Friday, April 30, 2010


Iris is a genus of some 260 species of flowering plants with showy flowers. It takes its name from the Greek word for a rainbow, referring to the wide variety of flower colors found among the many species. As well as being the scientific name, iris is also very widely used as a common name; for one thing, it refers to all Iris species, though some plants called this belong to other closely related genera.

In North America, a common name for irises is 'flags'. It is a popular garden flower in the United States.

Some irises grow in deserts, some in swamps, some in the cold far north, and many in temperate climates. Bearded Iris and Siberian Iris are two of the most common types of iris grown.

Irises are very hardy and do not need a lot of maintenance. Some of the Irises in my wife's garden were given to her by my great grandmother and they have be in the family now for over 100 years.


My favorite technique for photographing them is fairly simple. I use my 70-200mm zoom lens and then add my 1.4 extender. This gets me to 280mm of focal length. I generally shoot a f4 to f5.6 to keep my DOF shallow. I look for flowers that have a good seperation from the others and I have more flowers in the background. This allows for nice sharp focus on the target flower, but gives me that beautiful soft palet of colors for backgrounds.   

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Pelicans are large water birds with a large pouch, belonging to the bird family Pelecanidae.

Brown Pelican, Ft. Myers, FL. (The classic pelican photograph)

Along with the darters, cormorants, gannets, boobies, frigatebirds, and tropicbirds, pelicans make up the order Pelecaniformes. Modern pelicans, of which there are eight species, are found on all continents except Antarctica. They primarily inhabit warm regions, though breeding ranges reach 45° south,Australian Pelicans, and 60° North, American White Pelicans, in western Canada. Birds of inland and coastal waters, they are absent from polar regions, the deep ocean, oceanic islands, and inland South America.

American White Pelicans, Two Rivers NWR, Alton IL.

Of the eight species of pelicans, two can be found in the United States. The Brown Pelican, and the Ameican White Pelican.The diet of a Pelican usually consists of fish, but they also eat amphibians, crustaceans and on some occasions, smaller birds.They often catch fish by expanding the throat pouch. Then they must drain the pouch above the surface before they can swallow. This operation takes up to a minute, during which time other seabirds are particularly likely to steal the fish. Pelicans in their turn sometimes pirate prey from other seabirds.

Brown Pelican swimming at Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel FL.
The white pelicans often fish in groups. They will form a line to chase schools of small fish into shallow water, and then scoop them up. Large fish are caught with the bill-tip, then tossed up in the air to be caught and slid into the gullet head first. The Brown Pelican of North America usually plunge-dives for its prey.

American White Pelicans sun and preen, Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel, FL.

Pelicans do not store fish in their pouch, but simply use it to catch them and then tip it back to drain out water and swallow the fish immediately. The American white pelican can hold some 3 gallons (11 1/2 liters) of water in its bill. Young pelicans feed by sticking their bills into their parents' throats to retrieve food.

Brown Pelican Portrait, Estero Lagoon, Ft. Myers Beach, FL.

Pelicans swim well with their short, strong legs and their feet with all four toes webbed (as in all birds placed in the order Pelecaniformes). The tail is short and square, with 20 to 24 feathers. The wings are long and have the unusually large number of 30 to 35 secondary flight feathers. A layer of special fibers deep in the breast muscles can hold the wings rigidly horizontal for gliding and soaring. Thus they can exploit thermals to commute over 150 km (100 miles) to feeding areas.

American White Pelican in flight, Twin Rivers NWR, Alton IL.

Pelicans rub the backs of their heads on their preen glands to pick up its oily secretion, which they transfer to their plumage to waterproof it.

Watching the sunrise, Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel FL.

Pelicans are really fun to watch as they feed and interact with other birds. When you first start into bird photography, they are a great species to start with. They tolerate humans very well, and since thery are very large birds, they fill up your view finder with a medium length telephoto lens in many cases. Most of my pelican shots are donw with a 70-200mm zoom and a 1.4 extender. Their flight patterns are fairly slow and steady so they are very easy to track in flight.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

The Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Nyctanassa violacea, also called the American Night Heron or squawk, similar in appearance to the Black-crowned Night Heron. It is found throughout a large part of the Americas, especially (but not exclusively) in warmer coastal regions.

Stalking prey along the edge of a Red Mangrove area at Ding Darling NWR. 

The Yellow-crowned Night Heron is a short, stocky wading bird about 24 inches in length with a wingspan of a little under four feet. It has long yellow to orange legs, red eyes, a black bill, and a short neck. It has a slate gray body, a black head with a white streak on the side of its face and a yellowish-white crown. In breeding season it has a yellow plume of feathers on its head. Males and females look alike. Immature yellow-crowned night herons are a mottled grayish-brown.

Portrait shot of an immature bird that has not yet molted to adult plummage.

