Tuesday, December 20, 2011

First Quarter

I like to make photographs with the moon as an element – usually the moon of morning, the full moon setting or the waning crescent rising. A phenomenon that accompanies those days near the new moon or the full moon is low tide near dawn and dusk. There’s no moon near the horizon when there’s a high tide at sunrise.

I've attempted to photograph this driftwood on Lover’s Key several times over the past year or two. It’s a tough situation because the beach faces west and the light doesn’t reach the driftwood from behind the beach until well after sunrise. It would be helpful if there are clouds in the western sky, made dramatic by the light from the sun rising in the east. (I really should give it a try at sunset, but it just never seems to happen. I am by habit an early morning photographer. And I'm not enamored of crowded afternoon beaches.) To make the image in my mind’s eye, I needed a high tide.
Last Saturday, the moon was at first quarter and the high tide occurred just before sunrise. So I went to Lovers Key to give this driftwood another try. As I walked along the water's edge of Big Carlos Pass towards the beach, the sky didn't seem promising. The half moon peered down at me from a nearly clear sky. But as I rounded the point onto the beach at the mouth of the pass, I could see the faintest wisps in the west. Maybe Mother Nature would smile at me this morning. Imperceptibly, but somehow almost suddenly, the clouds began to gain character. Their writhing twisting shapes began to echo that of the gnarled wood. Working the composition with the ultra-wide 12mm lens with its 122° field of view, I realized that not only could I capture the high clouds moving in to cover the sky but the half moon, too. When the moon peeked between the fingers of cloud hiding its face, I made my picture.

Up until now I’ve only shown this photograph to a couple of civilians, both of whom pointed and exclaimed, “What’s that?” “Why, it’s the first-quarter moon,” I had to explain. So, what may be seen by some as an inexplicable speck, I see as a bonus. How do you see it?

Here’s a little lunar lexicon oddity I find amusing: At first quarter and third quarter, we see a half moon. Midway between the first and third quarters, the moon is full. Isn’t that when the half moon should occur?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tropical Storm Alberto

 From the archive
Alberto, the first named storm of the season, raged in the Gulf of Mexico. The sun stayed in bed that morning. This old snag was resurrected from its interment in the beach by the storm-angered surf. Perched precariously on the sand ledge with my back against the sea grapes, I composed this scene, wishing I had a wider lens or a full-frame sensor. I added a neutral density filter and a polarizer to smooth the spindrift and a graduated neutral density filter to brighten the fore in the subdued light. Shortly after I made this ten second exposure, the rain hied me to shelter.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Anti-Crepuscular Rays

Crepuscular means occurring during or related to twilight. Crepuscular rays are the sunbeams that occur before sunrise or after sunset. I sometimes call them a sunburst. I've heard them called sunbeams, God beams, or fingers of God. Whatever one calls them, a great sunburst -crepuscular rays- is a glorious thing to see. 

Anti-crepuscular is kind of a misnomer, I guess. Anti-crepuscular rays occur at the same time as crepuscular rays, that is, during twilight, but on the opposite horizon. It's almost disconcerting to see sunbeams and the full moon on the same piece of sky. 

Crepuscular rays converge towards the sun. Anti-crepuscular rays converge towards the point in the sky opposite the sun – the anti-solar point. The convergence actually is an illusion. The rays are virtually parallel. They only appear to converge. It's the railroad track effect. Parallel lines appear to converge towards a vanishing point at infinity.

Crepuscular rays are a fairly common sight. Anti-crepuscular rays are kind of rare. If you see a sunburst, turn around and maybe you'll see anti-crepuscular rays. And if you do see them, then you can exclaim, “Anti-crepuscular rays!” And it just makes you feel good to say the word. Anti-crepuscular. What a great word. Doncha just love it?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Avian Skills

