After wrapping up at Matthiessen State Park, I made the short drive on IL-71 to the Owl Canyon parking area, the jumping off point for the hike to LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park.  The trail follows a staircase, with a lot of steps, from bluff level to river level, then takes an oftentimes muddy trail west along the Illinois River to the mouth of LaSalle Canyon.  From there it’s roughly a half mile to the head of the canyon where the LaSalle’s waterfall lies.

Waterfalls were my main focus while in Starved Rock on this day as the there had been several days of heavy rain in advance of my visit.  When there’s a lot of rain in north-central Illinois, the ephemeral waterfalls that flow through most of Starved Rock’s numerous sandstone canyons are at their most impressive.  As I followed the trail that traverses the east side of LaSalle Canyon, I reached a point where I could hear the waterfall before I could see it.  When I finally saw the fall, I was pleased as it represented as nice a flow as I’ve seen in my many visits to LaSalle Canyon.

My first view was also my first image after arriving in Starved Rock.

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

As you can see, the waterfall ultimately empties into the canyon’s reflecting pool.  That pool is drained by an outlet stream that ultimately empties directly into the Illinois River.  I decided to use the pool as the focal point for shooting down the canyon.

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

I spent most of the rest of the time I was in the canyon centering my attention on the waterfall itself.

LaSalle Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

It’s possible, with relatively little difficulty, to walk behind the waterfall, which I did, and photograph it from that perspective.  You simply have to dodge the many water droplets that drip that fall, seemingly randomly, from the overhang.

Behind the Falls, LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Behind the Falls Black & White, LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

There are also numerous spots from which to obtain cross-sectional views from both sides of the cataract itself (though I limited myself to the south side of the fall on this occasion).

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

From here, I continued on the trail to Tonti Canyon, which is actually a side canyon of LaSalle, located on the west side of the gorge, not far from the mouth.  The Tonti Canyon waterfall is a much longer drop than LaSalle’s, but nowhere near as wide.

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

For my money, Starved Rock is at its finest with fresh spring growth or in the fall, when the leaves turn.  And, in both cases, after a good hard rain.

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

After a particularly hard rain, a second ephemeral waterfall appears in Tonti Canyon.  It was in evidence on my visit, and you can probably see it, even in these small renditions of the images I captured that day, represented by the mid-ground splash pool visible in the shots below.

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

On the hike back to the Owl Canyon parking area, while still astride the Illinois River, I saw something out in the water that caused me to stop and pull out the telephoto lens.  It appeared that a sizable number of white pelicans were gathered out on the river and that was in fact the case.

White Pelicans, Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

White Pelicans, Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

After returning to my car I drove several miles east, to the parking area for Kaskaskia and Ottawa Canyons.  I often visit nearby Illinois Canyon–the easternmost canyon in the park–but it was a mud pit on this day so I eschewed it for time spent in Kaskaskia and Ottawa.  I checked out Ottawa first.

After examining several more conventional viewpoints I finally found a usable foreground, though it necessitated putting myself in an awkward position on the slope adjacent to one of the canyon’s walls.

Ottawa Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

On the way out I took one more shot, looking straight up the canyon toward the waterfall at its head.

Ottawa Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

I then made the short hike to Kaskaskia Canyon.  The waterfall here has always intrigued me, given the interesting set of logs that have resided for years right at the falls’ choke point, but I’d never taken a wider shot of Kaskaskia that included the waterfall…until this visit, when I used an aged, downed log lying on canyon detritus as foreground interest.

Kaskaskia Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

I then went with a more “normal” focal length, using the lush ferns growing on the left-hand wall of the canyon as part of a leading line.

Kaskaskia Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

It was late afternoon by the time I finished at Kaskaskia and I decided to call it a day as it would take roughly two hours to drive home.  No matter how often I return to Starved Rock, I almost always come away with a few images I’m pleased with–which is part of the reason why I keep coming back year after year.

To see more of my imagery from Matthiessen State Park, check out this gallery on my website.

To see more from Starved Rock, check out these galleries:  Illinois Canyon; LaSalle Canyon; other Starved Rock canyons

Next:  An introduction to my May trip to California:  Yosemite National Park, the Eastern Sierra and Redwood country on the northern coast

This year, there was a stretch of days at the very end of April/beginning of May in northern Illinois that involved rain.  Lots and lots of rain on something like four or five days in a row.  When a large quantity of rain falls in northern Illinois I think about heading out to Starved Rock State Park, which lies in Ottawa County, about 100 miles southwest of my Chicago area base.  With terrain utterly unique for the immediate region, the park consists of a series of sandstone canyons that lie just south of the Illinois River.  When there’s enough rain, ephemeral waterfalls flow near the heads of most of the park’s canyons, which explains why the park pops into my mind after a downpour or two.

Just a mile or two to the south of Starved Rock lies the less-well-known Matthiessen State Park.  Despite the proximity, Matthiessen has its own water source–a creek that drains Matthiessen Lake and flows into the nearby Vermillion River.  As best I’ve been able to tell, there’s no water source connection between the two parks.

Giant’s Bathtub Waterfall, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

I’ve photographed at both parks numerous times over the years with my most recent previous visit coming in the spring of 2016.  This time, on my last full day in the Chicago area for several weeks, I was blessed with a mostly cloudy, low wind day.  That, plus all the recent rain, made for some excellent conditions for photographing waterfalls.

I decided to visit the Upper Dells section of Matthiessen first on this day.  There was as much water flowing through the canyon as I’ve ever seen, making it impossible to navigate the area without getting wet…unless the appropriate footwear was available.  Fortunately for me I had my knee-high rubber boots with me and dutifully donned them before descending to creek level.

