Just a quick note to let you know that I’ve recently added a full gallery of African Wildlife images to my website. I’ve selected over 60 of my favorite photos for you to enjoy. Check it out by clicking on this link.
Just a quick note to let you know that I’ve recently added a full gallery of African Wildlife images to my website. I’ve selected over 60 of my favorite photos for you to enjoy. Check it out by clicking on this link.
Some things are universal. A mother’s love is perhaps the most touching. It crosses every boundary and certainly isn’t restricted to humans. I was reminded of this truism last year in Africa.
We were out photographing on the Masai Mora…which is the part of the Serengeti that crosses into Kenya. It is a vast grassland that stretches to the horizon.
Our guide, Julius, got a call from another Land Rover that had spotted a lioness creeping into a thicket. It seemed worth a look but after creeping up a rocky hill, all we could see was this:
Just a tall jumble of branches…frankly, even if there was a lion in there I didn’t see how we would get a photo worth having. But Julius knew better, so we parked about 50′ away and waited… Before long, we sensed something moving in the thicket…then we heard a pathetic, wimpy ‘mewing.’ And sure enough, this little guy crept out of the wood pile. Smaller than a loaf of bread and probably only a couple weeks old. Barely had its eyes open and could hardly see at all…kept bumping into rocks and stumbling over his own feet. But he was determined and over the next five minutes he managed to stumble quite a distance from the lair. Which wasn’t good…there are all types of predators who would enjoy such a nice little morsel…I couldn’t tell you how many kinds of raptors I had seen…
…and any of them would have been delighted by this mobile ‘brunch.’ As the minutes stretched out, we started actively searching the skies to see if something would spot our little cub…and he got further and further from home.
Then…we saw Mama…
She barked a throaty snarl and gave us a no-nonsense…”Stay the hell away from my cub!” look that affected me deep in the pit of my stomach. This wasn’t one of those fake “take a shot of the lion when it yawns…it looks just like a roar.” This was the real thing…and you could see it in her eyes! After making sure we weren’t a threat, she headed right to her errant cub.
Then, this fierce hunter morphed into the most gentle soul you can imagine…
Maybe she was a new mother, but she seemed very apprehensive about picking up her cub…
She tried over and over again. Finally, she seemed to give up and gave him a bath instead..
Of course, the cub didn’t make it easy for her…it kept wiggling and scooting away.
But finally he settled down and she got a good grip…firm, but not too firm…
She headed back to the thicket…
…and then she silently slipped back into the bramble.
It’s funny, if we had been even a few hundred yards away, we would have probably never known this little drama had even taken place. The savannah might be vast, but it certainly isn’t empty and it has stories to tell…
The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography
Every day during my two weeks in Kenya, we would go out into the bush and I would be treated to some wild new wonder. Yes, I had never been to Kenya…so of course it all was new. But some of the experiences so bizarre they even amazed our guides who were native Kenyans! Maybe the best example of this was the adventure with the Hippo and the Lions.
One morning, we headed out before sunrise to a spot by the river where we had seen a lion pride the night before. The lions were still there all right…eight or nine females and their young just lounging around soaking up some sun.
We moved the Land Rover to a great spot on the opposite bank and started snapping shots. We had been photographing for quite a while when I noticed a hippo surface in one of the deep pools in the river just below us…
He (she?) casually climbed out and struggled up the embankment…
That really got the attention of our lioness. She got up and started trotting toward the hippo. She maneuvered into its blind spot…
Now lions don’t usually prey on hippos…nothing really messes with hippos, they’re just too big. Despite their comical appearance, they can be deadly. Hippos reportedly kill more people in Africa than any other land animal…our guide Julius explained that are particularly dangerous when you get between them and their escape route to the water.
Maybe the hippo heard something, because suddenly it twisted its head and saw the lioness!
It froze for a second and then….it spit up what looked like 20 gallons of water. I don’t know if this was a defensive action or if the lioness just scared it right out of her…
A split second later, the hippo charged the lioness. Now, you wouldn’t think a 3,000 pound hippo could move fast…but you would also be wrong. They can hit 20 mph…keep in mind that Usain Bolt can only hit 27 mph!
This is as close as the Hippo got…the lion’s speed quickly got her out of harm’s way.
Perhaps it decided that discretion was the better part of valor… ’cause it spun around and headed back toward the river. The lioness immediately jumped off in pursuit…
and seemed to open its mouth to scream when it saw it was being chased again. She put her head down, put on the afterburners and started really moving!
As they passed the pride, the other lionesses started paying attention.
By now the hippo had a full head of steam…with all that momentum, I doubt that anything could have stopped it…
In the shot above, you can see that the lioness had caught up to the hippo and was throwing on the brakes. She must have been thinking “Why am I chasing this guy…what the heck would I do if I caught him anyway?!”
This was my last shot before the hippo passed behind the trees lining the river and headed down the bank…to safety.
Just like that, it was over. From the time I first spotted the hippo in the river until she jumped back down the embankment less than 50 seconds had passed. It’s incredible the drama you can experience in less than a minute. Anyway, it made for an exciting morning…for the photographers as well as the hippo and the lion pride. Like I said, something new and exciting every day!
Until my next post, take care,
I can’t remember a blog that has been as difficult to write as this one. It’s been nearly a month since I returned from Africa and as each day passes I receive more and more subtle (and not so subtle) questions about ‘when are we going to hear about your Kenya Photo Safari (and see some photos!)?’
Frankly, part of the problem is that I am a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of photos I took…over 25,000 images. Just culling and processing them is a huge task. Plus Africa was so dramatically different from my normal ‘world’ that I’ve been at a loss of even figuring out where to begin.
After four or five false starts, it became clear that I couldn’t write a single article about my trip….it would be exhausting…and very, very long. This first blog is going to be no more than an attempt to relay some of the most intense impressions that Kenya made upon me…along with a scattering of photos. That will at least get the ice broken and future blogs can cover some of my experiences in detail.
First of all, let me tell you about the Kenyan people. I’ve never met folks who were so genuinely friendly. And I don’t mean friendly like the “Welcome to Disney world, thanks for spending a boatload of cash” that I’m used to. I mean people who wave to you as you drive by a narrow dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Don’t give me wrong, if you walked downtown Nairobi at midnight with a Rolex on your wrist I’m confident you might meet someone who might give you a different impression. But in a nation with 40% unemployment (yes….40%!), I found it admirable and inspiring that the Kenyans had such sunny dispositions.
Second, Kenya not only has an incredible amount of wildlife but it is shockingly diverse.
I guess I’m used to the National Parks in North America where, sure, during a good day I might see a couple dozen different kinds of critters and maybe even something big now and again. But in Kenya, there was such an incredible variety…hundreds of brightly colored bird species, dozens of exotic and strange mammals and an endless supply of animals every bit as big (and bigger) as our Land Rover. For photography, it was truly a “target rich environment.”
Third, animals are people too. Well, ok…they’re not human but I mean that after watching and photographing wildlife ten hours a day for two weeks I was impressed with how often they displayed nearly human emotions and behavior. The longer I was there, the more I appreciated that for all of humanity’s progress, science and intelligence….we really aren’t all that different.
Fourth, Africa is beautiful but it isn’t benign.
I drove my guides a bit crazy with my desire to get out of the vehicle and take landscape shots. It made them nervous as hell if I got more than ten feet from the Land Rover. At first I didn’t really understand it… I’m used to hiking in the Americas where there really aren’t that many dangers from wildlife (assuming you display reasonable caution). Africa is different. There are a number of critters there that will kill you. I learned that you couldn’t just go out and photograph the Milky Way at night by your tent (a leopard killed an antelope one night inside our camp). And to always look where you put your feet (see photo to the right). Don’t get me wrong…its not like tourists are being killed in droves but you have to exercise a higher level of caution than you might be used to.
Fifth, maybe I could be a birder after all. I’ve joked about birders for years, but this trip may be the end of that. The birds in Kenya amazed me. So many different species. So much color. So freaking exotic. They were seemingly everywhere and they would let you get a lot closer than I am accustomed to.
Sixth, what happens when you put a landscape photographer on a wildlife tour? I just couldn’t help myself…
Seventh, Cats are where its At! Sure, I loved seeing elephants playing in the water or giraffes reaching for leaves on the tops of trees but lions, leopards and Cheetahs generated a whole ‘nother level of interest. There is something inherently fascinating about these preditors…their powerful grace, surprising tenderness and pitiless lethality.
Eighth, wildlife photography can be intensely exciting. Stuff happens quickly with no warning. In landscape photography I might spend weeks planning a shot, an hour just setting up and another thirty minutes taking the shot. In Kenya we might come around a corner, find two Oryx fighting, rip off 100 frames and be moving on….all in a total of five minutes.
Landscape photography is like writing a book: it is calm, cerebral and certain…you pretty well know what is going to happen next. Wildlife photography is like skydiving: Fast and furious and the future is anyone’s guess!
Tenth, I learned to try and photograph a story…not just a moment. Don’t get me wrong, one-off shots of a majestic lion are great:
But the story of a lion cub running around with a shoe…and playing ‘keep away’ from his siblings makes perhaps an even stronger impression.
I have a number of other Kenyan wildlife ‘photo stories’ that I will share in blogs over the next few months. Stay tuned!
Okay, I know that’s a pretty choppy blog…but at least I broke the ice and hopefully it won’t be so long until my next one.
Happy Holidays to you and your family. Kwaheri!
PS: I usually plan my own photo trips and rarely go on tours or use guides. I made an exception with this trip and I’m very glad I did. My tour was with “Wild4Photo Safaris” run by Stu and Justyna Porter. This is a class operation and I wouldn’t have come home with half as many killer shots if it wasn’t for Stu and my driver/guide Julius. These guys had an amazing ability to anticipate where the wildlife was going to do be and what they were going to do. They never failed to have us in the perfect position for the shot. Not only that…but they were great people who became my friends. I owe them a huge thanks for memories that that will last the rest of my life.
Well, tomorrow I embark on a grand adventure…a two week photo safari in Kenya!
This has been on my ‘bucket list’ since I was a kid and I’m insanely excited about the trip. My wonderful bride of 26 years gave me this trip as my Christmas present and I gotta say: The woman knows me well!
I’ve spent the better part of six months getting ready, which included buying additional camera gear (of course), more innoculations than I can count and hours trying make all my gear fit Emirates Airlines’ insanely measly luggage allowance (one carry-on bag for a 20 hour flight..Come on, really?!).
Fortunately, my trip will be with an outstanding, experienced guide (Stu Porter who specializes in nothing but photo tours), so I don’t have to worry about anything once I get to Africa except taking photos.
I don’t expect to have much internet access, so don’t expect to hear much from me for a while…but once I’m back I’ll be sharing lots of photos!
Writing my annual Top 12 blog is always interesting. Yeah…interesting. It’s a good word. It covers everything from fun to frustrating…and that’s very appropriate. Trying to filter 12,000 images down to 12 is a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun to remember the trips I took to capture these shots…those are some wonderful memories. But just 12 images…wow…it’s really frustrating trying to narrow it down that much. On, the other hand, I guess it’s a good problem to have, it meant that 2015 resulted in a lot of work I was proud of. Well anyway, you didn’t click on this blog to hear me ramble…you want to see photos, so here we go…my best work of the year 2015 (in no particular order):I know I said the photos aren’t ranked, but this might be my favorite shot of the year. Heck, this might be my favorite shot ever. I have huge metal print of this image hanging right over my desk and every time I see it, I seem to stop and drink it in for a moment or two. Not only does it inspire me, but I always think of the improbable chain of events that resulted in me capturing this image. It’s a shot that I shouldn’t have gotten, but I did…and I’m grateful.
Just adorable. I came upon this cub and his sister playing on the edge of a field in the Smokies and they couldn’t have been more cute if they had tried. I spent a few hours photographing them while hand-holding the ‘beast’ (my 200-400 lens…which weighs as much as the cub’s mom)…but it was worth every aspirin I had to swallow!
George Jetson was here! Well, that’s the type of graffiti I was expecting to see on top of Clingman’s Dome when I was setting up this shot. I love how the spiral observation tower mimics the grace of the Milky Way.
My wife and I were diving on a wreck in the Caribbean when this big kahuna joined us and made my day. I’d never had much luck photographing sea turtles but that all changed on this trip! I’d be the first to admit that I still have volumes to learn about underwater photography, but even so, my family considers this shot to be one of their favorites!
My son and I had an epic hiking trip to the Pac NW last summer and came home with some lasting memories and killer waterfall photos…this shot of Ryan in front of Wachlella Falls is my pick from that litter….
