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Fun with Flowers and Water

Inspired by photographer Don Komarechka’s website, I did some macro photography over our Christmas vacation.  When the bird photography is limited by clouds, it’s time to break out the flash and the macro lens for some fun with flowers and water!

Flower Refractions

Flower Refractions

My first setup was to use a piece of clinging vine to cover in water droplets to photograph flower refractions.  I tried several green grasses from my yard, and this ivy was the only thing that I found where water beaded nicely.  I tried adding some glycerin to the water to help.  I found that I had to use focus stacking to get the entire snippet in focus.  It was my first focus stacking experiment, and it was harder than I expected.  Photoshop had trouble lining up all my images.  But I at least captured the spirit of what I was trying to photograph…

Flower Refractions

Flower Refractions

I’m used to using natural light for my photographs, so it was fun (and challenging) to use my flash to throw extra light on the ivy and the flower in the background.

Next I switched my setup to do some water droplet photography.  If you clean a piece of glass with RainX, then spray it with water droplets, the RainX makes the water bead nicely.  Add a flower behind the glass and you have a very pretty image…

Pink and Purple

Pink and Purple

I think I added a bit of blue gel to my flash for this image, which helped bring out the purple color in my flower.  This was a vast improvement over one of my last attempts at water droplet photography, when I didn’t have enough light and I didn’t get clear flowers in each of my water droplets.  A good lamp and a nice flash do wonders!

Drops of Gold

Drops of Gold

For the shot above I positioned a reflector underneath the flower.  I loved how the golden bubbles contrasted with the purple flower.

Flower Bubbles

Flower Bubbles

For my final image I added some Color Efex Pro effects to add some color casts to the image.

I used my iPhone to take a photo of the setup at some point in this little adventure.  I had a bowl of water nearby to use in reflections.  My cat Squirt decided to be my assistant and drink my water!  It’s impossible to do anything in our house without feline assistance… :)

Water Droplet Setup - Hi Squirt!

Water Droplet Setup – Hi Squirt!

Lifer Clapper Rail at Merritt Island NWR

After my morning visit with bad light at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last weekend, I decided to use my Monday off to return in the afternoon.  My dad came with me to see his lifer Long-tailed Duck.  What I didn’t expect was to see my lifer Clapper Rail that afternoon as well.  It was a great afternoon!

We first stopped at Parrish Park to see the Long-tailed Duck.  The Long-tailed Duck is considered a very good bird in Florida.  This bird breeds in northern Canada on the Arctic tundra.  Normally its winter range in the US extends to New England and no further.  Florida was a big detour for this bird!  We spotted the duck waaaaay out in the ocean under the Max Brewer bridge.  I thought my pictures from Sunday were bad, but these were worse!  Then the duck took flight and my dad and I both clicked away, hoping for maybe one image in focus.  Well, kinda…

Long-tailed Duck in Flight

Long-tailed Duck in Flight.  The namesake long tail is only visible during breeding season.

We then headed to Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.  I’d forgotten how busy it is in the afternoon.  Note to self: schedule an extra hour to get to the good birdy spots!  I was disappointed that many of the birds I’d seen on Sunday morning were no longer hanging around on Monday afternoon.  I kept promising my dad that we’d see Pintail Heaven, and when we finally got there, there were just a few pintails!  But the ones that were there were nice and close…

Northern Pintails

Northern Pintails – the male on the left with the characteristic “pin tail”, and the female on the right doing what dabbling ducks do best – stick their butts in the air!

A bunch of birders with scopes were set up near Pintail Heaven, so we walked down there to see what they were looking at.  It turned out that a Sora and a Clapper Rail were both feeding along the edge of the vegetation.  Finally – the exception that proves the rule – my lifer shot of a Clapper Rail wasn’t terrible!!

Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail. He hangs out in the salt marshes, where his cousin the King Rail prefers fresh water.

The poor little Sora was jealous.  Everybody was taking photos of the Clapper while the Sora foraged wide out in the open.  By this time the afternoon light was just gorgeous on these shy birds.