Giant’s Bathtub Waterfall Black & White, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

When the water’s running at Matthiessen, the most interesting part of the Upper Dells, to my eye anyway, is the area from the base of Lake Falls, at the top of the canyon, to below the spot known as the “Giant’s Bathtub,” about midway down the dells.  With care, on this particular visit, I was able to keep the water from ever being much over mid-calf as I wandered around this section of the canyon.

Giant’s Bathtub, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

There were spots along the way that were dry, allowing me to set my backpack down and better work my compositions.  Most of the images you see were made with my tripod set up very low–at knee level or below.  It was much easier to carry out these photos without being weighed down by my pack.

Giant’s Bathtub Waterfall, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

I worked my way downstream, then back up, and played around with a few intimate images.

Upper Dells Black & White, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

After climbing back out of the canyon I made one final image–something I’ve been looking at for years:  a bird’s eye view of the canyon from the bridge that spans Lake Falls.

Above Lake Falls, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Having spent a bit of time on the appetizer, it was now on to the main course–various canyons at Starved Rock State Park.  I’ll cover that experience in my next entry.

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 5, 2017

Morton Arboretum Spring

I’ve mentioned the Morton Arboretum a number of times in the past on this blog; it’s an oasis of nature amid the suburban sprawl that makes up most of DuPage County, west of Chicago.  It’s the place I’ve photographed the most over the years and though I know the property quite well there’s almost always a surprise of one sort or another when I visit.

Redbud Meadow, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

I only had one opportunity to photograph at the Arboretum this spring–and even that single visit was truncated as the wind ultimately picked up and it began to rain.  But I had 2-3 hours on the ground before the weather turned inclement and, with the benefit of a quick drive-thru scouting session a couple of days earlier, knew right where to go.

Redbud Isolate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

There are some magnificent stands of redbud in the Arboretum and if you catch them at the right time…yowza.  I’m often away during the time that the redbud peaks in northeast Illinois but this year I was in town and that’s what captured my attention when I scouted the location.  I presume you can see why.

Redbud Cluster, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

In addition to the copious redbud, there are several mature dogwood trees in the Arb.  Dogwood blossoms are, as I’m sure many of you know, quite delicate and their peak is frequently after the redbud has virtually leafed out, but this year, for whatever reason, both sets of trees were at peak at the same time, much to my delight.

Dogwood Delight Black & White, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Dogwood Delight, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Dogwood Delight, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

On the south side of Lake Marmo, on the Arboretum’s West Side, there’s one spot where redbud and dogwood adjoin.  The combination is one of my very favorites and I’ve only had one opportunity to capture flowering redbud and dogwood together–at Oconoluftee, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.  Only once until late April of this year, that is, at the Arb.

Dogwood & Redbud, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

While a steady breeze kept the reflections from being glass-like–a common experience in these parts during the spring–I still felt that a few across-the-water shots of Lake Marmo redbuds were warranted.

Redbud Reflections, Lake Marmo, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Redbud Reflections, Lake Marmo, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

It was an impressive bloom in the upper Midwest this spring, at least partly because of how wet it was.  So wet, in fact, that after several days of hard rain right at the end of April I squeezed in some time one day to run out to Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks in north-central Illinois.  My experience with the ephemeral waterfalls at the former will be the principal subject of my next post.

Redbud Isolate, Lake Marmo, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 31, 2017

Bendix Woods Revisited

My apologies for the long delay between blog posts.

I’ve just returned to the Midwest from my trip to California–12 full days at Yosemite National Park, the Eastern Sierra and redwood country.  The trip went very well and I’ll begin chronicling it in the relatively near future.  But it’s going to take me quite some time to process all of the images I brought back so the next series of posts will cover some Midwest day trips I managed to cram in back in April, beginning with Bendix Woods County Park in northwest Indiana.

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

I first paid a visit to Bendix Woods last year.  Bendix has among the most impressive displays of large-flowered trillium I’ve ever seen so this year I met my friend Danny Burk there on a partly cloudy, rather breezy day.  The conditions weren’t ideal but we tried to make them work by spending a fair amount of time waiting for lulls in the wind and clouds to block the sun.  Our concern was that if we waited for a less windy, more cloudy day the flowers would be past peak by then.  So, we made do.

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

When I got to the site there was nothing but bright, contrasty sunshine on hand, so I spent about an hour wandering around the park on a series of trails.  I was most intrigued by an unmarked path that I hadn’t traversed the year before.  This was where we would ultimately spend just about all of our time this afternoon.

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Danny arrived just as it was beginning to cloud up a bit and for the next few hours we had periodic bursts of even light, which we hastened to take advantage of.

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Despite the wind, I engaged in a fair amount of focus bracketing for the purpose of focus stacking during the post processing phase of image development.  (I know I promised to produce a post on the concept and process of focus stacking and will attempt to meet that obligation in the near future.)

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

My final image of the day was the only one that eschewed the carpet of flowers at my feet and was the only one made when the sun was out.

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

My next couple of posts will detail my experiences at several locations in northern Illinois.

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 14, 2017

Florida: On the Beach

Note:  As this entry posts, I’m on my way to San Francisco, the prelude to extended time photographing at Yosemite National Park, the Eastern Sierra and the redwood groves of Northern California.  I’ll try to post some additional material from some Midwest day shoots earlier in the spring, but If I’m quiet for the next couple of weeks, you know the reason why.

Once I decided that I was going to go to Florida this past February I was determined to carve out enough time to do some beach photography.  I spent significant chunks of time on various East Coast beaches as a child and something of that experience seems to have filtered into my fiber.  The land/ocean focal point remains one of wonder.

I hadn’t been seaside since my trip to the West Coast a couple of years ago when I spent the majority of my time in southern Oregon (and northern California) on the sand.  The beach opportunities in Florida were considerably more limited than my time out West, given the much greater amount of coastal development in the Sunshine State, but I was aware of one small area that was in something approaching a native condition and accessible to the general public.

