Tuesday, February 18, 2014


As I mentioned in my last few posts, our good friends, the Deans, invited us to stay with them at their place on Captiva Island, Florida.  How could we possibly say no, particularly knowing that their place had a western exposure and an unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico?  I thought I would wind up this little series of posts with a few shots of the sunsets we were privileged to see during our visit.

Our friends' place includes a screened-in balcony and I thought there might be an opportunity to incorporate the screen into a shot.

A bit weird, maybe. But, as our friends pointed out, with so many opportunities, sunset shots can rapidly dominate one's photo library.  So I tried to diversify just a little.

Of course, sunsets are more than just the sun sitting on the horizon.  They are also color, water, and, in this case, those palm trees.

The next shot is similar to the last one, except the sun had already set, but maybe there's a story there.

Finally, sunsets are also about the event . . . good times with good friends and perhaps a little glass of wine.

Years ago I came across a query in a book that asked how many more sunsets one could expect to see in his or her lifetime--50? 100? 150? More?  Of course that depends on one's circumstances, but it raises a bittersweet question that goes to the heart of it all.


Monday, February 17, 2014


On one of the days of our visit with our friends, the Deans, on Captiva Island, Florida, we took a day cruise on Pine Island Sound.  Although there were any number of photo opportunities on the cruise, my favorites were of the sound's fish houses.

There is a little story behind these structures.  It appears that when Hurricane Charley devastated the area 10 years ago, virtually all of the shacks were essentially blown away, leaving only the pilings.  The local community government determined for some reason that the houses could not be rebuilt.  But the owners realized that the costly part of the shacks were not their surface structures but the pilings on which they had been built and which were still intact.  So, the story goes, within days, if not hours, the owners were out with the equipment and materials to rebuild the shacks on the same pilings, in defiance of the local government declaration.

The captain of the cruise took the boat past the shacks to give us a good look.  From the point of view of ideal conditions, we would have come by on a calm day an hour or so before sunset to get the warm horizontal afternoon light and the reflections in the water, but that was not an option.  Even so, I was able to get a few decent shots, all of them handheld on a moving boat, of course.

This first is typical of the fish houses.  I had decided early on that, rather than having the houses fill the image, I wanted to provide a significant space around the them to create some context.

It was mid-afternoon and there was fairly decent light bathing the west side of this house.  I also liked the pier work extending to the west.  It was a bright day, and I had my camera set at f/8 with an ISO of 100 for all of the shots.  The shutter speed was fast enough, ranging from 1/400 to 1/640 second, to take the boat's motion out of the equation.

The most photogenic of the houses was a red one that apparently was the only house that actually survived Hurricane Charley intact.  Here's a photo of the red house, together with one of its neighbors.

I also turned this shot into a black & white.

And here's a photo of the red house by itself.

I liked this composition better than the one above, perhaps because of the pier work extending to the right.  My only quibble is that I wish there had been just a bit more room between the little ancillary structure on the left (outhouse?) and the edge of the image.  I tried this image as a black & white, but then, of course, I lost the building's distinctive red color.  My solution in post processing was to ramp up the saturation on the red but to minimize the saturation on all the other colors.  Here is the result.

I don't try to do this sort of thing often--usually too much work.  But here it seemed to come out OK as a novelty shot.

Here is another house that I thought worked best as a black & white.

Finally, I realized that the best shots were those that posed the sun more or less behind the houses rather than behind me.  The reason was not how this arrangement illuminated the houses but how it reflected off the water.  The next shot, my favorite of the bunch, illustrates this, I think.

Not only did having the sun in front of the camera serve to brighten the water, it gave it a soft texture that contrasted with the harder lines of the houses.  The result was a cloud-like feel, as if the houses were somehow floating between the sky and the water.  This effect shows up best, I think, as a black & white.


Sunday, February 16, 2014


I thought I would include a potpourri of shots I took during our recent visit to Captiva that didn't fit into any of the other categories.  So here goes.

Captiva doesn't have an actual "downtown," just a four-way stop sign and a few commercial establishments.  But there is a predominant "island" motif to the decor, as evidenced in the following.

One evening we ate at a restaurant by the name of Sunshine Cafe, where I noticed that the walls were graced with a couple of sun medallions.  I didn't have my camera at the time but went back the next day and got permission to get a few shots.

People seemed to be having a lot of fun painting fences on Captiva.  Here are a few.

I liked this last image the best, perhaps because of the bright colors or perhaps because of the fact that I decided not to take the shot straight on.  I thought that the decking in the lower right actually added something to the composition.

At one of the docks leading to Pine Island Sound I took a few shots of a number of kayaks for rent that had been turned upside down.

