Friday, June 29, 2012

Whitewater ! Ohiopyle Falls, PA

We recently returned from a two week vacation that included a several days in a golf resort near Morgantown, West Virgina.  While we were there, my wife took our nephew white water rafting one day, but I opted to sit out and just try to get a few photos of them as they put in and started off in their rafts.   This was across the border in Pennsylvania, on the Youghiogheny River.  There is a park along the river adjacent to where the rafters set in, and just upstream is the 20 foot high Ohiopyle Falls.

Ohiopyle Falls

While I was on a viewing platform at the falls, a woman I spoke to there told me that three of her friends would be going over the falls in kayaks in the next few minutes.  I turned my attention to the falls, and watched and photographed all three of them individually as they paddled through the rapids and then went over the falls.  It was an interesting spectacle to watch.   I shot sequences of about 25 images of each kayaker, and you can see a few of them below as each paddler went over the falls.

#5661 - 1/3200 @f7.1, iso 800

#5662 - 1/3200 @f7.1, iso 800

#5663 - 1/3200 @f7.1, iso 800

#5664 - 1/3200 @f7.1, iso 800

#5771 - 1/3200 @f7.1, iso 800

#5702 - 1/3200 @f7/1, iso 800
#5703 - 1/3200 @f7.1, iso 800

#5624 - 1/3200 @f7.1, iso 800

#5625 - 1/3200 @f7.1, iso 800
#5628 - 1/3200 @f7.1, iso 800

Friday, May 25, 2012

Photographing Roseate Spoonbills in Flight

The roseate spoonbill is one of my favorite birds to photograph.  It's fun to watch them fly and their pink color against a bright blue sky makes in interesting photograph.  I had the occasion to see a few of them the last couple weeks and managed to get a few decent flight shots. 

#M4_03086 1/2500 @f5.6, iso 640, 400mm, distance = 74.7 ft
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 100-400L IS lens

Typically I try to keep my shutter at 1/2000 second of higher for flight shots in order to eliminate any motion blur.  If I manage to keep tracking the moving bird effectively, this gives me a chance to get a decent photo. 

#M4_03087 1/2500 @f5.6, iso 640, 285mm, distance = 59.3 ft
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 100-400L IS lens

The photo above was the next image in the same series as the bird flew overhead.  The wing position in this one is what I like.  The image always seems more appealing to me with the wings in the full spread position.  The curled primary feathers at the tip of the wings are an added plus.

#M4_03058 1/2500 @f5.6, iso 640, 310mm, distance = 59.3 ft.
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 100-400L IS lens

One thing that makes it challenging to get an attractive photo of a bird in flight, is the fact that usually the underside of the wings is shadowed and therefore dark.  The exception is late in the early morning or late evening when the sun is low, as sometimes the sun lights up the underside of the wing. That is the case only if the sun is behind you and the bird is flying toward the light.  But even then, the chances of the underside of the wings being properly lit are not very high.  For this reason, I almost always shoot with a flash and a 'better beamer' flash extender, which increases the range of the flash by about 2.5 times.  In the image directly above, even though I used flash, the sunlight hitting the bird from above was still much brighter than the flash.

You can see how just a little different angle of light makes for a better photo in the example below.  With the bird about 25 feet closer and banking slightly more, I am able to get more light under the wings from my flash.

#M4_03178 1/2500 @f6.3, iso 400, 210mm, distance = 35.4 ft.
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 100-400L IS lens

#M4_04948 1/2500 @f5.0, iso 400, 300mm, distance = 83.6 ft.
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 300L f2.8 IS lens

I almost always shoot in full manual exposure mode because it offers several advantages over the programed auto exposure modes.  First, in manual mode the camera does not alter the exposure according to the brightness of the scene.  Allowing the camera to control the exposure us usually a deal breaker for birds in flight, because the brightness of the background changes dramatically if the bird suddenly flies away from the blue sky background and in front of a darker background of water or foliage.  In auto exposure modes such as aperture priority or shutter priority, this would result in an overexposure of about 2 stops which means your image goes straight to the recycle bin.

Second, in the Canon system the external flash automatically fires at higher power when the camera is in manual exposure mode.  (Flash acts only as fill in Av and Tv modes, resulting in a lower power flash).  Using the better beamer and full power flash gives me over double the flash range.  I can easily throw light from the flash on a bird 100 feet away using this method.  The better beamer uses a fresnel lens and works by concentrating the light into a narrow beam, thereby increasing the amount of light that hits the target.