On the wealthy enclave of Jupiter Island, roughly 90 miles north of Miami and about 30 miles north of West Palm Beach, there are two protected areas–Blowing Rocks Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property, and Coral Cove Park, like Riverbend Park, a publicly owned area administered by Palm Beach County.  The two locations lie about a mile apart from one another and it’s possible to walk from one to the other along the beach itself.

Blowing Rocks Preserve Black & White, Palm Beach County, Florida

Blowing Rocks is an excellent example of what an undisturbed Florida barrier island looks like.  There’s an extensive line of shoreline limestone which, at high tide with a decent surf, can make for quite an exciting sight.  I spent some time late in the afternoon there and while there wasn’t a particularly high surf on this day I still saw plenty of evidence of the origin of Blowing Rocks’ name.

Blowing Rocks Preserve, Palm Beach County, Florida

Blowing Rocks Preserve, Palm Beach County, Florida

I also caught a brief glimpse (but, alas, no photograph) of a sea turtle as it dove into the surf.

On that same afternoon I wandered down the beach to the south in the direction of Coral Cove Park.

Atlantic Afternoon, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Seashells, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

While Coral Cove doesn’t have a rocky infrastructure anywhere near as extensive as Blowing Rocks, the isolated groups of rocks actually make for simpler, more effective (in my eyes) compositions so it was this spot I decided to return to the following day.

On the way back to the hotel I made a quick image of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, as the sun was going down.

Jupiter Inlet Light at Sunset, Palm Beach County, Florida

From the time of my arrival in Florida I had kept an eye on the weather forecast for my one full day in the Jupiter area and it hadn’t been promising for a sunrise shoot.  That was still the case the night before when the advance forecast called for cloudy skies the following day and no sunrise at all.  I decided to head back to the beach in the dark the following morning despite the forecast, in the hopes that there might be something of a sunrise.  That turned out to be the right call…and then some.

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

There was a partly cloudy sky to the east when I arrived on the sand, just as daylight was beginning to become apparent that morning.  As it got brighter it became increasingly apparent that this had a chance to be a terrific sunrise.

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

The colorful sky just got better and better as sunrise approached.

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunrise & Moonrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

After being more or less mesmerized by the scene to the southeast, as the sun crested the horizon I turned my attention to the northeast, which had its own appeal.

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Before I called it a morning, I turned back to the southeast, which had a very different look than it had minutes earlier.  The sun was now up, but was momentarily hidden behind a line of clouds on the horizon.

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

As I noted last time, I spent the bulk of the remainder of the day at Riverbend Park, but late in the afternoon, about an hour before sunset, I returned to the beach.  Even though the sun would be setting away from the view over the water, I determined, during my time on the West Coast, not to ignore sunrise/sunset even if “the action” was taking place in the opposite direction.  That turned out to be a good call, too.

Morning, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Even though the forecast had called for no sunset at all, after a mostly cloudy afternoon, again, there was enough clearing on the western horizon to produce something quite noteworthy as the sun went down.

Evening, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Evening Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Evening Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Evening, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Evening Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

 

As the sun sank to the horizon behind me, the light actually got better, briefly, to the east.

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunset Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

As the light dropped across the ocean I turned around and looked to the west.  The view–in the direction of the mainland–was  blocked at the horizon by development across the inner channel.  I retreated to the beach and focused on the sky and the palm trees backing the beach.  The tall sand dune, and my position below it, snuffed out the unwanted background elements.

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

As the light to the west dropped I prepared to leave, but noticed that the sky to the east was acquiring an unexpected “second wind” as the sun dropped out of sight beyond the western horizon.  It lasted for less than a minute, but that was just enough time to allow me to rush back down near the waterline and form one more composition before the sky faded to gray.

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

 

I had been incredibly lucky.  On a day when the forecast called for no sunrise or sunset, I got both–and outstanding renditions to boot.

The following day–I only had the morning before I had to drive to Miami for an afternoon flight home–I decided to try again.  The forecast, again, wasn’t promising, calling for a windy, cloudy early morning before heavy rains rolled in later in the day.  This time, the forecast was correct–there was no hint of a sunrise, but despite the cloudy conditions I went back to the beach to capture at least some of the roiling surf.

Stormy Morning Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

I went with some very long exposures and mostly black and white renderings, given the nature of the sky.

Stormy Morning Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Stormy Morning Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Stormy Morning Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Stormy Morning Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Floridad

This final morning at the beach ended my extraordinary time in Florida.  I hope you enjoyed reading about it.

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 8, 2017

The Florida Experience: Side Trips

The primary focus of my photo trip to Florida was my time in Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve.  My secondary focus–which I haven’t discussed much to date–was my time spent on Jupiter Island, about 90 miles north of Miami, at Blowing Rocks Preserve and Coral Cove Park.  But from my bases–first in Florida City and then in Jupiter–I took one side trip each.  I spent a day while based in Florida City down in the the Florida Keys.  While in Jupiter, I spent the bulk of my single full day there at Riverbend Park.

Coconut Palms, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

On my third day in Florida City, after photographing in the Everglades first thing in the morning, I jumped on US-1 and made the trek into the Keys.  After stopping at Lower Metecumbe Key to photograph pelicans for about an hour, I reached Bahia Honda State Park, on Bahia Honda Key, late in the morning.

Trade Winds, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Bahia Honda Key is about 3/4 of the way from the mainland to Key West; it’s at least a two-hour drive–assuming no stops–from Florida City.  The island is dominated by Bahia Honda State Park, a small, but pretty tract that wraps around the west side of the island.  It’s one of the few spots in the Keys with a publicly accessible beach.  I was on coconut palm watch on my excursion and found a good number of very nice specimens at Bahia Honda.  While the day started out cloudy–and remained so into the afternoon–it began to clear by mid-afternoon and I took advantage of that fact as I scouted my subjects.  While it was quite breezy I tried to use that fact to my advantage as well.

