Friday, February 26, 2010

Isolation and Beauty

Although I have been to Key West a few times, I had never made the journey out to see Fort Jefferson. This to me was the highlight of this trip. Located 70 miles to the west of Key West along the Florida Straits lies Dry Tortugas National Park. A cluster of 7 small islands where the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean, and the Florida Straits all converge. Originally documented in 1513 by Ponce de Leon, they caught 160 sea turtles there and subsequently referred to the islands as the "Tortugas" (turtles). They are called Dry owing to the absence of surface fresh water on the island.

In 1825 the U.S. Government built a lighthouse to help steer ships through the dangerous waters. It was then decided it was a very strategic location for defense of the coastal waters. They decided to build a fort on one of the islands. This was against the advice of Commodore David Porter, who previously told the government that the islands were uninhabitable, and the islands were just sand with no bedrock foundation to hold a fort. So the government built it anyway. (sound familiar)

Here are links to the Wikipedia site, and the National Park Service site, for additional information on the history of this fascinating location.


Due to its isolation and limited access, Dry Tortugas National Park is probably the least visited of all the National Parks. It is a 2 1/2 hour boat ride each way, or a 45 minute Seaplane ride. Private boats can anchor and visit, and they do allow primitave camping overnight on the beach outside the fort. We took the licensed private charter boat. This is an all day trip. Upon arrival you are given a tour of the fort. Lunch is provided on the tour boat, You are then allowed to explore on your own, swim, or snorkle with the provided gear. After the group tour I went off on my own and took the shots posted here.
Standing on the roof of the fort and looking at the endless aqua green waters and brilliant blue skies made me feel very small. It was not hard to imagine how harsh the living conditions would have been in this remote place during the civil war era. It was amazing how clean and fresh the air was here. Although the sunlight was extremey harsh, I was able to get some pretty good photographs of the place. The weather was perfect on the day of our visit, but I can only imagine how scary it would have been to ride out a major hurricane here. Although the fort is massive in size, the ongoing assault of the elements and hurricanes has taken a heay toll on the structure. It is an ongoing repair process to keep the fort sound.
                                                                                 I can only imagine how awe inspiring the sunrises and susets would be out here. Photographing the weather and skies would be a real treat if you could spend enough time here. Only the National Park Service Rangers live there rotating time on and off the island. I did some snorkling off the beach and saw quite a selection of marine life in the short time I was in the water.  
If you ever plan to visit Key West, I strongly urge you to make the trip out here to vist Fort Jefferson. This is one of those places that very few people get to see in person. I have only touched on a few of the facts and history associated with the fort. Not knowing when I may get back, I really tried to capture some photos that when shown to people would make them want to visit. 

Well that wraps up Key West week. I hope you enjoyed the photos and commentary.

I am heading down to Ft. Myers, and Sanibel Island Florida tomorrow for a week.. Planning on a lot of photography of birds, beaches, and sunsets. I am hoping to post some shots while I am down there, but I will be working off my antique HP  laptop.

Have a great weekend...........

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Welcome to Margaritaville

You cannot come to Key West without doing the famous "Duval Crawl". Now for you first timers, that is a pub crawl down Duval Street. Think of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, or Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. Duval Street is the main attraction that is lined with bars, shops, bars, restaurants, and more bars. If you start at the intersection of Front St. and Duval St. you can walk and drink all night and not begin to hit all the bars that are on Duval St. or within a block or two.  During the day it is a pretty laid back atmosphere with many families enjoying the sights, restaurants, and shops along the street. At night, this becomes party central and it can get pretty wild. There are several famous bars in Key West, and probably the most famous is Sloppy Joes. This was Ernest Hemmingway's favorite bar that he hung out at while he lived in Key West.

