Savannah Waterfront Sunset

I joined some friends to photograph the Savannah waterfront at sunset a few days ago and found that my favorite shots actually came after sunset.  We arrived at the Hutchinson Island  location of the Westin Hotel and Savannah Convention Center shortly before sunset.  This location provides free parking across the river from the waterfront night life of Savannah, and it’s only a free ferry ride away from joining in on the festivities.  It also gives an unobstructed view of the entire waterfront area and the Talmadge Bridge upriver, and ships going to and from the Port of Savannah pass by in clear view.  The only negative, from a photographer’s point of view, might be the mosquitoes and other no-see-ums along the waterfront.  Bug spray is required!

Georgia Queen docking in Savannah

The Georgia Queen, a rear-wheel paddle boat based in Savannah, carries tourists on evening cruises down and then back up the Savannah River, perhaps serving food and drink along the way.  It departs before dark but returns fully lit after the twilight hour, providing a colorful display as it chugs along on its way to docking near the Hyatt Regency Hotel.  I couldn’t identify ridership from our vantage point, but it certainly looked inviting from across the river.

The sunset was spectacular, outlining the Talmadge Bridge in a colorful display, and the “blue hour” following the sunset provided a gorgeous backdrop for panoramic views of the waterfront night life area.

The fading twilight provided an opportunity to experiment with exposures of interesting subjects, enabling the generation of star effects for the lights on the bridge.  The effect is interesting in both color and in monochrome:

This was an altogether satisfying outing with photographer friends.  I look forward to other opportunities like this in the future.

Photographing the Waterfront Lights

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The competition theme this month at the Photography Club of Sun City-Hilton Head is “Still Life” and I am entering a photo titled “Sunflowers” which I took just last week.  The subject of the photo is a large wine jug with sunflowers which Billie arranged a few years ago from purchases she made at Pier 1.  It sits on one of Billie’s favorite small tables in a corner of our breakfast nook.
The photo is an HDR image produced from three exposures bracketed at one f-stop apart.  I used Lightroom CC to blend the HDR exposures, and I then ran the resulting image through Viveza to balance the exposure.  Finally, I used Nik Color Effects to give it the “glamour glow” treatment.  I’m pleased with the result, and I’m hopeful that the judge will agree with me!

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Brunch at Soho South

Had a great brunch at Soho South Café in Savannah on Sunday. This restaurant continues to be one of our favorites, even though parking is somewhat of a problem. But that’s true everywhere in Savannah, isn’t it?

Check out this restaurant when you get a chance.


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Fiber Optic Cable Installation

20160520-135517This employee of Coastal Power and Electric, contracted by Santee Cooper, is suspended from a helicopter as he is moved from one utility pole to another as he and a coworker replace existing wires with fiber optic cable on Friday, May 20, along Bluffton Parkway in Bluffton.  Moving the workmen by helicopter allows them to replace the cables without having to take the line out of service, according to newspaper reports.  The workmen will be replacing a little more than 7 miles of cable.

20160520-134910 20160520-135107The first step in the process, after the linemen are secured to the poles, involves delivering the hardware they install which enables installation of the fiber optic cable.  These two pieces of hardware, a bracket (shown being installed in the picture to the left) which is bolted to the pole and a pulley which attaches to the bracket, will be used to pull the cable and then secure it permanently to the poles.

20160520-135311After the pulley is secured to the bracket, this workman’s job is done on this pole, and he will be moved down the line to repeat the process.  After installing a number of brackets and pulleys along the line, a cable will be pulled through the pulley system and secured to the poles.  At this point the pulleys are removed and reused further down the line.

20160520-135449 20160520-135504The helicopter returns to the pole, dropping a line which the lineman grabs and attaches to his harness.  Then it’s “Up, Up and Away!” as the helicopter moves the men on down the line.

I could definitely NOT do this job!


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Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest forest birds in the United S20160515-083926-2tates, being almost as large as a crow.  This woodpecker has distinctive markings, mostly black, some white, and a flaming red crest that is unmistakable in the field.  The male also has a streak of red on its cheek, making it easy to distinguish the sexes.

Once you have seen this bird in the wild you immediately recognize it as the model for the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker.  Even the call of the pileated woodpecker is mimicked in the cartoon character.

We h20160515-083916-3ave a healthy population of pileated woodpeckers here in Sun City-Hilton Head, and morning walkers along the SCHH Nature Trail are often treated to the raucous call of this bird and, if lucky, a visual treat watching the bird tear into rotten logs in search of insects and their larvae.  I have photographed these birds on the Nature Trail and on the boardwalk trail that spans the swamp between the Aviary neighborhood and the Hidden Cypress parking lot.