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

The dominant fieature at Bahia Honda is a decrepit rail bridge, a structure that was built more than 100 years ago and fell into disuse when it was battered and partially destroyed by a hurricane in 1935.  The structure was initially converted for use as the roadway that eventually became US-1 in the late 1930s but was replaced by a new causeway in 1980 and hasn’t been used for transportation–or anything else–since.  It’s possible to walk out on part of the bridge–I did so myself–but not very far as barricades have been constructed due to concerns about structural viability.

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge at Sunset, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

By mid-afternoon, I had wandered around pretty much all of the park, but decided to hang around until sunset.  It had turned into a very pleasant day–mid 70s F with a very nice breeze–and I just decided to wait for the good light.  I wandered around and did something I almost never do:  took advantage of the park’s concessionaire and sampled the gift shop’s hand-dipped key lime ice cream (highly recommended); the woman working the counter was apparently in a good mood and gave me two scoops (each the size of a middling alpine peak) for the price of one.

My copious scouting had revealed two particularly noteworthy–to my eyes, anyway–spots from which to photograph sunset.  The attraction to both was the ability to utilize a palm tree for foreground interest, with the bridge (and sky) in the background.  The more appealing of the two to me had a particularly nicely shaped palm.  After strolling around for a few hours, sunset approached and I set up at my preferred location.   It was still quite windy so I had to do what I could to ratchet up the shutter speed to freeze the palm fronds.

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge at Sunset, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Once the sun went down completely, the best color in the sky fell directly behind the bridge–to the extreme left of the image you see above.  So I returned to my second compositional option, which would allow that area of sky to dominate the background.  But it was sufficiently dark by the time I got to this spot to be unable to generate the shutter speed necessary to include a palm tree in the composition, so I reluctantly moved forward on the sand and omitted the palm.  I settled for sky, bridge and sky reflection in the water.

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge at Sunset, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

My second–and final–side trip came on my last full day in Florida.  After spending sunrise on the beach (more about my experiences at Blowing Rocks and Coral Cove in the next post) I was looking for somewhere to spend the middle of the day.  When I was scouting at the beach on the afternoon of the day before, someone I ran into there asked me if I’d been to Riverbend Park.  I told him I wasn’t familiar with it and he told me it was well worth a trip with my camera and told me how to get there.  Turns out it was only about five minutes from where I was staying.  With a mostly cloudy day staring me in the face, I looked forward to checking it out.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Loxahatchee River, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

The focal point of Riverbend Park is the Loxahatchee River–which has been officially designated as a National Wild and Scenic River.  It is indeed highly photogenic.  Riverbend overall is very, very nice, with miles of well-maintained hiking and cycling trails that meander all over the park’s 680 acres and wind around the river, various tributaries and small lakes and forests filled with a variety of palm species and slash pine.

Palmetto Closeup Black & White, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Mexican Palmettos, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

I ended up spending roughly seven hours hiking and photographing.  Many of my Riverbend photos include water and most of those involved the Loxahatchee.

Loxahatchee River Black & White, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

But I also photographed from the edge of Cow Pen Lake.

Cow Pen Lake, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

When not near water, I found my attention grabbed by the trails themselves.

Reese Trail, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

I also pulled my macro lens out at this park, on several occasions.  In addition to the Palmetto closeup depicted above, I was intrigued by the patterns and details of the thatch palm trunks.

Thatch Palm Closeup, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

I also ran across a very interesting and extensive clump of maidenhair ferns.  It was fairly breezy, which made photographing the ferns difficult but I waited for lulls and ultimately accomplished what I set out to do.

Fern Forest, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Fern Forest, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

But ultimately, I found myself turning, inevitably, back to the river.

Loxahatchee River, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Loxahatchee River, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

I highly recommend this park, administered by Palm Beach County, to anyone who happens to be in the area.  It’s a real gem, and quite different in terms of subject matter than any of the other places I visited during my time in South Florida.

Loxahatchee River, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Next time I’ll relate my experiences at Blowing Rocks and Coral Cove.

While my time photographing landscapes in the Everglades was (mostly) marked by the challenges endemic to composing in flat, open places the time in Big Cypress National Preserve was the reverse.  Well, the flat part was unchanged, but the vast majority the time was spent poking into the tightly restricted spaces of the cypress swamp that covers a large swath of the preserve.

Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Big Cypress is located immediately west of the Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park.  Take the Tamiami Trail (a.k.a. U.S. 41) west from the Shark Valley entrance and in a few miles you’ll find yourself within the boundaries of the preserve.  Primary access to the swamp is afforded by what is known as the Loop Road, a 27-mile paved/dirt track that both starts and ends at US-41.  While the road runs through a series of different ecosystems, about half of it passes through the cypress forest that is the swamp.  While the forest is quite dense, there are periodic open spots that allow a peak inside this fascinating landscape on one side of the road or the other (or both, in some instances).  These are invariably spots of meandering water, where a drainage installation runs below the roadbed.  After traveling along the road where dense vegetation lines both sides, coming upon one of these open areas produces the effect of someone having pulled the curtains aside on a large plate glass window.

Sweetwater Strand, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

If you’ve seen any of the installments I’ve written on bird photography in South Florida you’ve seen at least a few images of these spots, but those entries were concentrating on the area’s many avian inhabitants (and, in a few instances, alligators).  I was quite taken by the cypress landscape itself and spent a fair amount of time capturing it.