#M4_03063 1/2500 @f5.6, iso 640, 260mm, distanced = 48.8 ft.
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 100-400L IS lens

The images directly above and below are of younger spoonbills.  The colors are more pale, and darken as the bird grows older. 

#M4_04871 1/2000 @ f5.6, iso 400, 170mm, distance = 35.4 ft.
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 100-400L IS lens

For birds in flight, I typically use the center focus point, with the surrounding 6 focus points also activated in A1-Servo (focus tracking) mode.  This gives me 7 active focus points in the middle of the frame to track the moving bird.  Once I achieve focus, as long as I keep at least one of these focus points on the moving bird, the camera will track it and try to keep it in focus.    Sometimes it's a little more difficult than it sounds.

#M4_05029 1/2000 @f5.0, iso 400, 300mm, distance = 83.4 ft.
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 300L f2.8 IS lens

I thought the leg kick in the photo above made it interesting.  He was probably changing direction, as they usually keep both legs pointed straight back as they glide through the air.   Below is the same bird just 7 seconds later as it flew past from right to left. 

#M4_05033 1/2000 @f5.0, iso 400, 300mm, distance = 58.3 ft
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 300L f2.8 IS lens

Some people photograph birds in flight by pointing the camera and firing off a burst of a half dozen or more shots.  While my camera is capable of shooting 10 frames per second, I prefer to track the bird and instead fire off 2 or 3 shots at most, at just the right time.  This results in a lot less work sorting through a bunch of extra photos.  Also, if I am using flash, it cannot recycle fast enough to fire on every shot in a burst, usually only flashing on every 3rd or 4th shot if I'm firing at 10 frames per second.  Sometimes I can get a good shot without the flash if light is perfect, but it's the exception.  So I see firing long bursts as usually just a waste of battery power and memory space. 

I sometimes fired bursts when shooting sports, because flash is not used and sometimes you miss the best shot in a series if you don't.  But it has not been as useful for me when photographing birds.  

#M4_05058  1/2500 @f5.0, iso 400, 300mm, distance =45.2 ft.
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 300L f2.8 IS lens

Here is one final shot with the sun lighting up the wings and hitting the bird's eye just right. The  flash did not fire on the photo below and this is the kind of exception I mentioned earlier, where you sometimes get a good shot of a 'flyer' without flash if the light is just right.  [NOTE: Click on any image in this post to see a larger view of the bird]

#M4_04949 1/2500 @f5.0, iso 400, 300mm, distance = 58.4 ft.
Canon 1D Mark 4 & 300L f2.8 IS lens

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cumberland Island

Last Saturday I spent the day at Cumberland Island with some friends.  It was a fun day, and a good opportunity to explore the main points of interest on the island.  I had been wanting to visit Cumberland Island since last year, when I had to cancel a planned week long trip because it was about to happen at the same time I got sick and ended up spending extended time in the hospital.   

Transportation to the island is by ferry, and it leaves at 9am from the dock in St. Marys.  There are 2 return trips at 2:45pm and 4:45pm on Saturdays.  On weekdays there is only the 4:45 return.  The trip is about 45 minutes up the St. Marys River. [click any photo to enlarge]

#M4_02746 - The Beach at Cumberland Island

The island is an interesting place to see.  There are lots of old oak trees and most are covered with Spanish moss which remind me of moss covered trees scattered around the school I attended in Jacksonville as a child.

M4_02733 - Oak Tree in front of Carnegie Mansion

M4_02744 - Salt Marsh at low tide
Some items of interest in the island are the 24,000 square foot Carnegie Mansion, and the ruins of Dungeness castle, which was a 59 room Scottish castle built by Thomas Carnegie, although he died before it was completed.   Dungeness was named by Thomas' wife, Lucy, after another building on the island that had burned down some years earlier.  Dungeness was also destroyed by fire in 1959 and was vacant at the time.  Also on the island is the small chapel where John F. Kennedy, Jr. was married.

There are approximately 160 wild horses roaming freely on the island, and we saw lots of them during our day there, including several ponies.   The horses were the main attraction that I hoped to be able to photograph.

M4_02645 - Wild Horses

M4_02626 - Wild Horses

M4_02544 - Wild Horses

M4_02606 - Pony
M4_02607 - Pony with Mother

M4_02826 - White Pony
When we arrived at the Dungeness ruins, we walked behind the structure and saw a group of about a six or eight horses, including this white pony that was with his mother, nursing at the time.  I tried to get a few close up photos of him because he looked really cute.