I began my photographic journey with birds, an old Minolta SLR, and a Sears zoom lens. As a frequent visitor to the J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, it was only natural that I would photograph birds. Eventually I acquired a couple of Nikon cameras, a 300mm zoom, and an ancient 600mm f5.6 Nikkor lens. I became so accustomed to looking through a telephoto lens that the first time I put a moderately wide angle 35mm lens on the camera, it just looked weird to me through the viewfinder. After about a decade and a half of an up and down interest in photography the advent of the internet and image critique websites really whetted my interest. I started working on improving my technique and trying to make better bird pictures. When I switched from film to digital, I also switched from Nikon to Canon because of a particular Canon telephoto lens, the equivalent of which wasn't available from Nikon at the time – the 300mm f2.8L IS, a bird lens par excellence. (All of these images came through that glass.) I became an avid avian photographer and got pretty good at it, winning a couple of contests, selling a few bird photos, and such. I fell in with a cadre of bird photography cronies, some of whom only shoot birds and some of whom are very good.                                                             
In the meantime, my photographic appetites became more diverse – landscapes gradually became my primary interest, along with architecture, urban scenes, portraits, and so forth. My cronies are turning out world-class photographs of birds while I reached an avian plateau. I haven't made an A-list avian photograph in nearly a year and haven't really tried to, other than the occasional drive through Ding Darling, usually after conditions proved unfruitful for landscapes. So yesterday morning, I decided to go back to my old ways, the first time in a long time I've headed out with birds being my primary intended subject. I went to one of my favorite bird photography places a little before sunrise and let myself get back into that comfortable old bird mode. The morning air was brisk -jacket weather- as I wandered across the flats exposed by the ebb tide. My feet were wet, but the chill didn't bother me. In fact, I was completely oblivious – lost in my pastime. I made about 400 exposures in about an hour and a half. I could feel that my skills had atrophied terribly – so many botched opportunities. Reviewing the photographs on the monitor at home, it didn't take much time to delete most of them, almost all of them. But it felt good to be back in the saddle again, so to speak.

So here are a few of the morning's surviving images - a juvenile bald eagle, a juvenile reddish egret, a sanderling, and a coot. To be really good at something and stay good at it, one needs to do it a lot, and really work at it. So I'm not as good as I used to be and I'm not as good as some of my cronies, but it's not like I've lost every habit I ever had.- and it's still fun. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

If You Try Sometimes, You Just Might Find....

The full moon of November is known as the beaver moon.  My ephemeris told me that the beaver moon would be setting just a few minutes before sunrise on Wednesday morning.  If I positioned myself at the northernmost tip of Bowditch Point, I could watch it set behind the main span of the Sanibel causeway.  I set my alarm - 5:10 a.m.  I could catch the moonset before going in to work.  As I drove to the beach I couldn't find the moon.  It wasn't where it should be.  How does one lose a moon?  By the time I got to Bowditch Point, I realized that it had already set.  I must have looked at the wrong date.  Okay, so, maybe the sunrise would prove fruitful.   I doubled back, parked the car at a meter on Old San Carlos, grabbed the 300 and started the steep walk to the top of the Sky Bridge. No time - I walked briskly, carrying the big lens on my shoulder, breathing a bit heavily by the time I reached the crest.  I need the exercise, I tried to convince myself.  The sun made its appearance directly behind a pair of distant buildings, the only buildings on that part of the horizon.  I could just see its upper limb emerging between them.  Those buildings didn't use ta be there. I repositioned myself quickly, for a little better vantage, to get the sun out from behind those pesky buildings before it rose too high. The sun came up through a low layer of clouds and then rose into a clear sky.   And that was it.  [300mm, ISO 200, f11. 1/125]

Thursday morning was the correct morning for the moonset I had been chasing. So there I was again before beginning my work day, at Bowditch Point about three quarters of an hour before sunrise and half an hour before moonset, The sky was clear. The moon was there, over the bridge where it was supposed to be, though it wouldn't touch the highest part of the span. As the full moon descended, the sky gradually grew brighter. Dropping toward the horizon the moon became a distorted orange orb, an oblate spheroid, as the angle of view thickened the atmosphere. I had hoped to be able to see the moon under the bridge but it sank into an invisible layer of cloud as it reached the railing of the bridge and disappeared, not to show itself below the span of the bridge at all.  That's okay.  I'll take what I can get.   [600mm, ISO 400, f11, 1 second]