On second thought, I kinda like this long exposure perspective of Ponytail Falls too…
When I get to visit a location on my “Photographic Bucket List” I rarely come back with a photo I would consider ‘world class.’ After all, when you only have a day or two, what chance do you have to really learn how to best capture the scene PLUS be blessed with weather that makes the image truly something special? This shot of ‘Thor’s Well’ was a welcome exception to that rule.
This Alaskan harbor seal appears due to the lobbying efforts of my wife. I would have put it in my top 25 but not top 12…she disagreed. Over the years I’ve learned to carefully listen when she speaks…
I have a love-hate thingy going with the Oregon/Washington coast. I love that the coast line has some of the most breathtaking incredible vistas anywhere but I hate that the weather is
often, usually, always crappy. Okay…not always, but it sure seems that way to me. So it takes some perseverance and luck to get a memorable image. On the other hand, since you have to go back to the same spot multiple times hoping for good weather, when it finally does clear up, you have scouted the spot to death and know how you want to shoot it!
Washington’s Palouse Falls is an incredible sight and I’ve long believed that it would be even more impressive at night with the Milky Way rising over it. Well, over the years I’ve tried many times to get that shot but the falls are in a deep, dark gorge and it is real challenge to light it up well. I tried long exposures…I tried light painting… Nothing I did looked ‘right.’ One frustrating and unproductive night when I was breaking down my equipment a guy walked up and asked if I minded if he tried some light painting. I chuckled to myself and told him to have at it since I’d thought I had already tried everything. He pulled out the most powerful flashlight I’d ever seen and proceeded to do a masterful job of illuminating the gorge. I snapped away and ended up with the shot I had always dreamed of. My thanks to Ariel Rodilla for showing me that I still have a lot more to learn about light painting!
Every photographer should have the chance to shoot the Palouse region of eastern Washington State at least once before they die. It truly is a land that time forgot (in a good way) and the 360° views of the sensuous, smooth, and seemingly liquid landscape from Steptoe Butte are stunning.
I’ll finish with the most popular photograph I’ve ever published. When I posted this one on my Facebook page, it seemed to really strike a chord with folks and it went viral. Oddly enough, this photo bothers me. When I look at it, all I seem to notice is that the front of this manatee’s nose is out of focus. Sometimes being a perfectionist means you get hung up on small details and I’m certainly guilty of that. It was an incredible moment though, when this manatee surfaced right in front of me while I was taking a shot of the sunrise. If only he had given me the time to make sure the shot was in focus…
It was an incredible year for me professionally and personally. I explored more of this incredible planet, met lots of wonderful folks, sold some prints, won a contest or two and got a few images published. Plus, even after all these years, I found that photography continued to challenge and inspire me. Even better, my wife and I got my first Grandchild (little London Grace)…which helps keep my photography obsession in perspective.
Life is Good.
When I first began my career in photography, I was drawn to the icons…Yosemite, Yellowstone, Arches (you know the list). The internet and libraries are filled with info about “Photographing the Southwest,” “How to photograph the Grand Canyon” and “Fifty Places to Photograph Before you Die.” These icons are famous for a reason…great photographs can be taken there and as an aspiring photographer it only made sense to ‘fish where the fish are.’
But there is a downside too…and that is that it is unlikely that your shots are really going to stand out. Yes, they still might be impressive, beautiful and inspiring….but honestly, it is pretty difficult to take a unique photograph of Half Dome from Yosemite’s Tunnel View when 43 trillion other photos have been taken from the same spot.
One solution is find a new way to photograph an old icon: a different angle, a creative perspective, something…anything new and different! You will find this piece of advice in nearly every photography article ever written. It’s good advice, and I certainly strive to dream up new ways capture these legendary vistas.
But there is another way to take a unique photo. Find a place that isn’t already well known to every photographer on the planet.
I can’t honestly say that this is the reason my wife and I spent a week on the island of Bonaire earlier this fall. To be honest, we were there because we are divers and Bonaire is well known as a “Diver’s Paradise.” I hoped there might be something else to photograph, so I searched the internet. But even Google failed to give me much except lots and lots of underwater shots. But I’m an optimist, so I packed my cameras, tripods, lenses and another 80 pounds of photo gear…just in case.
I’m glad I did!
It turns out that there is a lot more to photograph in Bonaire than just fish. A lot more…
First a bit about the island. Bonaire lies about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela and is the least well-known of the “ABC” islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao). Cruise ships don’t visit often and with less than 17,000 natives it is quiet and uncrowded. It’s a Dutch island and people are friendly but respectful (you don’t get mobbed by people yelling “hey pretty lady, buy my t-shirts!” Surprisingly, the island is very dry…looking more like the desert Southwest than the typical lush tropical rainforest you might expect.
First of all, there is some fascinating wildlife to keep your camera busy. Yes, they have iguanas (which I simply love….running around like half-baked dinosaurs)!
And then there were the birds…wow! Bonaire has over 210 species of birds.
For me, a highlight had to be the Flamingos. Bonaire is host to the one of the few places in the world that has breeding grounds of the Caribbean Flamingo. Heck, I’d never seen a flamingo except in a zoo….and in Bonaire I saw thousands. They don’t like noise or movement, so you need a long telephoto and some stalking skills, but where else can you get shots like this?
As you know, I adore hummingbirds, so I was delighted to see hummers swarming the flowering bushes and trees around our resort even before we got to our room!
The Ruby-Topaz hummingbird and the well named Emerald hummingbird are both gorgeous and much different from the Ruby-Throated hummers we have back at home in Florida.
For the entire week, after our morning dives, you would often find me with my 70-200mm staked out by the flowers near our room. Other tourists would be walking to their rooms, spot me, take a wary look at the guy creeping around with a camera… but then they would see the hummers and their faces would light up and they would start whispering and pointing.
Oh yeah, they had parrots too! (at least I thought they were parrots). Right outside our room..often roosting in the same trees as the hummers were what the locals called ‘Loras.’ They looked like a huge parakeets on steroids, which it kinda turns out they are. Meet the Caribbean Parakeet (Aratinga pertinax, subspecies xanthogenius) . They certainly had no fear of people and posed patiently while I burned thru some memory cards.
There aren’t many big critters on the island.
The most interesting are the donkeys. Apparently the early Dutch imported a lot of donkeys for use as pack animals. When cars and trucks became available, the donkeys were let loose to roam the island and fend for themselves. Since they aren’t native, life was challenging for the newly emancipated burros, but in 1993, Marina Melis and her husband Ed Koopman, established a donkey sanctuary on Bonaire for sick, wounded and orphaned donkeys. Now over 400 donkeys call the Donkey Sanctuary home. For a small donation you can drive thru the compound. If you ever wanted the opportunity to get a close-up photo of a donkey, here is your chance. Hey, it’s not photographing Grizzly’s catching spawning Salmon, but it makes for an entertaining photo op!
How about landscapes? Well, to be honest, we never even made it to the northern part of the island which is the home of Washington Slagbaai National Park. This park covers 1/5 of the total island and locals told me it had the most potential for landscape photography on Bonaire. Unfortunately, I really only explored the southern coast and central part of the island around our resort (near Kralendijk, the Capital).
The salt flats on the southern end of the island are pretty dramatic. The water in the flats is actually pink…well maybe mauve…well, it changes, depending on how the sunlight hits it. The huge mountains of salt in the background can make some fascinating images when contrasted with the salt ponds and if you happen to find a couple flamingos necking in a salt pond in the foreground, you might actually get one of those unique images we were talking about:)
Also on the isolated and unpopulated southern coast were the remains of the slave huts and ship markers that are a fascinating but disturbing reminder of a past when slaves worked under harsh conditions harvesting sea salt from the nearby salt flats. The huts are minuscule and must have been like ovens with whole families crowded into them.
Since there isn’t much light pollution on Bonaire and nothing but ocean to the south, I hoped this might be a good spot for Milky Way photography. I was right! It might have been a bit spooky but it made for some wonderful and unusual photography.
After my wife and I returned home, I got a note from one of the folks I had met on Bonaire telling me about a Photo Contest the island’s tourism bureau was conducting. The top prize was a week of lodging for two along with food, rental car and free diving. I’m not much on contests, I’d rather be out taking photos than filling out forms but my wife encouraged me to enter. I find it is usually a good idea to listen to her advice….and guess what?
Looks like we will be going back to Bonaire in 2016!
PS: I have a long way to go with my Underwater photography before I ever see the end of my learning curve. But I love a challenge, Plus the underwater world is alien, colorful and visually stunning. My UW shots didn’t win any prizes, but I’d like to share a few of them with you anyway:
It is funny how perceptions differ between people. It is certainly true for photographers as well. There are some shots that I consider to be my best work that members of my family look at and politely say…”oh, that’s nice.” On the other hand, there are images I’ve taken that I think are just okay but others really “ahhhh and oooohhhh” about.
The shot below is a perfect example. I took this image earlier this year but I wasn’t happy with it. Sure it was nice to get a manatee and a sunrise in the same shot but I didn’t like how part of the manatee wasn’t in focus so I didn’t even bother to process the shot for a few months. But eventually I did and on a slow day, I named it “Morning Rendezvous” and posted it to my facebook account. And it went viral. Over 10,000 ‘likes’, hundreds of shares and comments. More than anything that I’ve posted before…heck, more than EVERYTHING combined that I’ve ever posted. People started tracking me down to buy prints and it is now, by far, my best selling print. It’s been published and used as the banner for multiple websites…heck…the Crystal River Manatee Refuge even used it as the basis of a mural they had painted at their center!
I really don’t intend to brag. But to be honest, this is a huge break for me professionally, so of course I’m very pleased. It really is great to create something that strikes such a chord in people. That is, after all, one of my goals in photography.
But did it have to be this picture? Clearly most folks aren’t immediately distracted by the poor focus…which is all the perfectionist in me sees.
Have you ever had something you’ve enjoyed for years but pretty much took it for granted…until the day you found out it was actually rare and valuable? Then suddenly you looked at it anew with full appreciation? Well, it’s surely happened to all of us…and I experienced it again just a couple weeks ago.
I’ve visited the nearby Audubon Bird of Prey Center in Maitland Florida off and on since the 1980s…way back before marriage, kids or even digital cameras! I might not be a ‘birder’ but I do love raptors and I’ve long enjoyed this facility since it allows me to photograph close-ups of Bald Eagles. After my visit, I thought about writing a blog but I figured, heck, there are facilities like this everywhere, why would my subscribers, especially those who live far from Central Florida, want to read about this one when they could just visit their local facility?
Well, after a few minutes on the internet, I learned how wrong I was. It turns out that this is the premier raptor rehabilitation center east of the Mississippi. Since 1979 they have treated more than 17,000 injured or orphaned raptors, averaging about 650 admissions a year. In fact, they just released their 500th Bald Eagle last month! The center includes a state-of-the-art clinic with its own X-ray equipment and a 100-foot-long flight cage, all of which contribute to their 40+% success rate at rehabilitating raptors.
Ok,I guess everyone doesn’t have a place like this nearby. So, let’s look at some pictures and learn a bit about this treasure.
First of all, The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is tucked away on a small, 3 acre, heavily shaded lot nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood. Although only about 20 minutes north of Orlando, you would never know it is there unless you were looking for it (Actually, I drove right by it my first time without even seeing it!) It is a quaint, clean and well laid-out facility housing more than 20 species of raptors, including Bald Eagles, Caracaras, Red Tailed Hawks, Ospreys, Barn Owls, Barred Owls, Kestrels and many others. Although the birds currently being rehabilitated can’t be seen by visitors (they don’t want them to become accustomed to humans) the Center has 20 non-releasable, permanent ‘residents’ that you can observe.
The center has a series of large aviaries that houses many of the birds. Unfortunately for us shutter-bugs, those aviaries are covered with thick gauge wire enclosures that don’t lend themselves to good photographs. However, if you photograph birds that aren’t close to the wire and use a wide aperture (f2.8 or 3.5) you can often throw the wire so out of focus that it isn’t really visible.
The good news is that there are usually 7 or more birds kept outside of the enclosures when the center is open. They are placed on perches about 10 feet or so from the walkway…which obviously makes for wonderful photography. In addition, you can also photograph another half dozen species of smaller raptors that are housed on the back porch of the Audubon House (the 1920s bungalow that is the center of the facility).
To me, however, the crème de la crème is the “Viewing Room” (I used to call it the “Shooting Gallery” but my wife pointed out that perhaps it wasn’t a politically correct term for a bird rehabilitation center). This is a large room with three windows that faces an open-air side porch where many of the larger birds are kept on perches (Eagles, Owls and Hawks). To make it even better, there are binoculars and comfortable chairs right in front of the windows. In other words, you sit in a chair, in an air conditioned house and photograph magnificent raptors that are 10-30 away. The windows aren’t in direct sunlight, so you don’t have to worry about reflections. And to help make this near perfect, the staff will even let you open the center window so you can photograph without any glass between you and the raptors.