I took numerous photos of some of the places we visited to sample their adult beverages. I did a composite piece here to save space and show you a sliver of the many establishments you may choose to visit. I didn't do much night photography on this last trip, as I was enjoying the night life to much. The night shot of Sloppy Joe's Bar was from my last trip in November of 2005. Luckily I was staying at the Westin right down on the dock area. This made for a nice short walk back to my hotel room after a night of trying to recapture my more youthful days. Let me tell you that headache feels worse as you squint at the morning sunrise while you are trying to photograph it and down your third large coffee from the Waffle House.  
If you have never visited Key West, I highly recommend it. There are many sites and attractions for all ages. The Island is steeped in fascinating history. But my favorite part of the trip will be tomorrows post.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Photographers Paradise

Key West is truly a photographer's paradise. After you take the obligatory family photos, you can find so much to photograph that will allow you to unleash your creativity. The family would sleep in late every morning after a night on the town. But like all good photographers, I am up before sunrise. I would drive to take sunrise photos on the Northeast side of the Island and then come back and walk the streets looking for the interesting and unusual to photograph. Walking the streets one morning a rain shower forced me onto a residential front porch for cover. Since it is a tropical climate, the flowers are everywhere, and the colors just incredible. I took this handheld macro flower shot waiting out that storm .

Mallory Square is a complex of shops, restaurants, and open air markets. While walking through there a short light macro or close focusing lens can allow you to create some really great photographs. By tightly composing and using good camera techniques, you can come up with some really useful photos. I shot some of these photos either inside in a store or outside on a kiosk cart in the open air market. The great thing about digital cameras is the instant feedback in seeing the photo on the back of the camera. While I was doing some of these types of shots I had several people ask me what I was doing. When I showed them the shot on the back of my camera they loved it. When I walked away there were about 15 people trying to copy what I was doing. That is the fun part of photography. Helping others learn how to use their camera better and see more creatively. 
These types of photos look great in my notecards, and they make amazing large canvas prints if you want to decorate with that type of theme in mind. I take it as a compliment when everybody asks to see my vacation photos. I usually come back with things that do not resemble  typical family vacation photos. I am always trying to find a creative and artistic shots that would be useful for a variety of projects. 
                   Here is another interesting fact and photo to go along with the Key West week theme. Wild chickens are everywhere on the island. Many years ago domesticated chickens escaped from pens and started breeding in the wild.  Even though the island is now densely populated, the chickens are allowed to roam free. They are everywhere, and I even found this male and female strutting along the edge of the dock one morning. If you are sleeping with the windows open, those roosters can be annoying with that early morning crowing.               

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Southen Most Point

Key West is the southern most city in the Continental Unites States. You are only about 90 miles from Cuba at the end of the island. So it is absolutely necessary to have your photo taken at this marker. I did the photo here of my son and daughter-inlaw, and then they took one with the wife and myself. It is just one of those things you have to do to prove you were there. Key West also has the Southernmost House. This house is a historic home that has been converted into a luxurious B&B Inn. It sits right on the ocean by the southern most point. I have not been inside, but I checked out their website, a pretty cool place.
The historic lighthouse on Key West is a nice attraction to visit. Everyone loves lighthouses,  and I love to photograph them. Originally built in to 65 feet 1825 ,it was destroyed in a hurricane in 1846. In 1894 the tower was raised to 100 feet. It is difficult to get good photos of it due to the building and trees surrounding it. The view from the top is worth the climb though.  

The big reddish brick building is the old post office and customs house. It aso housed the federal courthouse for the southern district of Florida. It is now the Key West Museum of Art and History. This was right next to the Westin Hotel where I stayed, conviently located next to Mallory Square.  There are many attractions and a vast amount of history to learn about Key West. I spent 5 days there and did not begin to see it all. so I am already planning  when I may return. Certainly when it is cold and dreary up north.
You can visit Key West on a cruise, but I would not reccomend it. The ships dock early in the morning, and like most port stops you have all day to explore. But, the ships have to pull out before sunset so they do not block the view of the sunset for the people down at the docks. You do not get to experience the Key West night life. Photography is pretty easy here. Have a wide angle to short telephoto zoom and that will be all you need for most of your shots. The sunlight is extremely bright, so low ISO  settings and high f stop settings lead to some great  photos with a lot of depth and vibrant colors. Everyone won't mind looking at your vacation photos if you do them right and be a little creative.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Week of Key West