After the moon took its leave, I just stayed where I was and watched the birds. Pelicans, wading birds, gulls, skimmers and shorebirds were all around, going about their daily business. There wasn't enough light for a shutter speed fast enough to stop their motion, so I just watched and basked in the morning. I was watching some pelicans on a Manatee Zone marker as the sun rose behind them, creating a silhouette against an orange sky. Mostly they just sat there, like preening lumps. Then one would leave and another would arrive. I hoped for some interesting activity – at least some typical comical pelican poses. Finally this trio gave me some satisfaction. As the great philosopher Mick says, “You can't always get what you want, but you get what you need."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Birds in the Landscape

The other day I was on my favorite beach, at the lighthouse on Sanibel Island. It was after first light but still well before sunrise. The sky was teasing me with a prospect of glory.  I walked along the beach to the point, an ephemeral little spit of sand, Point Ybel, the easternmost tip of Sanibel. I couldn't stay long. I had an appointment to keep. My go-to wide angle zoom, the 17-40mm f4, was mounted on the camera. I set the tripod as low as I could without kneeling – didn't want sandy wet knees on my office-casual slacks. The sky was nice; the clouds had good form, converging lines.   Now I could see that the color would not explode; the sunrise wouldn't be spectacular – but nice. I exposed a couple of frames. Time was running short. Just as I was about to pick up the tripod, in flew a great blue heron. So, I stayed. My first exposures upon arriving had been 20 to 30 seconds or so, but now, as the approaching sunrise brightens the sky, exposure time has dropped to less than 2 seconds. The heron is actively hunting, moving about in front of me, but he does hold still for a second or two from time to time. He is relatively small in the frame, but still, a small enhancement, a kernel of interest to an otherwise unexceptional skyscape. So I give it a shot. Mirror lock-up is enabled, so it takes two clicks to open the shutter, then a second or two later another click as the shutter closes. I shoot rapidly, every time he stops, hoping to catch him in one of his motionless pauses. Click-click, click. Click-click, click. Click-click, click. Finally, I grab the tripod and hurry back along the beach towards the car, “For I have promises to keep, and miles to go...” before the sun rises.

Birds are usually photographed with telephoto lenses. Wide angle lenses are usually used for landscapes. To make a landscape with a wide angle lens with a bird in the foreground means that one must be rather close to the bird for it to show as more than a speck. Occasionally the birds tolerate a stealthy close approach. Usually not. In the photograph above, a flock of gulls casually fled in twos and threes as I crept closer, little by little, to make the composition I wanted.  Then one of the remaining pair raised its wings just for me. Although the sunbeams I had hoped to capture beyond the pier were fading, my patience was rewarded with one of my favorite photos.


Sometimes I compose a photograph around a bird or sometimes the birds just happen to be in the scene or are just passing through.  Sometimes the birds are just a little garnish and sometimes they appear serendipitously, like an unexpected cherry on whipped cream.

Often, in the low light of early morning, the shutter speed simply is not fast enough to stop the motion of a moving bird, especially a bird in flight. We get an unidentifiable blob, a blurry dark streak against the sky. On occasion, a bird will stay still long enough for a longer exposure, a motionless silhouette against satin surf.  But mostly not.

No matter the circumstance, birds in the landscape are always just a little bit special.

Friday, October 14, 2011


For years I've had an image in my mind's eye of the sun rising under the Tampa Bay Skyway. On a recent business trip to St. Petersburg, I had my opportunity.   I checked out of my hotel at 6:00 a.m. and drove to Fort Desoto Park, arriving shortly after first light.   Just my luck – there was heavy cloud cover on the horizon.  It looked like I wouldn't be seeing the sun this morning.   Nevertheless, I used The Photographer's Ephemeris app on my iPhone to position myself in just the right location on the East Beach to see the sun clear the horizon directly behind the main span of the cable stayed bridge.   It was still fairly dark so I made some exposures of the bridge with its cable stays lit. (200mm, 30 seconds)  I hadn't even considered photographing the bridge at night.  My dark background is clouds, not a night sky.

