Apr 29, 2010

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Sarasota, Florida.

Described as a tropical oasis Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is located on the Gulf of Mexico, in sunny Sarasota, Florida.  Limiting myself to one brief sentence I would describe Selby as an extraordinary feast for the eyes! 

Note*  Please click each image to view larger and sharper!

  Sophie Enjoying Selby's Gardens.  Nikon D700.  Tamron 90mm Macro.


Speaking of limits, I tried my best to limit myself to one camera and lens for the visit.  I had a good idea of the sights we would witness as we've had the privilege of visiting Selby several times over the last few years.  I will elaborate more about my camera and lens choice later in the post.

The Selby family were very well off from their prosperous oil company and built their beautiful home here in the 1920's on eight acres of land.  Today the Gardens span an impressive 13 acres of gardens and trees and maintain a collection of more than 20,000 greenhouse plants in eight greenhouses. Also included is the Tropical Display House where unusual flora can be viewed.  Selby is a well respected center for research and education which receives over 180,000 visitors a year!

A walk through the impressive gardens reveal not only a myriad of flowering plants and cactus, but also Banyan, Fig, Eucalyptus and a host of other trees.  The banyan tree can grow to be so large that Napoleon was said to house his entire army under just one tree!


 Single Bloom and Succulents.  Nikon D700.  Tamron 90mm Macro.


 Miniature Beauty.  Nikon D700.  Tamron 90mm Macro.


Looking up on the Veins of Life.  Nikon D700.  Tamron 90mm Macro.


 Hanging Seedpods.  Nikon D700.  Tamron 90mm Macro.


 Leanne and Sophie Under the Banyan Tree.  Nikon D700.  Nikkor 18-200mm VR.


Sophie and I Standing in the Roots of a Fig Tree.  Nikon D700.  Nikkor 18-200mm VR.


Outside the Orchid House were a few items that looked a little more familiar than some of the other wondrous sights at Selby.  There were four Bonsai trees on display during our visit that we had never seen before.  Even though the tallest of them might have been only sixteen inches the ages of these carefully 'crafted' trees were between seven and almost twenty years!

Brazilian Bonsai planted in 2003.  Nikon D700.  Nikkor 18-200mm VR.


The Orchid House is something that everyone in their lifetime should be able to experience.  On our last trip an interpreter mentioned to us that most of the orchids in this greenhouse would not be able to survive in such a harsh climate as Florida!!!  Even though it may be hot and humid outside it is nothing as compared to inside!  However, the temperature and humidity assault is nothing as to the visual assault!  We learned that they never display ever orchid they have in the orchid house.   The selectively choose the best plants that bloom during different times of the year.  If I had my time back I would have been more careful as to get the names of each of the orchids I photographed.


Unknown Orchid.  Nikon D700.  Tamron 90mm Macro.  Fill Flash with SB-800.



 Unknown Orchid.  Nikon D700.  Tamron 90mm Macro.



 Unknown Orchid.  Nikon D700.  Tamron 90mm Macro.



Unknown Orchid.  Nikon D700.  Tamron 90mm Macro.  Fill Flash with SB-800.


The interpreter inside was quite friendly and even took the time to point out one small but beautiful blossom on a smaller tree growing inside the Orchid House.  It is amazing to think that this is where the chocolate we love and adore begins it's life!

Cocoa Tree Bloom.  Nikon D700.  Tamron 90mm Macro.


This is only a small sample of what Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has to offer.  This past winter was one of the harshest winters Florida has faced in some time.  Multiple frosts did damage quite a few of the plants inhabiting Selby.  The caretakers were confident that much of the damage was reversible and to be honest it didn't affect our day in the least.

I hope you've enjoyed this small sample of what Selby has to offer.  If you are ever in the Sarasota area take the time to visit Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.  There is a small admission fee.  But I promise you will forget all about it after you take fifty steps inside!

Most of the images I took at Selby were taken with a Nikon D700 and Tamron 90mm Macro lens.  The D700 offered me the best image quality I could ask for.  I set the camera to Auto ISO with a limit of HI-0.3 (equivalent to ISO 8000) and set the minimum shutter speed to whatever the situation called for....faster outdoors in the wind and slower in the greenhouse.  From past experience at the Gardens I knew that the macro lens would be a great choice for the day.  This gem of a lens is sharp, contrasty, small and light and offers stunning image quality with beautifully smooth bokeh (the term used to describe out of focus areas in an image).  By choosing to limit myself mostly to one lens it limited my choice of composition and made me work a little harder to produce great imagery.  It was a great exercise to open my creative boundaries as creativity is not one of my strong suits.

I also remembered to take a flash with me, especially for the Orchid House.   A little fill light went a long ways in the dim interior under the canopy of plants overhead.