Usually I have to hike thru sweltering woods while being attacked by blood-thirsty mosquitos to get good Eagle photos. So I truly appreciate the “Viewing Room”…Nature photography has never been so good!
If you visit the Center a few times, you will get to know some of the ‘residents.’ My favorite is “Paige.” Paige is a majestic female Bald Eagle. She isn’t a petite little lady either…at 10 pounds she is among the larger eagles you will ever see. Unfortunately she has a permanently injured wing and will never be released into the wild. You would never know it by looking…she conducts herself with pride and is incredibly impressive.
Another of my favorites is Cinnamon. She is a Red-Tailed Hawk with lots of personality who always seems to turn her head sideways to get a look at me when I arrive. Maybe she thinks I’m Brad Pitt, but then again she is near-sighted…
If you like to photograph wildlife, you will love this place and if you are a birder, you will absolutely be in heaven. Admission is only $5 and you should plan on spending 1-2 hours….
In 1973, Florida had only 88 remaining nesting pairs of Bald Eagles. Now we have over 1,400, the most in the lower 48.
“Today in Central Florida alone we have more eagles and eagle nests in that area than in the entire 48 states in 1965,” said Charles Lee, director of advocacy at Audubon of Florida, to the Winter Park / Maitland Observer.
Clearly the staff and volunteers at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey have made a difference!
The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is located at 1101 Audubon Way in Maitland. Center hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. It is closed Mondays and holidays. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for children, except for those under 3, who enter free
Directions: From Interstate 4, take exit 88 and head east on Lee Road. Take the first left onto Wymore Boulevard and then a right onto Kennedy Boulevard. Turn left onto East Avenue. Audubon Way will be the third left, and the Center is immediately on the right. See this link for a Google Map.
1) Although you can get much closer to these birds than you ever could in the wild, you still want a long lens. A 300mm lens will allow you to get shots that will fill your frame. However, if you want a head shot that will fill your viewfinder, you are going to need something close to 600mm
2) Bring your monopod or tripod, especially if you are hefting a heavy lens. Otherwise your arms will be turning to jelly by the end of your shoot. There is plenty of room and your tripod won’t get in the way.
3) A speed of 1/125 is usually fast enough since the birds are resting on perches.
4) I usually shoot at my widest aperture. Even so, I often have to tweak the exposure in post-processing since the shots at 1/125 are a bit dark.
5) I’ve never used a flash here, but I might try a “better beamer” or similar product next time to provide some fill flash. However, I’ll be sure to first ask the staff for permission (I didn’t see any signs saying “No Flash Photography” but I would want to make sure first!)
6) Although I like to be there at opening (10am), I might try late afternoon next time. If so, the birds in the garden outside the “Viewing Room” would be shaded by the house. This would prevent the ‘hot spots’ from sunlight thru the dappled leaves. An overcast day would be ideal, but those are rare here in Central Florida.
7) It is rarely busy but visit during the week if you can. Also, call ahead to see if they have any groups planned to visit that day, if so, just schedule around them. Note that they are closed on Mondays.
8) Take your time. If you want to capture unusual or interesting behavior, you need to be patient and not just pop a few shots of each bird and head for the parking lot. The eagles, for example, will occasionally start calling to each other, when that happens, you can get really interesting shots of them with screaming with their beaks stretched open. Besides, the whole place has a quiet, laid back atmosphere, the staff is friendly and it is rarely crowded (especially during the week)….so don’t rush, this is far different from visiting a theme park (thank God!)
8) Talk to the staff and volunteers. These folks are super friendly and they love to talk about the birds. Plus, the more I learn about each individual bird, the more their photos mean more to me.
10) While you are there, walk out onto the dock that extends to a gazebo over the lake. During the summer, water lilies bloom there and you can get interesting shots from the elevated deck. Check out these shots.
If you are ever in the Orlando area (and everyone seems to visit here at some time or another), take a break from our world-class theme parks and treat yourself to a bit of the natural Florida at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.
I have to admit that I’ve become a bit jaded when it comes to the topic of bears. Well, black bears anyway…I don’t think I will ever take a Grizzly for granted! I live near a state park and see black bears walking thru my yard all the time. So last week when I was photographing a sunset in the Smokies and the guy next to me insisted I see the bear photos he had taken the day before, I took a deep breath, hid my lack of enthusiasm and glanced over at his smartphone. And what I saw took my breath away. He didn’t have your garden-variety photos of bears…he had photos of bear cubs!
I had lived around bears for twenty years but realized in that moment that I had never seen a cub. And Lord…they were so incredibly cute! Although I had made my trip to the Smokies intent on photographing landscapes and spring wildflowers, that focus suddenly shifted.
A couple days later, I was taking a sunrise shot from the Foothills Parkway when a lady pulls into the overlook and sets up her tripod. I couldn’t help notice that she was still in her PJs…and that started a conversation. It turns out she was a local (she had rushed out of her nearby home to photograph the sunrise and didn’t have time to change, which explained the PJs). As we talked, I realized that I had seen her photography on Facebook. Her name is Kellie Walls Sharpe and a friendlier person doesn’t exist on this earth. As we worked the sunrise, I mentioned the bear cubs. Kellie knew all about them and told me exactly where they could be found (her local knowledge of wildlife and photography locations was amazing). Well, as soon as the sunrise had faded, I thanked Kellie and headed off to the spot in Cades Cove she had told me about. About an hour later I was hiking across a field and sure enough, spotted a bear. But it was just a yearling…kinda scrawny and not terribly photogenic. So I kept walking and looking. Ten minutes later movement caught my eye near the base of a hill. I ambled up and saw a pair of cubs…and a big mama bear about 20 feet beyond them.
Now, let me say that the Park regulations require you to keep a 50 yard distance from bears. And although black bears are not usually aggressive, only a fool would get between a mother and her cubs. Fortunately, I had brought my Nikon 200-400 with a 1.4 teleconverter, so I was able to keep my distance and still get tack-sharp images.
The twins immediately scrambled up a tree. Mama took a hard look at me, decided I was just another fool photographer and then promptly and totally ignored me for the rest of the day.
I lifted all seven plus pounds of the 200-400 for the first time and started shooting.
The cubs were delightful. They played like a couple kittens…taking swipes at each other, rolling around in the grass, tripping over their own feet…just adorable.
Soon I noticed that the bears had a system. Mama bear would look up at the tree…make a series of short grunts and the cubs would climb down. Then she would rumble about a hundred feet away to a new patch of the forest and start scavenging for food. The cubs would tag right along behind her and as soon as she stopped, they would head right up the nearest tree.
Being youngsters, they had big appetites. They nursed at least twice over the next few hours. Afterwards, I think mama needed a break, so she took a good stretch and rubbed her back against a tree.
By late morning the cubs were getting tired. They climbed a big walnut tree, settled in a comfy fork between two branches, stretched, took a good look around, snuggled together and started to snooze.
I hung around for another 20 minutes but the cubs didn’t move an inch. And frankly, by then I had been following them for three hours and had lifted that darn 200-400 what felt like a million times. No, I hadn’t brought my monopod. I had figured that if I did see bears, it would be for only a few minutes, so why bother bringing another piece of equipment? I’ll never make that mistake again…my arms were jelly…heck, my elbows still hurt now and it’s a full week later!
Anyway, I figured the 1500 frames I had were plenty, so I left mama and babies in peace and hiked by to the old Subaru. As I walked back I counted my lucky stars. It had been a blessing to spend the morning with my little ‘Bruin’ family observing their antics. I knew that I had captured some nice images and even if I drove home right then, my trip would have been a success.
But little did I know that the best was yet to be. With that teaser, I’ll conclude this story. You’ll just have to wait till next week for the rest!
Photographing sea turtles underwater has been a challenge that has long taunted me. Over the years I’ve had a few opportunities but they just never seemed to pan out.
Sure…I’ve gotten some decent above-water shots…like this “Honu” on Kona’s famous black sand beach at Punalu’u …but whenever I slipped below the waves, I seemed to be jinxed.
That streak of bad luck seemed to continue right through last week. My wife, Anita, and I had done some research and learned that scuba divers often saw turtles at Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge near St. Thomas in the American Virgin islands. That sounded great to us…so we planned a vacation with the goal of diving at Buck Island.
Last month, we were in St Thomas and it was finally time to go! It was early morning when we made our way to the port, dragged our gear down to the dock and climbed aboard the dive boat ready for our adventure!
..And then the Captain informed us that he was cancelling our dive because one of his engines had just failed. I shook my head. We were only going to be on St Thomas until nightfall so it wasn’t like we could just book a dive with another company the following day. The jinx was still alive and well.
Some folks would have just figured that the gods were against them and headed to a bar to find comfort in a large quantity of tall, cold and wickedly alcoholic drinks crowded with little umbrellas. Actually, I considered this option for a second or two…but I knew it was impossible. Because I know my wife. Anita had her heart set on turtles and I knew she wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer. As we feared, all the other scuba tours were booked for the day but within ten minutes she had found a snorkeling tour and we were climbing onto a catamaran by the name of “Virgin Breeze”. No, it wasn’t what we had planned…but at least the day wouldn’t be a total bust. Then things started looking up when the crew told us that they were heading to ‘Turtle Cove” on Buck Island…the exact same spot our scuba tour had been going to dive at! That sounded promising but we were determined not to jinx things by getting our expectations up. But that determination crumbled when we spotted a turtle surfacing for air just as we entered Turtle Cove.
As soon as we anchored, Anita and I hit the water and immediately spotted two turtles about 25 feet below. That’s a difficult depth to reach without weights and I watched a few folks try…but none of them even got close. Fortunately, my camera weighs a ton (well it probably tops out at 15 lbs or so…but it feels like a ton when I’m lugging it around all day). I took a deep breath and let my ‘Nikon Anchor’ pull me down. I dropped like a rock and within seconds I was face to face with this Big Kahuna:
I think he was kinda surprised that one of those silly humans flopping around on the surface had actually gotten to the bottom. He stopped eating, slowly raised off the sand and turned his head to take a good look . I was able to get a few portraits before I had to head back to the surface…dragging that dead-weight camera the whole way.
I dove a number of times but the turtles were already bored of the guy with the big camera. They just kept eating the grass and totally ignored me…which meant no eye contact (and boring photos).
There was a small reef nearby with lots of colorful tropical fish which attracted a lot of the snorkelers but I stayed with the turtles as was rewarded with a few more solid images:
I had hoped to photograph turtles near the surface but other than the one we had seen when we first arrived, they all seemed pretty happy staying on the bottom (I later learned that they can hold their breath for 4-7 hours while they sleep although they breathe more often while awake). I was starting to think that the tour would be over before a turtle would need air…but then this one headed up:
As it surfaced, I was able to squeeze off a number of shots that captured Anita and the turtle in the same frame.
Before I knew it, the crew was blowing the whistle to get us all back on the boat. Like usual, I was the last one out of the water (a fact my wife never fails to note). As we dried off, Anita and I caught ourselves grinning like a couple of kids. It had taken a long time, but we finally had broken the jinx and got our chance to get up close and personal with sea turtles.
The next day, we were in St Kitts diving on the wreck of the M.V. River Taw (we were on a cruise vacation so we scheduled dives at every island the ship docked at). We were running low on air and about to finish the dive when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned and…you guessed it…another turtle! Clearly the jinx was totally busted. This green sea turtle was skimming over the wreck in about 40 feet of water.
It was headed in my direction and I got off a flurry of frames before it saw me and curved away.
Luckily, Anita had spotted the turtle before I had and quickly positioned herself in the background for this shot.
Within seconds the turtle gracefully glided over the wreck and faded into the deep blue.
Although we dove another five times over the next week, this turned out to be the last turtle we would see….but we weren’t going to complain. Years of ‘near misses’ and missed opportunities had been put behind us after two unexpected and thrilling encounters in less than 24 hours.
Photography is like that. You can plan things to the Nth degree but sometimes they just don’t go the way you anticipated…you just have to go with the flow. I guess life is like that too. Funny the things you learn as you grow older…
Busting the Turtle Jinx: Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles
My passion for photography has resulted in a fair bit of traveling over the years, but photographing Polar Bears in the Arctic was undoubtedly my most exotic photo excursion so far (and certainly the most expensive)!
A couple of months ago I had the chance to visit the village of Kaktovik on Barter Island in the Arctic Ocean just off the north coast of Alaska. This tiny town (250 hearty souls) is the only permanent settlement on the North Slope portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Although small, Barter Island’s claim to fame is that dozens of polar bears conjugate here every fall before the ocean freezes. The native people of Kaktovik (the Inupiat) are allowed a substance harvest of 3 Bowhead Whales each fall and the carcasses of those whales attract the Polar Bears year after year.
