Thursday, December 29, 2011

Corbel Coyote


I work in downtown Jacksonville.  Next to our office, is a large open field that at one time was home to the city's main power plant, until it was relocated decades ago.  In the last month or so, a couple of coyotes have taken up residence in the field and adjacent woods.  How they got there, I have not the foggiest idea.  How do a couple of wild coyotes make it from the forests thirty to fifty miles out of town, through the suburbs, down city streets to set up shop in a very urban environment?  Smart I guess.



Soon after the first sitings, we were told that a trapper had been hired to trap the coyote (we initially thought there was only one).  And when I say "sitings", I don't mean someone saw a coyote head poking up out of the underbrush.  These guys (or girls) were trotting through the parking lots and down Prudential Drive in broad daylight! 



We had suspicions there were two.  One has a high hip, almost deformed, and the other sleeker lines, but during the first couple of weeks, no one saw them together to confirm our conjecture.  After a couple weeks of daily sitings, they just disappeared.  We thought the trapper had finally been successful, but then after a week of no sitings, someone saw both of them together in the field.  Since then, they've been seen together frequently. 



They must really be wiley, as the saying goes.  Two trappers have been working for two months trying to capture these coyotes.  I think the coyotes laugh at them.  At this point, I'm not sure why bother.  The coyotes don't seem to be hurting anyone.  They're certainly not threatening in any way (despite the teethy photos).  I'd like to lure them to my neighborhood for a while to work on our feral cat population.




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Monday, December 26, 2011

Michelangelo On The Track


This is in my top three favorite sports photos.  There's nothing technically outstanding about the photo, but everytime I look at it, it reminds of Michelangelo's Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  The muscle tone and definition, the outstretched arms, the almost touching fingers, the facial expression, all strike me as something that Michelango might have taken as inspiration for in his paintings.

The occasion of the photo was the 2011 Seminole Invitational outdoor track meet at FSU in Tallahassee, FL.

Equipment:  Canon 7D, 70-200 f/2.8 USM.  Photo taken at 95mm, f/3.5, 1/200, ISO-100

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fly Like A Buffalo


OK, maybe it should be "Fly Like An Eagle", but he is running for Buffalo.

I don't think there's a more frenetic event in outdoor track than the opposing sprint relay hurdles.  You don't see it very often at track meets, but it's one of the highlights of the Penn Relays.  Hurdles are set up in opposite directions in adjacent lanes on the straightway.  Each team uses two lanes and runners run in a traditional opposing relay (like in grade school).  It starts out just like a traditional sprint hurdle, but with teams in alternating lanes.  But then when they tag at the end of the straight and the opposing runners start coming back the other way it gets interesting.


Naturally, some hurdles get knocked down, and track workers have to run out and reset them before the next leg of the relay.  That's some fast work!  It really gets interesting on the third and fourth legs because by that time, some runners are well ahead or well behind and then you have runners running in adjacent lanes in the opposite direction of one another.  That's not something you see at your average track meet.  Add to that, the workers trying to reset hurtles in an ever shrinking gap, and you have organized chaos.


All of this chaos is a wonderful opportunity for photography.  I typically set up between the first and second hurdle.  That way, I get the start, which I like because you usually get all of the runners in the first shot.  Then I can get individual runners as the relay proceeds.


I've experimented in photographing hurdles, and have come to this (current) thinking:

  1. Maximize shutter speed to stop action (kind of obvious).  I like 1/500 at a minimum, but sometimes that's not possible with poor light.  The photos on this page are all sub 1/500.  Use a higher ISO setting if necessary to gain the extra speed.
  2. Maximize f stop to gain a greater depth of field and minimize focusing error (see #3).  Naturally, this conflicts with #1, so you have to fiddle for just the right settings.  If you know exactly which hurtle you're attempting to get, you can lower the f stop and maximize shutter speed.
  3. Use fixed manual focus.  This is the reason for #2.  I've found that even with the fast focus of my Canon lens, sometimes it just isn't fast enough.  I typically set up sitting on the ground to get an upward perspective on the runner, which I believe enhances the look of the shot.  However, it also means that the runners are hidden behind the hurdles until they're right on top of me.  To combat this, I manually focus on the hurdle and leave focus there while shooting.  The best shot is usually as the runner passes right over the top of the hurtle, so focus is generally accurate at that point.
Equipment:  Canon 7D, 28-135 f/3.5 IS USM.  All of these photos taken around:  28mm, f/3.5-4.5, 1/320, ISO-100

I'm looking forward to another shot at some Penn Relays hurdles in 2012.  Always exciting!