Based on their general shape and color, perhaps they should be called banana boats.


Saturday, February 15, 2014


In addition to photographing birds and other fauna on our recent trip to Captiva (see post of February 14), I got a few shots of the lush plant life.

One of the plants, known as the sea grape, had relatively large and colorful leaves, and I found myself trying again and again to get a decent shot.

This is one of the better photos that I got.  What made this a bit challenging was its physical depth:  The leaves were not really stacked closely behind one another, so I had to extend the depth of field with a narrower aperture (f/11), reducing the shutter speed.  Fortunately, there was a bright sun allowing me to use a shutter speed of 1/125th second at an ISO of 400.  I know, I know, the lead leaf has holes in it, but maybe that just adds character.

I don't know what these spiked seed pods were, but I liked the composition.

The following shot was of a large stalk that was extending perhaps 25 feet high between the road and the beach on neighboring Sanibel Island.  I had no idea what it was but later learned that it might be the flowering portion of some sort of agave plant.

The sky was overcast when I took the shot, and I decided to convert the photo to a black & white to emphasize the plant's lines.  I liked the simplicity of the composition quite a lot.

I saw a lot of palm fronds during our visit to Captiva.  I must have taken 15 to 20 shots of the fronds. This was perhaps the best of the bunch.

What had caught my eye was the pattern created by the confluence of the frond's different sections, as well as the curve of the overall pattern.  What wound up working was to shoot the fronds when backlit by the sun.  My quibbles with this image are the light leaking through the gaps in the segments in the lower left of the image, as well as the strings in the lower right.

There was also a profusion of morning glories in a variety of colors.

I liked this shot for the soft quality in the colors of the flowers.  I probably could have gotten by with a little less depth of field to blur out the greenery in the background.  Still, overall the composition came out quite well.

Finally, on one of my forays into "downtown" Captiva (really just a spot on the road where there was a four-way stop sign and a handful of business establishments), I spotted a low-lying cactus on the side of the road that was getting some backlighting on the serrated edge of one of its "leaves."   Basically, I had to get down on my hands and knees to be low enough for the shots, but I thought they came out very well as abstracts.

Because I wanted to feature just the serration that was being backlit, I opened up the aperture to f/4 and focused on the backlit edge.  My kind of shot.



Birds aren't the only animals on Captiva and the surrounding area, and I got a few shots of some of those others during our recent visit to Captiva.  (See post of February 14.)

Of course there is the beast that everyone seemed to be looking for and that we found along one of the paths at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

This alligator was perhaps 5-6 feet long and was lounging next to one of the waterways.  We were perhaps 30-40 feet away.  It was unfortunate that there was a branch of some sort draped in front of the alligator's head.  I asked another patron if she would kindly go and move the branch aside so I could get a better shot, but she declined.  So I moved over a bit to try to get a better shot.  This was the best that I could do.  Still not great.

On the boat cruise on Pine Island Sound that we took, the captain was successful in having a school of dolphin follow in the wake of the boat.  He stated that the dolphins were in essence simply enjoying the body surfing opportunity that the boat's wake provided.  The captain slowed down to about 9 miles an hour for a time so the dolphin could keep up.  I took a number of shots hoping to catch one or more of the dolphin leaping out of the water.  This is the best that I got, and it is not very good.  A close look reveals a few more dolphin just under the surface.

Another of the creatures that we saw at Ding Darling were tree crabs that were  plentiful in the mangroves.  They ranged in size from about 2-3 inches to 4-5 inches across.  These were among the larger ones that I saw.  I think the little knobby things in the corners of these creatures' flat, square portions were their eyes.

The mangroves provided a fairly dense cover, so the light was scant and I was lucky to get these shots at a reasonable shutter speed (1/20th second) and ISO (200).  I probably should have gone up on the ISO to ensure steady shots and a bit more depth of field.

Perhaps the strangest--and the ugliest--creatures we saw were the sea hares that had infested the waters of the marina where we were staying.

These were perhaps 6-8 inches long and had "wings" that they used for propulsion.  The egg-shaped portion visible in the second shot is apparently a sac that holds ink that the sea hare uses to confuse any predators.

Finally, at one point on the cruise that we took on Pine Island Sound the on-board guide/spokesperson threw a net overboard to see what sort of creatures could be dredged up.  The most fun of these were puffers that he then showed to the passengers.  The puffers were perhaps 4-5 inches long.  (Note the guide was wearing a special orange glove to protect his hand from the puffer's spikes.)

The puffer's expression in this second shot was particularly good, except for the fact that he or she was sporting some pieces of sea grass.  Even so, I felt fortunate to get these at such close range.