This wasn’t one of those trips where you do a bit of research on the internet, fly in, rent a car and drive off to photograph the sights. The tourism ‘industry’ here is in its infancy and unless you’ve visited before and have good local contacts, I’d suggest you book a spot with one of the few photo tours that go to Kaktovik. These tours have access to the handful of rental vehicles and small boats that are an absolute necessity for polar bear photography (don’t expect to find a Hertz or Avis in town!)
I went on a tour operated by Hugh Rose. Hugh is a real pro and has conducted Polar Bear Photo tours to Kaktovik for years. He truly knew his stuff and he made sure his group got great shots and stayed safe as well.
It is an adventure just to get to Kaktovik.
There are no roads to the island, so nearly everyone has to fly in. We first had to drive 500 miles on the Dalton Highway (aka: the “Haul Road” of Ice Road Truckers fame) from Fairbanks to Deadhorse before a short 100 mile flight in a puddle jumper to Barter Island (there are direct flights from Fairbanks, but our tour included two days of Aurora and wildlife photography in the Brooks Range along the way). The Kaktovik airport is little more than a short gravel strip with no control tower. Bad weather makes delays and postponed flights pretty common..so you need to be flexible in your scheduling.
After the five-minute drive from the airstrip, we unpacked in our home for the next few days…the Waldo Arms.
Basically, the Waldo looked to me like a half-dozen mobile homes pushed together with doorways cut open between them. The bedrooms are tiny, the bathrooms are communal. There is a dining room and lounge but don’t be expecting the Ritz (or even Motel 6). With that said, I don’t think we noticed the rough edges after a few hours…the Waldo made up for its lack of style and sophistication with friendly staff, great food and a funky, comfortable, Arctic lodge atmosphere.
Once we dropped our bags in our rooms, Hugh called us together to review our options for photographing the bears:
You just put your camera on a bean-bag and shoot through the open windows.
Once we heard these three options, well…naturally, we all wanted to go out on the boats. But the weather was too rough…none of the boats had been able to get out of the little harbor for a while. Instead we loaded into our school bus and made the short trip to the boneyard.
The boneyard was kinda gruesome and it frankly gave at least a couple of folks in our group the ‘creeps’. Just the week before, the village had caught and butchered whales (in fact, they had actually caught all 3 of their allotted bowheads in one week…a rare event).
Parts of the boneyard were nearly ten feet high packed with the bones from years of whale hunts.
There wasn’t a bear to be seen when we first got there. Well, we could see them…with binoculars. Over two dozen beautiful white polar bears were cruising up and down the beach just a few hundred yards away on the little barrier island just off-shore of the boneyard. But just as it started getting close to sunset, things really got interesting!
We parked our bus close to the bone pile and waited. Hugh spotted three bears jump in the water and start swimming toward us. Soon they were joined by others…many others. Most of them ignored us, but the cubs seemed to be curious about people.
One cub got bored with the bones, rose up, sniffed the air and looked over at us.
Then he headed right at us……and he didn’t stop…
He rambled right up to the bus. We enthusiastically honked the horn, yelled and reved the engine to scare him away. Hugh clearly felt a great responsibility to prevent the bears from getting too close…and too accustomed to humans. As he explained, those were the ones that eventually might threaten the locals…and end up getting shot in self-defense.
Within a few minutes nearly a dozen bears were milling around within 250 feet of us.
Inside the bus all you could hear were shutters frantically clicking as the photographers desperately tried to capture the spectacle right before them.
Before we knew it, the light faded beyond the ability of the best camera sensor. We put our equipment down and silently watched until it was pitch black. Only then did we head back to the Waldo.
The weather worsened overnight. Morning dawned with waves whipping across the lagoon. That meant no boats again. We checked the bonepile, but the bears weren’t around, so we had a few hours free. I grabbed a new buddy I had met on the trip, Cesar Aristeiguieta, and we used the time to head out and do our own ‘Photo-Walk’ around Kaktovik. The village itself is a wild blend of people and culture..both old and new. It was truly fascinating. I’ll publish a separate blog about Kaktovik next month and show you some of the shots I took on our walk. Even without the bears, there is plenty to keep a photographer busy here.
After lunch, the weather still wasn’t cooperating, so Hugh took us out in the bus to explore the rest of the island. We drove past the Cold-War DEW-Line radar facility and out into the tundra to check-out the wildlife.
A number of the folks on the tour were birders and they had a field day over the next couple hours as they spotted one unusual bird after another. Cesar and I may have been the only non-birders on the tour and, yes, maybe we did joke around a bit and say ‘hey, look…another small brown bird’, but even we had a good time.
After another home-cooked dinner at the Waldo, we suited up in our muck-boots and parkas, climbed into the bus and headed out to find some bears. It was heavily overcast and the light was far from ideal but there were tons of bears at the boneyard, so we weren’t complaining!
We woke up the next day to find that the wind had finally settled down. There were a lot of photographers on the island from other tours that had also been waiting a couple of days to get out in a boat, but Hugh’s long-term relationship with the locals allowed him to snag one for us. Cesar and I headed out soon right after breakfast and it took no more than five minutes to cross the lagoon.
Although the sun wasn’t exactly shining, the cloud cover did thin out and we were finally able to get some good light. Better yet, the bears were very active …it was what military pilots call a ‘target-rich environment!” I took more photos during the next couple hours than I took on the rest of my entire 10 day tour. The most exciting 40 minutes of the trip unfolded when two cub siblings ran into the surf and had a rambunctious (but good-natured) battle:
After a while (and over a thousand photos), one of the cubs seemed to notice our boat..
Suddenly, he put his head down and started swimming right at us.
He must have been over 100 feet away, but he covered the distance in a flash. Our boat captain was paying close attention and fired up the engine and moved us away. But the bear got close enough that I didn’t need a zoom for this shot!
Soon after, the cubs got bored and headed for shore.
The siblings kissed and made up:
Sleeping bears are cute but soon we started cruising up and down the coast looking for activity. Although there were still a lot of bruins in sight, they were all snoozing. After six hours on the boat, my cash was tapped out, so I decided to call it a day and had the captain drop me off at the harbor.
I met up with the rest of the group and we headed out to the bonepile one last time. By then the light was fading, but one bear was playing on the bonepile like it was a jungle gym:
And just like that, the adventure was over. The next morning, it was time to go.
Seeing these magnificent apex predators in the wild was an incredible, emotional and intense experience. One that I will remember the rest of my days. I made a bunch of new friends, learned a lot about wildlife photography and got a real feel for a world far different from the one I was returning home to.
I hope you get a chance to visit the Bears of Kaktovik…it is quite the adventure!
PS: If you would like to see some of my other blogs about photography in Alaska, check out my story about seeing the Aurora Borealis and my write-up about How-to-photograph the Northern Lights. You might also be interested in my article about the Highlights of my Alaska trip.
I’ve spent the last two weeks in a frenzy of non-stop Photoshop processing of the thousands of the images I took on my Alaskan photo tour. Now that I’ve got the bulk of the photos done, I’m in a bit of a quandary about how to write a blog to accompany the pictures. The problem is simply that it was an incredible 10 day trip packed with an expansive range of photographic subjects…everything from Polar Bears to the Aurora Borealis, so if I tried to write a single blog and cover all these topics…well, the result would be a small book.
So instead, I’m going to break up the adventure into bite-sized topics and cover them separately in-depth. Today I’m going to just give you a taste of things to come by providing a brief recap of my Alaska Photo Tour Highlights.
The adventure started off with an incredible night of the Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks. In fact, it may have been the best northern lights we saw on the entire trip!
Believe it or not, this view was not more than 20 feet behind the little cabin I stayed in.
Day two and three were spent driving up the Dalton Highway (the “Haul Road” made famous in the “Ice Road Truckers” TV show) which was built to supply the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. The Dalton is over 400 miles, most of it is gravel and there are only 3 small towns on the entire route (with a TOTAL population of less than 40, combined)!
The Alaska Pipeline was our companion the next couple days and was usually within sight off to the side of the road.
At Deadhorse (the name of the town at Prudhoe Bay) , we took a puddle jumper to Barter Island. This is a small island off the northern coast of Alaska only 70 miles west of Canada which has become justifiably famous for the Polar Bears that can be viewed there this time of year.
We photographed the bears from buses and from small boats. The weather was pretty iffy, but I got one 40 minute window with good light the last day I was there and made the most of it. My adrenaline was pumping!
After three days of photographing polar bears, arctic wildlife and the fascinating native town of Kaktovik, we headed back to Prudhoe. About an hour south of town, our sharp-eyed guide (Hugh) spotted a herd of Musk Oxen.
It was pretty cool ‘stalking’ these huge critters! You have to walk in single file to avoid appearing like a predator. Even so, it took every bit of 550mm to get this shot.
Heading down the Dalton a few hours later we noticed that the Northern Lights were making an appearance. We stopped for an hour or so along the road and didn’t get to our rooms until 3am, but no one was complaining. Of course, then I had to stay up for another couple hours drinking beers with the guys. It sure seemed like a good idea at the time…
I was the only one up for sunrise…I got precious little sleep but I had plenty of time to make up for it during the 23 hours it took me to fly home (thanks to a couple long layovers).
Okay, I know that this blog was brief, but I’ve been stuck for a few days trying to get started so I’m glad I’ve broken the logjam! I’ll be writing some detailed articles over the next few weeks about the Aurora, Polar Bears, Dalton Highway wildlife and landscapes . I also plan to provide a review of the actual tour I was on (Hugh Rose Alaska Polar Bear and Aurora Photo Tour) for those of you who might be thinking about going yourself!
Puffins. I think everyone likes Puffins. Football shaped, Penguin-esque, with their colorful, mini-toucan beaks…no wonder they are called ‘clowns of the sea.’ Puffins… heck, even the name sounds funny! I first learned about Puffins when I was a kid. I was one of those nerds who collected stamps, and as it happens, there is a small island off the coast of England named Lundy, which prints their own stamps featuring, you got it, Puffins.
More recently, I was planning a photo trip to Acadia National Park when I ran across an article about photo tours to a Puffin breeding island off the northern coast of Maine. Now, I’m not a ‘birder’…I mean, I do like photographing birds, but it’s not like I plan my vacations around them (not that there is anything wrong with that)! However, since I thought Puffins were just plan cute (and maybe because of fond memories of my stamp collection), I decided to find out a bit more about the tour.
I learned that although Puffins are common in the North Atlantic, they stay at sea most of the year. They only come ashore for a few months each year to have their young… and there are only 5 breeding islands in the US. Only one of those islands (Machias Seal Island) allows photographers and tourists to actually come ashore. A total of 30 people per day are allowed to photograph Puffins from plywood blinds on the island, often with the Puffins only a few feet away. That option sounded a lot better than the other tours where you just take a boat out and try to photograph them from the rocking deck! Two tour companies have permits for Machias Seal Island…one (Bold Coast Tours) leaves from a small port (Cutler) in northern Maine and another (Sea Watch) is over the border in Canada. I booked with Bold Coast for three reasons:
Before I knew it, a couple months had passed and the alarm was ringing at 4am in my small hotel room in Bar Harbor. The drive to Cutler was a bit over 2 hours, so I needed to be on the road before 5am to be at the dock by 7am. I checked the off-shore weather report and saw that it was going to be clear and calm. This was great news because there is always a chance that if the seas are rough, you won’t be able to actually land on Machias Seal Island once you get there.
A couple of hours and a few cups of coffee later I arrived at Cutler: a small, quaint working harbor. The 16 folks on the tour were quickly ferried to the Barbara Frost, a 40′ coast-guard inspected cruiser where we met Capt. Andy Patterson. Andy has been doing this tour for a couple decades and his jokes and stories kept us all entertained. He also knew his birds and was able to educate us about Puffins and the other wildlife we would see. Fortunately, the ocean was smooth as glass, which allowed us to cover the 9 miles to Machias in slightly over an hour with the bonus that no one got seasick.
Surprisingly, the island is claimed by both the US and Canada, but so far the dispute has been amicable…although a group of Maine lobster boats did ‘blockade’ the island for a short period a few years back:) Although Puffins were heavily hunted in Maine and nearly eliminated in the early 1900s, they have since made a comeback and we were greeted by literally thousands of them as we approached the island. We got ashore and were given the ‘rules of engagement’ by the resident Canadian wildlife warden about what we could and couldn’t do while on the island. He takes his job of protecting the birds seriously, as one of the tourists learned when she broke a rule and got a sharp reprimand.
We were led to the blinds in groups of four and as we approached, the puffins in the area took to wing. The blinds are simple plywood shacks, barely big enough to hold 4 adults and not a place for anyone with claustrophobia! Once you got in, there was very little room to move around. Our blind had ten small windows with sliding panels that you could open and photograph through. We had barely closed the blind’s door when the Puffins returned. They were everywhere, you could even hear them marching around on the roof!