As it grew lighter, the lights on the stays faded. There was some color in the sky. It was nice, but not spectacular.  I savored the morning and the solitude, photographically exploring the bridge and the sky as the light changed.  After a while, I strolled back to where I had left my car.  A man doing yoga on the beach was the only other person I saw. 

Once again, as usual, I didn't get what I went for.  The images I came back with aren't prize winners, but it certainly wasn't a wasted effort.  I do so enjoy the early morning.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Another Month, Another Moon

The moon in September is known by various names, the harvest moon, the corn moon – but nothing with the cool name appeal of the moon of August. A month after failing to catch the Sturgeon Moon setting over the Sanibel lighthouse, I was at it again. In my mind's eye, I see the lighthouse silhouetted against the orange face of the man in the moon. From the north end of Fort Myers Beach it only sets in the sweet spot a few times a year, near the equinoxes (equini?). When it happens on a weekend morning, there I am. 

Sunday morning, a little before six, I walk down the boardwalk to the beach.  In the dark distance I see bright lights down the beach.  It's an excavator working on the beach re-nourishment project.  It's predawn Sunday morning. They must be working twenty-four seven. They're way behind schedule.  I hope they aren't where I need to be, about half a mile south.   Lots of small clouds are moving fast in the sky, covering and uncovering the moon. I hope they don't cover the moon when I need for them not to. Walking fast, soon I come to the orange mesh fence around the work area. They've left a narrow pathway at the back of the beach. The clouds seem mostly to have moved away by the time I reach the far end of the orange fence, and this is the spot I need to be. I extend the legs of the tripod as I walk to the water's edge. I plunk the tripod down.

“Oh, no!” The bubble level is not in the hot shoe. It had just arrived on Monday, a replacement for the last one I had lost. I cursed. 

The moon was over the lighthouse. A long streak of moonlight reached from the lighthouse, three miles across the Gulf of Mexico, to the lazy little waves licking at my feet. Most of the light clouds in the sky had cleared but I could see a line of clouds on the western horizon, their tops awash in moonlight. I wouldn't be getting my shot this morning. It was now an hour before sunrise and the moon would set in less than 15 minutes. It would sink into the clouds well before that, and we would never know whether it actually set or not. I exposed one frame at 40mm and removed the camera from the tripod to mount the long lens. It was still dark as night. The bright full moon in such a dark sky would be a difficult exposure to reveal any detail on the far shore. I knew from experience that with the 300mm lens, an exposure of longer than five seconds would be spoiled by the movement of the moon. With an aperture of f8, I boosted the ISO to bring the time down to five seconds. I made a couple of exposures and then opened all the way up to f2.8 to reduce the exposure time even more. I later discovered that that was a mistake. The wide open aperture was unkind to the light of the lighthouse, turning it into a glowy little blob instead of a nice many-pointed star. Less than five minutes after my first exposure, the moon touched the clouds and then was gone. I began making plans for Monday morning; the moon would set later; it wouldn't be so dark. I could still be in the office by eight. 

I want to find my hot-shoe bubble level, but it's too dark to see. So I idly fidget, waiting for the sun to come up. As the dawn begins to make its presence known I kill some time playing with long exposures of a great blue heron, working the light surf, with the Fort Myers Beach Pier half a mile away as a backdrop.

Finally it was light enough to see and I began retracing my steps and scanning the sand for my little green cube and vowing to keep the next one in my vest and only to put it in the hot-shoe when I needed it. I missed a glorious red sky and sunburst behind the motels, beach houses, and condos. Rats and other four letter epithets! I found a pool of red rose petals that I hadn't seen before in the dark. Somebody got married last night. But my new bubble level is gone forever.