20160506-072915 20160506-072915-2

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Eastern Fox Squirrels

The eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is the largest species of tree squirrel native to North America.  Despite the differences in size and coloration, they are sometimes mistaken for American Red Squirrels or Eastern Gray Squirrels in areas where both species co-exist.


Figure 1.  Typical colorations of the Eastern Fox Squirrel.

Typically the total body length measures 45 to 70 cm (17.7 to 27.6 in), tail length is 20 to 33 cm (7.9 to 13.0 in), and they range in weight from 500 to 1,000 grams (1.1 to 2.2 lb).  There are three distinct geographical phases in coloration: In most areas the animals upper body is brown-grey to brown-yellow with a typically brownish-orange underside, while in eastern regions such as the Appalachians there are more strikingly-patterned dark brown and black squirrels with white bands on the face and tail.


Figure 2.  Natural Range of the Eastern Fox Squirrel

We have a native population of the eastern fox squirrel here in Sun City-Hilton Head and I have observed and photographed these animals both here and on Callawassie Island.  The first two photos here are from Sun City-Hilton Head and the last two were taken on Callawassie Island.








These squirrels are fun to watch as they forage for nuts.  When they climb a tree their long “fingers” make them look like monkeys.









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Topaz Remask 5

Several years ago I took a marvelous close-up image of a great egret in full breeding colors during a trip to the Everglades.  This egret was almost tame and allowed me to get really close, so I was able to get a genuine portrait of him.  You know the routine—fine detail, perfect exposure, impeccable focus, excellent framing, and then you notice that background!

20080122_Everglades_057-EditI’m almost ashamed to show you what I brought home, but to make my point I must.  The shot did indeed have all the marvelous characteristics I named above, but my excitement with getting the shot generated tunnel vision so that I didn’t notice the bright green railing and the water and boats beyond until it was too late and I was already far away.

In the years since that bright green railing slammed me back to reality I have learned to look for distracting elements in the photo before clicking the shutter, but I don’t always have time or the freedom of movement to get a shot with a perfect background.  Despite warnings to perform a “border patrol” or to “count the corners” as part of the process of composing the image, sometimes you just have to take what you can get.  In those cases you have only one option, which is to try to clean up the background later in post-processing.

Adobe Photoshop offers the opportunity to replace entire backgrounds if one has the skill and perseverance to work with layers, but this is a skill which requires much patience and lots of practice.  I’ve tried it, but I’ll be honest—I gave up many times on this very photograph.  My hand with a mouse isn’t nearly steady enough to enable me to carve out the egret from this photo, and the margins always looked crude and artificial when I did try it.  I eventually bought a Wacom tablet to attempt finer control of the selection brush, but that method didn’t work for me either.  I found that I tried to use the Wacom pen like I’ve always used a mouse, and I never did unlearn those movements.  Long story short, I sold the Wacom tablet for about half what I paid for it, and I was glad to be rid of it.

But now I’ve found a solution which even I can make work pretty well.  In July I went to a workshop in Beaufort, SC sponsored by the Photography Club of Beaufort and taught by Kate Silvia of Charleston.  Kate demonstrated the Google Nik Collection and a few of the programs in the Topaz suite, and I was particularly taken with the capabilities of Topaz Impressions which I wrote about in my previous blog entry.  She also demonstrated the capabilities of Topaz Remask, and I decided this week that I should give Remask another try.  Remask 5 is a 64-bit program which functions just like Remask 4 as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and Adobe Photoshop Elements.  The big news is that Remask 5 now also functions as a stand-alone program so that it can be used by photographers who don’t have either of those host programs.

20150203-065548I began a 30-day trial of Topaz Remask 5 to see what I could do with it.  After viewing a short You-Tube video I felt that I would be able to use the program, so I began the process.  My first trial naturally involved the egret photo above, and I picked a background image which I had shot at Donnelly Wildlife Management Area in February.

The background is an ordinary image without distinction, showing one of the small islands along the access road.  When I shot this image I was preparing to get closer to shoot some black-crested night herons that were roosting on the island, but I didn’t get any usable photos from that effort.  I kept the image, though, because it was sharp and had a tinge of the sunrise color washing across it.  This became my background for the new egret image.

In a surprisingly short time and with very little effort I was able to remove the distracting background from the original egret photo and replace it with the Donnelly WMA image.  I shifted the Donnelly image around, trying different orientations, and eventually settled on this combination for the final image.  I think it’s a pretty good portrait!


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Topaz Impression

I recently attended a workshop on Nik and Topaz plugins for Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom photoprocessing software, and I became interested in using Topaz Impression to convert some of my images to a “painterly” look.