Cypress Swamp Black & White, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Cypress Domes

I’ve referred several times to the cypress domes that are present in a number of areas in the Everglades.  What is a cypress dome?  It’s a thick concentration of bald cypress trees spread out over a relatively small space in an area otherwise dominated by the “river of grass” that is emblematic of so much of the Everglades.  The objects you see that look like little hills or bumps on the horizon in the pictures below represent a series of cypress domes.  (Remember:  there are no hills in South Florida.)

Pa-hay-okee Morning, Everglades National Park, Florida

Prairie Black & White, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

The domes are almost always marked by standing water, the depth of which varies by season.

The forest within Big Cypress National Preserve is like one giant cypress dome.  I found it to be hauntingly beautiful.  The trees, with their characteristic “knees” near the base with a tapered trunk rising above, often immersed in water and surrounded by lush growth naturally dominate the setting.  Wading birds of one variety or another are often found picking through the water in search of food or perched in the trees.  If you wait quietly by one of the swamp “windows” you’ll invariably see a wide variety of birds and you’re likely to see your share of alligators as well.

Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Photographic Considerations

Because of the forest setting, with its dense canopy, the swamp is best photographed in overcast conditions (which can be a real challenge in Florida in the winter, where sunshine predominates) or at the very edges of the day.  I did both.  On my first day (of two) spent at the preserve, it was unceasingly sunny, so I spent the day exploring and taking note of the specific openings that I found most enchanting.  I marked these spots on my GPS with the intention of returning in better light.  As the sun sank low on this particular afternoon I returned to as many of these spots as possible before I lost the light completely.

Cypress Swamp at Sunset, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

The next day–my second in the preserve–was forecast as cloudy, but partly cloudy would have been more accurate.  On this day, I went from spot to spot and simply waited for a cloud to block the sun for a minute or two.

Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Most of the landscape images I made in Big Cypress were with standard wide angle or normal focal lengths.  My attention was focused on a variety of things, including reflections in the water, the repeating patterns of the cypress trunks, the occasional outlying tree species with their own patterns, epic fern specimens and the general Dr. Seuss-like character of the entire place.  I half expected to see the Lorax pop up on more than one instance.

Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

I not infrequently found myself thinking in black and white terms when photographing in Big Cypress, as I thought it would better reveal some of the patterns I was seeing.  I ultimately converted a fair number of images to black and white.

Cypress Swamp Black & White, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

The majority of my Big Cypress images were made from the side of the road but on several occasions I donned my rubber boots and meandered into the shallow water near the shore, making certain that there were no birds present.  Or alligators.  I definitely made certain that there were no alligators in the immediate area when I descended into the swamp itself.

Submerged Alligator, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

(In truth, the alligators seemed much more intimidated by me than I was of them.  On one instance, I had photographed an alligator swimming slowly through the water at one of the Big Cypress windows.  I then wandered off, on foot, to another window, perhaps 200 yards down the road.  After a brief look, I returned to the first window and as I was approaching it I heard a frantic splash in the water.  The alligator had climbed out, to take a snooze on the shore, I suppose.  But he’d been startled when he heard my footsteps as I returned so quickly and scrambled back into the water in fright.  I was very careful after that not to accidentally scare any alligators.)

Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

The Big Cypress landscape experience presented a very different set of challenges from those of the broad “prairies” of the Everglades, but a similar reward:  the opportunity to be immersed in a beautiful, unique natural setting.

Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 25, 2017

Florida Landscapes: The Everglades

As I mentioned in my introductory post to the Florida trip, the landscape photography experience in the Everglades was an anticipated challenge.  The expected crucible would come in a variety of forms, covering subject matter, light, ambiance and general environmental issues.  My approach to the task was dynamic as my understanding of the elements and how they worked together evolved with each passing day’s worth of experience in the Glades.

Pine Mist at Sunrise Everglades National Park, Florida

Challenges

Flat and Barren

Much of the area of the Everglades that I maneuvered through was superficially barren in terms of subject matter.  All of it was flat.

There is surely no flatter place on earth than South Florida.  Maybe there are other areas as flat, but it would be impossible to be any flatter.  This is a challenge largely because photographers, working with a two-dimensional medium as we do, often use changes in topography to introduce the illusion of a third dimension–depth.  This tool isn’t part of the kit in the Everglades, thus the photographer either must use other means (lines, for instance, or perspective or something else) to achieve depth…or eschew the concept entirely when composing images.

Pa-hay-okee Black & White, Everglades National Park, Florida

The barren part of the equation is a little bit more variable because there are some distinct ecosystems in the Everglades that are palpably not lacking in subject matter–the pine woods area, for instance, and many of the locations that surround bodies of water and the cypress domes.

Moonset, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

But the other locations do appear, at first glance, to be quite barren and that has implications for approaching the landscape in a manner that can lead to the rendering of compelling images.

Evening’s Onset, Everglades National Park, Florida

Mosquitoes

This was a different kind of challenge, but it was a highly relevant one.  I was told, prior to my trip, that mosquitoes wouldn’t be much of a problem for me, visiting the Everglades in the winter as I was.  Winter is the dry season in Florida after all.  But, presumably because of how warm it had been in the region this past winter, insects were a major issue in the Everglades.  As time went along, even in open sun in many areas, the mosquitoes were swarming, even when I bathed myself in repellent.   And even when significant wind would be expected to keep them at bay.  That’s telling because mosquitoes are normally at their worst in windless, dark, wet locations.  And they were.  Places in open shade with standing water were, at times, almost unbearable.  And near the margins of the day–particularly as afternoon bled into evening–they could be utterly vicious.  On multiple occasions they followed me into my rental car, no matter how quickly I zipped inside the door.

By time I was done at the Everglades I was sporting at least 40 different bites, including more than a dozen in areas that had been completely covered by clothing.

