Image
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 atten…

Arrangement in Composition

Image
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.
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 ot…

Lake Lotus Park, 7/16/2011

Image
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

Lines in Composition

Image
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…

Curves in Composition

Image
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.

Orlando & Central Florida Photography Locations

Image
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 ca…

The Rule of Thirds, Part 4--Breaking It

Image
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 …

The Rule of Thirds, Part 3--Points

Image
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 arrange…

The Rule of Thirds, Part 2--Lines

Image
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 you have two photos stitched together.

Very often your composition will be improved if you put horizo…

The Rule of Thirds, Part 1--Spaces

Image
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.  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 …

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

Image
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 …

Orlando Wetlands Park, 7/2/2011

Image
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…

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

Image
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 Mo…

Three Styles of Composition

Image
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, such as Cattle Egret in flight.  There's a distinct foreground and a simple 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 of ice above. 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 above.  This style is in many ways in the middle of the continu…

Simplify, Emphasize, Exclude in Composition

Image
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 iso…

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

Image
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

Composition

Image
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 …

Fireworks

Image
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.

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.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.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 c…