Monday morning. I'm on the pier. The moon set is just after sunrise. I’ll be making the picture almost an hour later than yesterday – completely different conditions. The sky was full of fast-moving clouds, but clearing. As the sky lightened, I put on the 300. Then added the 1.4x teleconverter as the moon fell closer to the lighthouse and grew paler in the haze. And then replaced the 1.4x with the 2x teleconverter for 600mm as the moon nestled into the clouds above the lighthouse. 

 Oh well, there's always next month, or next year.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Birthday Poster

The inspiration for this effort was a mural seen in a home decor store - a gymnast on a balance beam, silhouetted against a block wall with a stripe painted across it.  Well, we didn't have a balance beam or striped wall, so we did what we could with what was at hand.  Mary Margaret did several walkover, back-bend, and handstand poses, fretting that she'd kick a light or knock something over. 

We submitted one of her handstands to USA Gymnastics for the 2011 Year of the Handstand project.  Click here to see that picture in USA Gymnastics' gallery of handstand pictures.

I wanted the floor and foreground to be white, so I couldn't set up the lighting to create a silhouette of Mary Margaret.  I digitally converted her image to a silhouette, retaining just a bit of detail.  The color of the softened-edge stripes, applied with a slight gradient, was sampled from cell-phone photos of her bedroom accents.  The green is supposed to be 'artichoke', but I guess it's really closer to 'bell pepper'.  It is better than my fist attempt, which Mary Margaret derided as color swatch green.                                    

The final print of the poster is 24 inches by 36 inches - for Mary Margaret on her eleventh birthday, September 19, 2011.

Happy birthday, Mary Margaret!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Back to Back

Or - Sometimes self-critique is futile

I like to photograph the old business district of our little one-horse town in the early morning, when there aren't so many parked cars along the curb, hardly another person on the sidewalks (aside from those who sleep there), and I can set up in the street without having to dodge traffic. Driving down First Street one evening I had seen the glow emanating from the front window of the lobby of the Bradford House Apartments, and had made a mental note. So, early one morning I set up across the street from the Bradford and started exploring compositions. A fellow came striding along the sidewalk into the light of the streetlamp. It was about half an hour before sunrise. He saw me behind my tripod across the street. “I hope you don't mind me in your picture“ he said with a smile in his voice, as he walked up to his mailbox. “Nope, that's fine,” I said. “If you don't mind holding still for twenty seconds.” He froze, in the act of inserting his key into the mailbox.  I pressed the shutter button. The exposure was 15 seconds, actually.  “Okay, thanks.” I said, releasing him from his pose. He got his mail, turned, nodded, and went through the door to the apartment lobby. He had caught me before I had found the composition. I worked at it a while longer and then moved on, still not having found what I was looking for.

Later, reviewing the results of my efforts, there were no keepers. But somehow I couldn't delete the picture of the young man getting his mail at the entrance to the Bradford House. The composition breaks the rules. Rules are made to be broken, right? No, this was inadvertent.  I'm so habituated to the standard rules of composition I have to make a conscious effort to shoot outside the box. What is this - the rule of halves? So why didn't I discard this picture? It's that young man, a stranger on a deserted city street - he was an active participant in making the picture.  I almost never include people in my photographs. If I do, they are little specks in the distance. But here is a person, clearly, obviously, a subject element of the photograph. And not only that – I had interacted with him. I'd never done that before. So this picture is different – for me.

It's all wrong. The palm divides the picture in two, right down the middle. The young man at his mailbox, near the right edge of the frame, is staring out of the frame. The bench on the other side is facing the other way, facing out of the other side of the frame. It's almost as if it's two pictures, back to back. Maybe somebody sitting on the bench would have helped, I complain to myself. But there wasn't anybody on the bench. There wasn't another soul around – just him and me, briefly, in the early morning light of the street lamps. I can self-critique this picture, but not objectively.  Why did I not discard it?  Is it because there is a human figure in it? I don't think that's it.  It was that brief interchange with a stranger.  That's what made it special for me, and corrupted my objectivity

Really, I know it's just a so-so picture; mediocrity, digitally preserved for posterity. But for me it captured a moment and isn't that why so many of us love to make photographs?  And some photographs, like some blog posts, are better than others, or not.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Today on the radio I heard a news report about somebody being pulled from alligator infested water. It seems that whenever there is a water rescue or a plane goes down in water, it's alligator infested. Well, not always - sometimes it's snake and alligator infested. Unless, of course, it's in the ocean, in which case it's shark infested waters. 