If you haven’t spent any time trying to carefully compose photographs with countless mosquitoes flitting around and buzzing your ears every few seconds….let’s just say I don’t recommend it.  So that was a challenge of its own form:  trying to concentrate on the art of composition and the craft of photography while being subject to endless, obnoxious distraction.

Long Pine Lake at Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

Tools and Revelations

So there were challenges, both of an aesthetic and self-tolerance nature.  In response, I focused my attention on a number of things, both substantive and conceptual.

Foggy Sunrise, Everglades National Park, Florida

Light

Long Pine Lake at Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

Light is always an important–often critical–element to appealing photographs so in a sense it’s redundant to list it here.  But light quality in the wide open spaces of the Everglades seemed even more significant, if that’s possible, than it usually does to me.  And I think it’s worth noting that quality of light didn’t always reveal itself in an expected manner.

Glades Sunset, Everglades National Park, Florida

Yes, during the “golden hours”–particularly in the hour or so before sunset–the Everglades was transformed, as many locations are.  (The time around sunrise was a more complex experience, as I’ll detail below.)  It’s difficult to explain what it was like to stand amidst the Everglades “prairie,” with an unimpeded view to the horizon in every direction, the sinking sun turning the sawgrass golden, without another soul in sight (excluding the occasional bird flying overhead).  It was a special feeling that I won’t forget.

Approaching Sunset, Mahogany Hammock Road, Everglades National Park, Florida

But even when the light was harsh–in the middle of the day–I found myself instinctively thinking “black and white”…at least by the third day or thereabouts, once I’d had a chance to immerse myself in the landscape.  (More on the monochrome approach below.)

Glades Sunset, Everglades National Park, Florida

Fog

Long Pine Lake in Morning Fog Black & White, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

I’ve waxed poetic–or attempted to do so–on the subject of fog and its impact on the landscape many times on this blog, but I had another rigorous lesson during my time in the Everglades.  On every single morning I photographed in the southern section of the Everglades there was fog.  The dew point was reached each morning; sometimes the fog was extremely thick.  On two mornings I left my motel room more than an hour before sunrise and found myself enveloped in thick mist that only got heavier as I drove to the Everglades.  On the other mornings, there was no fog at the motel but by the time I drove the 10-odd miles to the entry gate to the park I was bathed in mist.

Long Pine Key Trail in Morning Fog, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

On the heavy fog mornings it took hours before the sun completely burned the mist away.  When it was thinner, the sun was visible, or nearly so, upon cresting the horizon.  But there was some element of fog on each and every morning.

Z Tree in Morning Mist, Everglades National Park, Florida

I tried to use this to my advantage.  Fog is inherently moody, but it also can have an enveloping, enclosing effect that can give otherwise open places an intimate feel.  As I spent more time in the Everglades I tried to find spots during “scouting time” that would work during foggy morning conditions.  Because of its tendency to blot out complicated backgrounds, locations that I might not have given a second glance became extremely compelling with the presence of fog.

Misty Dawn Everglades National Park, Florida

Skies

Big Sky Black & White, Everglades National Park, Florida

One element that the “flat” part of the equation begged for was the sky.  Images with vast amounts of sky frequently suggested themselves throughout my time in the Everglades.

For one thing, there was little to block the sky in most settings.  But it wasn’t simply out of necessity; including extensive amounts of sky also served to demonstrate the wide open nature of the place which, by extension, helps overcome the depth problem that I mentioned at the outset of this post.

Long Pine Key Sunset, Long Pine Key Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

It didn’t hurt that there were frequently bold clouds in the sky.  The impact of these images was lost when the skies were clear and on those occasions I found other subjects to photograph (intimates, usually) or simply resorted to scouting.  But when clouds were present–and this was the case more often than not–I set up the tripod.

Big Sky Black & White, Mahogany Hammock Road, Everglades National Park, Florida

I found sky-dominant compositions that worked with wide angle, normal and telephoto focal lengths.  And I found scenes that worked with both dramatic as well as contrasty light.

Black & White

Open Plains Black & White, Everglades National Park, Florida

It was the contrasty light that really made me think of black and white, which is naturally-suited to contrast.  This tied in well with the presence of dramatic clouds in the sky and the forms and texture of the sawgrass throughout the extensive “prairie” areas of the everglades as well as the pattern-rich mangroves.

Pine Glades Lake Black & White, Everglades National Park, Florida

Water

Long Pine Lake Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

Though winter is the dry season in Florida, there was still plenty of water in the Everglades, in the form of lakes (some of them man made), ponds and murkier, swampy areas here and there, particularly in and around the cypress domes and hammocks.  The sawgrass, too, was often surrounded by standing, marshy water which made for an interesting element.  Water in the Everglades sometimes made for good reflection opportunities and sometimes simply served as a useful primary or complementary photographic foreground element.

Pa-hay-okee Morning, Everglades National Park, Florida

The Paradox

If you’ve been paying attention–and I’m sure you have–you may have noticed that many of the above photos contain more than one of the stated tools and/or revelatory elements.  And that’s no accident.  Many of these elements, at least in the Everglades, were complements of one another:  light, fog, sky, black and white rendering, water–multiples of these often came together, naturally.  Compelling elements, in concert, lead to compelling scenes.  In that general respect, the experience in the Everglades was no different than any other landscape photography opportunity.  The specifics were disparate; the general formula was not.  It was my goal to discover how a unique set of variables revealed themselves in such a fashion to fit into a familiar formula.  As it always is.

The paradox of the Everglades experience is that it was simultaneously utterly singular and ultimately familiar at the same time.

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 19, 2017

Florida Birds: The Photographic Experience

I thought I’d share a few of my observations about various aspects of the photographic experience involving birds during my time in Florida.