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Poor planning... how's he going to land?


This is one of those shots that you don't have a clue what you have until you get home and take a closer look.  I was taking pics in November on the bay side of Matanzas Inlet (south of St. Augustine, FL) in the early morning to take advantage of the low sun in the east.  I was trying hard to get some action shots of Ospreys fishing, but not having any luck.  Not that there weren't any Ospreys, and not that they weren't fishing... there was a bunch of them, and they were hungry!  Every time I followed one to one side of the inlet, he'd move to the other side.  I must have walked two miles in the soft sand trying to get a good action shot.

Finally, I got tired and just positioned myself near the trees where the Ospreys were bringing their catch back to eat.  I shot several returning to their perches, carrying their catch with them.  They move so fast, and it's all I can do to keep them in frame, that I wasn't really paying much attention to what they actually had.  Imagine my surprise when I got back home and shuffled through my pics and saw this guy with, not one, but two fish, one in each claw.  What a find!

Following, are a few other catches for the day.  My favorite is the one below where, if you look closely, you can see an enormous needle fish bending back up to bite the osprey in a vain attempt to free itself.  Better get that thing by the head next time!


The osprey got his revenge though... no more head!


Here's one last one... I nice catch of croaker for breakfast....


Equipment:  Canon 7D, 70-200 f/2.8 USM.  Pics taken at:  200mm, f/9, 1/800, ISO-400, except tree pic which  was 400mm, f/9, 1/1000, ISO-400.

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Now That's a Florida Beach House!


Imagine coming here for your summer vacation... or, if you're from up north, I guess you'd come here for winter.  Not another house for miles in either direction, no roads, no bridges, accessible only by boat.  Heaven if you ask me!  I can imagine waking up to watch the sunrise over St.Andrews Bay behind the house and eating supper on the front porch to a gorgeous sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.  In between, fishing in the bay, walking on the sugary white beach, napping while a thunderstorm rumbles through in the afternoon.  Where do I sign up?!

I'm sure this was possible at one time in the past, but alas, this is state park property now and wholly inaccessible, as so many "public" resources are nowadays (brief stint on the soapbox).  Even on this uninhabited and relatively inaccessible island, the only area open to the public is the beach below the high tide mark.  WOOOooo <smash>!  Someone pulled the soapbox out from underneath me!  Enough of that I guess.

This house is located on Shell Island (or Hurricane Island, depending on your geographic preference), on the east side of St. Andrews Inlet, just east of Panama City Beach, FL.  If you're from out of town, it's well worth the price of a boat rental to get there.  If you're there in the slow season (mid-summer), haggle with the concessionaires at St. Andrews Park on the mainland side and you can get a full day boat rental for half day price.  The trip over is through the bay to several landing points on the back side of the island.  If you have you're own boat, just anchor up anywhere along the front side, conditions permitting.  Of course, if you have your own boat, you don't need me to tell you that.


The day we strolled this beach, we were the only humans visible the entire length of the beach in both directions.  That's an increasingly rare occurrence anywhere in Florida these days.  I can remember my surprise at how many people were on the beach at Cape Sable (below) the two times that I've circumnavigated Florida.  Cape Sable is without doubt, the most remote beach on the entire coastline of Florida, and yet there were people there.  Sorry about the extremely poor pic below, but this was prior to the advent of quality digital cameras.


The only downside?  The biting flies were unbearable!  Walking down the beach, a hoard of them would accost us.  We retreated to the relative safety of the water, but even then, they'd buzz your head.  If you dipped your head underneath the water, they'd wash off on the surface of the water and wriggle their way out of the surface tension and take right off.  Amazingly, even if I swatted them and pushed them under the water, they would float back to the surface and work their way past the surface tension.  I've never seen an insect do that!  What little devils!