Key West Florida is a favorite destination spot for many people who enjoy sun, watersports, and partying.  I took my family on a trip there in June of 2008. I had not been there for many, many moons, so it was good to get back. This was a first time visit for the rest of my family. I do not fly into Key West, as it is cheaper to fly into Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Besides, driving U.S. 1 down to the keys is one of those great drives everyone should do at least once. The funny thing is U.S. 1 does not end at the beach. It stops abruptly about two blocks away in town. Key West is famous for quite a few things, but the sunsets have to be at the top of the list. The famous nightly ritual is to head down to Mallory Square and watch all the street preformers and the world famous sunsets. As a photogrpaher, this presents an amazing amount of things to photograph. Mimes, Magicians, Musicians, Jugglers, and Artists are everywhere. The crowds pack in shoulder to shoulder to enjoy this nightly free open air circus atmosphere. Alcohol is fairly cheap, available everywhere, and consumed in large quantities.
It would be impossible to cover Key West in a day, so I will devote this entire week to the sights and attractions of Key West. Although famous for it's sunsets, their sunrises are pretty awesome too. I am sure alot of people don't see the sun come up unless they are the way home from the bars, or up to go fishing.The photo on the left is a sunset from the Mallory Square Dock looking out to Sunset Key. The photo on the right is an early morning sunrise off the northeast side of the island.  

The nightlife in Key West is definitely geared to adults, but there are plenty of kid friendly things to do during the day.
Simply a great place to relax, soak up the sunshine, and get some great photographs.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Baseball Is Just Around The Corner

Pitchers and catchers reported for the start of spring training the other day. That is a sure sign that warm weather cannot be to far off. The crack of the bat, the pounding of horsehide into oiled up leather, and the smell of freshly mowed grass.It is time for Cardinal nation to rise up again!

I get requests from a lot of people wanting to know if I have any photos of Cardinal baseball scenes. Although I love sports, I do not do much sports photography. Not that I don't want to, but getting in to any major sports event now as a photographer takes an act on Congress and major league connections. (Big pun intended there) I have a couple of old Bush stadium scenes from the final games of it's last season. A lot of people have great memories from there and want copies of both the day and night scenes.

My goal is to attend more games this year and try to get some good baseball photos. They do not let you bring big lenses into the stands, so I am going to have to scrounge up some seats close to the field. (Ouch! $$$)  But when you do get good seats near the field, you can get some really good photos. I shot these a couple years ago with my Canon 20D and used a 70-200mm f2.8L IS lens with a 1.4 extender. A day game with the Brewers had been pushed back to a night game early in the season. Cold and rainy, attendance was as sparse as I have ever observed at Bush in a long time. The good thing about that was being able to go sit right behind the Cardinal dugout for the entire game. I am hoping to get that chance again a time or two this year. I will definately do better and take a lot more photos.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Day At The Beach

Sitting at my computer looking out the window at the gray dreary skies and feeling the damp cold. The weather forcast just came up for the next five days and it did not look to promising. Luckily I will be in sunny Southwest Florida in 9 days! Heading down to Ft. Myers and Sanibel Island for a week of R&R and some photography. I had promised my wife a trip down to visit her parents and hit the beach. I visit this area often, and Sanibel Island is my favorite place in Florida. So today you get the classic post card shots of  beach scenes. Hoping it will inspire you to go ahead and book that trip! I have probably been on almost every beach on both coasts of Florida over the years. The photo above was taken at Ft. Desoto State Park. The empty lifeguard stand was getting a fly by from a flock of Black Skimmers.
The photograph of the "Endless Cabanas" I made on Ft. Myers Beach. I used my 70-200 to compress the view and make them appear closer together. I was there in the off season so the lack of people in the early morning made the shot. The Hobie Cat Sailboats and rental shack were shot on Clearwater Beach. "Hobies In Waiting" is a favorite and I love the simple composition. I like the distinct layers of sand, water, and sky.  

