"For Me, Another Definition of GOD
"Your life is what has happened to you
while you were busy making other plans."
to me that we all look at nature too much, and live with her too little"
"That's the thing about Mother Nature - She
"You can gauge a country's real wealth by its tree
"I like to think that one
of the best brews is the one handed to you by a new friend"
What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
"....I travel not to go anywhere, but to
go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."
A Birth Certificate shows that
Pat's July 2012 Blog
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Skip Forward to August 18th - Catching Up Real Quick
The past few weeks have been non-stop work and catching up. I apologize for taking so long to update this. It seems once we got home from our Michigan trip, it was hard to find time to sit down long enough to catch up.
I celebrated my 39th birthday on July 27th. It was a great weekend at the Tiki Bar with multiple guests celebrating birthdays each night, so the partying was non-stop and so much fun.
Cindy rewarded me with one of the coolest presents I've ever gotten for my birthday. She's so good to me and if I ask for something enough, she'll usually cave in and reward me with it.
I've always wanted a Underwater Housing for a full size DSLR since they were introduced. There have been times we've been tempted to get one, but we always held back because the bodies themselves were advancing at such an alarming rate.
It just seems silly to buy something that is specific to a certain body, when you might replace that body within the next few months. Many of the underwater housings are more expensive than the camera body itself. So if you're going to drop the money on one, you want to make sure you really like that body.
I cannot say enough good things about the Canon 5DMKII body and the images it's capable of producing. I don't see us updating it anytime soon, so when I was browsing through a camera forum and saw a used Ikelite Housing for that body at a price too good to pass up, I begged and pleaded with Cindy till she said "Go ahead, buy it, it'll be your birthday present."
The main reason I couldn't pass this package up was it came with a lens port, which you normally have to buy separate along with a bunch of extras that the seller was throwing in for free. Just the housing itself would have been a good deal at the price he was offering it at, but with all the extras thrown in, it was like we were getting a good deal on a housing with another $1000 worth of gear thrown in for free.
Here is the nerve wracking part. Since we've gotten it, we've yet had a time to actually use it. We've gone out on the boat with the intent to do some snorkeling and underwater shooting, but the Suwannee River is flowing so heavy right now that it's dumping copious amounts of its dark, red water into our bays. So the visibility is about zero. We've been too busy to head out to any of the surrounding springs where you're guaranteed crystal clear water.
So I've been going insane just looking at this beautiful piece of machinery without being able to use it. Hopefully soon we'll get the chance to spend the day underwater, shooting some new images. I'm wanting to use it for Underwater Fashion, which is something I think will be really fun and different.
When we used to live in Michigan, one of the types of photography I shot most often was modeling. Since being on the road, it's rare to get to shoot that style and Cedar Key really doesn't offer up too many opportunities to quench my thirst for it. I find it one of the most challenging types of photography because you have to be able to manipulate the light perfectly to get your desired results and you have to be good with working with a model rather than a static landscape.
I always ask Cindy to model for me, but she usually just says "No Thanks, go find a different model." One of my other birthday presents was having her be my model for a full day while I got to practice lighting and some different poses I'd been thinking up in my head.
That was such a good present and it only made my hunger for this type of photography get worse. Sorry I cant show you all the photos as I feel they're too risky for this blog I try and keep PG-13. If you'll Google my name and search hard enough, you'll be able to find them on the intraweb. Maybe I'll have to start advertising in the Gainesville market to see if I can find some more work outside Cedar Key.
These past few weeks have been really good for summer storms. We've been having some regular rain which brings in beautiful cloud formations. Sunrises have been amazing, but the sunsets have been a bit lack-luster. It seems that each afternoon, there is a thick marine layer just over the Western Horizon that blocks a good sunset view.
I did go out and guide a photography trip a few days ago and was able to snap off a few cool shots of my own.
Another day Cindy and I were plugging away when some guests were knocking on the door saying "Grab your camera and come out back, you're never going to believe this bird!"
This really nice couple that was staying with us was walking out to the dock when they passed a small dove that was sitting on one of the outdoor chairs. As they passed by it, it never even flinched or flew away like the rest of the birds did as they approached.
The guy, Robbie, was eating sunflower seeds and he put some in his hand and the bird flew right over and started eating out of his hand. This is when his wife came running for Cindy and I to come take some pictures.
We were all sitting there in awe as the bird would allow us to touch it or have it eat right from the palm of our hands. We figured it had to be someone's pet that had gotten loose. At one point, someone moved which scared the dove and it flew in a circle around all of us and landed right on my shoulder.
This was a very cool experience for all of us. When Cindy posted the above photo of me with the bird on my shoulder onto her Facebook page, Doug Maple, a local boat guide told us he had raised this dove from a baby when a local tree trimmer had cut a branch the nest was in. He told us that he has hand fed it for the last year which explains why it wasn't afraid of us and was looking for food.
Doug explained that he's in the process of trying to let it go free, and will put it outside in the morning so it can try and get used to the outdoor feeder and watch the other wild birds. But he said that it will sit right at the back door when it gets dark and prefers to sleep inside in its cage at night.
So I guess that this particular day, it had flown from Doug's house, which is only a block away from the motel, to our yard and hung out with our guests all day long.
Thursday July 19th - Finally Home in Cedar Key
I woke up late to a light rain on the roof of the camper. For a second I was confused wondering where I was and if I was dreaming or were Cindy and I back on the road? What state were we in? What town were we in and what had we done yesterday that I was so sore and tired this morning. It was as if we had been at a big party and I was super hung over.
I sat up and looked around, but I only had Luca snuggled up to me snoring loudly on Cindy's pillow and Little cozied up underneath my pillow to stay warm.
I yelled for Cindy to see if she was out in the kitchen, but there was no answer. I got up and got dressed. Brushed the night out of my mouth and looked outside. Cindy was outside pulling weeds in the rain and tending to yard work. I came to realization that we were back home in Cedar Key and not still on the road. My soreness was from two 12 hour days of not exercising my muscles and sitting down the entire time.
I stumbled outside and we spent the morning, while it was still somewhat cool (High 80's with a 90% humidity level) and the rain was keeping the bugs at bay. We both joke that we could weed or work in the garden fulltime and never get bored.
Some mornings I'll come outside and trim around the trees, the porches and RV hook-up's with scissors so I don't wake any guests and the place still looks kept up. A weed-whip can be obnoxious even when no one is around.
Amber was packing her stuff up while we were unpacking our bags and trying to get back into the routine of our lives. We now had a cargo trailer filled with junk that we don't really need, we've lived without for the last 6 years and now have to find a home for. This was not going to be an easy task.
I tried to spend the entire day outside working to get my blood flowing again after those two miserable days of driving.
The tiki bar would be opened soon and we had a bunch of people coming out to watch the sunset. It was good to be home.
Wednesday July 18th - Another Long Day of Driving
We both slept in this morning and didn't get on the road till around 10am. Boring day of driving with getting caught in Atlanta in horrible traffic.
On the Southern Side of Atlanta, Cindy kept saying lets just pull over for the night. I'm tired, I'm sore from sitting all day long and we still have 6 hours of driving.
There was no way I was going to spend another $100 for a motel when we were within a few hours of home. So we pushed on and drove on through the night.
We finally pulled into Cedar Key around Midnight and crawled right into the camper. Amber was watching the motel for us, so we just slept in the camper rather than wake her up or dirty a room just to get a good nights sleep.
I was dead tired and think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
Tuesday July 17th - Long Drive South
We pulled out of Michigan by Mid-Morning. It's hard for us to ever be prompt and leave when we plan on.
As usual, Cindy was asleep by the time we got out of town and slept for the first few hours. This was pretty hard for me since there was no radio to listen to and I was just as tired as she was.
Our day would be spent driving and talking in-between her naps. Sounds really fair doesn't it? Mid-way through Ohio, we were driving through some serious storms that actually had the radio making that super annoying sound telling us we were in a tornado storm. We would turn the radio on every now and then just to break the silence.
We pulled over at a Cracker Barrel to have some lunch and get off the road while the storm passed through. We figured it would be better to be off the road since most of the traffic was driving with their hazard lights on and only going about 20mph due to the low visibility.
We ate lunch and while Cindy was using the rest room before we got back on the road, I figured I'd take the dogs for a quick walk so they could relieve themselves too.
Luca and Little were both standing on the back seat eager for me to hook up their leashes so they could jump out and go for the walk. Once I had them hooked up, I told Luca to jump out first which turned into a big mistake.
He jumped from the seat which is about mid-chest height for me. When he jumped, his leash snagged Little's and pulled her to the ground with him. The quick jerk of the jump sent Little flying straight to the asphalt, slamming her onto the hard ground with him landing on top of her.
She started yelping and screaming at the top of her lungs which made it sound like I was behind the truck murdering my dog. This freaked Luca out who took off running with her leash still wrapped around his. So as I was trying to hold onto her on the ground to see if anything was broken, all of a sudden she gets snapped out of my hands and goes sailing across the parking lot as Luca is freaked out running around dragging her behind him.
I jump up to try and stop this chaos yelling at him to stop and sit. Little is now screeching so loud I'm afraid police are going to show up any second. I see Cindy sprinting across the parking lot with a look of fear on her face.
I finally get them both stopped as I untangle the two leashes. Little is literally shaking in my arms and whimpering like she's seriously injured. If I touched her rib cage, she'd start yelping again and all I can think is I just allowed major harm to Cindy's dog.
Cindy comes sprinting around the front of the truck at this point yelling at the top of her lungs "What the HELL is going on!!!"
Right away Luca sits down with his ears tucked so far behind his head like he knows it's his fault and he's in major trouble. Little is trying to squirm out of my hands to get to her momma and I'm trying to not hold onto her for fear that I'll hurt her even more.
