Friday, April 30, 2010

Fire and sun

The sun sets amid smoke from a wildfire in Melbourne that I covered for the paper Thursday. It was a small but briefly worrisome blaze for firefighters.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Purple space station majesties

Taking a break from reporting, I hastily stumbled out of the newspaper last night to watch the International Space Station's high flyover through the dusk sky. It reached an apogee of 84 degrees, almost directly overhead, so it was special. But the thin, widespread cloud cover made it not worth traveling to a more scenic location to shoot it. Instead, I pulled out my camera -- after the station had already started its four-minute flyover -- and took one 71-second exposure of the event. I put together this photo gallery of past passes to accompany a quick little notice to our readers about the flyover.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Children being photogenic

Jake enjoys some cake in celebration of his turning 3.

As a family portrait photographer, I live vicariously through my friends. What does that mean? With my best friends here in Florida being co-workers with awesome young families, I tend to enjoy shooting them whenever I get a chance - and some time off from work.

The latest opportunity came on Jake's third birthday. I've done a 3-year-old's birthday once before, and it was attended by many of the same adults and children. Though the company's the same, the experience is different with each gathering. And the end result usually includes me doing more mingling with the children than with the adults. They tend to accept me as one of them. I'm not sure who teases me more, though.


Jake's big day was my first birthday event at which I was equipped with my newest piece of portrait-taking equipment: Nikon's SB-600 flash. It offers full, quick light and stops subjects' action - even the squirmiest of children.

Too bad it malfunctioned early in the evening.

But it did an excellent job for the above shot of the birthday boy, blue cake frosting covering his lips and chin. With the help of the flash, my newest piece of glass - a 105mm macro, also from Nikon - proved to be an able close-portrait lens.

Thanks, Nikon. Now send me free stuff.

The flash didn't fire for this one. (I realized later that the flash's malfunction was mainly my own brain's malfunction because the battery had died.) So this shot of Julia, the other 3-year-old, holding her baby elephant Ella turned out a bit softer.

But, truthfully, these family-shooting opportunities came weeks and weeks ago, before I started my new job. It proved, however, to be good practice for shooting people again -- like this sheriff's agent, right, and his 2-year-old boy with Down syndrome.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Disjointed lightning

Some parts of Central Florida received a nonstop barrage of lightning and rain Sunday as a cold front swept over the state. Here in my neck of the Space Coast, though, it came after I went to bed. It didn't quite jolt me out of a slumber, but I made myself walk onto the front deck with a tripod to try a few exposures. The above shot shows a close strike. The interesting part of this photo is that the bolt's midsection is missing. It could be traveling through a dense cloud (it also was raining hard at the time) and, therefore, shrouded from view. But, really, it appears as though it's simply not there.

Earlier in the night, some wind-torn clouds moved over the Pineda Causeway. The conditions were gusty and a little drizzly but free of electricity.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Not all launches are beautiful

Atlas V launch
Some rockets that lift off from the Space Coast emit a long, thick trail of smoke that can be colorfully lit by the late-day sun or blown around into interpretive shapes after the spacecraft reaches orbits. Others, such as this Atlas V rocket Thursday, are just plain lame. The launch was at 7:52 p.m., one minute after sunset, but the rocket flew in the 501 configuration for the first time. In the 501 setup, a bulbous upper portion of the rocket housed the experimental Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, which looks like a little space shuttle. But the Atlas V that carried the vehicle into space, where it likely will stay for months, lacked solid rocket boosters and their signature contrails. This made for something that look essentially like a torch being hurled through the air. Photos from my fellow photographers: here.

Atlas V launch
Making the launch even uglier was my location near some industrial storage containers at Port Canaveral.

Atlas V launch
A spectator films the rocket with her iPhone on the deck of Fish Lips, a restaurant at Port Canaveral.

Atlas V launch
The Atlas V without boosters leaves only a brief trail after it climbs into the higher, colder atmosphere. But that's it.

Atlas V launch
The rocket nears a crescent moon.

Atlas V launch
I liked this spider effect as the rocket faded into the distance.

The only cool part was when the payload faring dropped off the rocket and glimmered in the sunlight. This is tightly cropped from a photo shot at 200mm. I didn't have my big 500mm handy, unfortunately.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The moon and Venus setting at twilight

The moon was 5 percent lit by the sun Friday evening, but the remainder of its disc was illuminated by the sun's reflection off Earth. This is my favorite look for the moon. Amid assignments at work -- including this fun one -- I snapped a post-sunset shot of the moon and Venus, seen between the gap in these pine trees behind FLORIDA TODAY.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blowing up cars

Since the newspaper I work for doesn't use my photos, I thought I'd share these from an assignment I worked Wednesday. The FBI is leading training in explosives and other weapons of mass destruction this week at a salvage lot in Cocoa full of Cash for Clunkers vehicles. Above, shards of glass fly as FBI agents blow up a Pontiac so their trainees can process the scene. This photo gallery includes others from staff photographer Christina Stuart.

This was a Saturn.

The roof of a Cadillac goes flying.

This car caught on fire, and firefighters extinguished it within minutes.

What's left of the Saturn.

Sheriff's investigators sift through evidence, trying to find out what explosive was used.

This piece of plastic was determined to be junk, not evidence.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Discovery's penultimate flight, along with its destination

Space shuttle Discovery blasted off early Monday, around 6:21 a.m., 48 minutes before sunrise. The weather was clear and still, and the orbiter's booming engines seemed louder than normal. I got to Space View Park in Titusville a little late, less than an hour before the launch, because I was working a day shift Monday. Instead of getting the usual prime viewing real estate along the river, I rudely pushed through the masses for the above view with people crowding a small pier. It's neat to see all the camera LCD screens. People care about this stuff. This exposure was 6 minutes, 19 seconds long.

About 20 minutes before the launch, Discovery's destination, the International Space Station, glinted in sunlight as it streaked across the sky, crossing in front of a crescent moon and flying over the lights from launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. If you look at the horizon through the break in people's heads in the right corner of this image, you can see the Vehicle Assembly Building. This exposure was 63 seconds long.

Here's what an old point-and-shoot camera did while my DSLR was tied up with the time lapse. Pretty lousy.

The crowd thinned out a bit well after the launch, but Titusville was choked with thousands of people eager to see shuttle Discovery's second-to-last flight. It was the busiest launch-viewing event I've seen.

Unfortunately, people aren't allowed on this pier during the launch. There are too many spots where people can accidentally go swimming.

The contrails always produce interesting shapes and colors in the upper atmosphere.

It was one beautiful launch. Thanks, NASA.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Flora and fauna of Florida's springtime

A bee collects pollen on a flower near a home in Melbourne. Dogs were barking at me while I took photos near the Parkway Drive home, but I stayed off private property, and the beasts eventually found something else to bark at.

A co-worker recently remarked at something I also had noticed: The winter season here forced scores of leaves from the trees and onto the ground. I've been here in Central Florida for nearly three years, so I wasn't sure if I was noticing an anomaly or a common occurrence. But to hear such a remark for someone who has lived here for decades, I knew the fallen leaves were out of the ordinary.

Indeed, it was a long, harsh winter by Florida standards -- the coldest on record. For me, it was the first winter here in which it actually felt like winter.

That's why the recent warming trend has been especially glorious. In years past, I've never appreciated the insects starting to swarm again or the wildflowers blooming in grassy areas along roads, only because the winters didn't seem wintry enough. With the start of spring this year, however, I've keyed my senses to the sights, sounds and smells of the season.

This is a partial representation of what I've seen in just the past two days. All photos were taken through my 105mm Nikon macro lens. And all the featured flora and fauna are wild.












The remaining photos we snapped at Turkey Creek Sanctuary in Palm Bay.






Poison ivy.



Pretzels are in season for turtles.


This is on the sunlit side of a saw palmetto fan.

This is on the dark side of a saw palmetto fan, with sunlight shining through.



I noticed a leaf in sunlight directly behind a leaf in shadow.