Equipment:  Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/2.8 USM.  Top pic taken at 180mm, f/13, 1/200, ISO-100.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Summer Anvil Cloud Sunset


Among the many things I miss during the three months (OK, maybe six weeks) of winter here in Florida are the thunderstorms.  I have no fonder memories than those summers with my grandparents in southwest Florida, waking up early to fish (commercial hook&line), home by lunch, a few chores, then a nap while the daily afternoon thunderstorms rumbled through. 

The occasion for this shot was a dinner in Fernandina Beach with cousins.  We all had celebrated 25 year anniversaries within a few years of one another, so decided we should all get together and catch up.  If you've never been to Fernandina, you should give it a try... a nice old-Florida, small-town atmosphere.

We had a nice dinner and walked out on the floating dock of the municipal marina.  The deep water marina is a frequent stop-over for snowbird yachtsmen making their way south in the fall, or back north in the winter.  This day, it was the opposite... a Miami-based yacht headed back south.  Not too shabby a boat, huh?


Of course, when you own a boat like this, you get a gas bill like this!!!....



Ouch!  Anyway... back to the story (easily distracted as usual).  After recovering from sticker shock, I noticed the sun going behind a big thunderhead.  Drat!  Another sunset ruined by tall clouds.  We wandered around the dock a little while longer... I have a weakness for nice boats.  About 15 minutes later, I noticed the sun peeking out from the middle of the thunderhead.  Perfect!  I took several shots and picked this one as the winner. 

The photo was a little dull, so I increased the contrast, adjusted the brightness a little, increased the saturation and bumped up the red a bit to bring the orange color out some more. 

Equipment:  Canon 7D, 24-135 IS USM.  Picture taken at 75mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-100.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Out of the Morning Mist


I flew to Nashville to shoot the ASUN CC Championships.  As an aside (got distracted early on this one)… on the flight up, I left Jacksonville right before sunset.  I’m always very cognizant of where I sit on the plane (Southwest affords that luxury), especially when I have my camera.  I sat on the left so I could see the sunset from the air.  I got much more than that.  It just happened to be the very last phase of the moon, so the sun set (beautiful), then the slivery crescent moon set, and then the evening star (Mars I believe) set, all one right after the other.  How neat!  Unfortunately, it was way too dark to get any reasonable pics, shooting through a dirty airplane window, bouncing around as airplanes do.   OK, back to the train story….

The race was early in the morning the next day, so I woke up well before dawn and drove the rental car out to the park where the race was to be held.  On the way, I scouted some likely photo opportunities and after I found the park, I doubled back for some pre-dawn and sunrise shots (different story).  Back at the park again with an hour to kill before the race, I noticed there was a train track across the street.  What an excellent opportunity for some rail-fanning!  Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I heard a train whistle in the distance, so I crossed the highway and stomped through the high underbrush to the tracks.  Upon reaching the tracks, I lifted my camera to frame a likely shot and… Yuch!  In stomping through the underbrush, the dew had splashed up all over the front of my lens (which, of course is protected by a clear filter).  I cleaned that off with my shirt tail (only thing available) and waited for the train.



Turns out, you can hear a train from a really long way away in the dense morning air!  I waited and waited, still hearing the whistle off in the distance.  Finally, I heard the rumble around the bend.  It was foggy on the railroad tracks, but there was a break in the fog in the direction of the rising sun, at a right angle to the approaching train.  This lighting arrangement gave me a nice brightly lit sharp train, but with a soft foggy background.  I like the effect.  The engineer gave me a quick whistle… either because he liked me, or because he thought I was too close to the tracks… not sure which.  Ended up with a nice pic that had nothing to do with the photo business at hand.  You gotta take ‘em when you get ‘em!

Canon 7D, 70-200 USM f/2.8.  Picture taken at:  70mm, f/8, 1/640, ISO-250.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blue Angels 2011


Every year, the Blue Angels perform in Jacksonville, alternating between the beach and Jax Naval Air Station.  I try to make it every year, but it's always at a terrible time of year... Florida/Georgia weekend!   It's also an iffy time of year weather-wise as we usually get the first big nor'easter of the year just about this time. 