When all the commotion settles down and Little stops shivering and whimpering, we all climb back into the truck. The rest of the day Little wouldn't look at me or even allow me to touch her. If my hand so much as moved away from the steering wheel, she'd cower down hiding behind Cindy's neck and hide her head like I was about to slam her on the ground again.
This was the way she acted when we had first brought her home from the Shelter. Figures that this has to happen at my watch so she associates pain with males, which she's normally scared of to begin with. She had no idea that Luca was the one who pulled her onto the ground that hard. As far as she knows, I was reaching for her to put her down on the ground when within a split second, she was slammed down there.
The rest of the drive and day was spent dodging storms and trying to get Little to gain some confidence in me again. This was accomplished by copious amounts of Beef Jerky and having her eat it out of my hand.
When we finally got tired and decided we should pull over, we stopped in Corbin Kentucky at the same Red Roof Inn we had stopped at on our way up to Michigan.
Cindy went in to register while I said I'd park the truck and take the dogs for a walk. I figured I'd messed up so bad on my first attempt, I might as well redeem myself and show Cindy I could be a responsible dog owner.
This particular motel has a huge lawn area that wraps around the motel. I started to put Little's harness on her and she started to whimper when I touched her rib cage. I was worried that it would still be really tender, so I just figured I'd let her walk without a harness and leash on and allow her to walk around free.
This was going really good till a Tractor Trailer drove by on the Interstate and hit his engine brake. When the truck made the loud growling sound, I saw Little's ears go back as she took off running across the parking lot in search of Cindy. That was the last direction she has seen her walk towards.
Here I am sprinting behind her yelling for her to stop as she's outrunning me headed towards the front door of the motel. Just at that second, the front doors of the motel opened and Cindy came walking out. She looks up to see me screaming and chasing after Little as Luca comes bounding past me thinking we're all going for a run. I can only imagine what this looked like to the other guests who were outside unloading their luggage.
Cindy just bent down and said "Come here Little" who ran straight into her arms scared to death.
I was so friggin' mad at this point, I just grabbed a hold of Luca and went back to the truck. I suddenly didn't like this little monster that does nothing but get me in trouble with Cindy.
I always scold Cindy for carrying Little everywhere because neither of us want to be one of those dog owners, but it looks like till she recovers from her beat-down, she'll become a spoiled dog.
We put the dogs in the room, fed them and walked across the road to a restaurant. We were both asleep as soon as we got back to the motel room. Little still wouldn't look at me and quite frankly, I didn't want to look at her at this point.
So it turned out to be a pretty sucky day of driving for both Little and I.
Monday July 16th - Packing Things Up and Shooting Blue Birds
Today would be spent packing up items we had forgot we even owned. We had so many things scattered around my mom and dads house, in their barn and in another storage barn that was in another location. It wasn't much, but it was enough to fill our 14' cargo trailer from one end to the other.
We had planned on spending the entire day doing this, until I was eating breakfast in the sunroom at my parents and kept noticing this blue bird flying around. I sat watching its movements and noticed it would catch some sort of bug, land on this one branch every time and watch the surrounding area for a minute. Once it knew the coast was clear, it would fly over to a bird house I had built for my mom years ago and feed the chicks that were nesting inside.
This would be the perfect opportunity to practice with the 800mm. I mounted it to the Canon 7D body atop a Mono-Pod with the Wimberley Gimbal head. This is a pretty sweet combination for birding!
I positioned myself a good distance away from the bird nest, but in a location that I could also see the branch that the blue bird couple would land on before returning back to the nest. This way I could see when they were coming and would know to be ready.
I was hoping to capture some shots of either of them flying, but the lens is too powerful and I was zoomed in way too close to try and follow such a small bird that flies so fast and erratic.
My parents back yard is a little sanctuary and could keep a photographer busy almost year round. I was basically standing right out their back door and could see a Eastern Blue Bird nest. I could hear another nest that was home to some Finch's in a tree that was only a few feet away from me, but it was situated at the very top of the tree, so the only angle was to shoot straight up at the bottom of it which gave me useless images.
While I was standing out there watching the blue birds, a family of wild turkeys came waltzing through the back yard which scared away the family of white tailed deer that had been feeding just at the edge of the wood line.
The pond my parents have in their backyard is nothing short of a Mecca for frogs, dragonflies, butterflies and many other animals that come to drink, swim or cool off in its cool, flowing water.
With multiple feeders, there are birds in every direction you look and I could probably spend weeks without ever leaving this yard and fill a few wildlife books. My mom will send me messages saying "Oh how I wish you were here with your camera right now as there is a big owl sitting right on the branch outside our window!" You can replace that with owl, hawk, heron or numerous other birds that fly through to visit, but I get those messages often and know she's thinking of me.
