Lately, I have had the wonderful opportunity to teach photography classes at Six Mile Cypress Slough in Fort Myers, Florida. There is a great group of folks taking the class. Every class has it’s own personality and this one is quite fun. If you haven’t been to Six Mile Cypress Slough, it’s a great place for photographers to go and get shots of all kinds of wildlife, plants, flowers, bugs and so on. I have written posts in the past about this place such as: Six Mile Cypress Slough – Fort Myers, Florida and Revisit: Six Mile Cypress Slough – Fort Myers, Florida. Every time I go to this place, there is always something new to photograph.
Since this was the first field trip of the class, I wanted to go easy on everyone. We worked on composition such as rule of thirds, leading lines and moving the subject off center. I usually like to work up to using different modes such as aperture priority and manual. However, some of these folks have been shooting for a while and just needed a brush up on shooting manual. After a few minutes, it all comes back. That’s what nice, if you learned the manual way back in the film days, it’s all the same now. Once I learned manual mode, I had a lot more keepers as I could verify that the camera was shooting how I wanted it too. Pretty cool stuff.
Before the class got underway, I was told that there was a central garden that had butterfly plants. I’m a sucker for any kind of bug so I went over and took a look. There were a few butterflies coming and going, but off to my side I heard what sounded like a B-17 coming in for a landing. Next to me was a bumblebee. I like bees as much as the next person, however if I get stung, it’s not such as great day. Hence, why I like long lenses for this kind of photography.
This guy was checking out all of the flowers. As he would stop, I would shoot a few frames before he would be on to the next one. For equipment, I pulled out one of my favorite lenses, my Nikon 70mm-300mm. This lens is light, fast focusing, sharp and also affordable. I was able to blur the background even being at f/5.6 due to the long focal length. I also use spot focus to make sure that the bee was in focus and this kept the camera from “hunting”. This is where the camera isn’t sure what to focus on so it just keeps going in and out, very annoying. Using spot focus you know EXACTLY what’s going to be in focus. I’ve been shooting this way for years and rarely have I been let down.
As you can see, this egret is knee deep in the slough and waiting for a fish. This can be a difficult shot, a white bird in full sun against a dark shadow background. If one exposes for the white bird the background will go black. The reverse condition is if one were to expose for the background the bird would have no detail in the feathers. My solution? A RAW file. My camera is about six years old at this point and I know how far cameras come every year, but the ole’ tin lizzie still works. Shooting a RAW file gives me more info to work with than a JPG. Also, I shoot just so the whites are contained, then I use Camera RAW to open up the shadows. This gives the best of both worlds. I know RAW files are about three times the size of JPGs, but in my opinion they are so worth it.
As we made our way along the boardwalk, we came upon this Blue Dasher Dragonfly. He found a stick to land on and stayed put. With the 300mm lens I was able to zoom in on him and fill the frame. Again, using the long end of the lens and getting as close as possible, this makes for a painterly background and puts all of the focus on the dragonfly. They are amazing creatures with all of their colors.
As I was walking along, I noticed a fly on the yellow flower. He stuck out like a sore thumb against that color and was posing. Who was I to hurt a fly’s feelings by not photographing him? I moved the flower off center to create some interest. With long lenses, you can get that macro feel without the expense of a dedicated macro lens or spooking the subject.
There was an interesting plant, but I didn’t see it in color, I thought it would look nice in black and white. Seeing in black and white can really turn otherwise blah subjects into something special. What caught my eye was all the detail under the leaves. In black and white, this allows our brain to concentrate on texture and not the color.
This palm leaf had some great lines and the graduation of color was interesting. In color is was just like any other palm frond, but in black and white it took on another look. Nature is full of geometry; all we have to do is find it. I use Nik’s Silver Efex Pro to do my conversions into black and white. In this software, there are digital filters of the old red, yellow, orange and blue filters. It’s handy to cycle through the filters to see how they affect the photograph.
I posted a dragonfly earlier in this article. It’s only fitting if we show the cycle of life. Here you can see what is left of a dragonfly that took a wrong turn into a spider’s web. I have seen many of these webs around Florida, but no one was home or the spider was just sitting there waiting for dinner. Looks as if this one is almost gone, the spider should be pretty full for a while.
We were on our way out of the slough when we ran into this grasshopper. The light was just right; it looks as if there is a spot light on him (or her). The grasshopper didn’t seem spooked by our presents and let us get a few shots. I remember last year when they guys were in full swing and the lawn was covered with them. It was like something out of a movie, oh well, nothing the lawn mower couldn’t handle!
Charge the batteries and clean the camera cards. It’s time to go shooting! There is so much out there to see. Even if you have been to a location before, look for something different. How many white birds does one need anyway? Slow down and take time to see what is around you, and if something stops you, there is a photo in there, you just have to find it. Also, don’t forget that black and white may be your friend. Subjects that otherwise may be boring, may really pop once converted. It’s digital, if it doesn’t work out, who cares? Did it cost any extra to experiment? Work on greasing up the shutter finger and give it a shot (like the pun?)
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean