2016 Calendar Contest: April candidates

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2016 CALENDAR ENTRIES: April
A. Black-bellied Plover in a classic pose at Bunche Beach.
B. A Roseate Spoonbill in a lovely setting in St. Augustine.

Vote for your favorite and win a chance at a free copy of my 2016 Calendar!
Feel free to share, and. . .thanks!

Bunche Beach, Fort Myers, FL

A. Black-bellied Plover, Bunche Beach, Fort Myers, FL

Roseate Spoonbill, St. Augustine, FL

B. Roseate Spoonbill, St. Augustine, FL

March 2016 Calendar Entries!

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Signs of spring in SW Florida are a bit more subtle than in the rest of North America, and it takes a few years and some careful observation to see some of them.  Sure, days get longer, and temperatures warmer, like everywhere else.  But you’ll also see birds beginning nesting activities, and shorebirds shed their drab winter plumages for spiffy fresh breeding plumage.

Vote in the comments below!

A Great Blue Heron flies home with nesting material, Venice Rookery

A:  A Great Blue Heron flies home with nesting material, Venice Rookery

A handsome Willet, just coming into its spring breeding plumage, captures a small flounder at Bunche Beach.

B: A handsome Willet, just coming into its spring breeding plumage, captures a small flounder at Bunche Beach.

Help Me to Choose My 2016 Calendar Shots!

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Hard to believe it’s been 12 months since everyone helped me to pick my images for the 2015 Calendar!  But I’m a lazy editor     it’s like asking which of your children you love more it worked really well last year, so let’s take another shot at this together!

I’ll be publishing a new month every day, and if my math holds up we’ll have a wrap by October 22…just in time for me to have ’em all on hand for my November festivals!

Vote using the comments section.  And one entrant will win a free copy, hot off the press!

Here are the finalists for January:

1415-Reflective
A. “Reflective”: Great Blue Heron, Ding Darling NWR

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B. “Cirrus Sunset,” Bunche Beach

On Yogi Berra: A Life Remembered

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Yogi Berra passed away today at 90 years old. I can’t let his life go without noting what a life it was!

In the eyes of a 9-year-old in 1961, when Berra was a part-time left fielder, he wasn’t the reason to watch the Yankees. Maris and Mantle’s chase of Ruth’s HR record, coupled with an epic season for a team that just may have been the greatest of all time, was as riveting an introduction to major league ball as there could ever be.

But with the perspective of decades and a lifetime of baseball fandom, I’d argue that Yogi had the best career of any of those Yankees. A host of World Series titles, led catchers in career HR until Bench came along, a couple of MVP awards, and a fine managerial career…plus, Casey Stengel, whose long career as Yankee skipper synchronized Yogi’s, said on numerous occasions that Berra was “the smartest ballplayer I ever managed.”

But ‘way beyond that, he led an exemplary life: a gunner in WW II who participated in the D-Day landing at Normandy in 1944, marriage to the same woman for over 60 years, and a scholarship program in his name.

Viewed through this wider lens, Yogi’s uniquely quotable wisdom, so much the main topic of the obits I’ve read today, isn’t the best measure of the man. And yet, it must be noted that Yogi even beat Stengel, a master of malaprops, at his own game. After all, the word “Yogi-ism” is in the American lexicon. And as Stengel himself once said, “You could look it up.”

Pied-billed Grebes Give an Exposure Lesson

I had the most productive morning that I’ve had all season at Ding Darling NWR on Sanibel Island. Although I don’t think this has been an abundant birding year at Ding, I must say I’ve never seen so many Pied-billed Grebes. And although they’re still on the skittish side, I’ve never seen them so cooperative. These two shots, both taken in bright morning light, illustrate two great lessons: The first, how the tone of background reflections influence the “mood” of the shot, and the second, how knowing how to set exposures manually can save your bacon.