We walked around completely around the Dungeness ruins and I took some photos from different angles.  I am only posting two of them below; one from the front and one from the back.  We did not approach the horses very closely and they didn't seem to mind us being there.

M4_02780 - Ruins of Dungeness Castle (front)
M4_02842 - Dungeness Ruins (back)
Shown below is the small chapel (First African Baptist Church) where John F. Kennedy Jr. was married.  It was built in 1937 to replace an earlier structure that was built in 1893.

M4_02769 - Chapel (JFK Jr was married here)
M4_02762 - Inside the Chapel
We were also able to take a tour of the Carnegie Mansion.  It is being restored by the National Park Service and most of the first and second floor is accessible to visitors.  The images below show some exterior views and some of the spaces inside that I felt were interesting.  An air conditioning system has been added during the restoration to allow visitors to tour the building in comfort.

M4_02669 - Carnegie Mansion

M4_02687 - Inside the Carnegie Mansion

M4_02688 - Inside the Carnegie Mansion
M4_02693 - Inside the Carnegie Mansion
M4_02712  - Inside the Carnegie Mansion
M4_02722  - Inside the Carnegie Mansion
Below is a photo of our gang having lunch under the oak trees next to the Carnegie Mansion.  If you plan to visit Cumberland Island, you'll need to pack yourself a lunch and bring a water bottle or two to get you through the day. 

There is no food service on the island unless you are staying at the Greyfield Inn. There are no stores or restaurants, and you must pack out your trash and take it back out with you.  Likewise, there are no paved roads or trails, and no way to bring a vehicle onto the island.  Virtually all travel is on foot or by bicycle (rentals available) unless you take a van tour of the island.  There are several camping sites on the island but only one has running water and bathroom facilities with cold showers.  

We took an all day van tour that got us to the points of interest that I've shown in the photos.  The dirt roads are very rough and full of holes, and we all felt like bobble head dolls by the end of the day.  But it was a fun time and very interesting.  Reservations are recommended for both the ferry and for island tours.  The National Park Service limits the number of visitors on the island to no more than 300 at a time.

M4_02736 - Lunch time

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Climbing Moro Rock


To celebrate the end of my chemo and radiation treatments back in October, we spent 2 weeks in California visiting a few places we had always wanted to see.  High on my list was Yosemite National Park, and it seemed to make sense to also visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks since they are nearby.
[click any image to enlarge]

Our timing could have been better as I misjudged the date that the radiation treatments would end, and it only left a week between the end of treatments and the departure date for our trip.  (This snafu happened because it took 2 weeks longer than expected for the insurance company to give approval for the treatments).   Radiation gradually wears a person down and my radiation oncologist explained that it would take at least a month for me to get my strength back after the treatments.  Oh well... reservations were already made and plane tickets purchased, so we were going.

I decided to just enjoy the trip and try not push myself too hard physically so I could get the most enjoyment possible from our travels.  Cindy did virtually all the driving once we landed in California, and it was really great sitting in the seat on the right for  a change. 

After 3 days at Yosemite, we drove south to Sequoia National Park.  Aside from seeing redwood and sequoia forests we planned to climb Moro Rock, which is a 6,725 foot high granite rock which resembles a much smaller version of Half Dome.   It's very easily accessible and you can park at the bottom of a sequence of 400 steps that take you to the top.  Some of the steps are carved into the rock and others are poured concrete, but the route is cleverly blended into the natural surroundings.

#7_1520 - About half way to the top
 The views we were treated to during our climb were worth stopping for pictures, and this served the dual purpose of giving me a chance to catch my breath. 

#7_1497 - View from the steps on the way to the summit

Climbing the steps was a little bit tiring for me and I had to stop and rest several times along the way.  But we got to the top and enjoyed the sunset with one other couple who had gotten there before us.  I was surprised that there were not more people up there that evening.

#7_1508 - Another view from the steps

#7_1510 - Reaching the summit
The view from the top was well worth the climb.  We stayed through the sunset and snapped a few photos, then started back down before it got completely dark.  We used flashlights to light up the area in front of us as we decended, but there was still enough ambient light to see where we were going.

#7_1549 - View of the Mountains to the south

#7_1538 - Sunset at Moro Rock

#7_1540 - Layers of Mountains

 Here are a couple images of the sequoias from earlier in the day.

#7_1430 - Giant Sequoia Trees

The park rangers were doing a controlled burn to remove some underbrush, and the sunlight shining through the smoke made an interesting photo.

#7_1490 - Controlled Burn