But here is my favorite classic post card beach scene. I jokingly call this "Scott & Janna's Retirement Spot"
Shot on Clearwater Beach, the mix of sunlight, clouds, shadows, and blue skies was perfect here. Just stare at it and picture yourself sitting there with a cooler of iced adult beverages and a good book. The stress just melts away. Have a great day and think warm thoughts!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Photos of the Day

Had a late night with a photography club meeting over in St. Louis, so this one will be a short version due to lack of sleep. I love exotic and colorful birds.  The colors, patterns, and intricate detail in the plumage is just amazing. I love in to get in close to capture and show the detail. The bird on the right here is a Rainbow Lorikeet. Trichoglossus haematodus is a species of Australasian parrot found in Australia, eastern Indonesia (Maluku and Western New Guinea), Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. They are not large birds, with a Rainbow Lorikeet's length being about 11-12 inches in size, and have a wingspan of about 6-7 inches.  This was taken at the St. Louis Zoo where they have an open flight cage full of them in the children's zoo. The bird below on the left is a Thick-billed Parrot. One of only two species of parrot that once inhabited the United States (the other is the Carolina parakeet, which is unfortunately extinct). They are bright green in color with a large black bill and red crown, shoulders and thighs. It can grow to about 15 inches in length. It is on the endangered species list at this time. This bird was photographed at the World Bird Sanctuary, Valley Park, Missouri.

One of my favorite exotic bird photos is this shot of two Caribbean Flamingos in a rain shower. I shot this at a tourist attraction down in South Florida while I was trying to find something to do to get out of the rain.
Caribbean Flamingos, Phoenicopterus ruber, are the only flamingo to naturally inhabit North America. They stand about 3.9 - 4.6 ft in height, they have a wingspan of approximately 5.0 ft. and they weigh between 5 - 6.5 lbs. They are deep pink/red/orange in colour and they have the brightest plumage of all six flamingo species.

Now how do you find a Tufted Puffin, Fratercula cirrhata, in the mid-west? Why you go to the Penguin and Puffin House at the St. Louis Zoo. A great attraction to see several species of  both Penguins and Puffins. It is pretty dark in the attraction but I caught this guy under a light and was using my 70-200mm lens with the built in image stabilization. Shot hand held and it is slightly soft, but I love the pose and light on him.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Photos of the Day

I was excited to get an email yesterday from the Nature Conservancy advising me I had recevied an honorable  mention award for the photograph below that I had submitted for their 2009 Photo Contest.The photos was taken in June 2009 while I was visiting Teton National Park in Wyoming. I was trying to be creative with this landscape shot. These clumps of yellow wild flowers were blooming in the sage brush range land that fronts the Teton Mountains. Laying on my stomach and using my elbows to steady this I got as close as I could to create the dramatic effect of the flowers dominating the foreground. Shot with a Canon 50D, a 17-40mm f4 L lens at 29mm. Settings were f22, 1/90 sec. ISO 400. Well I didn't win any prizes, but I can at least brag about it, right? There were over 22,000 submissions for this years contest from all over the world. Here is the link to The Nature Conservancy's page with all the winning photos.

Another one of my favorite landscape photos was taken on that road trip this past June. The photo below was taken in Cody, Wyoming. There is an attraction in Cody called Old Trail Town. It is a collection of 26 buildings that were built between 1879 - 1901. The buildings have been brought to this site from various locations out west. Some of them would be pretty well known to anyone familiar with history. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's "Hole in the Wall Gang" cabin is located in Old Trail Town now. As I wandered around trying to create something creative, storm clouds were begining to form quickly and the light was starting to go. I found this old wagon and piles of wheels out behind the main row of buildings. I did have my tripod for this shot and I got low to the ground and as close as I could to create this composition. With the tripod I was able to go to ISO 100. Canon 50D, 17-40mm, at 19mm. Shot at f16 and 1/20 second.  This ended up being my best photo from Old Trail Town. Here is their site.
Doing landscape photography in the area I live is more challenging, but there is plenty of scenery to shoot. It may not be majestic mountain ranges or dramatic vistas, but it has a beauty all it's own. You just have to be there for the good light and create the best composition possible.  This shot was taken at Pere Marquette State Park that is north of Grafton, Illinois, along the Illinois River. This is the office for the park rangers and it sits just inside the main entrance. Now the problem here was the harsh mid-day light. There were actually dozens of visitors taking photos of the building and walking all over the place. I noticed the reflection in the water and got down low to get as much of it as possible. This was shot using Canon's 10-22mm super wide angle lens. Shot at 10mm, f16, 1/45 second, ISO 200. I shot this hand held so it is not as sharp as I would like, but still happy with the results for a spur of the moment photograph. The Great River Road along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers is one of the most highly rated scenic drives in the country. Here is a link.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Photos of the Day