Autofocus

On the morning of my second day in the Everglades I made my way to the Anhinga Trail.  The trail, in the Royal Palm section of the park, consists of a series of paved walkways and wooden boardwalks that provide excellent access to a wetland area.  With that access comes close proximity to many nesting and wading birds who are entirely acclimated to the presence of people.

Cormorant, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

On this excursion, while I got plenty of decent images of numerous bird species (and alligators), I found myself frustrated by a function on my camera.  Due to the subject matter I typically shoot, I almost never use autofocus, but with my photographic pursuit on this morning centering on wildlife, I clicked my lens and camera over to autofocus.  The default AF setup for most cameras–including mine–is for autofocus to recalibrate on a given sensor spot when the shutter button is depressed halfway.  I found this to be extremely annoying.  I would move the active sensor to a spot that would allow me to focus on a specific point (a bird’s eye, for instance), then recompose the image…but when I would depress the shutter, the camera would refocus on whatever subject the sensor now included.  Unless that was on the same focal plane as the eye, that was a problem.  I worked around this issue that morning, but it was very, very annoying.  What I wanted was for my plane of focus to remain in place after I had determined it, whether I recomposed or not.  I knew this was possible, by several means.  Now I had to figure out how to implement it.

Piping Plovers, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

When the light became harsh, I sat down and messed around with my camera’s menus.  I had heard people talk about back button autofocus before, but as someone who all but never used autofocus at all, I paid little attention.  But I took a look at the back of the camera, saw the placement of the AF-ON button (the “back button” that can be used to control autofocus activation) and placed my hand on the right side of the camera.  With my right index finger placed on the shutter button the thumb on my right hand sat right on the AF-ON button.  This could work!

Great Egret, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Owl, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

I then dug into the shooting menu on the camera, found the option for setting the AF-ON button and changed the AF configuration so that autofocus would be acquired only when the AF-ON button was depressed.  The shutter button would no longer be used to acquire AF.  I did some quick experimenting–on static subjects–because I thought there would be a learning curve.  That curve lasted about 30 seconds; I took to it like a duck to water and retained those settings for the rest of the trip…and beyond.  (The settings, after all, will have no impact when I use manual focus.)  This made it infinitely easier to use autofocus the way I wanted to.  I found it easier to work than using the AF-L (autofocus lock) button approach.

Great Egret, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

With this method it was a simple matter to acquire autofocus where I wanted it and quickly recompose…or re-acquire as needed.  The key here, obviously, is the separation of the autofocus and shutter tripping functions.  There may be times when having them attached to the same single trigger makes sense, but this wasn’t one of those times.  I was truly impressed at how easy it was to adapt to the new configuration.  It was as though I had always been operating the camera this way and it made the experience of photographing birds far more pleasurable.

Wood Stork, Everglades National Park, Florida

Birds in Flight

Before this trip I had never attempted to photograph birds in flight, let alone succeeded.  I thought it would be difficult…and it was.  But it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  Perhaps that assessment is a function of just how problematic I thought photographing birds in flight was.

Osprey, Lower Metecumbe Key, Monroe County, Florida

With birds flying around all over the place I had some sporadic opportunities to get my feet wet, so to speak.  And I managed to get a few decent images.  It’s worth noting that the birds I was photographing were–mostly–on the large size (as birds go) and that I was usually able to get closer to them, given the venue, than might otherwise be the case.  (There were some exceptions.)  Both of these facts certainly made the exercise easier than it otherwise would be.  But, after a brief attempt to photograph birds in flight–wood storks mostly–at Paurotis Pond in the Everglades when most of the would-be subjects were too far away to photograph effectively with a 400 mm lens, I had my first extended foray with birds in flight when I drove down into the Florida Keys on my third full day on location.  The subjects, in this case, were brown pelicans, first on Lower Metecumbe Key and later at Bahia Honda State Park.

Brown Pelican in Flight, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Brown Pelican, Lower Metecumbe Key, Monroe County, Florida

I was fascinated by the pelicans, particularly their hovering and diving, but from a purely photographic perspective, these large seabirds frequently flew close enough to my position to make it viable to take pictures.  Not surprisingly, perhaps, the longer I spent with the pelicans the better I understood their in-flight patterns, making it easier for me to predict their movements and, thus, produce usable images.

Brown Pelican, Lower Metecumbe Key, Monroe County, Florida

Brown Pelican, Lower Metecumbe Key, Monroe County, Florida

Brown Pelican, Lower Metecumbe Key, Monroe County, Florida

There were some more opportunities to photograph birds in flight, back in the Everglades and at Riverbend Park in Palm Beach County later in the trip and I got some decent images in both places.  I found my camera/lens combination–far from ideal, on both counts, for action photography–to be quite robust given the light and subject matter I was working with.  This is a function, I think, of just how good modern photographic equipment has become.  While optimal gear is certainly available, by no means does even a birds-in-flight neophyte like myself need the very best to obtain highly usable images (from a technical standpoint at least).

Egrets in Flight, Pah-hay-okee, Everglades National Park, Florida

Wood Stork, Paurotis Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida

Handholding the Camera

I made reference to this aspect of things at the end of my last post.  Longtime readers of this blog know that I’m a relentless advocate of the use of a tripod for landscape (and closeup) photography.  But birds–particularly birds in flight–are another story.  While more than half of the images of birds not in flight that I made on this trip were tripod-aided, literally none of the birds in flight images were.  That’s right, I handheld every single one of those birds in flight shots.  Using a traditional ballhead for this sort of photography is simply an exercise in frustration.  (Believe me, I know.  I tried it.)  Many experienced, dedicated avian photographers use long, heavy prime lenses on a tripod with the aid of a gimbal head, but I don’t use exotic prime lenses or have a gimbal head (not being a dedicated avian photographer)….so, I handheld.

