A clean background can make or break an image. While walking near a waterfall outside of Ouray, CO, I spotted a Richardson’s Geranium with buds just beginning to open. So, I set up my tripod and grabbed my macro lens. After capturing the image on the left with the natural green background, I placed my diffuser behind the bud to block the wind. Then I noticed I could capture an image with a white background as well. Both backgrounds are clean and simple, but express the buds differently.
The image on the left has noticeable backlight on the buds but the image on the right highlights the red balls on the hair of the stem. Which do you prefer? The Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II, 60mm macro lens and settings: Left image: f/4.5, 1/180 sec, ISO 1600. Right image: f/4.5, 1/60 sec, ISO 1600 (notice the faster shutter speed due to the white background.)
This blog continues from last week about our Florida
vacation and the highlights of our trip. After spending a week in the Fort
Myers area, we headed east to find alligators. Our first stop was the Audubon’s
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, known for alligators, waterfowl and other swampy
stuff. If this location sounds familiar, I mentioned this location in my
“Buttonbush” blog too. The loop trail is a series of boardwalks through the
swamp. A great location to see the swamp safely. Since we visited at the end of
the dry season, water levels were low and we did not come across any gators.
But we found an amazing number of fun things to photograph. For instance, a
spider wrapping up its recent catch to a red shouldered hawk and even a common
squirrel. I carried my tripod and two cameras (12-100mm and 300mm telephoto
lenses) so I wouldn’t miss a thing.
The loop drive was a 24-mile gravel road through mostly
cypress swamp areas. Frequently, the road crossed culverts and almost every
culvert had alligators basking in the sun. We saw so many “gators” we decided we
didn’t need to visit the Everglades; so we planned visiting the Florida Keys
the next day.
Big Cypress National Preserve
After the swamp, we drove south to catch the Tamiami Road
for our drive to Homestead, FL. We stopped at the Big Cypress National Preserve
visitor center to discuss their scenic drives and pullouts. I often stop at
visitor and tourist centers; the employees always have an opinion of the best
places and sometimes they are not on the published maps. The Ranger recommended
the Loop Road Scenic Drive and since it was on our way to Homestead, we took
it. But, before we got to the loop road, we encountered a picnic pullout spot
with a canal and many alligators. Watching these magnificent prehistoric
looking creatures was mesmerizing. They glided easily through the water and
stalked prey silently. We watched an alligator catch a turtle.
We rented a room at an Airbnb in Homestead, FL from a lovely
couple very attentive to our needs. It felt like home. With limited time in
Homestead, we spent one day driving down to the Middle Keys just because we
wanted to experience it. We ended up at Curry Hammock State Park and sat on the
beach watching the kite surfers and played in the warm water. It was a long
drive for just a few hours at the beach, but we were both glad we did it. After
returning to Homestead, we ate dinner at Black Point Ocean Grill, a waterfront
restaurant with live music and enjoyed our grouper and fish and chips. The next
morning we took a detour to Everglades National Park before driving back to
Fort Myers. After all, we were so close, how could we not stop?
We entered the Everglades National Park through the main Homestead
entrance and drove to the Anhinga Trail. This trail was recommended by my
friend, Beth Ruggiero-York from her book, Everglades
National Park: A Photographic Destination and it was easy to access. We tried
to visit the Nike Missile Site too, but it was only open on weekends. As soon
as we drove into the parking lot of the trail, we noticed a large number of
turkey vultures and a few vehicles. Some vehicles had blue tarps on them, some
vehicles had large numbers of vultures on them. We spoke to the park staff and they
recommended putting a tarp (supplied by them) on our car. Apparently, the
vultures love picking at the rubber on cars. We witnessed that love… some cars had
as many as ten vultures picking at the rubber. We were happy to find our car
untouched by the pesky vultures when we returned from our hike.
The Anhinga Trail is a short boardwalk trail through swampy
areas with many alligators. At one point, I photographed a great egret next to
the path and an alligator cruised past in the canal beside the egret. The egret
was so close to me I had to use my short lens (12-100mm) to get the shot. Notice
the photo below with the alligator slithering through the water. Otherwise, I
used my 300mm lens to photograph anhingas, gators, and egrets.
We felt accomplished. We fulfilled our mission to see alligators
and to visit the Everglades, so we headed out to drive back to Fort Myers. We
stopped one last time at our favorite alligator picnic spot and then drove to
our airport hotel. We ate an early dinner at the hotel to prepare for a 6am
flight heading west the next morning. Our Florida vacation was over and we
returned to Flagstaff rested and relaxed (except for the normal airport nonsense).
We are ready for summer in Flagstaff.
Do you dislike using a tripod? After teaching photo
workshops for several years, I recognize it is not a popular piece of gear for
new photographers. Tripods can be clunky, unstable, awkward, and temperamental.
The “unstable” can be solved by purchasing a quality tripod from the start.
Many photographers start with an inexpensive tripod and then realize why it was
inexpensive…it doesn’t support their camera or is not built well. Save yourself
some time and money and buy a good tripod from the start. The clunky, awkward,
and temperamental can be overcome by using it.
I often hear participants state they only need a tripod when
photographing landscapes, low light, or macro subjects, well, that is not true.
A tripod in any shooting situation will improve the quality of your photos. Here
is an example when I used a tripod in full sun to improve my photos.
While in Florida on vacation, I photographed birds, from egrets to owls and they entertained me for hours. But holding a long lens for hours was not a solution for sharp photos, so I used my tripod. I started with my Olympus 40-150mm lens (80-300mm FF equivalent) and handheld many images, but since I use live view at 3-5x to verify sharp focus on the eyes of my subject, holding the camera still at this magnification was impossible. Even more so when I switched to my Olympus 300mm lens (600mm FF equivalent). As a result, I grabbed my tripod. Not only were my images sharper, but at the end of the day, my arm wasn’t sore from carrying the weight of the long lens.
One afternoon in Cape Coral, Florida, I spent hours photographing burrowing owls. These small owls are only 7-10 inches tall and like all wildlife, a photographer should keep a good distance to not disturb them. Therefore, I chose to use my Olympus 300mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter giving me a focal length of 820mm (full frame equivalency). With such long focal lengths, a tripod was a must. We drove to several neighborhoods in Cape Coral to photograph these owls with different backgrounds.
I recently purchased a Fotopro X-Go Plus carbon fiber tripod
for airplane travel since it is smaller, lighter and fits in my suitcase. If
you purchase a tripod for travel, be sure to check the weight of your gear with
your heaviest lens and make sure that is below the max load of the tripod you
are considering. With my lightweight Olympus system, my max load is less than