Archive for April, 2010



Ancient Dunes: Live Oak/Palmetto Forest

Once upon a time the ocean levels along the Florida coast were considerably higher. When they receded they left a pattern of ancient dunes well inland. Over time, vegetation conquered the sand, mostly Live Oak, Bay Tree, Palmetto, and in the troughs between the dunes, Cabbage Palm and Slash Pine. You see this habitat at Ft. Matanzas National Monument and, as pictured here, at Anastasia State Park (among a host of other spots). Add the inevitable Resurrection Fern and Spanish Moss and you have a truly tropical look.

In a shot like this, for me, it is the variety of shapes and textures that capture my eye…and, of course, the way the light plays over it all. I have taken more than a few shots on every visit to this kind of habitat. They rarely work. This one, I think, manages to hang together and capture something of the experience of being there.

One of the limiting factors in these shots is always exposure. It is very difficult to capture the range of light…from sky visible between trees, to the shadows under dense vegetation. I make no claim to special skills in this area. I have come to trust the auto exposure in most modern compact digital cameras to do a better job of balancing exposure than I could…at least getting it close enough so that the image can be post-processed to bring both highlights and shadows back in range. The SX20 on Landscape program certainly handled it well, with enough balance so that a little extra work in Lightroom brought it up to something quite close to the naked eye impression.

Canon SX20IS at about 48mm equivalent. F3.5 @ 1/80th @ ISO 80. Landscape program.

In Lightroom, fairly heavy Recovery for the backdrop of skylight. A touch of Fill Light for the foreground shadows. Blackpoint slightly right. Added Clarity and a smidge of Vibrance. Sharpen landscape preset.

From St. Augustine FL 2010.



Whoo goes there?

Okay, so that is a really terrible pun. I admit it. One of the things, I think, that makes us love owls, or at least respond to them as strongly as most folks do, is that the forward facing eyes and the beak give them the most human of bird faces. This Great Horned Owl chick exemplifies the attraction. He was actually not all that interested in the group of noisy photographers and digiscopers gathered, for like the 6th day in a row, under his day-roost tree, but when a tourist dropped by with a dog on a leash, it was suddenly all whoo goes there! I am not sure if it was prey or predator behavior (it was a small, snack-sized, dog…but it was a dog) but the owl was certainly all attention. Good for me. I was already all attention and got the shot.

Canon SD1400IS behind the eyepiece of a ZEISS DiaScope 65FL. If you do the math: true focal length x sensor crop factor x scope magnification, you get an equivalent focal length of just over 3300mm. EXIF data says F5.9 @ 1/100th @ ISO 320, based on Programmed auto. Limiting F-stop, based on magnification and the 65mm scope, was actually, again according to the math, f9.2.

In Lightroom, just a touch of Recovery for the bright background. A bit of Fill Light. Blackpoint right. Added Clarity and a smidge of Vibrance. I had to use the Auto White Balance in Lightroom to tame the yellow cast that all that brought out based on the camera’s auto white balance.

From St. Augustine FL 2010.

And here is a shot pulled back some to show the whole chick.

2000mm equivalent at F6 (computed) @ 1/200 @ ISO 125. Programmed auto. Similar treatment in Lightroom.



Guana River

I am trying to give you a break from the birds of St. Augustine Alligator Farm. This is an oyster shell beach at Guana River Research Reserve in Palm Coast, south of Jacksonville and north of St. Augustine. The whole beach is protected as a archeological site. The driftwood snag adds foreground interest and there are just enough clouds to populate the sky for depth.

Canon Sx20IS at 28mm equivalent. F4 @ 1/1000th @ ISO 80. Landscape program.

In Lightoom, slight cropping bottom and top for composition. Recovery for the sky. Added Clarity and Vibrance. Blackpoint slightly right. Sharpen landscape preset.

From St. Augustine FL 2010.



Domestic Encounter (Wood Storks)

What can you say? Spend a morning at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, keep your eyes open, your wits about you, and you finger on the shutter release, and magic can happen. Wood Stork nesting behavior is often dramatic.

Canon SX20IS at 470mm equivalent. F7.1 @ 1/250th @ ISO 125. Programmed auto with –1.3EV exposure compensation.

Cropped in Lightroom for composition and to eliminated distractions. Added Clarity and Vibrance, some Recovery. Sharpen landscapes preset.

From St. Augustine FL 2010.

And a bonus shot.

560mm equivalent @ F5.7 @ 1/640th @ ISO 200. Programmed auto with –1.3 EV exposure compensation. Similar processing in Lightroom.



Intimate Snow

Of course, one of the wonders of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm is that you are able to get close, really close, to some of the nesting birds. This Snowy Egret shot was taken at the 560mm equivalent on the SX20IS. I did not have to switch to macro but it was almost there. 🙂 And of course, this close, you get wonderful detail. I have shots like this taken through the eyepiece of the  ZEISS DiaScope spotting scope (digiscoped), but that is a different experience: a closeness without intimacy somehow. This is intimate.

Canon SX20IS at 560mm equivalent. F5.7 @ 1/60th @ ISO 200. Programmed auto with –1.3 EV exposure compensation.

Technically, I am very pleased with the SX20IS’s performance at ISO 200 here.

In Lightroom, just a touch of Recovery for the white highlights, a bit of Fill Light for shadows, and then Blackpoint to the right. Added Clarity and a smidge of Vibrance. Sharpen landscape preset.

From St. Augustine FL 2010.