After a few hours of shooting birds, we got busy packing things up before we headed over to my sisters house for a pool party. Being as we were only in town for two days, we wanted to spend as much time with the family as possible.
The evening was spent laughing hysterically with the kids and their silly antics and catching up on all the crazy stories my family is filled with. It was good to see them all again and spend time with them.
Sunday July 15th - Michigan & Courtney's Graduation Party
After a great nights sleep, we had eaten breakfast and were on the road by 7am this morning. We had about 7 more hours of drive time till we'd reach our destination in Michigan, so there was no time to fool around and sight-see.
I think Cindy took 4 naps in those 7 hours, and kept complaining about how tired road trips make her, which just confuses the hell out of me? If she wasn't sleeping, then she'd be reading on her Kindle. She was trying to read aloud to me since the radio doesn't work, but she kept saying "Every time I try and read out loud, it puts me to sleep."
We got to Milford and went to my parents house first. We wanted to unload the trailer, the dogs and change out of our driving clothes before heading over to the party. This all took maybe a half hour before we were on our way to my sisters house.
The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting with family, friends and sweating away in the near triple digit temperatures the Mid-West is experiencing.
Funny Side Note: I had brought one of the quarter sticks of dynamite that I had saved from the 4th of July. I had showed it to my brother and sister, and we all agreed to wait till my Mother and Father had left along with a few of the other guests that we were worried might have a heart attack when we lit it off.
My Mom had said goodbye to everyone and was on her way down the driveway towards her car. I thought it would be funny to light it off as she was pulling away in her vehicle so she'd still hear it, but she'd be shielded inside the car.
My sisters road is in a Cul-de-sac and my mom had driven towards the turn around as I was getting the explosive ready. She was driving out of the Cul-de-sac when I started to light it. I wound up like a professional baseball player with the wick lit and hurled it as high as I could in the air hoping the arch of the throw would make it explode in the air and not on the manicured lawn.
It was just about dark while all this was happening, and my Mom caught the twirling wick out of the corner of her eye and comes to a stop exactly in the path of the throw to roll her window down and ask what that twirling, glowing thing is that is coming towards her at a high rate of speed.
I hear my brother, Cindy and a few other friends who were standing behind me let out a loud gasp just as she comes to a stop and the quarter stick is coming down to the ground about 20' from her window. Just as she gets her window down and starts to yell out "What is that?", it goes off with an obnoxiously loud BOOM that echoed throughout the neighborhood. We see her face go pale as the thing explodes and I'm sure deafening her due to how close it is.
For a few seconds everyone just sits quiet until we hear her yell out at the top of her lungs "Patrick, you're in trouble when you get home!!!" as she drives off shaking her head in disgust.
We had great fun with our friends and family and it was a fun night all around. Between the top notch food, the bounce house that had both kids and adults kept busy and just good company, I think the party was a huge success.
Saturday July 14th - A Quick Drive North
Thursday and Friday were spent playing around with the lens every chance I could get. I filled all the bird feeders in the back yard and would sit inside the tiki bar watching to see what would come to the perches.
The difference between the 400mm and the 800mm is pretty substantial at this distance and I learned real quick that the lens has a huge learning curve. I remembered back to when we first got our 400mm and how it took me at least a month before I'd know the exact minimum distance I needed to be to allow the lens to focus. It takes awhile to find the sweet spot of holding the lens and its limitations of how it likes to focus.
My niece Courtney had just graduated high school a few weeks ago and she was planning her Graduation Party on Sunday afternoon. The rest of my family had been asking if we'd be able to attend, but we weren't sure we'd be able to sneak away until the very last minute.
The motel was full this weekend, but this time of year, the rooms tend to slow down mid-week and the RV visitors are non-existent. Most of them have driven north to try and escape the heat, which proved to be a big mistake this summer since much of the Mid-West and Northern States are hotter than we are.
We figured if we left early this morning, we'd be able to drive all day, sleep somewhere in Northern Kentucky or Southern Ohio and make the final push on Sunday morning to arrive just in time for the party.
We had packed everything up late last night after closing the Tiki Bar and pulled out of Cedar Key around 7am. We would be towing our 14' cargo trailer behind us so we could pack up the last of the stuff we had left in Michigan back in 2006.
I like to tease my brother and sister for storing so much of their junk in my parents big pole barn. But we've kept a small closet filled with junk for the past 6 years, so I'm as much a hypocrite as I am a smart-assed brother.
So many times we get asked "How do you part with all your worldly possessions when going out on the road Full Time?"
Years ago, I thought there were things that were really important to us. These were the things that have taken up this 5' wide by 10' long space for so long. Boxes of pictures, records the IRS says you're supposed to keep incase you get audited, mementos from school days. All those things that you think mean so much. As Cindy and I were driving north, we were trying our hardest to remember what was in that closet that we felt was so important at the time. Except for the fact that we knew there were boxes of images and a few pictures that were framed, we couldn't name anything in there.
