The St Augustine Alligator farm really is one of the best places, and one of my all time favorite places to hold a workshop, the location, with 700+ nesting birds in a small area makes it very convenient and easy to access. The conditions were super this year and the 5 participants all helped make the workshop a big success.
Cloudy skies at the farm turn it into the perfect place for flight photography. The birds are in breeding colors and plumage are all very active, displaying, maintaining nests, feeding their chicks, or battling over prime spots. It's hard to take a bad image here when the conditions are right.
As the bird got closer and closer I tracked it in the viewfinder as it crossed right in front of the sun, I actually lost the bird in the viewfinder at one point as the strong sunlight caused lens flare that made the focus screen go completely white. This is not the kind of image you see made at the alligator farm as I am usually the only person I see actively shooting towards the sun when I am there.
Thanks to the warm glow of the sun causing a bit of lens flare, the color contrast with the warm and cool colors in the sky really makes for an interesting image. It's hard to believe this was all in camera and not created using filters, this is all natural!
With so much consistent predicable action at the rookery you can practice your flight photography and take time to experiment with new techniques. This is one of the few places that I still use, and will probable always use flash. My good old faithful quantum external battery recently brought back to life with new cells, worked perfectly all week with only one charge.
When properly balanced the flash will open up the shadows to reveal feather details and let the back light fill the translucent feathers. Backlit birds in flight have always been a favorite of mine especially high key flight photos like this.
The nesting birds were back in force this year and the balance of different species was just amazing, you could see 5 species nesting next to each other in the same tree. The cattle egret numbers were way down this year, which is a good thing since they are not a native bird species anyway, due to the staff's hard work removing some of the invasive plants around the rookery.
The spoonbills were one of the highlights this year. It's great to seem them all around the farm now. Spoonbills like to nest farther back in the foliage than other birds so they are not the easiest to shoot but it's hard to beat spoonbill hatchings.
When faced with harsh afternoon light, which happens a lot in Florida, I like to get creative and hide harsh details with underexposure and darkening creating a low key effect. It can work very well sometimes as an alternative to normal exposure and processing.
This great egret was busy gathering nesting material just a few feet above the heads of half a dozen photographers. I didn't see a single photographer even look up as the bird flew back and forth to the nest a dozen or so times. It's always worthwhile to back up and take a look around to look for a new fresh angle and way of looking at the same scene.
If you like the images you see here and would like to learn more about the techniques I used to make them you can join our 2018 workshop at the farm. The Alligator Farm workshop is always a very productive and rewarding time. Any questions or comments please leave them below or email me.
Follow this link for more info on mu 2018 workshop: http://www.robertotoole.com/workshop/florida/