Reporters love to add drama, to use hyperbole. They don't really know much, especially about nature. A reporter's knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep, a radio reporter once told me.  If a body of water is a mile wide and an inch deep, it's snake infested. When something happens in a place with any semblance of being natural, it's always reported as being infested with whatever wildlife it may happen to be the natural habitat of.

When the county condemned our hoarder neighbor's house, the first thing they did was have it fumigated to kill all the rats. Now, that's infested! When reporters tell us about something happening in alligator and snake infested waters, that's their shorthand for shallow freshwater in the southeastern United States. When they say shark infested water, they mean seawater.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Gitzo Scotch Tape Fix

Or, how to keep your old classic purring

Gitzo is the gold standard for tripods. It is the tripod against which all others are compared. I've had my Gitzo 1325 for about 10 years. It's sturdy, rigid, and lightweight. I couldn't live without it, photographically speaking. It's also the most maintenance intensive piece of gear I own. It's like a Jaguar XK-E: an amazingly beautiful, high performance machine that leaves an oil stain on the garage floor.

It's the leg joints – collet-style twist lock leg joints. They've been redesigned and newer Gitzo tripods don't have the same kind of leg joints as my old 1325. That's a good thing. The leg joints are the reason I selected the model 1325 in the first place. It has fewer of them. The 3 in the model number means each leg has three sections, two joints per leg as opposed to four sections with three joints per leg. The four section models will collapse into a smaller package, which is nice if you're a frequent flier. But I've got no use for that extra trio of joints.  The new leg joints (from what I've read – not from personal experience) solve the leg joint issues. This article is about the old-style leg joints. So, if you've had your Gitzo for a while, this may be of interest to you.

After long use, the leg joints have to be tightened down harder to lock. If you don't give them that extra bit of snugness they slip, which is really annoying. So you cinch the lower leg locks a little tighter to make sure they're snug and then you have to tighten the upper ones more, to loosen the lower ones. Then they get so tight, they're hard to loosen. And eventually, they just won't tighten enough to keep the legs from slipping. The standard way of dealing with this is to replace the fiber bushings in the leg joints. It's not a big job – routine maintenance. Easier than changing the plugs in the old Jag. When you order the replacement bushings, they come in a bag of three of each and every size that Gitzo makes. And they cost about fifty bucks – Ouch. And then you have a bag full of extra bushings that fit Gitzo legs of different diameters than the legs on your tripod.

I replaced the bushings for the first time when my 1325 was a few years old. I replaced them the second time a couple of years later. Then not too long after that, one of the legs started to slip again. For some reason, I hadn't thrown out the old bushings, so I selected a used one that seemed to be in pretty good condition, and replaced the bushing in the offending leg. That did the trick – for a while at least. A few months later when the symptoms recurred, I read about a fellow who suggested wrapping the bushings with Teflon tape, the kind made for pipe threads. I tried it and it worked - temporarily. After a few uses the leg began to slip again. The Teflon tape had disintegrated.

When I disassembled the tripod, I discovered that swapping the lower legs around didn't matter. Regardless of which lower leg section, it was the one in a particular middle section that slipped. This told me that it must be the inside of the leg into which the bushing fits that was worn, not the bushing itself. I tried putting a strip of scotch tape around the inside the leg section. Man, that is practically an impossible feat – much harder to accomplish than one might think. So I gave up on that idea and I tried putting a strip of scotch tape on the outside of the fiber bushing. That seemed to help. So I put two strips of tape, one on top of the other, around the outside of the bushing. It worked!

