We’ve all seen the iconic images of layered hill sides in the haze of sunset in the Smoky Mountains. That didn’t happen much on this trip. For the most part the weather was clear with cloudless skies. Not conducive to landscape photography, especially in Cades Cove. There were no foggy mornings to take advantage and work into an images, or dramatic storm clouds to add interest behind a stately tree. We did visit two great locations to keep in mind for future visits. [Read more…]
I’ve been to 25 National Parks over the years, many of them several times and Denali NP in particular six times. Two popular parks that I have not been to yet are Acadia National Park in Maine, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee/North Carolina. One thing that makes this odd is that they are the two national parks that are closet to my home. In April 2018 I decided to add one of these to the list of visited parks. I booked a short photography tour of Great Smoky Mountains with Slonina Photography tours, run by local photographer John Slonina. I considered this short five-day trip to be an introduction to the park. It was the first trip to a national park which I did not plan independently, and it was my first trip with John. [Read more…]
At the end of February 2016, I traveled to Ecuador to participate in a photography workshop organized by Greg Basco of Foto Verde Tours a photographic tour company for photographers founded by photographers. and Lucas Bustamante of Tropical Herping, an institution he co-founded in 2009 to preserve tropical reptiles and amphibians through tourism, photography, education and research. Both Greg and Lucas are award winning photographers. Assisting Lucas was Frank Pichardo, a new employee of Tropical Herping but an experienced photographer and naturalist guide. The trip itinerary was designed to provide three largely different habitats with the intent of photographing a wide variety of subjects. [Read more…]
In April 2015, I made my fourth trip to Costa Rica, attending a workshop conducted by my friend Greg Basco. With his business partner Paulo Valerio, he founded Foto Verde Tours, creating tours for photographers by photographers. He works with selected lodges to increase the likelihood of good nature photography opportunities. This year’s trip was titled The Art of Biodiversity – Pacific and the itinerary delivered on this promise. [Read more…]
Day 3 – February 2 – Orne Harbor and Cuverville Island
The day started with heavy overcast as we cruised toward Orne Harbor, where a large glacier is the main feature at the end of the harbor and a large hill of exposed rock is on the south opening to the harbor. This is the location of the Chinstrap Penguin colony we were scheduled to visit. A few chinstraps were in the water near the shelf of rock that served as a landing area, but there were thousands of penguins along the ridge. The path to the ridge was on the other side of the ridge, which we saw when the ship rounded the point on the way to the afternoon landing area. Oceanites reported 1000 chinstrap penguin chicks on the ridge. [Read more…]
Day 2 – February 1 – Paradise Bay and Neko Harbour
The day began with clear skies, flat seas, and reasonably warm weather. Our morning stop on this day was the Almirante Brown Station, a scientific research station built by the government of Argentina. The station had been mostly abandoned for a time due to fiscal problems and appeared uninhabited, although there were signs that repairs were being made to some of the buildings. Gentoo penguins were nesting in the areas around the buildings and allowed close observation of the nesting areas along the trail up the hill. I was surprised to find a Sheathbill, a.k.a Antarctic Chicken, a land based bird that is an opportunistic feeder, stealing krill and fish from penguins, eating their eggs and whatever insects they can find. Surprisingly, we were told they also eat penguin poop. [Read more…]
Day 1 – January 31 – King George Island
Our first stop, Bellingshausen Station, is a Russian Antarctic research facility at Collins Harbor on King George Island. Adjacent to this set of buildings are research stations operated by Chile and China. One of the South Shetland Islands, the summer temperatures here are relatively warm, with much of the accumulated melting away, and giving opportunity to lichens, mosses and other vegetation to grow. Unfortunately, much of the snow free areas are muddy. On land, we were allowed to wander around the area, follow one of the expedition staff on a hike along some of the roads, and visit the small Russian Orthodox Church. There were a few Chinstrap penguins along the beach and it was our first exposure to observe these medium–sized seabirds as they interacted with each other. [Read more…]