The four of us started snapping happily away. About ten minutes later I came to the brilliant realization that if I took all my shots from the same window, then they would all look pretty much the same. I mentioned this out loud and everyone laughed, because we were all thinking the same thing. We soon worked out an agreement where all 4 of us would shuffle clockwise to the next window every five minutes or so. This allowed us all to shoot out of different windows and capture different backgrounds.
I think we were all surprised when the warden opened the door and told us that our hour and a half was up. I might not be a birder, but time had definitely flown by…it sure seemed like a quick 90 minutes to me!
Everyone was chattering excitedly as we headed back to the boat. It really was an incredibly neat experience. Once back on the boat, we circled the island photographing other birds and the seals on a nearby island. We got back to Cutler about 1pm…about six hours from when we had left.
Was it worth a half day and $120? Oh yeah. No question. Even if you aren’t a birder, this is a great tour. For example, one of the folks on our tour was a typical teen-ager who had been dragged on the trip by his dad, who was clearly an avid birder. It was every bit as clear that the kid couldn’t care less about wildlife or birds…most of his time on the boat was spent playing with his phone. When he got in the blind, you could see that he was bored out of his skull. But then he glanced out the window as the Puffins landed within a few feet of the blind and he got a ragged smile. Then, he nearly squealed when the Puffins landed on the roof and started stomping over his head. Soon the iPhone was out and he was making a video for friends at home…all the while treating us to a stream-of-consciousness monologue about how cool it was!
1) Which tour should I choose?
First of all, if your heart is set on photographing from the blinds, make sure that you make this clear when you contact the company. Both Bold Coast and Sea Watch also sell cheaper tours (about $55) to the island in which you don’t go ashore…you just cruise around Machias taking photos from the water. Don’t even consider this option, spend the extra $60 bucks and go ashore…you won’t regret it.
2) When should you go?
Tours are offered from mid-May through mid-August. However, the birds are thickest from mid-June thru the end of July. The absolute best timeframe is mid-July when the Puffins can be photographed with their beaks full of fish they have caught for their chicks.
3) What lens should I use?
The Puffins do get close, so even a 200mm lens will get you some good shots. I used my Nikon 200-400mm zoom with a 1.4 tele-converter, which was absolutely ideal. It was able to focus on birds close to the blind and give me frame filling head shots, but with the effective 550mm length (thanks to the teleconverter), I was able to get great shots of the birds on the edge of the shore as well.
Changing lenses in the blinds is difficult. I’d suggest you bring a single zoom instead. A second option would be to bring a second lens on a second body.
Anything 500mm or larger is not going to be practical in the blind…plus the other folks in there would be sorely tempted to kill you.
4) Camera Settings?
Unless you are going to try to capture them in flight, you won’t need a particularly fast camera setting for Puffins. I rarely had to go over 1/1000th of a second.
I was able to shoot with an ISO of 200 but you might have to boost that if you are there on a foggy or rainy day.
The blinds are tight, so this isn’t a shoot where you want to bring every piece of gear you have. Leave your tripod and monopod at home. You could bring a beanbag if you have one, but I found that I could support my big lens on the bottom of the windows and it worked just fine.
Going on this tour, my goals were simple. I really wanted to get a good puffin headshot and some in-flight images. On any ‘normal’ photo tour, those goals would have been challenging enough to keep me busy for a half day. But not here. The puffins are so close and so comfortable around humans that I easily had those goals nailed in the first ten minutes. Don’t get so focused on your initial goals that you miss out on other opportunities. Try for different backgrounds and look for unusual behavior or poses.
You have a good chance of getting wet on this trip. Have rain gear for both your camera and yourself. It is also a lot colder out on the water than on shore, and the wind will make it seem even more so. Dress in warm layers. Wear footgear with a good non-slip sole.
Everything you bring on this tour should fit in a single waterproof backpack. Stepping from the skiff to the floating dock at the island can be challenging, especially if you have some waves. Carrying your gear in a backpack will be a lot safer than trying to lug it onto the dock in a hand-held bag.
The backpack should be compact…remember, you won’t have room in the blinds for a full sized hiking backpack.
9) Photo gear
Fog and rain are common so bring extra lens cleaning cloths.
Bring a polarizer if you are blessed with a bright day. It will help saturate the colors and tame glare off of the water.
Don’t forget an extra battery and memory cards…you will be taking a LOT of photos.
I didn’t need a flash unit on the sunny day I visited. However, if you were to visit on a dark/overcast day you might want to give it a try. Keep in mind that the windows are only about 6″ tall, so you won’t be able to use a camera mounted flash. You could use a remotely controlled flash and hold it out another window but that would be awkward (if you are making the trip with someone, you could ask them to hold your flash while you shoot).
It is a long day, so have a good breakfast and bring some protein bars or similar compact snacks. You might want to leave a full lunch in your car to enjoy when you get back.
If you are prone to seasickness, buy some pills and follow the directions (and hope the other folks on the tour do so as well). Andy has water on board but I brought my own drink bottle as well.
There is a bathroom on the boat as well as porta potties on the island that you will have access to should the need arise.
11) Make your reservations early.
With only a single boatload going ashore per day, the tours fill up fast, especially those for the peak-timeframes. Reserve early. Weather in Maine can be ugly and tours being canceled are not uncommon. If this tour is the primary reason for your visit to Maine, increase your chances of a successful photo op by making reservations on consecutive days.
12) Take a map and print the directions to Cutler Harbor from the Bold Coast website.
Cell service is spotty around Cutler and my GPS was completely confused as I got into town. Don’t count on electronics to get you to the dock.
13) Bring cash or a check
You pay the balance of your deposit when you arrive at Cutler and Capt Andy doesn’t take credit cards. Cash is always nice to have as a tip at the end of the tour as well.
14) Bring your passport
You don’t need a passport to visit Machias Island. However, after your tour you should keep in mind that Canada is only 30 minutes away. Campobello Island and the Roosevelt Campobello International Park are nearby Canadian locations that you might want to photograph.
Lubec Maine (the northernmost city in the US) is also nearby and features a very photogenic lighthouse.
15) A special note for you birders
In addition to puffins, there are nesting colonies of Artic Terns and Razorbills on the island . Other species that we saw included Black Guillemots, Common Murres and Common Eiders.
Unless you were to visit on a stormy day and get seriously seasick, I can’t imagine how anyone wouldn’t have a great time on this tour. I thought it was a wonderful change of pace from photographing landscapes at Arcadia and it got me to another part of the coast I wouldn’t have explored otherwise.
If you are planning a trip to the coast of Maine or Acadia National Park during May-August, this tour is something you should put on your itinerary.
Have a great time!
Photography Icons. You know the places I’m talking about…the ones with their images plastered all over the magazines and websites catering to photographers… heck, you even see them in TV commercials! The photos are awe-inspiring, entrancing and amazing… but it often seems that when I finally get the chance to actually see them in person, I’m disappointed. Sometimes, the reality just can’t live up to the hype.
But sometimes it does. This summer, I went on a wonderful road trip to photograph a dozen or more of these icons in the western US. Looking back on the trip, one place in particular stands out in my mind: Grand Teton National Park. Perhaps the reason is because the photos I had previously seen actually failed to do it justice…it was far more impressive than I had anticipated.
Now, I love to write detailed how-to-photograph articles about new locations, but honestly, I only spent a couple of days at Teton, so I’m simply not qualified. Just the same I was so enamored by this park that I wanted to at least share with you some of my thought and images.
So why did Teton hit my hot button? Well, the Tetons themselves are dramatic mountains…and they dominate the landscape. Sharp, angular and huge. Plus there is the added bonus of the Snake River and a number of lakes which make wonderful foregrounds.
Another popular spot is Schwabacher’s Landing. In fact. even well after sunrise, there were still a half-dozen photographers trying to find an unobstructed spot for their tripod *see photo to the right)…
But when you have a view like the one below, it is easy to understand!
Teton isn’t as well-known as Yellowstone for its wealth of wildlife photography, but I found myself swapping my landscape lenses for zooms on a regular basis. In addition to the Grizzly already mentioned, I stayed busy snapping Elk, Bison and all kinds of waterfowl. Perhaps my favorite wildlife shot, however, was this beaver I surprised early one morning at Schwabacher’s while waiting for the sunrise.
So, mountains, water and wildlife…I thought I was in heaven. And then it just got better…flowers! I found this spot just off a gravel road near Oxbow bend one morning…
Unlike many National Parks, I didn’t see a swarms of tourists (although I did run into a number of fellow photographers). Teton was peaceful: at many sites, I was the only soul around, like when I stopped by the historical Cunningham Cabin.
Although it was nothing but a simple cabin, it certainly had a million dollar view out the back! J.P, Cunningham was a lucky man. I spent over an hour there photographing the landscape and the nearby prairie dogs. But I kept getting drawn back to the cabin. Something about the juxtaposition of the raw-framed log home and the soaring mountains was palatable. The shot above was perhaps my best effort to capture the view. I used a 7 frame HDR to balance the severe dynamic range between the dark cabin interior and the morning clouds outside.
After I got home and started processing my shots, I converted a lot of them into black and white. Something about the Tetons just seems ‘right’ when viewed this way. Perhaps the drama of the landscape and intense weather just made color unnecessary.
There was so much to see that even though I was up before dawn and didn’t stop shooting until well after dark, I never got the chance to photograph some of the famous spots at Teton, like Jenny lake and “Mormon Row.” And the weather wasn’t exactly cooperative: clouds prevented a chance to shoot the Milky Way and the sunrises/sunsets weren’t exactly epic. Despite those challenges, the landscape provided a weath of photo ops. Unlike some places that I visit and ‘check the box’, I will be visiting Grand Teton again..and I’ll be staying longer next time!
Grand Teton photography tips
Those of you that subscribe to my blog know that I’ve been photographing Manatees for years. Every winter, I look forward to the Manatees returning to Crystal River and my chance to interact and photograph these gentle giants. And every year, I learn a few tidbits that help me take better photographs (who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?!). In today’s blog, I’d like to share with you the best of my 2014 manatee photographs as well as my learnings, tips and suggestions.
Before we get started, if you are looking for an in-depth review of how to photograph manatees, check out this article I wrote last year.
In the past, I haven’t recommended a specific tour company…because over the years I had found them all pretty much the same. However, this year I took two trips with Bird’s Underwater and I was incredibly impressed. They’ve been in business for quite a while and somehow manage to combine all the best aspects of the other tours with none of the downsides…and their pricing is competitive as well ($45/per person in March of 2014). I’m not the only one who thinks highly of them, they also have an excellent Trip Advisor rating. Here is a link to their website. And…no, I (unfortunately) don’t get any kickbacks/discounts for this recommendation:)
Although you can get solid quality manatee photos from a waterproof point n shoot camera (which is what I’ve recommended in previous posts), I finally broke down last year and bought a Ikelite underwater housing for my old Nikon D700. Although I got it used on eBay for half of the retail price, it still wasn’t exactly cheap. But, I have to admit that using a DSLR provides a significant advantage.
When combined with a 15mm fisheye and an 8″ dome, you can get truly remarkable shots of Manatees with a technique known as CFWA (Close Focus Wide Angle). Since manatees will come right up to you (heck, they will bump you!), CFWA is perfect for this type of photography (I wouldn’t try it with Great Whites though). Alex Mustard is a underwater photographer I have long admired and he has provided a great recap on techniques involved in CFWA…check out this link for more.
Shooting underwater with a fullsize DSLR takes some practice. Over the years, you get to know your camera’s controls without even looking, but don’t be surprised if using an underwater housing initially seems like learning how to use your camera all over again. The sheer size, bulk and weight of the housing can also be a bit intimidating but it manageable with practice. Oh, and you will certainly get comments from your fellow snorkelers!
I photographed manatees for years before I realized what a difference it made to use this technique. It will allow you to capture the dome of the blue sky in your shot, which makes for a beautiful contrast to the grey manatees and green-blue water.
The photograph bellows illustrates a photographer using this technique:
I think sunbeams are a magical enhancement in a manatee portrait. Although silt in the water doesn’t help the clarity of your photos, it does enhance the sunbeams. Position yourself with the sun nearly in front of you and you should have some luck.
Using a flash attached to your underwater housing (not the one on your camera) is a tremendous advantage, for a few reasons:
The laws and regulations that protect Manatees from over-enthusiastic tourists (and photographers) are reasonable and should be respected. Not only that, they are actively enforced. Know your responsibilities as a photographer and be well informed before you go…this video from the US Fish and Wildlife Dept. is a great recap (eff March 2014). Note that the regulations seem to be upgraded every year…be sure you have the latest info.