Pied-billed Grebe (dark background)In the first low-key image, the water is darkened by mangrove reflections. In the second, more high-key shot, there is nothing but open water and clear blue sky. Yet the exposure I used for both shots (set manually, based on the bright sunlight falling on the grebe) was absolutely identical: 1/2000sec, f/6.3, ISO 400. Using an auto-exposure _04A1065mode without exposure compensation, a shooter would have badly overexposed the first shot: the camera meter (which generally assumes a medium-toned background) would have been fooled into thinking that it needed to have the camera supply more exposure.  In the second shot, the opposite is true: It would have misinterpreted the light-toned water, thereby underexposing the shot.
Without getting into a detailed explanation of why that happens, there’s a simple workaround that you can use to check your exposures while shooting:
1) find the “Overexposure Warning’ setting on your camera and turn it ON.  This will cause pixels that are “blown out” (pure white, containing no data) to flash in the LCD readout on the back of your camera.
2) Take the shot.
3) If you see “blinkies”, use the Exposure Compensation control to reduce the exposure.  How much?  Well, if there are just a few spots blinking and none of those are the main subject (in the examples above, the grebe), reduce by maybe one click or two.  If more of the image is blinking, then reduce by two, three, or even more.  Then
4) Shoot again.  Rinse, lather, repeat until no important area of the shot is blinking.

A sunset, a selfie, and an interesting career insight: Who knew?

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After a terrific week away shooting with my friend Jeannie in Virginia Beach and on my lonesome in two other states, it was back to office work today. I had my butt nailed to the computer from the get-go while I uploaded files, updated inventory, and (starting at 4 PM) generated and filed last month’s sales tax returns for 3 different states that needed them within the hour.  A couple of neglected text messages later, I stood up at last and looked at the western sky.  High, thin cirrus clouds, strafed by high winds, abounded–harbinger of a killer sunset. And a good opportunity, I realized, for a quick revenue-maker at this weekend’s show to pay for the ultra-wide-angle lens I’d rented a week ago.

So I decided to make an assignment for myself: How fast could I get to a venue, get the sunset shot, process and post it? A quick check of the online tide chart revealed daunting math and logistics: I had 15 minutes exactly before sun touched horizon.  Bunche Beach was the closest spot I could think of–13 minutes away if traffic was light.  I grabbed my tripod, mounted the tripod head I use with wide-angle lenses, picked up my camera and an extra lens from the coffee table, and loaded a fresh battery and digital media card as I started the car.

Hit some lights green, but mostly not.  Used the stop time to set the controls for a typical sunset exposure, which I can pretty much do without looking.  Got there with at most two minutes to spare, grabbed the gear, and sprinted shoreward–only to encounter what looked to be a newlywed couple standing on the beach, awkwardly trying to line up both sun, clouds, and themselves in a selfie.

They were going to need either a photographer now, or a chiropractor later…and sprained necks and backs seemed like cruel things to deal with on their honeymoon.  So, I took a big sigh and jumped in:  “Let me help you with that,” I offered.  The bride quickly handed me her smart phone–luckily, the same model I have.  Tap on the flash icon to activate it, reverse the camera direction so it points out, tap the sky so that the phone uses that to set the exposure and not the dark foreground…line everything up….

Snap, snap…Done! Just in time to see the sun sink below the horizon.  “You missed what you came here to do,” they groaned in unison as I handed back their phone.  “Nope,” I lied.  “The afterglow is the best part anyway,” I smiled, not realizing until just now that in a honeymoon context, that was a pretty sly double-entendre (not to mention: words to live by. But I digress!)

A quick splash through a tidal flat ensued, while I scanned the topography of shoreline and cloudscape for the best vantage point. Thirty seconds later, I was set up and shooting said afterglow with my 24-105mm Canon lens (not the lens I’d rented, but the one I thought would best do the trick) .  This shot, however, was made from a second location, with the ultra-wide-angle lens (16-35mm) rental.  The time stamp on the image told me I made it at 5:37 pm–4 minutes after sunset, about 3 minutes after I’d started shooting–and, not incidentally, less than 20 hours before I have to ship it back.

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Screen capture from a quick consult of the tidal charts: So much to do, so little time :-)

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“Cirrus Sunset, Bunche Beach”: Canon 5D Mark III, 16-35mm lens (at 16mm), Gitzo tripod and ball head. Exposure: In-camera HDR, +/- 1 stop. Base exposure: 1/5 sec, f/22, ISO 125. Processed in Photoshop with NIK Color Efex Pro pre-sets.

Got home at 6:02 pm, had the shot processed by 6:09–an hour and seven minutes after I got the idea to create it.  Started writing this blog as soon as I saved the picture.  As I post it, it’s 7:22.

Sooo, if my math holds up, it took me six minutes more to write the story than to shoot it.  I guess the shooters I knew years ago at the Washington Post had it right after all, when I pressed them for career advice: Taking pictures is the easier gig!

Are you giving away profit on your post-processing?