Chris and I cruised the Antarctic Peninsula with her cousin Beth Devlin and her husband David Vandyke. Beth, a veterinarian, wanted to see penguin chicks, did some research, and asked if we would like to go along. We booked the cruise with Polar Cruises, who provided excellent advice and considerable help in making our way to Argentina to board the ship. After a rough start (our first flight was cancelled causing a one day delay and a lot of rescheduling) we arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina to board our ship, the Akademic Sergey Vavilov which was designed for acoustic research by the Russian Academy of Sciences, and converted to a polar adventure ship. [Read more…]
This spring was a spectacular year for the lady slippers in my back yard. There was one cluster of 20 flowers, with smaller plants of one to three flowers nearby. The flowers are located on the edge of the forest, next to a pile of cut logs with a rack of firewood behind it. Natural lighting can be difficult to deal with as the sun is low on the horizon sending shafts of light through the foliage of the trees. Occasionally overcast skies provided flat light that reduces or eliminates harsh shadows on the flowers. It was an opportunity to try several techniques capturing these beautiful flowers, and I went out early each morning while the air was cool and still. Once the sun starts warming the ground, air currents are created and even the slightest breeze results in significant movement in these large flowers on long stems. I often used a 160 LED lamp to illuminate a single flower. Most images are captured with a Sigma 150mm lens on a Canon 5D Mark II. I used tripod or beanbag for support and a wireless remote shutter release to avoid any movement during exposure. In addition to single captures of the scene, I made many captures with focus stacking in mind as well sets of images (a series of the same image at all f-stops) for use in teaching programs. I also made a few images using a 50mm f/1.8 on the Canon 7D.
The first set of images were made by selectively focusing on different parts of the flower, then merging them into one image file using Helicon Focus stacking software. Last year I had done quite a lot of image taking and analysis in an attempt to understand where focus stacking works and where it doesn’t. The extensive blog posts totaled 30 pages. Helicon Focus recently had an update and added a new stacking algorithm which I used on a trial basis. I was satisfied that it performed well on these image and purchased a one-year license ($30) for the Helicon Focus Lite. I plan to reprocess the images sets I took last year to see if the new algorithm solve some of the problems I described in my posts last year.
The reason for using a stacking program is to benefit from an extended depth of field at the subject while shooting at a large aperture to retain the soft out-of-focus (OOF) background. The images are labeled as a single exposure or number of images stacked, and the f-stop used.
To better see the effect of aperture on depth of field, images of a scene were captured at a various f-stops, and one image was constructed of several captures stacked together. The higher the f-stop (smaller aperture), the greater the definition in the background structure. As the aperture is opened, the depth of field lessens and the background becomes a pleasant, soft blur. Unfortunately, the wide aperture doesn’t capture much of the flower in sharp detail, which is where focus stacking can be of benefit. Care must be taken in capturing images for focus stacking to ensure sufficient overlap in the regions of sharpness. The technique doesn’t always work cleanly, and in some cases there are artifacts that require a lot of editing to correct, if they can be corrected at all.
My wife Chris and I were able to get to Cape May this year, principally to attend a 3-day bird migration workshop conducted by the Cape May Bird Observatory. We’ve been going to Cape May every year for the last 20 years or so, except for the last three years. Bird photography here is generally not easy given the vagaries of weather, which affect when the birds migrate through. This year much of the warbler migration had passed thought a few weeks early. On top of that, the trees had leafed out considerably, making finding birds difficult, and making photography even more difficult. I had more luck this year with osprey and other flying birds. However, there seemed to be an abundance of Prairie Warblers in the area, and I did get a few good images.
I also did a bit of bird flight photography in preparation of a presentation, Birds in Motion, I made at the Photographic Society of Rhode Island. I was very pleased that I was able to capture a Bluebird in flight with an insect in its beak. He was bringing it to his chicks in a nest box.
Enjoy the images.