A few watchouts/suggestions:
There you have it…my learnings from 2014. Hope they help you get better shots the next time you get to photograph these wonderful animals,
One item on my “bucket list” is to snorkel off the Yucatan coast and photograph Whale Sharks. Alas, my budget this year is already blown due to trips planned to Yosemite this spring and the Arctic in September (if only that darn Powerball number had come thru!) Anyway, I took my beautiful daughter to Atlanta recently for a cheerleading competition. With free time on our hands between events, I convinced her to visit a few downtown venues near our hotel that would allow her old Dad to get his photography “fix.” We had a blast at both Centennial Park and Zoo Atlanta…but it was the Georgia Aquarium that really rocked me back on my heels because…guess what?: They have whale sharks!
It’s funny, I probably visited Atlanta 50 times or more during the 3 decades that I slaved away in my corporate job, but I never even heard of the Georgia Aquarium until a couple weeks ago when I Googled “photo ops in Atlanta.” Boy, I’ll tell you, it is impressive. It’s the second largest aquarium in the world, and the only one outside of Asia that has whale sharks. I’ve been to a number of other aquariums over the years, but this one is in a class of its own. And as a photographer, it is a gold mine! You could easily spend a full day here and I would have done exactly that..if it hadn’t been for my daughter dragging me away so she could also see the twin baby Pandas at Zoo Atlanta.
This is the largest indoor tank in the world ( 6.3 million US gallons (24,000 m3) and contains over 50 species and several thousand fish.
Finally, if you want to try something really different, the aquarium offers you the chance to actually swim in the Whale Shark tank. Cost is about $240 and you are in the water for about 30 minutes (details at this link). Sound pretty wicked to me, but I think I’ll wait until I can do it for real in Mexico.
Have a great week!
PS: Sometimes my wife accuses me of never taking photos of people. Just to prove her wrong, here is a shot of my daughter during her competition:
Georgia Aquarium Photo Tips: How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.
Georgia Aquarium Photo Tips: Whale Sharks, Manta Rays and Belugas…oh My!
Here in Central Florida, when photographers start planning a photo trip to a zoo, our first thoughts are often no different from any tourist: Animal Kingdom, Sea World and Busch Gardens. These are huge, extravagant and impressive parks that can keep a shutterbug happy for a full day. But there are three other ‘traditional’ zoos nearby that, although smaller, offer unique photo opportunities: The Central Florida Zoo (Sanford), Lowry Park Zoo (Tampa) and the Brevard Zoo (Melbourne). I’ve previously posted a blog with tips about the Central Florida Zoo, and Ed Rosack covered Lowry this year (see this link) but I’ve never seen much about the Brevard Zoo so my wife and I drove over this past weekend to see if it might be of interest to photographers.
This compact (50 acres), high quality zoo is a wonderful location for photographers! Most of the exhibits are the modern, open-air, cage-less type that allow you to photograph the animals in a ‘natural’ setting. The zoo has the animals grouped in different exhibits based upon geography (an African area, one for Asia, Americas, etc).
Some of the exhibits, like the giraffes and rhinos are better for photographers than anything the ‘big’ attractions have. And…if you are a birder…you will be in heaven. I’ve never been to any zoo with as many great bird photo opportunities!
If you have kids (or grandkids) the zoo has an area (Paws on Play) designed specifically for them that they will love. If you have teenagers (or folks that act like teenagers) they have a great zip line adventure (a $20-$40 additional fee) that lets you zip right over zoo exhibits (it is a thrill to zip over the gator enclosure!)
First of all…be there when the zoo opens. This is true of any zoo because the animals tend to be more active before the day warms up. Once the sun is up, most of the critters find a shady spot and nap…which makes capturing interesting images challenging.
Second…find out when the animals are fed. I usually phone ahead or ask the first zoo employee I see. Some of these critters seem to sleep 23 hours a day, but they are active when the feeding bell rings! Also, if you identify yourself as a photographer and ask employees their thoughts on how to get some good shots, I’ve found they are happy to share with you insights that can help you capture images you wouldn’t have imagined.
Third…don’t make the mistake of making only one ‘circuit’ thru the zoo. Some of my best shots came at the end of the day when I went back to check on the animals that were sleeping or hidden deep in shadows my first time thru. The zoo is compact enough that you can walk anywhere in less than ten minutes, so make a second effort before you head home.
Fourth…catch a sunrise at the beach. Since the zoo opens at 9:30, you can drive to the beach, photograph a sunrise and still have time to stop for breakfast and get to the zoo at opening. It is less than 12 miles to Satellite Beach.
Well the Brevard zoo’s viewing area for giraffes is built about 15 feet off the ground…so you look at them eye level. This is pretty cool and will allow you to get some unique shots. When you get to the zoo, check to see when they will be feeding the giraffes…they will walk right up to the viewing area and you can get shots from inches away
Unlike Animal Kingdom, you don’t have to try to photograph the Rhinos from a moving vehicle. Actually, you see them from the other side of the giraffe deck. With a long lens, you can easily fill up your viewfinder. One thing I didn’t have a chance to try was the “Rhino Encounter.” Apparently this allows you to get “up close and personal”…which could make for some impressive photos!. These encounters are offered from noon to 1 p.m. at a cost of $15 per person . Each tour lasts about 20 minutes they are in an open area.
There are multiple locations spread throughout the zoo for bird photography. My guess is that the zoo’s designer had a particular love for birds (and he/she might have been a photographer as well!) because the habitats are beautiful and photographer friendly.
There are a couple owls set up in small ‘houses’ in the “Paws On” area as you first enter the zoo to your right. You can photograph them from eye level and less than 10′ away.
Three Eagles were perched about 50′ from the boardwalk in the Wild Florida area. These raptors have been injured and can’t be returned to the wild, but they look majestic nonetheless. You will need a long lens to get a decent shot. If they are in the shade you might have to push your ISO to a higher range than normal to be able to keep your shutter speed over 1/60th of a second to freeze any motion.
The zoo is circular in shape (see map)…about halfway thru you will come to a large food gazebo called the Flamingo Café. As you stand there, you should see a large pond full of Flamingos, Scarlet Ibis and Rosette Spoonbills. I’ve photographed Spoonbills many times in the wild, but I really enjoyed the opportunity to photography these strange looking birds up close.
There is a nice Aviary in Australasia where you can feed Lorikeets for $1. This is also where the hornbills are located (see first photo in this article). The hornbills are actually not in the open Aviary, but right next to it behind a kind of ‘Chicken-wire.’ If you get close to the wire and select your smallest aperture, you should be able to throw the wire out of focus so it doesn’t show in your shot.
There’s quite a bit more to keep you snapping away than I will be able to cover in this article. For example, there is an exhibit with Giant Anteaters (fascinating and impressive creatures). For the non-locals, you will also see plenty of gators. You will also have a chance to photograph Kangaroos, Cheetahs, Jaguars, Tapirs…there is a surprisingly large number of species, here is a complete list .
Location: The zoo is located a half mile east of I-95 (exit 191) in Melbourne (8225 N. Wickham Road, Melbourne, FL 32940). Here is a link to Google Maps that you can use to plan your trip.
Hours: 9:30am to 5 pm
Admission: $15 for adults
More info available on their website
Two thumb up! If you like photographing wildlife at all, then you will leave this zoo with a smile and a memory card full of great images.
I’ve just returned from a two week photo extravaganza in Hawaii and I have a lot of photos, stories and tips that I’m dying to share with you. After the first ten days or so, I was starting to think that my biggest problem would be deciding what I would write about first, but that turned out not to be an issue after my wife and I did a night snorkeling Manta Ray tour! Holy crap…this was one of those kick-you-in-the-head incredible events that leave you positively giddy! I mean it was otherworldly, graceful, enthralling, ethereal, beautiful, exhilarating,…and another hundred adjectives that elude me right now. Read on to learn more about an experience you will be adding to your bucket-list. This article will give you some pointers and tips that will ensure you make the most out of your trip and also help you take incredible photographs to keep along with your memories.
So, what makes this so impressive? Well, start by looking at the photo above. Imaging laying on the surface of the ocean, at night, and you start to notice shadows moving on the periphery of your sight, then this massive, but impossibly graceful apparition swoops up from the ocean floor, slowly opens its huge mouth and heads right toward you. Then, inches away from your nose, it turns away and silently glides back into the darkness while your body rocks from the water displaced by its passage. Now imagine four or more of these creatures doing this same ballet repeatedly over an hour. Oh, and by the way, when I say massive, let me clarify…many of these suckers are easily 12′ or more from wingtip to wingtip and can weigh 2,000 lbs. The captain on our boat referred to one local Manta they call Big Bertha that is more than 20′ across! If you would like to read more about Mantas, check out this link.
Absolutely insane. This was without a doubt, the most incredible thing I did in Hawaii (which is truly saying a lot). Not only that but my wife ALSO agreed that it was the highlight of our trip…which is perhaps an even more impressive fact:)
Okay, I’m assuming you want to give this a try this now, so here are some answers to some questions that often come up:
Mantas eat plankton. If they mistakenly get a fish in their mouth, they spit it out. They certainly don’t dine on Homo Sapiens. Also, unlike, stingrays, mantas don’t have stingers (so don’t concern yourself about a repeat performance of the sad story of the Croc Hunter, Steve Irwin). Put it this way, the nickname for Mantas is the “butterfly of the sea”…gentle, non-aggressive, no worries.
One other thing, there are two locations that most of the tours go to…one is by the Sheraton at Kona and the other is near the airport. Both locations are within 100′ of the shore, so it isn’t like you are heading out a couple miles to sea. If the boat sprang a leak you could swim ashore in two minutes. Also, the Kona coast is pretty calm so unless you are very susceptible to seasickness, you can leave the Dramamine at home.
Some folks have a real phobia about sharks…but attacks are rare. Your chances of getting hit by lightning is much higher and a fatal traffic accident while driving to the marina is even more likely. I did an internet search and couldn’t find a single record of a shark attack during a night manta ray dive. I’d worry about other things instead.
No…we had boy and a girl under 7 years old on the tour. You basically float on the surface while breathing thru a snorkel about ten feet from the boat. Most boats have large floating platforms (see photo to the right) with hand grips you hold onto (so you don’t even have to really swim). This float has lights that shine down into the water…which attracts the plankton and the plankton attracts the mantas (and the mantas attract the tourists)!
By the way, the two kids didn’t have a good time for the first five minutes. The reality of floating in the ocean at night wasn’t as cool as they had anticipated. Once the Mantas showed up they settled down and had a great time. Obviously folks that hate the dark or the ocean might not enjoy this as much as most.
My wife and I paid $90 each. For a bucket-list item, that seems cheap to me! Of course, you still have to get to Hawaii…which is anything but cheap.
The Big Island in Hawaii near Kona is the only spot in the Hawaiian Islands that I’ve heard of. However, if you ever get to Australia, Bora-Bora or the Maldives, I understand that you can do night dives with Mantas there as well.
Not all tours are the same. Some of the folks we saw on another tour were given glow sticks and a cheap underwater flashlight to attract Mantas (their boat didn’t have the lighted floating platforms). Needless to say, those folks didn’t see many mantas and probably didn’t have a memorable experience. When you are deciding which tour to take, be sure they use the lighted platforms. We used a tour operator named “Sunlight on Water“…they did a fine job (no, I don’t get kickbacks from tour operators…wish I did though).
One other thing, I was checking out Trip Advisor and saw that some folks on other tours didn’t see a single manta when they went out. Being wild creatures, no operator can guarantee sightings, but if your tour operator knows what they are doing and have the right equipment, you should have a very high chance of success.
Most of the tours start about an hour before sunset (so the actual start time depends on the time of year). You will be told that your tour will be about 3 hours long, but your time actually in the water will probably be 45 minutes to an hour)
Bring a towel and some dry warm clothes to change into when you finish your dive (yes, it is Hawaii and the water is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but that is less than 98.6 and you will feel a chill by the end of your time in the water.)
Our tour operator supplied a wetsuit, snorkel gear and gave us hot chocolate on the way back to the harbor. Check to see if yours does the same. It really is nice to have something to get the taste of saltwater out of your mouth. Our tour also had a warm fresh water shower right on the deck which was great as well.
Don’t use a Flash!
I know this seems counter-intuiative, it would seem to be common sense to use a flash at night, especially underwater. The problem is that using your flash/strobe will result in backscatter because of all the plankton (backscatter is a term used to describe when an underwater flash illuminates small suspended particles in the water resulting in thousands of little specs of light in your photo…see example to the right).
The tour operators told me all this, but I had lugged my strobe nearly 5,000 miles and I had to give it a try. Sure enough, even though I had my strobes set up on the arms set as wide as possible away from the camera housing, I still got terrible backscatter.