I guess it just goes to show you that what is important at one time might not be all that important once you let it go and move on.
The drive up I-75 was uneventful with Cindy sleeping most of the way while I cursed myself for not having satellite radio. I know that after our last road trip, I said I'd never do that again, but this one was last minute, so we hadn't had time to get a new radio installed. Our stock radio itself is also broken and will randomly turn the volume up to full blast or turn it down to zero so you cant hear it.
If you're trying to play a CD, it'll skip songs or be in the middle of a song and just eject the CD saying 'Disc Unreadable'. So much of the drive was me just listening to Cindy, Luca and Little snoring away.
We pulled over around 9:30pm in Corbin Kentucky at a Red Roof Inn. Cindy had been browsing hotels that were pet friendly on my phone and was shocked to see the pet charges range anywhere from $10 to $25. This particular Red Roof Inn allowed pets to stay for free!
For $85 per night, we got a King Sized Suite and a Free Breakfast, which is so worth it! The motel had ample parking for our truck and trailer and a big mowed lawn for the dogs to run around and stretch their legs in. The room was spotlessly clean and the bed was super comfy, although I was pretty tired after more than 10 hours of driving, so I'm sure I could have slept on the floor and would have thought it was comfortable.
Wednesday July 11th - Bringing out the Big Guns
We've always talked about the big guns of Canon Lenses. Lets face it, when photographing wildlife, you can never have enough zoom. Canon offers multiple lenses ranging from a small 200mm fixed lens up to a unthinkable 1200mm that is almost impossible to come by.
Their 800 f/5.6 is the longest consumer lens available as that 1200mm is so coveted, it's usually reserved for military, Law Enforcement or those with such a disposable income they don't balk at the $120,000 price tag. Here is a great review of that lens that is pretty funny to read.
The Canon 800mm f/5.6L lens isn't all that inexpensive either. Breaking the bank at $13,899 from B&H, it'll cost about as much as the average used car. Putting the price aside, the lens will allow you to photograph wildlife in their natural setting without the need to get so close that you disturb the animals behavior.
There would be no way we could ever afford this lens, so the next best thing would be to rent one and see if it lived up to all the dollar signs I see when drooling over it online.
It arrived in the mail yesterday and I could barely wait to load up the boat and go see what I could find.
First things first. A few tips about handling the lens and getting it ready to go shoot. The 800mm giant is actually lighter than our Canon 400mm f/2.8L lens believe it or not. I guess the Fluorite glass Canon uses for those lenses is pretty hefty stuff. The 800mm is also easier to hand hold due to the better weight distribution because of the lens itself being longer than the 400mm. Not that we'd be hand holding this monster all that much, but it's nice to be able to pick it up and fire off a few shots if the need arises.
The front screw socket in the 800mm needs one of the 3/8" to 1/4" Brass Reducer Bushings that Wimberley supplies when I had ordered our Gimbal Head and Plate to begin with. That was confusing at first why one of the mounting screws would screw in but the other kept falling out.
Good to know if you're ordering this lens or renting one. You wouldn't want to be stuck with a rented lens and not be able to attach it to the Gimbal Head.
The 800mm fits into the Pelican 1650 box we use to haul our gear around with the hood in the shooting position, which is the best way to store the lens. This way that front element is always protected from anything touching it and if you need the lens in a hurry, it's ready to be picked up and fired off without having to re-mount the hood.
Both lenses come with their own hard suitcases from the factory, but the only way to carry them in the supplied cases is with the hoods reversed and I think they fit so snuggly that you cant even have the mounting plates attached to the foot? So those cases are a major FAIL in my mind as most folks don't strip down their lenses every time they're done shooting. At least I don't.
Shooting with this lens attached to the Canon 7D body, with it's 1.6 crop sensor, I'm basically shooting with a 1280mm image stabilized lens. That's much closer than I'm used to with the 400mm with the 1.4x extender attached, which is my normal combo. That combo added up only gives me a equivalent of 896mm, and the 1.4x extender slows down the auto-focus just a tad bit. So I'm betting that extra 384mm will produce some better images with greater detail.
Being out on the boat and shooting with the lens is a learning experience. It probably wasn't the best idea to be shooting with this long of a lens for the first time on a floating boat with a 10mph breeze blowing.
Cindy tried first and laughed saying "Ok, I give up!" after only about 5 minutes of trying to lock onto a Roseate Spoonbill that was near by. I was a little bit more steady than she was, but I knew exactly what she was talking about. It's hard to hold the lens still while the boat is floating and the wind is blowing.
First thing I noticed is we can get shots of birds that are normally very skittish and fly away as we're approaching. With this lens, we don't have to try and get as close and the birds don't really pay attention to us, so the images are more natural.
We spent the evening floating off of Seahorse Key watching and listening to the strange sounds nesting birds make. We watched as an egret stood atop its nest and did the more elaborate dance to a watching mate.