The yellow-crowned Night Heron forages for food both in the day and at night. Most of the ellow-crowned Night Heron's diet is made up of crustaceans like crabs and crayfish. It sometimes eats fish, eels, mussels, frogs, tadpoles, aquatic insects, snails, and small snakes. It either stands and waits for its prey to swim by or wades in the shallow water and slowly stalks its prey.

Stalking prey in the shallow waters of Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel FL.

The Yellow-crowned Night Heron lives in wooded swamps, fresh and saltwater marshes and thickets. The Yellow-crowned Night Heron breeds from southern New England south to Florida and west to Texas. It also breeds along the Mississippi River. It winters on the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts.
Soaking up some sun, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples FL.

The female lays three to five eggs on a nest of sticks placed in a tree or sometimes on the ground. Both the male and female build the nest and incubate the eggs. The eggs hatch in about three weeks. Both parents care for the chicks and feed them regurgitated food. The chicks fledge when they are about 25 days  old.                                                       

Portrait shot hand held with a 500mm Canon lens.

The yellow-crowned night heron is more solitary than other herons. It prefers to nest separately from other birds.

Having some crab for dinner. Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel FL.

Although I have photographed all the birds shown here in Florida, I do see them at our local nature preserve, and along the Mississippi River. Like many birds in this area, they are more skittish of humans and will fly if you try to get close. In the South Florida areas I visit there numbers are much higher, and they are much more tolerant of humans. I have made many good shots with a 70-200mm lens and 1.4 extender attached. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Panoramic Photography

Panoramic photography is a technique of photography, using specialized equipment or software, that captures images with elongated fields of view. It is sometimes known as wide format photography. The term has also been applied to a photograph that is cropped to a relatively wide aspect ratio. While there is no formal division between "wide-angle" and "panoramic" photography, "wide angle" normally refers to a type of lens, but this lens type does not necessarily image a panorama.

3 photos stitched together of the Mackinaw Island Harbor

Following the invention of flexible film in 1888, panoramic photography was revolutionised. Dozens of cameras were marketed, many with brand names heavily indicative of their time. Cameras such as the Cylindrograph, Wonder Panoramic, Pantascopic and Cyclo-Pan, are some examples of panoramic cameras. The techniues they incorporated varied by using rotating types of lenses or curved mirrors. Many would expose multiple frames of film to get one shot. 

6 photos stitched vertically, Cumberland Gap, Smokey Mt. National Park

Digital photography has simplified the process of making a panoramic photograph to the point where it is really easy to do. There is specialized stand alone photo stitching software programs, or most photo editing programs have some stitching feature. I currently use Adobe Photoshop CS4, and it does an amazing job stitching you seperate photographs together.

3 horizontal photos stitched together of Honolulu HI.

The technique is pretty simple.For the best results a tripod is needed. Place your camera on the tripod and get it as level as possible. It is best to meter the scene and set your camera manually so you meter is not fooled by the changing light. Next take a shot and then rotate your camera and overlap the scene by 25 to 30 percent so the software has plenty of data to see and line up. Continue to shoot and overlap the photos until you have captured the entire scene. The photos are loaded into the software and they are stitched together. You will have to crop around to clean up the edges. In years past there was always some touch up and other corrections to fix, but the newest software does such a good job that it is impossible most times to find the stitch lines. They have gotten so good that witch good technique,you can  do them hand held and the computer can line them up both vertically and horizontally.

Ft. Jefferson, Dry Tortougas National Park, 12 vertical sitch, hand held.

After climbing up to the roof of Ft. Jefferson, I decided to try an impromptu panoramic shot hand help. I took 12 vertical photos with a very wide angle lens. I overlapped the photos. 25-50 percent to give the software plenty to work with. Although it was pretty harsh mid-day sunlight, I was pretty happy with this result for a quick pano. There are no railings up there and you can see the little walking path. Two more steps backwards and it was about 60 foot drop.
A single photo cropped to a pano look. Mother goose and 16 babies.

Another option  is to crop a single photo to make it resemble a panoramic looking scene. With todays large megapixel file sizes, you can crop out much of the top and bottom of your file to give you a unique looking photo and retain enough data to make a decent sized print.

Chicago IL. skyline at dusk. 12 vertical images stitched together 

There is a lot of useful information on this subject available on the internet by doing a search. Some of the simple stand alone software programs are very reasonably priced. You should try these sometime. The results can be amazing.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Myth: "Arachnid" is just a fancy name for spider.

Fact: There are eleven orders of arachnids. These include the scorpions; mites and ticks,           harvestmen, pseudoscorpions, whipscorpions, solpugids, and spiders.

Myth: You can always tell a spider because it has eight legs.