Yes – but surely it's a make-shift band-aid repair. It wont last any longer than the Teflon tape did. Surprisingly, that's not the case. After three months, the scotch tape fix is holding up just fine. I began getting the symptoms in another leg, so I added the scotch tape to the bushings in the lower leg joints of both remaining legs. When I did that, I inspected the scotch tape on the first bushing. It looked just as good as the day I first put it on.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mt. Sanibel

Redux from the past, by popular demand

Mt. Sanibel towers above the clouds as its slopes are lit by the rising sun, captured by my trusty Graflex Speed Graphic press camera from the copilot's seat as Amelia put the Electra 10E into a tight bank. Little Ellie was helping me review the morning's shoot in the darkroom. "Volcano!" she exclaimed as this image materialized in the tray.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sturgeon Moon - Fail

Or – sometimes you don't get what you want, but you get something else

My ephemeris told me that the moon, the Sturgeon Moon, the full moon of August, would set behind Point Ybel just minutes before sunrise this morning. I headed for Bowditch Point, once again to try to catch the Sanibel Lighthouse silhouetted in front of the orb of the setting moon. I try year after year, but the moon always gradually, imperceptibly, fades into nothingness before it reaches the horizon, or else it is completely obscured by clouds. As I drove I could see the creamy orange moon peeking at me through wispy haze in the west. Crossing the bridge, Fleetwood Mac's Rhiannon played on the radio.

When I get to the beach I see that the moon is completely hidden behind clouds - large, growing, billowy cumulus clouds. A change of plan. There would be no moonset. But I love big clouds. Maybe these would deign to give me a picture. Stevie Nicks' voice echoes through my head as I swap the telephoto lens for a wide-angle zoom. I whistle the tune.

Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night
And wouldn't you love to love her?

The bluish clouds grow against the dark sky as it gradually lightens. I hope the sun will give them some color and definition as it nears the underside of the horizon behind me. And I wish I had a foreground, but the on-going beach re-nourishment project has completely denuded the beach of its driftwood and snags.

The sun kisses the tops of the clouds and turns them pink. The color slowly creeps down the billows, becoming golden. I occasionally make an exposure. As the sky grows brighter, I add a graduated neutral density filter to lighten the dark water in front of me, still in shadow. I wish I had a foreground.

I hear a motor. A shrimper rounds the point a couple of hundred yards north of me, and heads out, following the channel. I wait for her to enhance my composition. She recedes into the distance more quickly than she nears my cumulus backdrop. Finally - but she is small in the frame. I pop off a few frames as the shrimper heads for the clouds on the horizon. I close in for one shot at the long end of the zoom range - forty millimeters. That's the one.

The clouds grow and smear, losing their definition, becoming overcast. Looks like I might get caught in the rain, so I head back for the car as Stevie sings in my brain.

She is like a cat in the dark
And then she is the darkness

Thursday, August 11, 2011

High Point Joe's - Iterations

Or - Sometimes, if you keep at it, you can get what you want.

Early Saturday morning I found myself in the Fort Myers River District. I was hoping for some nice thunderheads for the rising sun to light up so I could make a nice picture. Nope – not a cloud in the sky. After moseying along the riverfront, I wound up near Joe's Crab Shack. I had always had a notion of making a picture of Joe's at night, all lit up with it's colored lights. No such color at sunrise.  But with the contrast and texture of the High Point residential highrise as a backdrop, my mind's eye saw a possibility for a black and white picture.  I set up, composed my picture, and waited for the sun to clear the downtown buildings and light up the scene before me.

By a quarter past seven the clear sky was becoming a deep royal blue. I knew that would give me the rich dark tones I wanted in a black and white image. Clouds? We don't need no stinkin' clouds. A breeze was rippling the water, scrambling the reflection, so for the first exposures, I chose to use a neutral density filter to lengthen the exposure time and, I hoped, give me a nice satiny reflection.

Then I made some more exposures with the ND filter removed for a crisper reflection and shifted my position to adjust the composition.

Later, when I reviewed the pictures at home, they were okay, but I wasn't satisfied with them. The next morning, Sunday, I went back downtown. I was roaming the district looking for a scene lit by street lamps while it was still dark and I noticed that I was sweating. Hey, there's no wind. It's absolutely calm. I could get a good reflection at Joe's. So, once again I found myself at the same location I had tried the previous morning.

