I’d like to express my gratitude to Keith and Melanie Bartholomew for their inviting spirit, which allowed Jo and me to be part of a memorable drone and boat photography expedition exploring the beauty and wildlife of Cedar Key. Unfortunately, a mere twelve days after our visit, Hurricane Idalia struck northwest of this region, bringing high winds and an 8.91-foot storm surge to Cedar Key. Our deepest hopes go out for a speedy recovery for the community and the wildlife in the aftermath of Idalia.
Old Florida charm, Cedar Key’s Waterfront at Sunset
This particular image was a little more challenging, composed of 100 photos (20 sets of 5), involving 20 different panoramic angles and 5 bracketed images at each angle. The bracketing technique was essential to preserve the highlights and reveal intricate details in the shadows during post-processing. As I wrapped up this shot, darkness had already enveloped the surroundings, and the drone's remote controller issued warning messages about the unavailability of the vision sensor and optical avoidance system on the MAVIC 3. So flying the drone back to my designated spot on the beach was just a little more exciting.
Keith expertly piloted the boat, skillfully navigating tricky currents, steering clear of muddy shallows and oyster bars, and ensuring smooth travel between locations. However, these responsibilities limited his opportunities for onboard wildlife photography. Conversely, I had the privilege of dedicating most of my boat time to photography, a fact I am genuinely grateful for.
During our expedition to Snake Key, I positioned myself at the bow in a revolving chair, armed with a Nikon Z8 camera set at 20 frames per second and 3D-tracking. Mounted on the Z8, a Nikkor Z 100-400 mm lens with a Nikkor TELECONVERTER 1.4x. As Keith positioned the boat straight ahead, I captured this contemplative keen-eyed Osprey. Slowly, we advanced into the secluded inlet where the Osprey perched, prompting it to take flight, tracing the cove's contours around our boat. The resulting images were taken at 390mm, 1/1250 sec, f/8.0, and auto ISO from 1100 to 1600.
As we explored Cedar Key, Keith navigated close to a small island of mango trees in a salt marsh with limited navigable channels. The changing mid-morning sunlight created alternating shadows and bright patches along the shoreline. Birds hunted in this shifting light, and our quiet and slow approach occasionally brought us within 15 yards of them without disturbing their activities. My focus was on the birds' eyes and the highlights in their feathers. I used spot metering to selectively expose the subjects, highlighting and preserving details in their brilliant white feathers without concern for the dark background affecting the overall exposure.
I was intrigued by the origin of the name Snake Key. When I got home and after a couple of Google searches, I learned that this island is inhabited by a population of Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins. These snakes have a notable tolerance for saltwater, which explains their ability to thrive on islands in the Gulf of Mexico.
In many island environments where resources are limited, numerous snakes have adapted to consuming eggs. However, Snake Key presents a fascinating example of a symbiotic relationship. Typically, in ecosystems containing both birds and snakes on islands, snakes are known to prey upon the birds. However, on Snake Key, the birds play a different role in sustaining the snakes by providing them with leftover fish scraps, while the snakes, in turn, help protect the birds from other potential predators.
A hot August day spent on a boat, fishing and photographing wildlife, left us feeling completely exhausted that evening. Unfortunately, the night we decided to stay in and rest was the only one with a clear sky for stargazing. Consequently, we missed our only opportunity for Milky Way photography. However, the following evening presented other intriguing opportunities.
After experimenting with various shutter speeds, aperture, and ISO settings to capture the evening’s storm, I used the camera's Interval Timer Shooting capability to secure a sequence of 60 consecutive still photographs. Once back home, I handpicked two frames, one with a nicely structured lightning flash and another with a nice car trail on the bridge, and merged them in Photoshop to produce this image.
Nikon Z9, Nikkor Z 14-24mm @ 24mm, interval timer shooting was configured for 15-second intervals and a target of 60 photos. My other camera settings; a 13-second shutter speed, f/5.6 aperture, and ISO 400.
Looking back at the bird files from this trip, I had my camera settings optimized to prioritize eye detail. I employed 3D-tracking with animal subject recognition, opted for vibration reduction in sports mode, and set my shutter speeds between 1/1250 and 1/2500 to capture fine details. Additionally, I chose an aperture of f/8 to get most of the bird in focus. I adjusted my exposure settings based on the lighting conditions, using spot metering during harsh light and switching between matrix and center-weighted modes in other situations. To maximize my chances of capturing an ideal shot, I continuously shot bursts of 20 frames per second, increasing the chances of getting multiple images of a bird with open eyes and favorable body and wing positions. Lastly, I enabled silent mode to avoid introducing any unwanted noise into the environment.
To achieve these particular camera settings, I allowed the cameras to autonomously adjust the ISO, permitting them to reach a maximum of ISO 4000. Depending on the light level determined by the camera's meter, in conjunction with the specified shutter speeds and aperture settings as previously mentioned, my ISO settings for bird photography on this trip fell within the range of ISO 140 to ISO 4000.
Using high ISO settings does introduce some additional considerations during post-processing. In Lightroom, the AI-powered Denoise tool in the Develop module works remarkably well at removing noise from my raw files up to ISO 4000. I also have a fondness for Topaz Photo AI in Photoshop. Sometimes, I employ both tools on an image.
Thank you for taking the time to go through this. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out.