I did use my Nikkor 18-200mm VR for the large tree images in this post as it would be impossible to capture their grandeur without a wide angle.  Being a DX lens (meaning the lens is designed to only cover a digital sensor that is smaller than 35mm film) the resolution of the camera was reduced to 5MP.  However, the D700 more than made up for the lack of pixels.  I would feel very confident printing 11X14's as the quality of the pixels as compared to my D200 or D300 is simply stunning.

All the images you see in this blog post are available for sale, except for my family photos of course. :)  Custom framing is available.  I print all images myself on a wide format professional series Epson 7880 printer.  Please contact me by email listed below.

RONiN photography (Scott Grant) offers print and image sales, printing and enlargement services, photographic instruction, and wedding, graduate and portrait photography.  If you would like to contact me please do so at scott@roninphoto.ca or call at (709) 634-3693.  I'm located in Corner Brook, Newfoundland in Canada.

If you would like to learn more about RONiN photography please visit www.roninphoto.ca.

Apr 11, 2010

Incredible South West Florida Bird Photography

I've have always read that South West Florida is a mecca for birds and bird photography.  Many species are generally larger and much more tame than most other places in North America.  The biodiversity is amazing.   For a few years now I've viewed many incredible images from this part of the state that completely wowed me.

A few years back I had a vacation to South West Florida but at the time was lacking good bird photography equipment.  Also, I had only just begun to get interested in birds and bird photography and didn't possess much knowledge of birds, locations and photography technique.

*Note - Please click each image to see the full websized image.


My Weapon Of Choice.  Pictured in this image is a Nikon D300 with MB-D10 Battery Grip, Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Lenscoat neoprene cover, Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter, SB-800 Flash with TTL Cord with Better Beamer flash extender mounted on a Wimberly II tripod head on a Gitzo 3530 tripod.  There is 40 feet of speaker wire connected to an Ipod Touch loaded with North America's bird songs.  With a total effective focal length of 1275mm this is a potent combination.  Almost necessary on the Island of Newfoundland where I'm from, you'll see below that I made many images in Florida with only 300mm of focal length on a FX body.

Image taken with Nikon D700, Nikkor 300mm AF-S f4.  Hand held.  1/500th, f5.6 at ISO 1600.  Image edited in Capture NX2.

Based in Nokomis, just south of Sarasota, placed us just north of some of the best bird photography in the state.  Even the back yard of the residence where we stayed was very productive for bird photography.  Regular visitors included Great Egret, Wood Stork, White Ibis, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, and several Warbler species. Many species of hawks could be seen flying overhead and Turkey Vultures are regularly seen soaring along.  On the last day of the trip a Sandhill Crane landed in the back yard and allowed approach of my 15 month old daughter and myself within 5 feet!



Wood Stork portrait.  Nokomis.  Nikon D700, Nikkor 300mm AF-S f4.  Hand held.  1/500th, f5.6 at ISO 320.  Edited in Capture NX2.



Northern Mockingbird.  Nokomis.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/1000th, f8 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.



Great Egret Portrait.  Nokomis.  Nikon D700 and 500mm f4 AF-S VR.  Tripod Mounted.  1/2000th, f5.6 at ISO 200.  Edited in Capture NX2



Perched Brown Thrasher.  Nokomis.  Nikon D300 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/400th, f8 at ISO 200.  Edited in Capture NX2.


Only 15 minutes south of Nokomis in the town of Venice is the Venice Rookery, an Autobahn wildlife refuge.  This little rookery is home to nesting Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and Anhinga.  Hundreds of White and Glossy Ibis spend their nights roosting at the rookery.  Sandhill Crane, Little Blue Heron, Tri-Colored Heron, Little Green Heron, Black Crowned Night Heron, Purple Gallinule, Red-Winged Black Bird, assorted Warblers and many other species are also found around the rookery.  There was even a Great Horned Owl nesting near the entrance to the rookery in a transmitter tower.  The owl had successfully raised two young this spring.



Venice Rookery in early morning, Venice, Florida.  Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-200mm AF-S VR.  1/10th, f4 at ISO 1600.  Hand held.  Edited in Capture NX2.

The rookery is a small island in a small pond with alligators patrolling the waters at all times.  The gators protect the nesting and roosting birds from raccoons and felines and other predators.  The trade off is once that in a while one of the hundreds of birds get a little too close to the water and become food for their reptilian guardians.  One evening while I was at the rookery a Snowy Egret got too close to the water and a turtle grabbed it and dragged it into the water.  Within seconds a gator made a quick snack of the little Snowy!

One of the biggest issues at this location is keeping other birds out of your images while trying to photograph an individual!  Another issue is that there is just so much action happening all around at almost all times that it is really tough to concentrate on what you are trying to shoot!