Wood Stork, Paurotis Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida

Again, this is something of a tribute to the viability of modern photographic equipment.  I turned the vibration reduction feature on my 80-400 lens on, moved the ISO up to the point where I could consistently get a shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second (or better) and went to work.  And, while I came up with plenty of trash, I got my share of usable images as well.  In fact, considering my lack of experience, I arguably got more than my share of usable images.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

There certainly is an element of freedom that comes with not being attached to a tripod and without being able to handhold I wouldn’t have even attempted to photograph birds in flight.  And still…when I was photographing birds that were perched in trees, on the ground or in the water I felt much more comfortable with the camera mounted.  I think it’s fair to say that you can expect that I won’t be foregoing my tripod any more in the future than I have in the past.

Snowy Egret, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

Great Blue Heron, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

In Sum…

The experience of photographing birds was an enjoyable one.  I could see myself doing it again at some point.  But my main passion–including this trip–remains the landscape.  Birds (and alligators) were a nice temporary diversion and it was interesting to see some other forms of wildlife that I didn’t photograph for one reason or another:  manatees, crocodiles and sea turtles, among other creatures.  And don’t think I’ve gotten a swelled head; while I think that most of these images are quite adequate, I’m no more of a wildlife photographer than I was before I took this trip.  I’m a slightly more experienced person who occasionally is fortunate enough to have wildlife pose for me, nothing more.

Tri-Colored Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

I’m a landscape photographer; it’s what gets me out in the field, when I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity.  Even in Florida, it was my primary focus.  And I’ll turn directly to the landscape experience on this trip in my next entry.

Note:  if you’d like to see more of my images of birds from Floirida, please visit this gallery portal on my website and click on the appropriate sub-gallery link.

 

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 13, 2017

The Florida Experience: Birds

So, birds…

Great Blue Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time know that I am not a wildlife photographer.  While animals occasionally inadvertently pose for me and I take their pictures, this doesn’t make me a wildlife photographer; it makes me someone who occasionally takes pictures of wildlife…and there’s a big difference between the two.  One important distinction is that, unlike actual wildlife photographers, I don’t go out looking for wildlife.  And I have never made a photo trip with the express intention of photographing wildlife.

White Ibis (Brown version), Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Purple Gallinule, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

But when I was in the stages of planning this Florida trip–a stage which didn’t last all that long, as I noted in an earlier post–I fully anticipated that I would spend some percentage of my time photographing birds in the Everglades, given how plentiful and (relatively) approachable they are in many areas.  Landscape photography was, as always, my top priority but given that I planned to visit some areas where wildlife would be the principal focus, this represented something different for me.

Tri-Colored Heron, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

If anything, I underestimated the amount of time I would spend photographing birds.  They were a constant presence in the Everglades–on the ground and/or in the trees or in the air just about anywhere where there was standing water and frequently flying overhead in many of the areas where no water was evident.  So even when I wasn’t in an area of the Everglades–the Anhinga Trail, Shark Valley, Paurotis Pond, etc.–where birds were the intended main subject, I often found myself pulling out the long lens after stumbling across birds wading or flying around.  And, what’s more, I ended up finding a significant number of birds during my time in Big Cypress National Preserve, my day in the Keys and during the parts of several days I was in Palm Beach County, some 90 minutes north of Miami.  If there was one constant on this trip, in fact, it was the presence of birds.

Sandhill Crane, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Brown Pelican, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Birds in Florida are, compared to most other places I’ve been, both extremely numerous (particularly in the winter) and relatively approachable.  In a few places that I visited–the Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley in Everglades National Park–the birds were extremely approachable, given their acclimation to the presence of people.  All of this makes photographing birds much, much easier than it is most other places.  It means that you don’t necessarily need or want the kind of reach (think 500-600 mm prime lenses with teleconverters) that are all but absolutely necessary elsewhere.  It’s not that you can’t benefit from that length in some spots, but it’s definitely not required in others.  (In some spots it would be an outright impediment.)  I used my 80-400 mm lens exclusively when photographing birds and found it to be perfectly adequate the vast majority of the time.  In fact, the broad zoom range was very handy when photographing in the avian-rich areas of the Anhinga Trail, Shark Valley and Big Cypress in particular.

Anhinga with Fish, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

White Ibis Pair, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Also, because many of the birds are quite large and will frequently perch or wade nearby, having a camera optimized for action photography is rarely necessary.  That’s not to say you couldn’t benefit from a 10 frames per second camera, particularly if you’re inclined to “machine gun” images, but I never, ever clogged the buffer on my D800E (usable as an action camera, but not one designed specifically for it).

Great Egret, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Osprey Nest, Flamingo, Everglades National Park, Florida

I think if you look closely you’ll see that many of my bird shots kind of reflect the landscape photographer in me as I often felt the impulse to reveal the scene in which the birds were situated.  Partly for that reason, many of my favorite shots were made in Big Cypress, a beautiful, mature bald cypress forest/swamp that represents one of the most enchanting settings I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve long wanted to photograph in a cypress swamp and I wasn’t at all disappointed by the experience.  In fact, I was so enticed by it that I spent most of two full days in the preserve, photographing both landscapes and wildlife–birds and alligators.

Owl, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Juvenile Little Blue Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

In the next installment, I’ll talk about some of the technical aspects–an inevitable sideshow–that I worked with in my foray into bird photography, including, but not limited to, my harsh baptism into the world of attempting to photograph birds in flight.  From my seat-of-my-pants experience working with back button autofocus to (gasp!) handholding the camera, it’s sure to be an interesting story.

Snowy Egret and Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Black Crowned Night Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

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