In honor of Presidents Day today, I am posting photos of some United States Presidents that I have. I took a driving trip out west in early June of 2009 and spent a few days in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The biggest problems that I had on this trip was trying to cram in as many site seeing excursions as possible in a short amount of time, and dealing with cloudy rainy weather the entire 10 days of the trip. On the day I visted Mt. Rushmore with my wife and another couple traveling with us, the weather was constantly changing from blue skies and white fluffy clouds, to stormy clouds and rain. We were visiting several attractions that day and I knew I would not have much time to take photographs. Knowing this national monument has been photographed  millions of times, my only goal was to get some good quality shots for myself. The top left photo was taken from a pullout area on the highway to Mt. Rushmore. I like this perspective because it gives such a nice sense of scale , and you are at eve level with the presidents. Shot with my Canon 50D and a 70-200 f2.8L IS at 170mm. The storm clouds were brewing and when we got there it was raining. In about 30 minutes it started clearing off and I was able to get some nice photos. The photo on the top right was one I converted to B&W in Photoshop. Shot with a Canon 50D and a 17-40mm F4 L at 34mm. Although the color photo looks great, I am really happy with this B&W conversion. 

                                                                                                                                                                      If you click on the photos you will see a larger version open to see them in much better detail.               


The skies were quickly clearing, and I used my 70-200 to zoom in for a tighter composition on the landscape shot here.  As a photographer you really want to have time to explore and try to find new and interesting angles and compositions to photograph at such a inspirational location. I was lucky to catch some good light considering the changing weather, but not enough time to really do much but take the standard tourist photos. You can learn much more about this great place by visiting the National Parks website on this location at this website.

Looming not far from Mt. Rushmore is a project that may eventually overshadow it somewhat. If not in stature, in sheer size. The Crazy Horse Memorial. Another amazing place that I visited but did not spend nearly enough time at. Probably will not be finished in my life time, but when it's done, it will be just awe inspiring. Here is the link to their webite to see and learn more about this amazing place. A possible future post topic.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Photos of the Day

Another favorite subject of mine to photograph are owls. Todays photos are Burrowing Owls -  Athene cunicularia. These owls are a small ground-dwelling Owls with a round head and no ear tufts. They have white eyebrows, yellow eyes, and long legs. The Owl is sandy coloured on the head, back, and upperparts of the wings and white-to-cream with barring on the breast and belly and a prominent white chin stripe. The young are brown on the head, back, and wings with a white belly and chest. They moult into an adult-like plumage during their first summer. Burrowing Owls are comparatively easy to see because they are often active in daylight.They are surprisingly bold and approachable.  They average 8.5 to 11 inches in height, and can have a wing span from 50-60 inches. Most weigh in at 6-8 ounces. Burrowing Owls are present in North America, and breed across the grassland regions of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They occur in all states west of the Mississippi Valley, breed south through the western and mid-western States. A separate subspecies is found in Florida and the Carribean Islands. They extend south into Mexico, Central America and South America but populations have declined in many areas due to human-caused habitat loss or alteration. 

I took these photos while I was down in southwest Florida  on a photography trip. There is a sizeable nesting colony around the Cape Coral City Library. They have roped off many of the open grass lots around the area where they have burrows. They city has provided man made perches for them and installed them near their burrows for them to perch on. At the time I was there photographing in March of 2009, Florida was under drought conditions and the vegetation was dried out and dead all around the area. This can be observed in the first photo with the two perched together. So to try and create some better backgrounds I had to get creative. The one on the left I actually layed down flat on my back and shot at an upward angle using a 500mm lens to use the blue sky for the background. The one on the right was created by finding a large green bush in a residental yard about a block away. I just lined it up and used it as the background to get the nice soft greens I was looking for. That one was shot kneeling down using a 400mm lens.    

This last shot below was my favorite from that session. This owl was really watching my every move as I tried to get something unique from just the sitting poses. He had been standing one one leg which is normal for them. He slowly lowered his left leg to stretch it out. I caught this pose and it has become one of my favorite photographs. If you want to learn more about owls, the single best resource I have found on the internet is the Owl Pages. I will provide a direct link to that site. Have a great weekend and I will be back next week with something new.