This year, I was all excited because finally after years of missing the show, I actually had the weekend set aside for the show, and my wife was out of town for the weekend to boot (which never happens).  They usually have a practice run on Friday, so I figured I'd take a few hours off work and run down to watch the practice show so I could prepare for the real thing on Saturday.


Friday is reserved for special groups (Boy Scouts and such), so the best place to watch off-base is in the Target parking lot immediately adjacent the end of the runway.  Target ropes off part of the parking lot and has a police presence to keep order (thanks to Target for not forbidding access to us viewers).  It was a bright, beautiful, albeit windy day (first nor'easter of the year). 

I set up shop in the parking lot and did the best I could to get some pics, although I wasn't trying too hard in anticipation of better position the next day.  The planes are so fast!  It was hard to get the camera to my face before they passed.  I had a good time hanging out in the parking lot with other amazed viewers, and then back to work.



The forecast for Saturday was much the same as Friday... brilliant sun, windy and cold (a relative term for those outside of Florida).  I arose with great anticipation early Saturday morning, only to be greeted by solid low overcast.  I took a quick look at the satellite loop... clear at the Georgia state line, only 40 miles away, and the wind forecast for straight out of the north.  Perfect!... it should be clearing up anytime now.  So, off I go to the base.  I was early enough that traffic wasn't too bad (later in the day, it's a nightmare getting on base).

Three hours after waking up... still solid overcast, bitterly cold (again, relative), and a 25 knot wind straight from... the northeast!  Ugh!  Stupid weathermen!  Two hours later, I gave up.  No Blue Angel pics and nothing but crummy grayed out pics of other planes.  The only excitement was an A-10 blowing a tire on landing. 



So, the only pics I got were from the Friday practice session... some not so bad pics, but not the ones for which I was hoping.  My favorite pic from Friday is one that I could not have captured on base.  Check out the vapor trails from the tips of the propellers of Fat Albert.  This was at the end of the short take-off climb out where they level off, engines still at maximum thrust to gain air-speed.  This was at the end of the runway, so practically right above the Target parking lot.  Neato!


Equipment: Canon 7D, 70-200 f/2.8 USM with a 2X iii extender.  ISO-400, f/9, typically 400mm, 1/800 to 1/1600.

Post Script:  Got back home around noon and looked at the current weather conditions on the local TV station's web site... "Sunny & Clear"!  Arrrrgh!

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Twin Horses



Interesting story behind these pics.  I've been wanting to get some pics of a train on the Jacksonville FEC cantilever bridge for some time.  I work just down the street, so I started casing the bridge to try to figure out the train schedule.  I can hear the train horns from my office.  I determined that a train comes through pretty reliably just before the lunch hour most days. 

Finally, came a nice sunny day in which I could get away for an early lunch (amazing how those two don't tend to coincide).  I hopped in the Jeep and drove down the street to a parking garage on the river just down from the FEC bridge.  As I got out of the Jeep, I heard the train horn!  I ran down five flights of stairs, out to the river, down the riverwalk towards the bridge... about 500' away, I saw a double lash-up passing me, headed onto the bridge.  Nuts!  But wait, then I see a triple headed towards me from the other side of the river!  What are the odds?  Rarely do I see two trains on the bridge at the same time.

I finished my run just as they met together in the perfect spot on the bridge, right after the truss.  You know how hard it is to hold 400mm worth of lens steady when you're gasping for breath?!  Trust me, not easy.  Fortunately, I didn't have time to check my ISO setting and I was still shooting at 800 from a previous effort.  That and the bright sun gave me a nice fast shutter to compensate for the lens bouncing all over the place.

I took a whole stream of pics... not sure which I like best... the two engines side by side (above), or offset (below).  You can see all the engines in the offset pic, so I like that.  But side by side is neat too.



Particulars:
Bright midday sun, and end of December, so relatively low angle was perfect for the southeast facing bridge.  Both pics shot at 380mm, f/14, 1/500, ISO-800


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