Friday, February 14, 2014


Our good friends, the Deans, invited us to spend some time with them at their place on Captiva Island in Florida, and we would have been fools to decline, especially given the winter we have been having in Wisconsin.  Of course, I took my camera along.  So the next few posts will feature some photos I took while we were soaking up some sun in Florida.

There are major differences between Wisconsin birds and Florida birds that even I can discern.  For one thing many of them are much larger.  For another, they seem a lot more plentiful, at least at this time of year.  So I actually took some bird photos, something I am not generally good at.  In any case, here are some of the shots that I got, beginning with a brown pelican.

Another thing about these Florida birds: They seemed content to sit much of the time.  This is another of the problems I have with wildlife photography--I am reluctant to take the shot, trying to wait for just the right moment, and more often than not the bird or other animal gets tired of waiting and takes off, so I get nothing.

The next photo is of a reddish egret.

How did I know these birds' names?  Not because I studied up.  Rather, I had the kind and patient help of my friend Larry Dean who has a tremendous knowledge of all things avian.

One of the places we visited a couple of times was the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge located on the neighboring island of Sanibel.  Here there were birds in great numbers, although many seemed content to sit in or around the tidal estuaries at great distances from my camera.  Even so, I did get some shots, including these of white pelicans.

White pelicans are big birds, dwarfing the little dunlin that is scurrying by in front of them.  It looks like he is hoping not get noticed.

I call the following shot "Waiting for the Show to Start."

The white pelicans in the foreground seemed to have gathered to watch the white bird that is showcased in the center of the image.  Unfortunately, I had the lens set at a wide open aperture and focused on the pelicans, leaving the bird in the background out of focus.

I also got a few shots of a great white egret.  I took this first one at pretty close range, from a distance of less than 20 feet.  I had started taking shots of the bird at about 50 feet and just kept moving closer until it finally got suspicious and flew off.

I had positioned myself so that the background behind the egret was dark.  That was great for setting off the bird but made it a bit of a challenge to get adequate detail in the bird's body in post processing.  I did like how the feathers in the narrow area between the bird's neck and shoulders are backlit.

Here is another shot of a great white egret taken at a considerably greater distance.

I know the bird is small in the image and that its reflection in the water is disturbed by the breeze that was blowing.  But I did like the texture that the water and algae(?) in the estuary added to the photo, in effect acting as negative space.  I thought this was one of the better bird shots that I got from an overall compositional standpoint.

On one of our days we took a cruise to a neighboring island, and I got a shot of a cormorant that we passed.  Not a great shot, but the boat was moving pretty fast at the time, so I felt lucky to have gotten what I did.

We also spotted an osprey that had caught a fish and had taken it to a large snag on Pine Island.

I realize that this isn't a great shot either from a technical standpoint, but the bird was at a considerable distance from my camera, and I only had my 24-120 mm lens.  So this image includes a substantial amount of cropping.  But you can easily see the fish lying at the osprey's feet.

One of  birds that I was able to capture at close range was a willet that was pacing up and down the edge of one of the ponds in "Ding" Darling.  The bird simply didn't seem distressed by how close we were (at perhaps 20-30 feet).

One thing about this guy was that he (or she) had some sort of problem with his right leg.  It never passed in front of his left leg, so it looked like he was doing an imitation of a small boy on a hobbyhorse.  Initially, I thought this was just his M.O. for catching whatever it was he was hunting, but then realized that to was a disability.  From the looks of him, though, he seems to be doing just fine.

My favorite shots were of a wood stork who was also foraging along the shore of one of the tidal estuaries.  He also seemed comfortable having humans as close range.

Because this bird was between me and the sun, lighting was both an advantage and a disadvantage.  The disadvantage was that wood storks are blessed with very dark heads to accompany their mostly white bodies.  This makes it very difficult to lighten the bird's head sufficiently to get some detail without overexposing the remainder of the image.  Post processing helped here.  The advantage was that the sun's position helped create very good light for the rest of the image.  I liked that the stork's reflection in the water, combined with its humped back, gave the sense of a circle.

Here is another shot of the stork that also featured nice light--and color--for the water.

The stork finally got tired and took off.  I managed to get one final shot of it in flight.  Unfortunately, it was flying away rather than toward me, so it appears headless in the photo.  But it did inform me that wood storks have primarily black wings, something not evident when the bird's wings are folded.

I didn't have much time to get this photo, obviously.  If I had been thinking I might have tried to center the shot better to leave some space beneath the bird's reflection in the water.  But, hey, I felt good about finally getting any sort of decent shot of a bird "on the fly."