Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back to Birding...

I have been itching to get out with the camera lately, and today I finally pushed myself a bit and went out to photograph birds.   I did not have my usual stamina, and found that I had to stop and take a rest every hour or so.  But it was nice to get outdoors and once again occupy myself with something I really enjoy doing.

I was able to get a few decent photos, including one of a roseate spoonbill chick.  Prior to today I did not have any images of chicks of this particular species, and it was difficult to get this one due to twigs and branches obstructing my view to the bird as it hobbled around in the nest.  But waiting and watching for quite some time finally paid off and resulted in the image below.  You can contrast this image with of the adult spoonbill below it.

Roseate Spoonbill - chick

Roseate Spoonbill - adult

The next image is a cattle egret in full breeding plumage.  It's quite amazing how a fairly boring white bird transforms itself into the colorful version you see below in breeding season.

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage

Next is a young tricolor heron.  As the bird gets older, the browns will turn to blues as seen in the top image in this article.

Tricolor Heron - juvenile

Finally a great white egret both perched and in flight.

Great White Egret

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Elizabeth in Soft Light at Dusk

Last weekend I traveled to Cocoa Beach to visit relatives and witness the final launch of space shuttle Endeavour.  The shuttle photography was challenging as we were looking in the direction of the light and it was only the low cloud cover that prevented lens flare and made it possible to get decent phots. 

But the evening before I enjoyed some of the best light I've ever experienced with my camera in my hand.  After enjoying a fantastic home cooked dinner with Liz and David, we went out cruising on a boat before sunset and were washed in some fantastic soft light.  I took advantage of that for nearly two hours, shooting away with Elizabeth and trying to create some nice images.  Balancing fill flash with ambient light in this situation was so amagingly easy that it was fun.   It's not difficult to see that I could really enjoy  doing a lot more of this kind of photography.  It was so much fun creating the images you see here with almost no effort.  And obvioulsy it helped to have such an attractive subject in front of the lens.   Thanks for your willingness to pose for the photos, Liz.   I hope you like the results....

[click on any image for a larger view]

I decided to post this to share a look at some of my favorite images from that evening with anyone who may be interested.  Thanks to David, Elizabeth, and Patty for a fantastic weekend, for wonderful company and a lot of just plain fun.  It was the perfect weekend and a sort of escape for me, having just been through my 2nd round of chemotherapy.  And thanks again to Liz for posing for these images.  

More images can be seen at the link below:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour - STS 134 Final Mission

Program notes: Click on any photo to see a larger version.  Prints are available from a link to my web page posted at the bottom of this entry.

The story continues.  I managed to get back down to the Cape for one last chance to see Space Shuttle Endeavour launch on it's final journey, and everything went fine with the shuttle lifting off on time at 8:56am Monday.  I have just chocked one more item off my 'bucket list'.

On this visit, I was at the "turn basin" viewing site, which is a few hundred yards in front of the VAB Building, approximately 3 miles from the launch pad. This is the closest I've ever been to witness a shuttle launch.  On previous outings, my best attempts had come from the NASA Causeway, which is about 6.5 to 7 miles south of the launch pad.  One advantage viewing it from the turn basin is the smoke plume from the solid rocket boosters does not obstruct your view as it does from the Causeway.

Due to the low cloud cover, the shuttle was gone in just about 22 seconds from the time it lifted off.   Usually I am able to follow it through my lens and photograph the solid rocket booster separation, which does not happen until well beyond 2 minutes into the flight.  On this occasion, we could not see the shuttle at all after it ascended above the first cloud layer.
So this time it was over quickly.  We arrived at around 5:30am and staked out a spot to shoot from within the relatively small area that was roped off for spectators, then we waited about 3.5 hours to view the launch.  This launch was spectacular.  It's much more exciting from this distance, and the ground felt almost like an earthquake as the loud rumble from the shuttle shook everything in sight.  Light was not the best for photography, with the sun about 20 degrees to our right and up roughly 30 degrees off the horizon at launch time.  But the low cloud cover actually helped a bit to cut down on the lens flare I had been seeing through the lens prior to when the clouds rolled in.  At least we were not shooting into direct sunlight, which would have made it next to impossible to get any decent photos. 

