I see a new series developing. It can be rewarding to play with some painterly effects in Photoshop after shooting the diverse shapes of Nature in Southwest Florida. On a walk through the Naples Botanical Garden recently, I tried to see and photograph something different this time. The Queen Palm looked so pretty with its overlapping leaves sunlit along the lake.
As this Everglades alligator and I made eye contact, I could not resist the photo opportunity of its serpentine shape in the water. Thanks to my Nikon 200mm lens, I was not as close to this dangerous predator as it appears. I am still very glad that it stayed very still in the water while we looked each other over. It is used to seeing tourists, dozens of them who like to stop on the bike path and point and take photos. And fortunately, the habitat is full of birds and fish and frogs for the gator to eat. What I like about this photo, is that it seems like life pauses for a moment when the viewer looks at the gator, and the gator looks back. The composition is both natural and simple, with the serpentine shape showing the eye a path through the frame.
The blue heron is statuesque while standing motionless in the swamp. Instantly, he changes shape as he takes flight. Notice the water falling from the feet. Captured in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida with Nikon D800.
My camera settings were ready to capture this graceful Great Egret in flight when he lifted off. You need a fast shutter speed, the bird in focus, and a proper exposure (difficult when the bright sky is the background). I was really excited to see this egret with two wing positions and water dripping off his feet.
Since the sky was cloudy, I had my ISO set to 400. My Nikon 70-200 lens was extended to 200 to isolate the bird without moving too close to disturb him. I had my Nikon D800 set to Aperture Mode and set the aperture to f/5.6 to keep the bird in focus if he moved a bit closer or farther from me. This setting gave me the balance between wide depth of field and enough light to yield a fast shutter speed (1/1,000) to freeze action. I also employed the fast continuous shutter mode, so my camera would shoot multiple exposures with one long depression of the shutter button. Of course, you have to make these choices ahead of time, so when the bird takes off, you can pan and press the shutter button.
Captured this Great Egret in the Everglades catching and eating his dinner — a wiggly creature from the wetlands. It was a big morsel to swallow whole. Nearly the last photo of 199 images shot at Shark Valley last Saturday.
Alligators and large wading birds I expected on my bike ride through Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. The crocodile was definitely a surprise! Shark Valley is located in the northeast quadrant of the Everglades “river of grass,” the mostly fresh water drainage from Lake Okeechobee. Alligators thrive in fresh water or estuaries with a mix of fresh and salt water, while crocodiles are salt water creatures — mostly found further south in the Florida Keys. Crocodiles are aggressive and are known to attack humans within striking distance. How very lucky that I saw this croc from a safe distance from the observation tower ramp. My guardian angel was on duty!
Stay tuned this week for more photo highlights of wildlife in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park.
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My dog Sophie can’t believe how big the birds are in Florida. Yes, that’s a six-pound wood stork over there! And looking at its fuzzy head, I can tell it’s a juvenile. This bashful bird is wary of the photographer inching along the grass to come just a little bit closer. He is one of a threatened species, the only breeding stork in North America, found in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. His biggest predator is the raccoon, who steals eggs from its nest.
Wood storks wade in lowland wetlands and look for fish, frogs and insects to eat. They shuffle their webbed feet in the shallow water to stir any aquatic critters to move, and then keep their bills in the water to catch dinner. That is a blue heron standing behind the wood stork.
In my neighborhood in Naples, Florida, the wood stork shares the swamp with numerous heron, ibis, egrets, turtles, fish and alligators. Sophie, you’re not in Pennsylvania anymore.
Many nature photographers prefer to shoot on cloudy days, when the dynamic range is not too wide for the camera to capture, and sharp shadows don’t create issues. In other words, the experienced photographer can be assured of capturing detail in both the highlights and the shadows. But sunlight very early and very late in the day creates other nice opportunities. For example, in this photograph in Six Mile Cypress Swamp in Fort Myers, Forida, the shadows made good leading lines, as did the sunlight coming in from the upper right corner. All those lines converge in the low center of the frame. The blue sky made a vivid reflection in the still water, and the yellow sunlight in the background adds some warmth.
This time of year when we experience fewer bright sunny days, we appreciate what sunshine can do for our mood. I certainly feel more energetic and upbeat on a sunny day. How about you?
My photography friend and mentor Marc Soracco took these touching photos of my portrait shoot at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for Flashes of Hope when he assisted me last month. I thought you might enjoy a peak behind the scenes.