From having reviewed the pictures from the day before, I knew the composition I favored, one with the corner of Joe's roof extending beyond the edge of the High Point building. Even though there wasn't any wind, there were boats moving in the marina that disturbed the otherwise smooth surface of the water and distorted the reflection. I figured I had what I needed and was about to head out, when, at the last minute, I decided to see what I see if I got down in the water. I had been shooting mostly from the landing of a pier in the marina. 
As I set up the camera at the water's edge with the tripod as low as I could get it, I noticed that the water was almost perfectly still. “Now!” I thought. And I hurried to get it level and to compose. As I was about to trip the shutter, a fish jumped just under the building. Click - I got my exposure! Then, a few more as the fish's ripples spread out towards me and squiggled the mirror surface of the water. But I knew I had my picture.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why a Blog?

Everything has to start at the beginning. This beginning is little rough. I hope I'll be able to polish the look and feel of this blog but so far I'm not getting the hang of it very well – the back room nuts and bolts.

I read on a photographer's blog, whose blog made him famous (among face shooters), that every blog post should start with a photograph.  That's what the blog is all about.  So here's some predawn  lightning, compliments of Tropical Storm Emily this morning.

Umm.....here goes.

I photograph in and around Fort Myers, Florida, often on our barrier islands, hence the title on the banner.  [The original title of this blog was Island Photography, taken from my website.] I do other things here too, but photographing is what this blog is mainly supposed to be about. 

I've been pointing a lens at things around here for a pretty long time, but for a painfully large portion of that time I really only sort of knew what I was doing. I thought I knew, but mostly I just didn't know what I didn't know. (Shades of Don Rumsfeld) Then the World Wide Web happened and that's when I found out how little I knew about how to make a good picture. I learned stuff from people on the web who knew more than I did. Maybe they only knew a little bit more than I did or maybe they only knew one thing that I didn't know, but I learned from them a little bit about how to make better pictures. After a more than a decade on the Web, I've picked up a few things, and discarded a few things, too, and there's plenty I still don't know. But I do know more about making a photograph than I used to.

The first photographic website I participated in was ShutterCity. It was an image critique site for general photography by photographers of all skill levels. Most of the photographers who posted there, me included, were rank amateurs, but a few knew what they were doing, more or less. They knew more than I did, at least. And I learned from their criticisms of my photographs and those of others. I had been fading in and out of photography as a hobby for years. ShutterCity re-kindled my enthusiasm and I resolved to be a real photographer. ShutterCity went defunct about five years ago

Shortly after signing on to ShutterCity, I discovered NPN, Nature Photographer's Network Online Magazine. http://www.naturephotographers.net/index.html  NPN is an absolutely first rate nature photography forum and image critique site. Skill level ranges from beginner to world-class with plenty of friendly helpful advice and sharing. I've learned a great deal about technique, gear, digital image processing, and photography in general at NPN over the years. It is a great source of knowledge and a repository of nature photographs that will knock your socks off.

My photographic journey has spread out from nature photography into architectural, urban landscapes, and portraiture. So I've been exploring photography websites outside of the nature genre. I've found some that aren't so good, with trolls, flamers, and infighting – bleh. I've also found some that are pretty good, but some have a fair amount of so-so photographs posted for critique that get fawned over. It makes it hard to learn about what makes a good photograph when critiquers label mediocre images with superlatives. And I don't find the camaraderie I enjoyed so much at my old sites, but that may just be me.

So... Here we are. 
I thought maybe if I started a blog I could get the kind interaction with other photographers that I haven't been able to find on websites.  So I hope that you, dear reader, will encouage me to keep it up.   I may not be the greatest photographer in the world but an expert is anyone who knows things about something that you don't know. Surely I can share some knowledge about photography that you didn't already know.  I hope you can share some things I don't know.   Also - I was told, "You should start a newsletter yourself.  You certainly have a way with words... and pictures"  (You know who you are.)