If I ever have a chance to try this again I might try to have an assistant hold another flash unit off-angle about six feet away and trigger it remotely.
The floating platform actually generated a lot of light…enough for me to get great shots without the flash. And since those lights are shining straight down and you will be off to the side, the backscatter won’t fill your frame.
Take the first 15 minutes to Experiment
This will be difficult advice to follow. You will be so excited and overwhelmed by the mantas that you will want to capture every moment. Trust me that the action will get better the longer you are in the water (you often get in the water right at sunset and it takes the mantas some time to be attracted to the lights). Use these first minutes to try different camera settings (ISO/Shutter speed/exposure) to get your camera ‘dialed-in’. It is more important to finish the night with a couple dozen killer shots than to review you work the next day and see that you got 200 frames, but they are all mediocre.
I shot with an ISO of 800 on my Nikon D700, which has very good high ISO resolution. This is one of those settings you will want to experiment with during those first 15 minutes to see how low you can keep your camera’s ISO and still have good exposure on the mantas.
Shoot in RAW
If your camera has the ability to shoot in RAW (as opposed to JPEGs), do it. There can be a substantial dynamic range between the areas illuminated by the spotlights and the shadows and manipulating a raw file in photoshop will give you the best chance of coaxing those details out of the shadows and avoiding the ‘blow-outs” in the highlights.
Use Shutter Priority
The Mantas move slowly and I found that a shutter speed of 1/250 successfully froze their motion. In retrospect, I think you could probably get away with as low as 1/100th.
Use a fast Wide Angle Lens
The Mantas will get close. By close I mean that they bumped my underwater camera housing a couple times! Coupled with the fact that they are huge, a wide angle lens will be ideal. And since there isn’t much light, the faster a lens you have, the better. I used a f2.8 15mm Sigma Fisheye and it did a tremendous job.
Try a Video
The Mantas perform what you would swear is an underwater ballet…it is incredible (and I’m not even a fan of the REAL ballet). Still photos are great, but they fail to capture the grace and fluid movement of the Mantas. If your camera has the ability to record video, you might want to give it a try.
Since your shots are taken at night with limited lighting, you will have to invest a significant amount of time in photoshop to develop high quality prints. A full review of processing underwater night photos is beyond the grasp of this post, but here are some guidelines:
Adjust your white balance. Fortunately, mantas are white on the bottom, so you have something on which to click your white balance tool and get an initial setting. I found that a color temp of 11,ooo or so was close to correct if the manta was close to the dive platform, but I had to increase the setting up to 30,000 if it was near the sea floor and away from the lights.
Then use your Fill Light tool to reveal some of the details lost in the shadows and also adjust your Exposure as needed.
You will likely spend some time with noise control. I had to move the Luminance slider all the way up to 50 or so to get the noise level down to an acceptable level…far more than you would dream of doing with a typical daylight shot. I also found it helpful to cut the manta out and put it on a separate layer, which allowed me to use even more drastic noise control on the background while maintaining detail on the ray.
Capture ALL of the Manta
Don’t come home with shots only of the bottom of the Mantas. I say this because if you are not careful, you will end up with most of your shots showing something similar to the photo above. The reason is because the Mantas have a particular ‘dance’ they will perform for you repeatedly. They swoop in along the sea floor until they are right below the lighted platforms. They then swoop straight up scooping up plankton (you will be shocked how big their mouths are…and you will see ALL the way down into them). Just before they get to the surface (and you), they flip upside down (exposing their bottom side to you) and spin away.
After my first ten minutes I reviewed the shots I had taken and saw that 90% of then showed the bottom of the rays. After that I concentrated on getting shots of them during their ‘approach’ BEFORE they did their flip.
Don’t get so wrapped up in taking photos that you fail to take a moment to appreciate just how magnificent this experience is. About 50 minutes into our swim, I heard some folks shouting and hollering loudly so I popped my head up to see a new group of snorkelers that just joined in the fun. These folks were so excited that they literally couldn’t restrain themselves. Now, I’d be the first to admit that I was raised with the old-fashioned ‘real men don’t show emotion’ mindset…but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that I put my camera aside for a couple moments and let go of a couple little ‘woops’ myself!
I really hope you get swim with the Mantas someday. If so, I know you will find the experience to be as mind-blowing as I did!
Hummingbirds are one of those incredible marvels of nature that seem to make everyone smile in wonder. These amazing and beautiful flying jewels zip and dart around like god’s own miniature UFOs leaving a trail of excited and happy people behind them. Being a shutterbug, I had occasionally tried to photograph them over the years… but with less than impressive results. Earlier this spring a hummer flew up to me while I was in the backyard, hovered 3 feet in front of my nose and took a good long look at me before she scooted off. Right then I decided that my next goal in photography was to learn how to take a decent photo of these little marvels. Take a look at the shot below and tell me if you think I was successful! If you would like to take photos like this, then I think you will find this 6 Step Guide with Hummingbird Photo Tips to be very helpful.
First of all, you have to be where the Hummingbirds are. If you are in Europe, Asia, Africa, or Australia, then sorry, but you are out of luck. Hummingbirds are only found in the Americas. Their range extends from Alaska to the tip of Chile during the summer but they do migrate to warmer locations during winter.
The bottom-line is that if you live nearly anywhere in the western hemisphere, hummers are probably nearby. Even if you live in an urban area and have never seen a hummingbird near your home, I’ll bet you can attract them with a tad of effort.
You can grab your camera, put on your hat and hike around gardens looking for hummingbirds…but I’ve found that it is a lot more productive to set out a feeder and simply let them come to you.
There are dozens of feeders available and the article attached to this link provides an excellent recap of features you should look for in a feeder as well as what type of nectar you will want to have. You can also plant hummingbird attracting flowers in your yard…but if you really just want to take photos, a feeder will likely bring in all the hummers you need. My favorite feeder is inexpensive, easy to clean and its low silhouette doesn’t block the hummers when I am photographing.
An important note: Keep the feeder clean and replace the nectar every few days! You also need to wash the feeder at least a couple times per week (more often if it is in direct sun). The nectar can breed bacteria quickly and if it does, the hummers will know and they will avoid your feeder like the plague. Seriously…you can waste a lot of time watching a feeder that hummers have no interest in because they know the nectar is spoiled. Also, once you mix up a batch of sugar water, use it within a couple of weeks…even if refrigerated, it can go bad that quickly (I learned this one the hard way).
There is no way around it…to take world class hummingbird photos, you have to have the right tools. Fortunately, some of the stuff is cheap and there’s a good chance that you already have some of the more expensive items.
This is the one area where most folks will have to shell out some money because the most important equipment for killer hummingbird shots are your flashes (yes, plural). Two flashes are really the absolute minimum for good shots and three flashes will allow you to take best-in-class photos. Some folks use as many as eight flashes, but there are diminishing returns once you get past three.
So, why so many flashes?
If your flashes are all pointed directly at the hummer, you will notice that your photos look like they were taken at night (see photo to the right). It actually looks pretty neat but if you want photos that look like they were taken during the day, you will need at least one more flash specifically to illuminate the background.
How should I set up my flashes?
This aspect of hummingbird photography can get very technical and frankly, there are multiple systems and techniques you can use to successfully illuminate your photo. I’ve tried most of them and I’m going to tell you the system I use. It is relatively inexpensive, it is simple and it works.
Flash stands will allow you to precisely position your speedlites/strobes. I got a couple of these inexpensive stands from Amazon for less than $30 each that get the job done just fine. Just make sure that your stand will allow you to get the flash at least 6 feet off the ground and have wide, stable bases.
For me personally, a wireless shutter release is the second most important piece of equipment for taking quality hummingbird shots. The use of a wireless remote allows you to set your camera up very close to the feeder and trigger the shutter from far enough away that small movements on your part won’t scare the hummers
Initially I used a remote shutter unit that connected to my camera with a cable, but my cable was only 3 feet long, so I still needed to stay pretty close to the camera. That meant I had to sit perfectly still or shoot hummers from a blind. You might be able to find a remote with a long cord but trust me, a wireless shutter release for photographing hummers is a godsend. Most of them are cheap (Amazon has a couple units for less than 20 bucks that fit many cameras).
I’ve taken most of my hummingbird photos while comfortably seated in my air-conditioned office about 15 feet from the feeder. Usually I just glance thru my window every couple minutes to see if a hummer is visiting (who says you can’t do two things at once?). This sure beats hiding in a cramped blind in the Florida heat fighting off mosquitoes!
One of my biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments was realising that you don’t need a telephoto lens to take great hummingbird shots. If you have a $10K 600mm 2.8 lens, then by all means, use it. However hummers quickly grow tolerant of tripods and cameras placed close to the feeder.
Ideally, you want a lens that is fast, sharp and can focus close to the camera. My best shots have been taken with a 105mm Nikon Micro lens…which is fast (f2.8), insanely sharp and can focus at subjects within a couple feet. However, I’ve also used much cheaper ‘prosumer’ lenses and gotten fine results. The bottom line is that the ability to shoot very close to hummingbirds means that you can get pro quality results without pro quality glass.
A huge challenge is depth of field (DOF). Hummers are only about 3 inches long, so we aren’t talking about a huge amount of space…but you might be surprised how shallow your depth of field is, even when using your smallest aperture. For example, the DOF for my 105mm is only about 3 inches deep when set up 30″ away with the aperture set at f25! Since most hummers are only a few inches long, keeping the whole bird in focus takes some practice.
Important Tip: You can waste a LOT of time taking photos that have only part of the hummer focused unless you take the time to figure out your DOF ahead of time. If you don’t have a DOF calculator, there are a couple great ones available for your smartphone. The app I use cost $2 and is easy to operate and understand.
Some folks photograph hummers hand-held. God bless them…those folks must have incredible patience and insane stalking skills. But for me, hand-held hummingbird photography is simply frustrating and unproductive.
Mounting your camera on a tripod will dramatically increase your percentage of great photos:
1) You will able to pre-calculate your DOF and prefocus your lens on the EXACT spot where the bird will be. Which means that many/most of your shots will be perfectly focused and the entire hummer will be sharp.
3) Hummers, are usually not very tolerant of movement close to their feeder. Even the slight movement of lifting your camera a couple inches while you are seated ten feet away will often scare them off. However, if your camera is on a tripod and you are using a remote shutter release, they won’t see any motion.
As long as your camera has a ‘hot shoe” or has a pop-up flash that can serve as a commander, then you should be good to go. Nearly any high quality DSLR should work.
You will want to set up a backdrop behind your feeder to avoid the ‘night-time’ look I mentioned before. I use a piece of posterboard that I painted a nice sky blue. You can also try spray-painting hazy patterns that imitate an attractive bokeh in the background of your shot.
Your backdrop won’t have to be very large. For my current set-up, a 24″ x 12″ backdrop completely fills up the background in my photos. Yours will likely need a somewhat different size depending on your camera/lens combo.
Shots of hummers flying with nothing else in the frame start looking kind of stark, so I like to include some flowers in the same plane of focus as the hummer. Use local plants, especially ones the hummers feed on if possible. If you don’t have some in your yard you can cut, just pick up some at your local nursery or home improvement store.
Basically, you are going to set up an outdoor photo studio in which you control all aspects of the photograph.
Hummingbirds really don’t care where you put the feeder, they will find it and flock to it. So, find a location that is perfect for YOU.
Positioning of your flashes is one of most critical decisions you will make. Trial and error is the key, but my preference is to set up two flashes about 45 degrees from one another with one flash shooting up at the hummer and the other shooting down. I also set these two flashes so that neither one of them is pointing directly at the posterboard background …this will prevent them from throwing shadows from the bird or flower props onto the posterboard (See diagram 1).
The flashes need to be CLOSE to the feeder. I often set them up within two feet of the feeder. This is necessary because as you increase your shutter speed, the amount of illumination in your shots will be progressively reduced.
I typically use a diffuser on the flash shooting from below the bird…this helps soften the flash on the lighter colored underbelly without ‘blowing-out’ the whites. However, I usually don’t use a diffuser on the flash that is shooting down..this helps make the iridescent feathers on top of the hummer ‘sparkle.’ Keep in mind that the only hummers I usually see are Ruby-Throated Hummers..which have white bellies, if you are west of the Mississippi (or lucky enough to live in Central America where there are over 50 species of hummers), you will be photographing other species so your use of diffusers will likely need to be different!
The third flash will be positioned close to the posterboard shooting from the side. By placing the flash off to the side, the backboard will be more illuminated on one side than the other…I find this to be an attractive look since it simulates the effect of the ‘sun’ brightening part of the ‘sky.’ However, if this isn’t appealing to you, adding another flash on the other side of your backdrop will even out illumination (but now you are up to 4 flashes!)
