Today was a beautiful day to watch a rocket launch! This was no ordinary launch. Today SpaceX performed a test launch of the new Falcon Heavy rocket. The SpaceX FH is capable of launching some very heavy things into space. So what heavy thing did the FH lift into space on its maiden voyage? If you’re Elon Musk, you launch your Tesla Roadster into orbit around Mars. Complete with a dummy astronaut (dummy so he says, has anyone seen Elon?) hanging his arm out of the window, blasting David Bowie’s Starman on the stereo.
Rocket watchers from far and wide gathered early to watch this historic launch. I don’t think we got quite to Space Shuttle crowd sizes, but I think it was close. Maybe we should get 45 to review the crowd photos. There were some very relaxed and prepared people in Sandpoint Park. I wanted to get a photo of the huge crowd at Space View Park but there were no parking spaces close by. The Max B Bridge was jam packed. This is my favorite launch viewing site. I like to call it “Titusville’s launch viewing platform.” We had some time to kill before the launch. Due to high winds, the launch was pushed back almost to the end of its 2 ½ hours launch window. After a long wait, the FH ignited its 27 Merlin engines and lifted off of Apollo/Shuttle now SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch Complex 39A. It was an amazing launch! The 27 Merlin’s really rumbled!
The FH is basically 3 Falcon 9 boosters strapped together. The plan was, to bring all three boosters back to earth, to be reused on another flight. Two of the three boosters had previously flown on F9 missions. The two outside boosters were to land back at KSC. The third booster was going to land on a barge in the Atlantic. It was amazing to see the two boosters bound for return to KSC simultaneously igniting to slow their decent. They ignited a second time and gently landed on target. Once again we heard the rumble of the rocket boosters landing, preceded by sonic booms. The third booster didn’t fare so well. Only one of three engines reignited to slow its decent and it was lost. All in all, a fantastic sight to see and hear. There is nothing like watching a live rocket launch!
Launching a Falcon Heavy, $90 million! Watching live video of a Tesla Roadster with Starman drop top orbiting the earth, PRICELESS!
I was looking at some examples of photographs that were taken at night, using the full moon as the light source. This looked like something that I needed to try. So after many moons of bad weather and bad timing, I finally got a chance to try this technique. You don’t need to have a totally full moon, it can be a few days before or after. You need to check a moon phase chart to see when moon rise will be. Hopefully it will be at a decent hour and not after midnight or later. This particular moon rise was at a good time, right about sunset. Using the moonlight is a lot like using the sunlight. If it is low in the sky, you will get some nice shadows. If it is high in the sky, you will get a more even light, but it’s not as harsh as photographing at noon.
Coincidentally, there was an 11pm rocket launch set for the March full moon. This is great! I can photograph the launch and also try out this moonlight photography thing.
The rocket launch was beautiful! Night launches always are beautiful. This was an Atlas V rocket taking supplies to the International Space Station. The full moon was a big help illuminating the foreground of this image. I like how you can see everyone on the dock with a lit up cellphone. You can see a few stars, but the light from the moon dims all but the brightest.
I had a bit of time to kill before the launch, so I took this photo of the bridge. After the launch, I crossed the bridge to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. This is where I took my midnight landscapes. By this time, the moon was getting pretty high in the sky. It was a very clear night just a few sparse clouds in the distant horizon. A few more clouds would make a very interesting sky, but you take what you get. After you find a nice place to photograph (you will need to scout the area ahead of time) take your time setting up. Your eyes need to adjust to the moonlight. Once they do, you will be amazed at how bright it really is. I was able to work with the camera and walk around without any additional light. Using a flashlight would ruin your night vision and actually make it harder to see. Just be careful that you don’t trip over any alligators.
I was experimenting quite a bit with ISO settings. I settled on ISO 1250 for these images. I will need to do a bit more experimenting to give a solid recommendation. I used f8 and a 6 second shutter speed. I was underexposing a bit. This being my first attempt I did not want to risk overexposing. I think I could have increased the exposure by one stop and still been OK. I had to work the shadows a bit in post. I was able to get more stars in the wider angle image. It looks more like a night photo, the tighter image looks more like it was taken at dusk. The glow on the horizon is not from sunset; it’s the glow of the Titusville city lights. Again the moonlight is overpowering a lot of the stars. If you want a lot of stars you need to photograph on the new moon. You will get the stars, but you will lose the color in the sky and detail in the foreground. You need to keep shutter speed under about 10 seconds to keep the stars from elongating. There is a huge chart to figure this out depending on camera and lens combo, look for the 500 rule.
These photos were taken at midnight, not midday. It’s amazing the colors you can see at night. It’s very eerie being in the marsh at night. The only sounds you hear are the sounds of nature. Wondering what that was that just made a splash in the water? This only adds to the experience.
I came upon this group of sleeping wood storks and spoonbills. I was very careful not to wake them. Every once in a while I could hear one of them ruffling its feathers, but they never moved.
Completing the loop through the salt marsh I couldn’t resist taking another photo of the bridge before heading home. I will need to try this technique a few more times and do some fine tuning. I had a great time photographing my midnight landscapes.
The organizers of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival expanded the photography offerings for the 2016 festival. One of the photographers that joined the festival this year was Mike Matthews. (click here to see Mikes web site.) Mike conducted an amazing macro workshop with an interesting cast of characters.
Mike brought with him 10 to 15 species of exotic reptiles and amphibians like this very cool three horned chameleon.