Fact: Not exactly. Scorpions, harvestmen, ticks, and in fact all arachnids - not just spiders - have four pairs of legs.Insects have three pairs. Also, notice that I said "four pairs" instead of "eight." The number of leg pairs (one pair per leg-bearing segment) is more significant than individual legs, which can be lost.

Although spiders are often unpopular, the venom of most species is not very toxic to humans, usually resulting in no more than a slight swelling, inflammation, or itching sensation. Most spiders fangs are too small or weak to puncture human skin. Spiders usually will not attempt to bite unless accidentally trapped against the skin or grasped, although some species actively guard their egg sacs or young.  The most harmful species of spiders in North america are the Brown Recluse Spider, and the Black Widow Spider. Several species of sac spiders (clubionids) are suspected of being responsible for most spider bites, especially ones occurring indoors. Sac spider venom is cytotoxic, causing tissues at the bite site to die. However, the vast majority of spiders are harmless to humans.

Even though I am an avid macro photographer, I do not have many good spider photos. I am just not a big fan of them.There are many macro shooters who specialize in them an have some amazing photos. I do like the photos where you can see their 6 or 8 eyes, but having suffered many, many bites over the years, I just mostly ignore them. Several of these shots are Argiopes, or Black and Yellow Garden Spiders, found almost everywhere in  North America. I was shooting Butterflies when the tiny Jumping Spider appeared on the end of the Anthurium Flower. Not sure what the other one is, but he is making short work of the damselfly trapped in his web. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Snowy Egret

When I go to Florida and spend time photographing birds, one of the easiest birds to get close to and photograph are Snowy Egrets. Since they are now protected, their numbers have rebounded and they are very plentiful in the south Florida areas that I visit. These birds are wild, but they show little fear of humans and allow you to get quite close. When they are feeding, they are fun to watch and the actions can get pretty wild when a large flock of them are feeding in a small area. The Snowy above caught a shrimp and came up and landed right next to me. He was so close I could not even focus on him so I had to walk away to get enough distance between us for my camera to focus.

The Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) is a small white heron. It is the American counterpart to the very similar Old World Little Egret, which has established a foothold in the Bahamas.When full grown, the Snowy has a height of about two feet and has a wingspan of about three feet. It has white feathers, a yellow patch of skin around its eyes, a black bill and black legs with bright yellow feet. In breeding season, it has lacy plumes on its head, neck and back. Males and females look alike.

The snowy egret breeds on the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific Coast and the Gulf Coast. It is also found in some inland areas. It winters from California south to South America on the west coast and from Virginia south to the West Indies on the east coast.

The birds eat fish, crustaceans, and insects. They stalk prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling their feet, flushing prey into view, as well "dip-fishing" by flying with their feet just over the water. Snowy Egrets may also stand still and wait to ambush prey, or hunt for insects stirred up by domestic animals in open fields.

At one time, the beautiful plumes of the Snowy Egret were in great demand by market hunters as decorations for women's hats. This reduced the population of the species to dangerously low levels.Now protected in the USA by law, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, this bird's population has rebounded.

Have A Great Weekend!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Osprey

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), sometimes known as the sea hawk, is a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey. It is a large raptor, reaching 60 centimetres (24 in) in length with a 2m wingspan. It is brown on the upperparts and predominantly greyish on the head and underparts, with a black eye patch and wings.The Osprey tolerates a wide variety of habitats, nesting in any location near a body of water providing an adequate food supply. It is found on all continents except Antarctica although in South America it occurs only as a non-breeding migrant.

As its other common name suggests, the Osprey's diet consists almost exclusively of fish. It has evolved specialised physical characteristics and exhibits unique behaviour to assist in hunting and catching prey. Despite its propensity to nest near water, the Osprey is not a sea-eagle.
The Osprey differs in several respects from other diurnal birds of prey. Its toes are of equal length, its tarsi are reticulate, and its talons are rounded, rather than grooved. The Osprey and Owls are the only raptors whose outer toe is reversible, allowing them to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind. This is particularly helpful when they grab slippery fish.

The sexes appear fairly similar, but the adult male can be distinguished from the female by its slimmer body and narrower wings. The breast band of the male is also weaker than that of the female, or is non-existent, and the underwing coverts of the male are more uniformly pale. This is a good guide to determine the sex in a breeding pair, but harder with individual birds.

The Osprey breeds by freshwater lakes, and sometimes on coastal brackish waters. Ospreys usually mate for life.
All these photographs were taken in various locations in Florida where they are extremely abundant due to a great effort to build back up the population. Like eagles, they suffed a big drop in their population from the use of pesticides that worked there way into the food chain.They have rebounded well and now can easily be observed in great numbers.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Great Blue Herons

The tall, long-legged great blue heron is the most common and largest of North American herons.Great blue herons are waders, typically seen along coastlines, in marshes, or near the shores of ponds or streams. They are expert fishers. Herons snare their aquatic prey by walking slowly, or standing still for long periods of time and waiting for fish to come within range of their long necks and blade-like bills. The deathblow is delivered with a quick thrust of the sharp bill, and the prey is swallowed whole. Great blue herons have been known to choke to death by attempting to swallow fish too large for their long, S-shaped necks. Though they are best known as fishers, mice constitute a large part of their diet, and they also eat insects and other small creatures.