You want to position the posterboard far enough behind the feeder so that it is completely out-of-focus, but not so far that it is too dark in your photograph. I typically set it about 30″ behind the feeder but your distance will depend on your lens and the aperture you select.
I am always anxious to start shooting in the morning…especially if hummers are already stopping by while I am setting up. But I’ve learned that it pays to take your time in the morning and take trial shots after you set up to make sure that everything is perfect. I review the first trial shot for focus, evenness of flash coverage, how my flower ‘props’ look in the frame and then make adjustments and shoot again. I continue until I can get an absolutely perfect photo. Then I go and get my coffee, sit in my chair, put my thumb on the remote shuttle release and wait for the party to start!
Once I import my shots into Photoshop, I first open it in the camera RAW format and use the following workflow:
Once I’ve completed the Raw adjustments, I save the file and reopen in regular photoshop, then:
Although this article is a lot longer than your average blog, it certainly isn’t an exhaustive review of the subject…that would take a full book! Actually, my goal was pretty modest: I simply hoped to inspire you to give hummingbird photography a try and explain the basic techniques that would give you a good, solid start. With a bit of practice and patience you will soon be showing your friends photos that will amaze them.
As your hummingbird photography skills improve and you learn techniques and tips that are not covered in this article, please share your learnings with me by noting them in the comments section at the end of this article (I reserve the right to get better!)
Thanks…now get out there and photograph some hummers!
Unfortunately, I have to reduce the resolution of my photos by 80% when I insert them in this blog. If you would like to see them in their full glory and resolution, check out my Flickr Hummingbird album.
Checkout these photos by Dan Ripplinger. I think this guy might be the best hummingbird photographer on the planet. You will be impressed!
Hummingbird Photo tips
Gators are to Floridians like chickens are to poultry farmers…we pretty much take them for granted because they are just everywhere. Honestly, there seems to be a gator in every body of water larger than a puddle and the natives here get pretty blasé about them.
Even so, sometimes they manage to get our attention: Check this out!
My son Ryan (on right) and his cousin Jonathan, had walked down to the end of our street to play some basketball. Ryan had just entered the court when it noticed it was already occupied! He quickly decided that the gator had dibs on the court and made the understandable decision to high-tail it out of there.
This gator had entered the caged court the night before thru a door that had been left open. The door shut automatically trapping it inside. Apparently it had been trying to get out for a while…it was exhausted and its snout was bloody from slamming against the cage.
Ryan called me and I hustled down (with my camera of course). We propped the door to the court open and then spent about 40 minutes trying to encourage the gator to leave the court. He (she?) crawled all over the court but wouldn’t go out the open door. We couldn’t just go home and leave the gator there…a caged seven foot gator can be pretty ornery and if some kids walked into the court unaware it could be a close encounter of the unpleasant kind.
Once it became clear that we weren’t going to be able to convince it to leave, I called the Sheriff’s Department hoping a Deputy might have an idea or two. A couple officers came by twenty minutes later but they had no more luck than we had.
After another half hour it became clear that we had no choice but to call a Gator Trapper. It was a last resort and something none of us truly really wanted to do because it was a death sentence for the gator (Gator Trappers are contractors licensed by the state of Florida who are ‘paid’ by selling the hide and meat of the gators they catch…in other words, they don’t ‘catch and release.’)
The trapper and a helper arrived 40 minutes later…we spent that time becoming increasing frustrated by our inability to get the darn gator to save itself and head out the door and back to the lake. I was sure the trapper would be ticked off if he showed up and the gator was gone, but just the same we did everything we could short of actually enter the court and push it out the door!
I’ll tell you, the trapper sure knew his business. In five minutes he had grabbed the gator, taped its mouth shut, trussed it up and carried it off the court.
I’ve often been ticked off at folks who call to report gators that aren’t doing anything more than basking next to one of our ponds or streams…so for me to have to call a trapper was ironic and disheartening. Still the right decision but not one that I enjoyed making.
Only in Florida….
If you are a photographer who happens to have a cruise or trip to Cancun / Cozumel in your future, then read on for my guide and photo tips for a great photo op I recently found there: Xcaret.
Xcaret is a ‘target rich environment’ for any photographer…if you enjoy wildlife, architecture, native culture or even underwater photography, then Xcaret will keep you busy! Even better, if you happen to be traveling with kids and/or a spouse/friend who isn’t a photo nut, they will find plenty to do here. Check out the link to the Xcaret website for a full listing of all their activities and I think you be able to convince your traveling companions that this park will interest them as well (while you go off on your own for a full day of wide-ranging photography).
I’ve been to Cozumel/Cancun a number of times and there is nothing else I’ve seen there that has the intense, varied and consolidated photographic potential as Xcaret. Of course, if you have more than a day, then you might be able to find similar subjects, but it would probably take you the full week to do so. Plus, the rest of the family can have a fun day while you get to indulge your hobby!
One of the things I love about living next to a State Park is that wildlife is right outside my door. Yesterday for example, the family had a Easter celebration at a outdoor pavilion in my neighborhood. I had been drafted to be the photographer for the event…you know how that goes:) While the whole clan arrived and as my wife rushed off to kiss the latest bumper crop of babies, I noticed a Blue Heron patiently fishing in the stream next to us.
I kept my eye on the Heron while I filled my memory card with shots of the family…and then WHAM! The Heron jammed its bill into the water like a spear and skewered a small brim (we called them blue-gills up north).
Even with a 300mm zoom at 200% crop, I was delighted with the detail my Nikon 800E was able to deliver. Check out this shot below:
You know, I had concerns that my 800E might not work out well as a wildlife camera (due to the fact that the huge files fill up the buffer much quicker than my old D700)…but, the detail this camera delivers is really astounding. I mean, sometimes I bring the shots up on Photoshop and I just start laughing in amazement. Just incredible.
Anyway, I went back to the Easter egg hunt while the Heron enjoyed his Easter lunch. Small moments like these truly are the spice of life!
Have a great Easter!
I’ve lived in Florida 40 years now and visitors often ask me what they should do when they visit. At the top of my list is swimming with the Manatees at Crystal River. I’ve done it a number of times and I’d like to share with you my learnings and photo tips to help you make the most of this incredible experience.
Manatees are large, gentle creatures that seem to touch an emotional chord in most people that encounter them. They live in the coastal areas of the southern US and through-out the Caribbean. Being mammals, they are sensitive to the cold. As a result, every Florida winter they return from the ocean and head for the rivers that have underwater springs which pump out relatively warm 72 degree water.
Although there are a lot of springs that attract manatees, there are only two locations where you can swim with them: Crystal River and Homosassa Springs. Of the two, Crystal River is the best for photography, and an entire industry has been built around this fact. Crystal River is on the west coast of Florida about 70 miles north of Tampa (100 miles west of Orlando). There are a bunch of small tour companies there that will take you on a pontoon boat directly to the manatees so you can snorkel with them for a couple hours. The cost is about $50-75 per person and includes snorkeling gear and a wetsuit (you will need it…72 might be warm to a manatee but I guarantee you will find it chilly!) If you haven’t done much snorkeling, don’t let that stop you… most of the places the tours hit are shallow enough that you can simply walk on the bottom rather than swim.
If you want to photograph more after your tour, then take the time to hit some of the numerous parks located right on the water in Crystal River (none of them are more than ten minutes away). I’ve gotten some incredible bird shots here…two weeks ago I watched (thru my viewfinder) an osprey desperately trying to steal a fish from another osprey that had just snatched it from the river. Just another boring day in Florida!
PS: After completing this blog, I was referred to an excellent photo guide by John Ares. Check out the attached link: http://www.divephotoguide.com/underwater-photography-travel/article/underwater-photographers-guide-manatees-crystal-river/
Good luck and good shooting!
Animal Kingdom is, by far, my favorite theme park in Florida. If you are one of the thousands of folks that will visit Central Florida this year and if you are a photographer, then this is one of the places you DON”T want to miss. The stars of this park are in a beautifully natural 500 acre preserve that make this place a joy for the photographer. Fortunately (for me) I’m a local, so I’ve been able to visit it a number of times. Even better (for you) is that this article was written to share the photo tips that I’ve learned the hard way over the years.
Cost? Well, no one ever said Disney was cheap…tickets are $89 and you will end up paying for some incidentals as well. However, I’ve paid a lot more and gotten a lot fewer good shots in other places. Not only that, but at the end of the day I was actually smiling…for lack of a better word, there is a unique ‘vibe’ at Animal Kingdom that I don’t get at the other area parks.
Here are some hints to help you once you are in the Park:
The Safari consists of an open air vehicle which drives around a series of wildlife areas. You sit on a bench seat as the driver provides a running monologue about the numerous animals you see (hippos, Lions, leopards, giraffes, etc). The vehicle rarely stops and will not deviate from the “set” track, so you have to take your shots quickly and don’t expect the driver to stop so you can get the perfect shot. Just keep shooting! I’ve never timed it, but it is about a ten minute trip.
Hope you find these photo tips helpful, feel free to let me know your thoughts and share your learnings about this great photo location!
This little fellow visited our home today looking for a Thanksgiving handout.
He certainly wasn’t as shy as he might look. In fact, he patiently waited for me to run in the house and grab my Nikon.
I have much to be thankful for on this holiday. My wife, family, health and a multitude of other blessings. Some are large, others like the visit from this cute guy, might not be as important, but moments even as small as these should be treasured.
Have a great holiday!
I am a planner. I won’t deny it. Always been that way, always will. Even so, it’s funny to me when a perfectly planned photo trip gets high-jacked by something I never anticipated. It happened to me again this week.
I was out at Lake Jessup to see if the sunflowers were still peaking. Although some areas were a bit past their best I was able to find whole fields that still look as good as ever. The fields were serene and peaceful…didn’t see another person the whole day.
What I did see though, were eagles.
I saw at least two pair of eagles and they visited me a number of times throughout the morning. This was be best frame of the morning and I’m tickled-pink with it! It’s not perfect, but it is as nice a shot of an eagle that I’ve ever gotten in Florida (Alaska is another story…eagles there were as common as pigeons). I was working with my new D800E (more about my baby on a later post). I had it set on the DX mode, which effectively made my 300mm lens a 450mm, which was more ‘reach’ than I’ve ever had before and it really made a difference.
What really makes me happy is though the wildflowers will be gone soon, I’m betting the eagles will be around awhile. So I can go back again and again and practice improving my technique (and hopefully getting even better eagle portraits)!
I know that eagles have incredible eyesight, so I thought I should try some camouflage. What do you think?
Oh, yeah..almost forgot about the reason I drove out there in the first place…the wildflowers! I’ll be making some big panoramas by stitching shots together (see my last post about Jessup) but the last image I’d like to share with you was the sunrise. It was one of those mornings that make you appreciate the beauty of this rock we call earth.
I’ve also published a how-to guide of everything you need to know about photographing this location, just click on the following link http://www.firefallphotography.com/sunflower-island-lake-jessup-wildflowers/
Good Luck and Good Shooting!
One of the main reasons we bought our house is because it backs up to Wekiva Springs State Park ( I would have killed to have grown up here as a kid!) As a result, our backyard is basically nothing but woods. And those woods are full of critters! Turkeys, deer, gators, otters, possums, foxes, bears..heck, once we even saw a monkey (I kid you not).
So, anyway….yesterday, I had opened the garage so I could do some repairs around the back of the house. Ten minutes later when I was ambling back up the pathway to the garage, guess who I ran into?
This big fella had gone into my garage, knocked over the trash can and dragged the bag into the backyard for a nice little picnic! So being the photography nut that I am, my first reaction was to grab my camera and rip off some shots. But within a minute or two my ‘good citizenship’ instinct kicked-in and I scared him away to discourage him from getting used to people and associating them with food.
It’s funny, during the minute or two I was photographing him, I was a calm as I could be…just figuring out what the best settings should be, what angle would work well, etc. But after I chased him off my pulse rate shot up a bit..I mean, I know that Black Bears aren’t very aggressive, but how often do you walk up on something that could do you some serious damage if it had a mind to?
Anyway, it was pretty neat and something I won’t forget anytime soon!
This morning my beautiful wife Anita called on her cell right after she left the house to tell me that a 6-point buck was standing at the end of our street. I grabbed the Nikon and managed to get this shot as he shot by me heading for the woods:
No sudden movements
No direct eye contact
Never moving directly at him, only diagonally.
In a few minutes, he headed out to a clearing and posed for me in front of a little pond. He decided to take his leave of me then, so I headed back to the house for some breakfast. On the way, I came upon a small field and surprised this doe.
As I turned to leave, her fawn darted across the field to join her.
All in all, not a bad way to start a day. Sometimes that saying on the t-shirts is true: ‘Life is Good.!’
All rights reserved. Photos and text copyright Jeff Stamer and Firefall Photography 2008-2017