Landing Great Blue Heron, Wings Fully Spread. Venice Rookery.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.4X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/500th, f5.6 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2 and CS4.  I clipped the Great Blue Heron's right wing in the original capture.  Instead of trashing the image I 'grafted' the wing and left edge from another image in the series and combined them both in Photoshop CS4 to create the above image.



Perched Anhinga. Venice Rookery.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.4X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.   1/100th, f5.6 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.



Hunting Little Green Heron, Venice Rookery.   Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR.  Tripod Mounted.  1/1250th, f4 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.



Venice Rookery is best photographed early in the morning as the sun rises and illuminates the rookery and its inhabitants frontally.  The evening sunset does provide opportunity to make backlit images if you desire them.


Great Blue Heron Love Silhouette.  Venice Rookery.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.4X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/200th, f5.6 at ISO 1600.  Edited in Capture NX2. 



Displaying Backlit Great Egret in Breeding Plumage Venice Rookery.   Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/125th, f6.7 at ISO 200.  Edited in Capture NX2.


Close to the Nokomis beach is a drawbridge over a waterway.  On the banks of the waterway fishermen often clean their catch and you can find Brown Pelican and Snowy Egret waiting for handouts.  These birds allow very close approach and can easily be photographed with a short telephoto lens.


Male Brown Pelican Portrait.  Nokomis Beach.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 300mm AF-S f4.  Hand held.  1/1000th, f5.6 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.



Snowy Egret Awaiting a Handout. Nokomis Beach.  Nikon D700 and and Nikkor 300mm AF-S f4.  Hand held.  1/1600th, f5.6 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.

While at the Venice Rookery early one morning I had a conversation with one of the multitude of photographers, most of whom where very friendly and willing to share their experiences.  I had mentioned that I was planning a trip to Sanibel Island to visit the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  She mentioned that if I make the trip that I should make a slight detour to the city of Cape Coral, just north of Sanibel Island.  Located throughout the city were the little Burrowing Owls!  After asking if I had access to a vehicle GPS navigator she told me to plug in the 'Cape Coral Public Library'.  It was as simple as that!  Surrounding the building were several burrows.  Two of them were active at the time of the visit.



Burrowing Owl.  Cape Coral.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.4X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/200th, f5.6 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.


After leaving the library I discovered that the owls were all over town!  Everywhere you looked their burrows were staked off to mark their locations in order to better protect them!


Ding Darling is a national wildlife refuge located on the Island of Sanibel, a subtropical barrier island located in the Gulf of Mexico, about 90 minutes south of Nokomis.   The 'Ding' is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States and world famous for its incredible migratory bird populations.  The biodiversity in the refuge is simply stunning.  Everything is alive!  The shorelines 'crawl' with different species of crab including Horseshoe and the waters are teeming with fish, constantly breaching and jumping with birds fishing for them all around.  They are very numerous and much more tame than most people living in the north have ever witnessed.  This is undoubtedly from the steady stream of tourists and photographers driving through the refuge.

At the 'Ding' I encountered Reddish Egret, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Great Cormorant, Roseate Spoonbill, Little Blue Heron, Tri-Colored Heron, Black Crowned Night Heron, Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Osprey, White Pelican, Pie-Billed Grebe, and a multitude of shorebirds and an assortment of ducks, all on a 4 mile drive!


Roseate Spoonbills.  Sanibel Island.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.   1/800th, f6.7 at ISO 500.  Edited in Capture NX2.


Hunting Little Blue Heron.  Sanibel Island.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Hand held.  1/400th, f6.7 at ISO 1600.  Edited in Capture NX2.


 Yellow Crowned Night Heron eating Crab.  Sanibel Island. Nikon D300 and Nikkor 300mm f4 AF-S.  Hand held. 1/2000th, f4 at ISO 200.  Edited in Capture NX2.



 Dancing Reddish Egret on Molten Waters.  Sanibel Island.   Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/500th, f6.7 at ISO 800.  Edited in Capture NX2.

One thing I've learned that is of crucial importance when visiting Florida, especially if you intend of doing some bird photography; one should bring lots of storage for digital images.  During my stay in a 20 day period I shot about 150 GB of images!  It will give me great pleasure for some time to come sorting, editing, posting and printing these images!

Thanks, and I really hope you've enjoyed the images!

All the images you see in this blog post are available for sale.  Custom framing is available.  I print all images myself on a wide format professional series Epson 7880.  Please contact me by email listed below.

RONiN photography (Scott Grant) offers image sales, photographic instruction, group courses, printing and enlargement services, and wedding and portrait photography.  If you would like to contact me please do so at scott@roninphoto.ca or call at (709) 634-3693.  I'm located in Corner Brook, Newfoundland in Canada.

If you would like to learn more about RONiN photography please visit www.roninphoto.ca.