I owe a special note of thanks to Cindy's cousin, David Turko who obtained the NASA pass and then invited us to join him and his sister Patty for the launch.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend which also included a boat cruise at sunset Sunday, when we took advantage of some fantastic soft light to do a photo shoot with David's better half, Liz.  You may see some of those images in my nest post.

While waiting for the launch we visited with folks we met, and we monitored the light.  As the conditions constantly changed we discussed camera settings in hopes that everyone would be able to get properly exposed photos.  Exposures can be tricky, especially if one is used to shooting in aperture priority or shutter priority mode.  I avoid those settings and shoot manual exposures so that the bright flame of the solid booster does not affect the metering of the camera, and therefore change the exposure.  I have seen many people ruin photos by not taking this into account.  For anyone who may have been unfortunate it that regard, I have made prints available from a link at the bottom of this post. 

During our wait we especially enjoyed meeting Alyson and 3 of her friends, who we learned all who work for the American Cancer Society.  After I lifted my hat revealing my bald head, and told them I was fighting non-hodgkins lymphoma, we ended up having a lot to talk about, and they were all very helpful and supportive.

I am disappointed that the shuttle program is coming to a close, and there is no other program ready yet to go behind it.  This is also going to be devastating to the central Florida economy as all the NASA employees begin to loose their jobs over the next month or two.  

I cannot help but believe there is enough fat and waste in our federal budget that could be cut in order to provide funding for projects such as NASA.  Our space program over the years has resulted in many discoveries and innovations that have led to scores of products we use in our every day lives, such as teflon used to make cookware, and many, many others.  It is a shame that a program that has been so vital to us is now dying due to lack of funding and what I believe are misguided priorities. 

A larger variety of photos of this launch can also be seen on my main web page here:  along with the availability to purchase prints.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Snowy Egret

One of my favorite birds to photograph, although one of the most difficult to photograph in flight, is the snowy egret.   The snowy egret seems to fly in a much more erratic manner than other types of egrets, and I find that I have more throwaway photos of this species than any other when attempting flight shots.   Because they almost always change direction abruptly in flight, often just prior to landing, it's often difficult to get sharp photos of them in flight.  The images posted here are a few that I am happy with.

These images were captured at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge while on a cross Florida photo trip with my friend Ken Conger.

While following observing several snowy egrets landing in a pond and fishing I was fortunate to capture a few images below showing the bird with it's catch.

I am using some past material in this post because I have been under the weather the last month or so and unable to get out and obtain any new images.  After over a month of sickness and a 15 day hosptial stay, I am back on the  mend and undergoing chemotherapy treatments after being diagnosed with a type of non-hodgkins lymphoma on April 21.  I had mixed feelings about posting this publicly, but I figured most of my friends know the situation, and I wanted the folks whose blogs I used to comment on to understand part of the reason I seem to have vanished from the scene lately.  The good news is this type of cancer is treatable and the prognosis is good for a full recovery.
I am finding that the side effects of the chemotherapy are the worst the first few days after treatment, and then I bounce back to my normal self and actually feel pretty good after that.  I am learning how to deal with it one day at a time and I am planning to have as normal a life as possible along this new journey.   I actually traveled to Cape Kennedy 12 hours after being discharged from the hospital in hopes of photographing the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour , sts-134. I was taking medicine to deal with the side effects of the chemotherapy I had just had slightly over a day before.  I owe a special thanks to my friend Terry Seaney, for graciously offering to drive me from St. Augustine down to Cape Kennedy, and then back home after the launch was srubbed.  I still plan to photograph the launch as long as the revised launch schedule does not conflict with my treatment. 
My oncologist advised me against making the trip, but my regular doctor gave me his blessing based on certain precautions I was able to take.  
If you see images of the space shuttle launch in my next post, you will know I was able to pull it off.