Great blue herons' size (3.2 to 4.5 feet/1 to 1.4 meters) and wide wingspan (5.5 to 6.6 feet/1.7 to 2 meters) make them a joy to see in flight. They can cruise at some 20 to 30 miles (32 to 48 kilometers) an hour.

Though great blue herons hunt alone, they typically nest in colonies. They prefer tall trees, but sometimes nest in low shrubs. Females produce two to seven eggs, which both parents protect and incubate. Chicks can survive on their own by about two months of age.The all-white color morph found in the Caribbean and southern Florida is often called the great white heron, but it is in fact the same species.

The call is a harsh croak. The heron is most vocal during the breeding season, but will call occasionally at any time of the year in territorial disputes or if disturbed.

When I go to Florida and photograph them, they are fairly approachable and I usually have no trouble getting close to them. Around my area in the mid-west I have found them to be extremely skittish and will take off before you can get close enough to photograph them. 

 It is amazing how they survive the harsh winters. This fellow was on an ice covered log on the bank of the Mississippi River near the Alton Lock and Dam

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Like many people, I love lighthouses. Growing up and living in the heart of the Midwest does not give you the opportunity to experience seeing them unless you are around the great lakes area. Thankfully my parents loved to travel, so I was exposed to their charm almost every year. Sometimes it was vacations in the many states that border the great lakes region, and other times it was trips to the costal beaches.

Lighthouse to Chicago IL Harbor

A lighthouse is a tower, building, or framework designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire and used as an aid to navigation and to pilots at sea or on inland waterways.
Lighthouses are used to mark dangerous coastlines, hazardous shoals and reefs, and safe entries to harbors and can also assist in aerial navigation. Once widely used, the number of operational lighthouses has declined due to the expense of maintenance and replacement by modern electronic navigational aids.

 Key West, FL. Lighthouse

I get a lot of requests for lighthouse photos, and unfortunately I do not have very many of them. So I have made it my goal to try and photograph them whenever I am remotely close to one. I am even hoping and planning a trip to the east coast to photograph some.


Whitefish Point, MI. Lighthouse

In a lighthouse, the source of light is called the "lamp" (whether electric or fueled by oil) and the concentration of the light is by the "lens" or "optic". Originally lit by open fires and later candles, the Argand hollow wick lamp and parabolic reflector was developed around 1781 in Europe. In the US, whale oil was used with solid wicks as the source of light, until the Argand parabolic reflector system was introduced around 1810 by Winslow Lewis. Colza oil replaced whale oil in the early 1850s, but US farmers' lack of interest in growing this caused the service to switch to lard oil in the mid 1850s. Kerosene started replacing lard oil in the 1870s and the service was finally totally converted by the late 1880s. Electricity and carbide (acetylene gas) started to replace kerosene around the turn of the 20th century. The use of the latter was promoted by the Dalén light, which automatically lit the lamp at nightfall and extinguished it at dawn.

Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, Jupiter FL.

To be effective the lamp must be high enough to be seen before the danger is reached by a mariner. The minimum height is calculated according to trigonometry by taking the square root of the height of a lighthouse in feet and multiplying it by 1.17 to yield the distance to the horizon in nautical miles.Where dangerous shoals are located far off a flat sandy beach, the prototypical tall masonry coastal lighthouse is constructed to assist the navigator making a landfall after an ocean crossing. Often these are cylindrical to reduce the effect of wind on a tall structure, such as Cape May Light. Smaller versions of this design are often used as harbor lights to mark the entrance into a harbor, such as New London Harbor Light.

Sanibel Island Lighthouse, Sanibel, FL

Perhaps the most famous lighthouse in history is the Lighthouse of Alexandria.The Lighthouse of Alexandria was built in 280 BC to serve as the port's landmark. With a height variously estimated between 115 and 135 meters (383 - 440 ft) it was among the tallest man-made structures on Earth for many centuries, and was identified as one of the Seven Wonders of the World by classical writers.

This is my favorite lighthouse photo. Not that I have many, but I do have a lot of the Sanibel Island Light since I go there often for bird photography. This shot was taken about 20 minutes after the sun went below the horizion behind me. I was on the causeway leaving Sanibel headed back to the mainland. This was shot with my Canon 50D, ISO 400, a Canon 500mm lens set at f16 (creates the star effect on the lights) for a 30 second exposure.

Hopefully in the future I will have a new batch of lighthouse phots to share with you.