He not only brought along some very cool subjects to photograph, he also brought the sets to photograph them in. There was a whole room full of small props and backdrops. Mike would expertly place one of the reptiles in the set then you instantly have a great photograph. Mike enjoys teaching photographers the tricks of the trade. He was very helpful with camera exposure settings as well as lens and flash selections. A well placed drop of water on a lizard’s mouth would create a fantastic image as the lizard licked the drop with its tongue. This was a great workshop! Not only were you able to learn all about the wonderful world of macro photography, but you came away with some world class images. Another one of the many reasons why you need to get your butt to the 2017 SCBWF!
I want to thank Mike for allowing me to follow him around and photograph his workshop. He helped me get some good photos as well as helping his workshop attendees get good photos. I only wish I would have had more time to see some of his other cute little friends.
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Another amazing Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival field trip: The Little-Big Econ State Forest. I was anxious to photograph this field trip; I have not been to this area before. I know Little-Big sounds a bit contradicting, but this is where the Little Econlockhatchee and the Big Econlockhatchee rivers come together, hence Little-Big Econ.
The field trip was led by biologist Lorne Malo from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, wildlife biologist Selena Kiser, Angel and Mariel Abreu with Nature is Awesome Tours. This was my first trip with Loren, he knows this area and its history very well. I have been on other trips with Selena, Angel and Mariel, they are all excellent birders! This is another reason why you need to attend the SCBWF. You could visit this area on your own no problem, but you would not have four expert birders with you. They know the area, they know the birds, they are great at sharing their knowledge with you. SCBWF field trips are a wonderful learning experience. I learn something new on every trip. For instance, on this trip I learned about mistletoe. In Florida not many trees lose their leaves. The ones that do sometimes have several balls of green leaves among their bare branches. I always figured they were some sort of parasitic plant. I learned from Lorne that it is mistletoe and that cedar waxwings like to eat the mistletoe berries.
The Little-Big Econ was beautiful. It was almost like walking through a prehistoric jungle. The mist was rising off of the river. The eerie call of the pileated woodpecker. I was expecting to see a dinosaur at any moment. There were no dinosaurs, but Lorne expertly lead us through the many trails to where we were able to get a good view of an eagles nest. There was an eagle in the nest to boot! We could not see into the nest but the eagle seemed to be tending eggs or maybe very young eaglets. The female eagles are very noticeably larger than the males. This is quite evident when you see them together. This was a large eagle, my guess is that it was the female. I travel light and didn’t have enough lens to get a decent photo of the eagle. Besides the eagle, we saw many types of birds on this trip. The Little-Big Econ is a great place to go birding. Fun was had by all.
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The 2016 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival got off to a beautiful start. I enjoy taking photos for the SCBWF each year. On the first day of the festival there were several field trips planned at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. My plan was to meet up with a few of the field trips and photograph them. The sunrise was stacking up to be a good one, so I found a good spot to photograph it. This particular area is a berm road with water on both sides. I was facing the sunrise; to my back there was a row of mangroves and the other body of water. Just on the other side of the mangroves there was a huge flock of American coots, but I didn’t know that at the time. Shortly after the sun rose above the horizon something spooked the coots. Possibly an eagle looking for a coot breakfast. The huge flock of coots made a frantic dash for the sunrise side of the berm road. They were crashing through the mangroves and stumbling onto the road. Several of them flew into my car! (no one was hurt.) The water dripping off of them as they flew over me made it feel like it was raining. It was quite the sight, coots everywhere with the beautiful sunrise for a backdrop.
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After the coot fly-in I went in search of the field trips. I met up with Shiv Verma on one of his daily photo walks. Shiv’s photo walks are sponsored by Panasonic. This is cool because Panasonic provides Shiv with lots of new equipment. As part of the photo walk, you not only were able to get some expert photography advice from Shiv, you could also take the new Panasonic equipment for a spin. Grab the new Lumix mirrorless camera and plop it on a new 4800mm scope, wow! One of the many perks of attending the SCBWF. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to play with the toys.
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Next, I met up with Kevin Karlson on his Birding by Impression field trip. He has recently co-authored a book of the same name. As well as writing books, Kevin is an excellent photographer and also did photography classes and workshops at the festival. I have gotten to know Kevin over the years and his field trips are always among the best at the festival. Birding by impression is a technique of bird identification that he has been perfecting over the years. By observing the birds size and shape, as well as the behavior of the bird, you are able to ID the bird when traditional field marks are not clearly seen. It is an interesting concept and Kevin is fantastic at explaining it. The 2016 SCBWF was off to a great start.
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I recently conducted a night time photography workshop at the 2016 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I did three workshops on three different nights. On the first night we were treated to a spectacular sunset! On the second night, the sunset was not as spectacular, but we got some spectacular night photos of the Max Brewer Memorial Bridge over the Indian River Lagoon. The third night was the coldest windiest night ever! The waves on the river were crashing over the seawalls. We also, despite the weather, got some great night time bridge photos. I want to thank all of my participants for coming out and braving the weather with me. It was great fun for me, I hope you all had fun as well.
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You have probably heard of the golden hour. It’s the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. The light has a warm gold cast to it. It’s one of my favorite times of the day, and not just for photographing. I just really like that time of day. The time just before sunrise and just after sunset is known as the blue hour. The sky turns a beautiful blue color. A lot of photographers will pack up after the sunsets and disappears below the horizon. If you have a little patience and hang around for a while, your images will have an amazing blue sky. You need to plan ahead, find a good location and work fast. Speaking of time, you don’t have much. Despite the name, the effect will last as little as 10min. and as much as 40min. Even then, it’s still not time to pack up your gear. There are still some great images to capture. This is what we will be discussing at my night time photography workshop at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I hope to see you there!