We watched the Magnificent Frigate Birds soar overhead with their giant wingspan and the Night Heron's bark out their calls to one another from the thick cover of the tropical jungle they hide in.
As the sun set behind us, the birds flew back to Seahorse Key by the hundreds. The island grows louder and louder as the birds come home to their perches for the evening. The one downfall to the 800 f/5.6 is as the evening grew dimmer, the lens becomes harder and harder to focus due to the low light.
With our Canon 400 f/2.8, we can shoot pretty late into the evening if we're shooting at f/2.8. Not so with the f/5.6 setting on the longer 800mm. No big deal, we have the lens for a few days, so there will be plenty more time to shoot with it.
We rode home eager to see the images to see if the longer lens is worth the extra cost.
Tuesday July 10th - Taking A Day Off on the Water
This past week has been hot. Not as hot as the rest of the country, but it's steamy here in Cedar Key. It's crazy to watch the news and see that Central Florida is the coolest part of the country with temperatures only being in the high 80's to low 90's while areas in the Mid-West are reaching triple digits.
What we have is the humidity. That'll get cha' every time. Stepping outside of the A/C controlled house, glasses instantly fog up, your first few breaths are hard to suck in, and if you're carrying a camera outside, don't plan on using it anytime soon. It takes quite awhile for the glass to acclimate and the fog to dry up.
I've found that if we know we're going out shooting, I'll put the gear outside an hour before we're scheduled to leave. This way the glass has warmed up and we don't have to worry about the fogging issues.
Cindy and I normally take Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. The last two weeks we were getting everything ready for the 4th of July event, so taking a day off wasn't allowed. Since the 4th was on a Wednesday this year, it meant that the next few days after the holiday were business as usual which meant there was no time to recover.
I think it was Sunday before I finally felt normal again and we had this place back in order. Between the folding tables, tents, folding chairs and dishes that people loaned us, the first few days after the party was crazy just trying to return everything and remember who had loaned us what. Plus we had moved our camper, our cargo trailer and a few other items off the property to give us more room. Those all needed to be hooked up and returned to their proper places so the A/C could be turned back on in the camper.
The day started unusually for me around 3am. I awoke to Luca wining in his cage. This normally isn't started till his usual 6am wake up call when he'll make this half whimper, half barking noise that lets us know he's done sleeping in the crate with Little and it's time for another hour of snuggle time in our bed.
When I heard the wake-up sound at 2:30am I wondered what the heck was going on. I was laying there about to tell him to quiet down when I heard the thunder and saw the bedroom light up from some lightning strike close by. That told me there was no way of getting him to pipe down as thunderstorms are one of the only things that scares him. The only thing to do was open the crate and let him crawl into bed with us or we'd just sit and listen to him whine till the storm passed.
Once Luca and Little were both in the bed snuggled around Cindy, I was laying there wide awake just listening to the storm roll closer. The room was lighting up as if someone was flicking the light switch on and off at a really fast pace. All I could think about was "This would be cool to photograph!" so rather and lay there and not get any sleep, I crawled out of bed and loaded up the camera gear.
I put the ThinkTank Hydrophobia Rain Cover on the 5D MarkII camera body with the wide angle Canon 16-35mm lens and attached the AEO Lightning Trigger. This combo is a pretty sweet set-up for catching lightning strikes.
At first I just thought I'd go hang out on the dock behind our place, but after a few minutes of being out there, I realized the major part of the storm was pretty far out in the Gulf still. So I jumped in the truck and headed downtown to see what I could find.
Once I got downtown, the show was amazing. There were so many strikes hitting the Gulf and spider webbing across the sky, my hardest decision was deciding where to set up the tripod.
I would set it up in one location, compose the shot and turn the trigger on. This is just a crap shoot because what usually happens is you set the camera up for what you think will be a really cool shot, and for the next few minutes the lightning strikes decide to go off just outside the view of the lens. You have to remember that in order to get good images, you have to leave the shutter open for a good length of time so it's not like you can keep moving the camera non-stop.
I picked a 30 second setting with the f/stop being set to f/9. This is a pretty safe bet that the scene wont be too over exposed unless you get so many strikes in that time frame that it washes everything out. Sometimes that happens. Other times you don't get anything and the image is just a black scene that is useless. This is where I Thank God for digital cameras.
I can remember back when we shot film, and Cindy and I would sit out during a storm and shoot multiple rolls of film. You never knew if you had caught the strike and if the scene was going to be exposed properly until days later when you got the film back from the lab. What usually resulted was a waste of multiple rolls of film with maybe one or two mediocre images.
Tonight would be different. There was so much lightning being thrown around the sky that it didn't really matter which way you pointed the camera, it was going to capture multiple strikes in each image. Many times I'd be watching a completely different direction than the way I had the camera set up and I'd be giggling like a little girl as the entire sky would be lit up with lightning streaking across the clouds.