Fishing Pier: Ruddy Turnstone and a View

Happy Sunday! Still here in St. Augustine Florida. This is the St. Johns County Fishing Pier in St. Augustine Beach, right across the road from our hotel. You can buy a sightseeing ticket to the pier for a dollar. A few years ago the fishing pier was loaded with birds…pelicans, turnstones, terns, gulls, egrets, even, for many months, a Brown Booby!, but on my last two trips to St. A, bird life has been sparse, though I have visited the pier several times at different times of day, just hoping. This Ruddy Turnstone, like most of his kind who frequent the pier, was running along the rail waiting for a handy fisherman to discard some bate or some offal, and incidentally, posing for me. You don’t this eyelevel view of a turnstone too often. I even had to zoom back slightly from the full 560mm reach of the camera to frame this bird. The sun, still low soon after sunrise, also adds to the eyelevel effect, and really brings out the ruddy tones in the plumage.

Canon SX20IS at 520mm equivalent. F5.7 @ 1/200th @ ISO 200. Programmed auto.

In Lightroom, a touch of Recovery. Blackpoint slightly right. Added Clarity and Vibrance. Sharpen landscape preset.

From St. Augustine FL 2010.

Of course, there is more to the fishing pier, for the tourist, than the bird life. This is the view of St. Augustine Beach looking south from the pier.

28mm equivalent. F4 @ 1/320th @ ISO 80. Landscape program.



Anastasia State Park

Just to prove that St. Augustine is not all about birds for me, here is a shot taken on the amazing white sand beach at Anastasia State Park. Thunder storms were predicted but never came, so the sky is pretty intense. White sand is the norm on the Gulf side of Florida, especially on the Emerald Coast in the panhandle, but it is rare on the Atlantic Coast. That is one of Anastasia Islands, and St. Augustine’s big draws.

Canon SX20IS at 28mm equivalent. F4.5 @ 1/1250th @ ISO 80. Landscape program.

In Lightroom, some Recovery for the clouds and sand. Blackpoint right. Added Clarity and very little Vibrance. Sharpen landscape preset. On a shot like this, with lots of blue light bouncing around, I have to be careful with the Blackpoint or the clouds turn really blue.

From St. Augustine FL 2010.



Chicks (Snowy Egret)

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park is one of the premiere bird photography spots in the US (if not the world). When they built a “native swamp” habitat, stocked it with their overflow of alligators, and built a boardwalk right through the middle of it,  they inadvertently created one of the most productive, and certainly one of the most accessible, rookeries of wading birds in the world. Wood Storks; Tri-colored Herons, Green, and Little Blue Herons; Great Egrets and Snowy; Roseate Spoonbills, White and Glossy Ibis are all colonial nesters, and they all moved in to the trees and mangroves over the alligator infested waters…where, strangely enough, they feel safe. The alligators act as really viscous watch dogs and keep the real predators at bay.

The Alligator Farm itself is not your typical roadside alligator attraction. They have the only complete collection of alligators and crocodiles in the world, are members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and have a full time staff of trained professionals who care for the animals and the enclosures in a truly impressive way. 

And in spring the rookery is in full swing. It is impossible to describe and even this picture does not do it justice. You will note that the density of photographers is just under that of the birds!

The shot of the Snowy Egret mom feeding chicks was taken at about 20 feet with the 560mm equivalent zoom on the Canon SX20IS. The bird had nested just below boardwalk level, where the boardwalk curves back out over the water between the big trees and mangroves. Ideal.

F5.7 @ 1/320th @ ISO 125. Programmed auto. –1.3EV exposure compensation.

In Lightroom, just your basic added Clarity and Vibrance and Sharpen landscape preset.

And, for interest sake here is some video shot from the same spot. You can watch it in HD if you want.



Palamedes Swallowtail

These beauties were all over the Guana River Reserve on Tuesday when we spent a morning hiking there. They did not sit much so we learned to watch for the thistle.

Canon SX20IS at 560mm equivalent and macro. F5.7 @ 1/320 @ ISO 125. Programmed auto.

In Lightroom, just very basic added Clarity and a touch of Vibrance. Sharpen landscape preset. Cropped slightly for composition.

And, as a special treat, some video from the SX20IS. To view in HD, press the expand button to pop it out to full screen. Press play, and then select the 720 option where its says 320. On my laptop I have to pause it to let it completely download or it will keep pausing during play.



Coquina at Washington Oaks

According to the Wiki on the subject, Coquina is a relatively rare rock made up of masses of ancient shells and shell fragments loosely cemented together, some still largely intact. It is found in isolated outcrops along the Atlantic coast, from St. Augustine to Palm Beach, FL, and in one spot in North Carolina. There is also an outcrop in New Zealand. It is soft, so soft that it can only be used for building after air drying or curing for up to 3 years. The Fort in St. Augustine is built from it…which was a considerable advantage, since the soft walls absorbed (literally) canon ball fire better than harder stone would have.

It is the softness that, in large part, also gives Coquina its photographic interest. The waves shape it into an incredible variety of forms as they wash over it. Close in, the structure of the stone itself is of interest, as a study in shape and texture; especially as the density of the surface and its structure, as well as the color,  varies greatly from stone to stone.

All with the Canon SX20IS. 1) 28mm @ F4.0 @ 1/1000th @ ISO 80, 2) 28mm @ F4.5 @ 1/250th @ ISO 80, 3) 250mm macro @ F5.0 @ 1/640th @ ISO 80, 4) 200mm macro @ F5.0 @ 1/1000 @ ISO 80.

The first two got my standard landscape treatment in Lightroom. Recovery for the sky, a touch of Fill Light for the foreground, Blackpoint right, added Clarity and just a bit of Vibrance. Sharpen landscape preset. The close ups received similar treatment but with very little Recovery and less Fill Light. Less of everything actually, except sharpen.

From St. Augustine FL 2010.