Sora

Sora. It’s not often to see one fully out in the open like this.

A Green Heron lurked in the shadows.  He said that he deserved to have his photo taken, too, even if he wasn’t a rail.

Green Heron

Green Heron

A bunch of coots were splashing about.  I just can’t resist a good coot shot sometimes, especially when he’s in beautiful light.

American Coot

American Coot

Just when we thought the afternoon couldn’t get any better, it did.  The Clapper Rail left the safety of the vegetation line and started swimming out in open water, right towards us!  “Too much lens” was heard as I scrambled to get on a good angle.  What a fun bird!

My Lifer Clapper Rail - Swimming!

My Lifer Clapper Rail – Swimming!

The clouds were really pretty in the sky, so we stayed an extra few minutes and photographed the sunset.  The sun glowed orange on the horizon as the breeze blew around us, the end to a great afternoon.

Sunset on Black Point

Sunset on Black Point

As we drove out, we had my mom on speakerphone telling her about our lifers. For my dad it was a 3-lifer day – the Long-tailed Duck, a Common Loon, and the Clapper Rail.  In the midst of our excitement I slammed on my brakes and hopped out of the car to grab one last image.  I love this shot of the post-sunset clouds.  It’s pure Florida. :)

Florida Sunset

Florida Sunset

Good Birds, Bad Light at Merritt Island NWR

I haven’t been to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in several years.  So I headed over last weekend to see how birdy it is this year.  My first stop was at Parrish Park for sunrise, where I found Michael set up under the bridge.  For a morning that was forecast to be completely clear with no cloud cover, there were some nice clouds in the sky – always a good sign for sunrise!

30 Minutes Before Sunrise

30 Minutes Before Sunrise

This first shot was taken about 30 minutes before sunrise.  That’s often the time when the colors are deepest.  I was excited to try my new black filter, a 10-stop neutral density filter.  I wanted to experiment with capturing the motion in the clouds.  10 stops was a bit much in the early dawn – my exposures were about 4 minutes long!  I have a lot to learn, but this was my favorite long exposure…

Sunrise with Black Filter

Sunrise with Black Filter

The water was really choppy that morning, and I liked how the filter smoothed out the water.  After the sun rose, I took off the filter and took some simpler shots.  A little HDR worked some wonders on the color.

Parrish Park Sunrise

Parrish Park Sunrise

Michael set up his iPhone to do a time-lapse of the sunrise.  Check it out on his blog.

Then it was time to search for the Long-tailed Duck that has been hanging out under the Max Brewer Bridge recently.  I’d never seen a Long-tailed Duck before.  We finally spotted the duck fairly far away from the bridge, right in front of the sun (of course).  Why are lifer photos always bad?

Lifer Long-tailed Duck

Lifer Long-tailed Duck

After a few shots of the duck, I headed to Black Point Wildlife Drive.  The sun disappeared behind clouds as we spotted some American Avocets.  It was fun to get really close to them.  Most of my shots were similar to the avocets at the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands.  My one good flight shot was slightly out of focus, so I took it into some Topaz filters to make an artsy image.  I love how the filters can salvage a slightly out of focus image.

American Avocet in Flight

American Avocet in Flight

There were plenty of birds on Black Point, but most of them were on the wrong side of the light.  It made me want to go back in the afternoon.  In a pond just past the restrooms were a couple of American Wigeons.  I think that was the closest I’ve gotten to wigeons, so it was nice to get some good details in the photos.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

As I headed home, I stopped back at Parrish Park to see if the Long-tailed Duck had come closer.  Of course he hadn’t.  Actually, we couldn’t find him again.  The water was really really choppy.  Michael spotted two Horned Grebes bobbing in the surf.  It was hard to focus on them with all the waves, and when I’d finally get focused, they would dive!  Silly birds.  This was my best shot.

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

Michael showed me the pier on the other side of the bridge, and there were some Common Loons in the surf.  Again, it was the closest I’ve gotten to a loon.  I had to shoot against the meager light, but the bird was great.  What a fun morning!

Common Loon

Common Loon