I probably moved the truck 5 times from one end of town to the other while trying to get different foreground subjects. If I would have been closer to a casino, I would have went in and bet everything I had in my bank account because I couldn't lose tonight. It's rare to have an entire night of shooting offer so many spectacular shots.
I'm surprised I didn't overheat the camera because the shutter would just have closed from a 30 second exposure when another strike would go off that would reset the shutter for another 30 seconds. This went on for a few hours like this with the camera never having a rest.
When the front of the storm finally reached Cedar Key, the rains started coming down consistently and I figured I had donated enough blood to the local mosquito population. I loaded up the well used gear in the truck and headed back to the motel. It was 5am and I had been out in the storm for 2 hours. My legs had about a million mosquito bites and I was soaking wet from the on and off again rain, but my body was buzzing with excitement to see the images on the computer.
Those few hours I hadn't seen another soul stirring other than two fisherman out on the pier who were as awestruck as I was by the storm. Talking with them while I had climbed up there to snag a shot, one of the guys just kept saying "Man, this is the coolest show I've ever seen in my life! My buddy is scared shitless and wants to go back to the truck, but I cant get enough of this!" I was in 100% agreement with him. I could watch a storm like this for days and not get bored.
Once back at home, I downloaded the images from the compact flash card to the hard drive and took a quick view through the storm one more time. The excitement and adrenaline rush had caught up with me and once I had taken off my wet clothes and changed into some dry ones, I was pretty tired and felt almost like I was hung over. I think my body had been drained of any energy and I finally went back to sleep. Cindy had never even woke up from the time I had let the dogs out hours ago till I climbed back into bed at 6am.
Around 8am when we both woke up, Cindy was in the kitchen making our morning coffee when I called her back in the bedroom where my office is located. I had one of the lightning images pulled up on my monitor and said "Hey, come check this out!"
She looked at the computer totally confused and said "Where did you get that image?"
I said "What are you talking about? I took it last night during that storm." She looked at me with a look of total confusion and asked "What Storm?!"
I had her sit down and look through the images which had her saying "WOW!", "Oh My God that is beautiful!", to "Oh Man, WHY didn't you wake me up?!" She had no idea it had even stormed last night let alone that it had rained pretty good. And this is a woman who will yell at me if she's sleeping and I'm reading a magazine because she'll say I'm turning the pages too loud???
It was a good start to what would end up being an amazing day and the sun was just coming up.
When Cindy asked "What do you want to do today?" My response was "Load up the camera gear, pack a cooler and spend the entire day on the water doing NOTHING!"
At first she started to say "We have so much to do before we leave for Michigan, are you sure you don't just want to take the day and get everything in order?" But I think the look I gave her made her realize I wasn't going to be doing any work today, and she just started packing the cooler with food and drinks.
With the boat loaded by 10am and Amber left at the controls of the Motel, we punched out and climbed down the ladder at the end of the dock. The day was good and roasting hot already, so a clear sandbar was our destination so we could actually get in the water. Getting in the water wasn't going to cool us off since the waters temperature was around 90°, but being wet felt better than just sitting there sweating for no reason.
First we were headed towards Seahorse Key to hang the hammock from a strand of standing drift wood that would make for a picturesque scene. We had thought up this scene in our heads and had both collaborated on what we thought would make a cool postcard image. So we wanted to get this shot out of the way before the sun would shift and change the light.
Pulling up to the island, we were dealing with a receding tide, so we had to anchor the boat a few hundred yards off the shore, and just walk into the beach. While we were pulling up, we were watching Bonnet Head Sharks swim around in the shallow water. They're harmless sharks that prey on crustaceans, so we weren't in any harm, and they're very pretty fish to watch swim. They're the smallest member in the Hammer Head Family of Sharks and gather in the Gulfs waters during the warm summer months.
With the boat anchored, we walked ashore and found a very cool oak tree that has died, yet is still standing. It's entire root system is exposed from the tides and it makes for a really artistic backdrop or focal point.
While I hung the hammock, Cindy lugged in the gear. Of course she made me swing in the hammock for awhile claiming that I'd hang it so it would fall once she got into it. If you remember, this happened to her while we were in Baja Mexico. I had hung a hammock, kicked back in it for a few beers, and the second she laid down in it, the thing fell to the ground with her slamming hard on the sand.
Now she always makes me get in a newly hung hammock and swing much harder than anyone normally would to show her it will hold up.
Once that test was over with, I got to shooting while she got to modeling for the camera.
Now you would think if you were out on a boat, and you see another boat anchored on a deserted island, and a couple of people walking along the beach or sitting there just hanging out, that the proper thing to do would be to leave them alone and let them enjoy their solitude. NOPE!
With 13 different islands to choose from in the Cedar Key Wildlife Refuge, another boat passing by has to pull up right beside ours and drop anchor. Another couple jumps in and starts swimming around and coming ashore while they're all yelling back and forth to one another. Not that this is private property or anything, but if I was motoring past and saw the same scene, I'd keep going and go find my own little hideaway.