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One of the copy images of an interpretive mural I made on this assignment. To see more of this incredibly talented artist’s original work, visit: www.artbyermajean.com

Two tips for new photographers:
1) When you bid a job or project, make sure to include the time it is going to take you to process and send the files…no matter how easy you think the task will be. It is always better to make a generous estimate so that you can afford to make each image the best it can be. The alternative–underestimating, and then having to choose between short-cutting the post-processing or being underpaid for your time–is a lose/lose situation.

2) It is always better and faster to shoot the job right in the first place, rather than
trying to “fix it in the post-processing.” The exceptions to this rule, sadly, are few and far between…no matter how good the software gets. And following this tip will help you master your camera and your eye.

A job I had last week, to shoot copy images of four eight-foot long murals painted for a local wildlife refuge and bonded onto heavy substrate, is a great case in point.  The murals would serve as interpretive signage to help visitors understand the habitats and wildlife at the park.  Over time, Florida heat and humidity would degrade them, so I was asked to create digital copies that could be reprinted when necessary.  The actual planning and shooting time required was pretty minimal, and I calculated that to be less than four hours, “portal to portal”–an expression my dad used back in the day to mean, “including travel time.”

The shoot went quickly, taking less than two hours.  The processing was another story, because there were noticeable flaws in the murals–warping introduced during the mounting procedure, curled edges where printed text labels had not adhered properly to the surface, and some other surface imperfections–that would have to be fixed in Photoshop.  That work took more time than the shoot itself. But because I’d allotted a half day to the processing, conversion (to *.psd and *.eps formats) and uploading to a client-accessible folder in the cloud, I had adequate compensation for my time.

We often think of post-processing as being a quick, painless procedure…and in many cases, it is.  But it’s best to give an estimate that assumes there may be issues that you can’t necessarily anticipate.  And then, if none arise, what client wouldn’t be happy to get a bill that’s a bit less than the estimate?

Vote for Your Favorite Calendar Images! (November and December, 2015)

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Here are the final candidates for my 2015 calendar–November and December. Vote below (A, B, or C) for your favorite. If you haven’t voted at all, it’s not too late! Just click the Calendar Contest link and browse any months you like!

A big THANK YOU to those who have already ordered their calendar.  I’m taking a couple of days off to visit my family in Charlottesville, VA.  On Friday, I’ll finalize the selections and announce the winner of the free calendar and 11×14 or 16×20 print!

November

 Grebe-potentialsfolder A.A female Pied-billed Grebe snags a snail at Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel
 1142-Brown Pelican B. A Brown Pelican glides slowly through the mangroves at Little Estero Lagoon, Fort Myers, FL 
 Virga C. November is typically a month of low humidity, and just about the only time of year when you can see virga–rain that evaporates before it hits the ground. (Fort Myers Beach, FL)

December

 Skimmers on Parade A.
“Skimmers on Parade”: Like most birds, Black Skimmers like to loaf with their heads facing the wind. (Fort Myers Beach, FL)
 Barred Owlet 400x320 B. A Barred Owlet peered down at me as I lay on the ground, pointing a long telephoto lens at him. (Jacksonville, FL)
 1119-SunWorshiper400x320 C.
“The Sun Worshiper” A Great Blue Heron surveys his domain (Estero Island, FL)

Vote for Your Favorite Calendar Images (Sept. and Oct., 2015)

Here at the Doubletree Hotel in Virginia Beach, the skies are clear, breezes are light, and I am heading out for breakfast.  But I’ve got six more candidates for the Sept. and Oct. pages of the 2015 Calendar for you.  Two more tomorrow morning, and then the tabulation begins!  I really appreciate everyone’s help with this! Remember, one of my voting fans will get a free calendar and an 11×14 or 16×20 print (your choice!) of their favorite calendar image.

September

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Sunrise over Chincoteague NWR, Chincoteague Island, VA

A.

Two Skimmers

Black Skimmers, Chincoteague Island, VA

B.

Pale Blue Light

A Black Skimmer strafes the surface at Chincoteague.

C.

 October

Herring Gull A. A late-season Herring Gull perches on the rocks at Stone Harbor Point (Stone Harbor, NJ)
Osprey Overlook B. “Osprey Overlook”
A male Osprey perches in the pines when he can, but will take a Red Mangrove vantage point in a pinch.  (Bunche Beach, S. Ft. Myers, FL)
Spoonbills Viera C. “Spoonbill Serendipity”
Two males (black rings around neck) and a female find a quiet spot at Dan Click Ponds, Viera, FL
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