Topz Impresssion makes this a simple process, providing many starting points (presets) which can then be modified at will, once the user learns the bells and whistles available in this software tool (toy?).  I applied the tool to several of my photos as a learning exercise, and here are some of the results.


Blue umbrellas at Folly Field Beach, in the style of Renoir


Blue umbrellas at Folly Field Beach, in the style of Monet.









Great Egret in the style of Cezanne


Great Egret in the style of Monet








Sailboat in the style of Cezanne


Sailboat in the style of Monet

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Herons I have known

Since coming to the Lowcountry I’ve expanded my circle of friends in the heron family.  Although I already knew the largest member of the family, I only recently became more closely acquainted with some of the smaller and less-well-known herons, including those sporting immature plumage.

GBH at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, SCGreat Blue Heron.  This stately sentry met Billie and me at the entrance to Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge on our first visit there.  He stood at attention, just like the Palace Guards in Athens and London, while being photographed and he was still standing there when we left him to explore the island.  Unfortunately he had moved on when we returned.  Every time I visit Pinckney Island NWR I look for this heron, but I haven’t seen him since that first visit.

We see these wading birds fishing the lagoons in Sun City and I’ve seen Great Blues everywhere I’ve lived as well as in the UK.   Recently I licensed this photo for use on a wellness website in the UK.

Green HeronLittle Green Heron.  
I first met the Little Green Heron at Pinckney Island NWR, but since then I’ve found others in Boone (NC) at the Mayor’s Park, at Lake Somerset here at Sun City-Hilton Head, at Savannah NWR, at the Port Royal Wetlands Park, and on HHI at the Audobon Preserve.  Although much smaller than the Great Blue, this heron is just as beautiful and is a joy to watch as it intently hunts for a meal in the shallows.



Little Blue Heron (mature)Little Blue Heron.  This heron is found almost everywhere in the Lowcountry and in many locations elsewhere.  I’ve seen this heron in Costa Rica as well.  It is interesting to note that often the sightings of this heron are recorded incorrectly by novice birders because the immature Little Blue Heron is white.  Little Blue Heron (immature)Identification depends upon correctly noting the dark tip of the beak and the greenish legs of the white bird, thus distinguishing it from the white-bird-yellow-beak-black-legs Great Egret. Confusion of the two is easily (and often) done.



Yellow-Crowned Night Heron-1Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.  I met this heron last June at Fish Haul Beach Park on HHI as it was foraging for its breakfast among the skittering fiddler crabs.  This heron seems to be partial to these small crustaceans, and the feeding process is fascinating to watch.  Yellow-Crowned Night Heron feedingAs the heron selects its next victim it deftly bites off the large “fiddle” pincer before swallowing the rest of the morsel whole and then it quickly moves on to the next one. This process is well-practiced and proceeds quickly as the heron eats its fill.

I first met the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron in Costa Rica, but I didn’t observe any feeding habits of the bird there since I only saw it perching in a tree along the canal.  There is also a Black-Crowned Night Heron (with obvious differences in the plumage on its head), but I have not yet seen one.


Tri-colored HeronTricolored Heron.  I find the Tricolored Heron much less frequently than the other birds named here, but it is always thrilling to see this beautiful heron emerge from its stealthy hideout in the shallows along Fish Haul Beach Park or on Pinckney Island NWR.  It is not as large as the Great Blue but it is certainly striking to see the reddish head and neck, the blue-gray of the back and wings, and the white underbelly of this bird.  It’s one of my favorites.

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Snowy Egrets

We visited Fish Haul Beach Park yesterday afternoon, hoping to see some interesting birds or animals on the receding high tide.  It’s probably the wrong time of year for fiddler crabs and other tiny things, but we lucked into a few interesting snowy egrets and a tri-colored heron.

Frisky Snowy Egrets-1Just after we arrived at the observation deck we noticed a white wading bird in the shallows and, thinking it was an immature little blue heron, we watched a bit as it foraged.  Suddenly a pair of white waders came storming in and landed near the feeding bird, and a ruckus followed as the larger of the birds seemed to be chasing the other two.  The behavior seems to be classic courtship behavior of the birds, and I suppose that is exactly what is on the mind of the large bird.

Frisky Snowy Egrets-2

Frisky Snowy Egrets-3 Frisky Snowy Egrets-4 Frisky Snowy Egrets-5 Frisky Snowy Egrets-6

This behavior went on for a time while we watched.  The egrets jumping out of the water enabled us to identify the “golden slippers’ of all three egrets, a classic identification characteristic.



The smaller egrets, which we presumed to be females,  were quick to get out of the way of the big dude.




The plumage of the egrets was quite showy, and we felt very fortunate to have found this group.




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