Luckily we had already nailed our shot, so we packed up the gear and headed over to a good swimming hole. One of the islands has this huge sandbar that exposes itself on a low tide. The bottom is all white sand so it's good swimming, which is normally something that is hard to find in Cedar Key.
Once we were in our swimming hole spot, the anchor was dropped, beers were cracked and the day was spent sitting in what would be considered Mother Natures Hot Tub. The water was so hot, that at one point Cindy said "The water is so warm, I cant tell when I'm peeing!"
You know you've found a little piece of paradise when you're sitting in bath like water, sipping on a ice cold beer and can reach down and pick up a big, juicy scallop that is crawling past you on the sand.
At first we had our long sleeved shirts on to keep the sun off of us, but it didn't take long before everything was stripped down and the water was the only thing around us.
We did get dressed for a little while to take the boat into town so we could grab a bite to eat, but once our stomachs were full, the clothes came back off and we were back in the water. I cant really think of a better way to spend a hot summer day than floating in the Gulf with the woman of your dreams.
There were storms booming on the horizon all around us from the days heat, but offshore, we never got anything so it was just a good show to watch. Late in the afternoon, Cindy kept seeing the dorsal fins from the sharks swimming all around us and while motoring away from the sandbar, we had one of the Bonnet Head Sharks swim right up to the edge of the boat.
I probably could have reached down and grabbed it if I wanted to, but I'm not that silly. With a dolphin escort back to our dock, we agreed it was probably one of the best days on the water we've ever spent.
Wednesday July 4th - Happy Birthday America
Talk about a busy day! Cindy and I were up and working before Sunrise this morning.
We had tents to set up, campers and trailers to move and fireworks to organize. I'm not sure how long it will take to get rid of the smell of Gun Powder in our kitchen, but I've gotten used to the smell over the last few days.
We had moved the fireworks into our house so Cindy could go through them and organize them into sets for Heath and Levi who would be setting them off from the barge we had anchored out behind the motel.
The tiki bar was fully stocked with extra beer, extra liquor and everything else we could think of. Now we just needed to pray that people were actually going to come to the party or I'd go in the hole with as much as I'd spent on all these supplies.
The entire day was spent getting things ready and by 5pm, people started trickling in. By 7pm when we had scheduled it to officially start, the place was packed.
We had went out and bought a brand new grill for tonight and what a way to break it in. Dave, the owner of Island Pizzeria had volunteered his time cooking the 400 burgers and despite the debilitating heat, he was sure to stay in front of the grill to everyone was fed.
We had a band playing on one of the decks, games for the kids and plenty of lawn space for people to kick back and enjoy the holiday.
Once it got dark, the fireworks were loaded onto the barge and the crowds anticipation could be felt in the thick humidity. I was nervous our show wouldn't muster up to the expectations of what everyone was hoping for. It was a big deal to make sure this went off without a hitch and no one got hurt.
Once it was dark, the show started. It went on for the next 45 minutes to the crowds delight. It was better than expected with cheers and applause being heard up and down the road as both sides of the road were lined with trucks filled with people sitting up in the beds enjoying the holiday.
When the grand finally finally was lit, the show came to a stop and everyone stood cheering and screaming. I think the night was a success and I still couldn't believe we pulled it off with under two weeks of planning.
It just goes to show what a community can do when they pull together to help celebrate the 4th of July. Thanks to everyone who helped make the 4th such a memorable day. Those who donated their time, their hard earned money and those who came out just to enjoy the show and be together for the holiday. Cant wait till next year!!
Sunday July 1st - Seahorse Key Opens
Even though we're crazy busy right now, we couldn't pass up our 3rd year of opening day of Seahorse Key. I mean most of the images in our book have been shot around this bird rookery which hosts so many bird nests, multiple species and opportune shots to grab.
Cindy and I were up and on the boat at sunrise to get out to the island. We had no idea what to expect because this year has been so warm, many of the birds are months ahead of their routine rituals. Then when you factor in Tropical Storm Debby blowing through earlier this week, more than likely most of the nests were blown out of the trees or damaged from the high winds.
Our normal spot was a total bust. It's the best location for early morning light, but it's also facing east, which is the direction the storm was blowing in from, so there were no nests to be seen. Either they've already been hatched and fledged, or they were just blown from the trees by the storm.
There were a bunch of birds hanging out on the backside of the island which would have been protected from the storm, but this also meant you'd be shooting right into the sun. So we just idled around watching the birds to see if we could learn anything from their behavior. There are still hundreds of Magnificent Frigate Birds soaring over the island, and this year there seems to be double the amount of Cormorants than there was last year. I wonder what the meaning is of that?
We were able to get a couple of nice shots, but not the bevy of images we normally come home with. This is what I love about photography, it's always a crap shoot!
Camper Check List - A list of things we do before leaving camp. Again, this isn't gospel, but its a good start for those who might not already have a list made up.