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

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 3, 2017

Scouting: The Nuts and Bolts

So, having gotten your attention about scouting–and the importance of doing it–I’m now going to talk about the actual process of scouting:  how I go about it and what I actually do.

Mangroves, West Lake,, Everglades National Park, Florida

Pre-Scouting (a.k.a. Research)

It’s not actually scouting per se, but it’s related, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly; I’m talking about research.  Prior to making a photo trip I gather information–from a variety of sources including but not necessarily limited to guide books, ebooks, websites and direct contact with people with direct experience–which I use to inform my decision about which places to scout when I’m on the ground at the given locale.

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

For example, I mentioned that the park road in the southern section of Everglades National Park runs 40-odd miles.  My research highlighted a number of specific spots along that road to investigate.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t expand that list of spots; it also doesn’t mean that I will necessarily visit every highlighted spot.  But it provides a welcome starting point for further investigation.

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

Scouting:  A Definition

So what is scouting, broadly speaking?  In a nutshell, it’s visiting a location to see if it’s worthy of photographing and if it is, precisely when and how.  Note that this implies that it’s possible that a location may be judged not worthy of photo treatment.  In fact, this happens more frequently than I’d like.

Thatch Palm Intimate, Mahogany Hammock, Everglades National Park, Florida

On the Ground

So what exactly constitutes the act of scouting, at least as I carry it out?  It varies, depending on the specific location.  The variance is ordinarily a function of how much I already know about the spot in question before I arrive on the scene.

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

Specific Spots

For instance, if I’m scouting a specific location that I learned about during the research phase of the process, I will (usually) drive myself to that location and then conduct the scouting session entirely on foot.  What exactly do I do?  It depends to some degree on the location itself, but there’s a general rule of thumb.  Allow me to use the example of Pine Glades Lake in the Everglades to illustrate.

Pine Glades Lake, Everglades National Park, Florida

Pine Glades Lake, a spot I learned about from Paul Marcellin’s ebook on photographing the Everglades, is located about 3/4 of a mile down an unpaved, unsigned road off the main park road.  Since this was a spot I’d discovered during the research phase I arrived with some sense of what the location had to offer.  But–and this is a key point–there’s “knowing something” about a place based on a written description and there’s actually scouting a location, in three dimensions and real time, with the opportunity to look at specifics.  The first part–the background information–is valuable.  The second part–the in-person scout–is critical.

Mangrove Intimate Black & White, West Lake, Everglades National Park, Florida

I arrived at the lake, got out of the car and started looking around.  What was I looking for?  First, a holistic sense of the location.  What kind of access is there to the lake shore?  What directions could I face?  The parking area is on the east side of the lake but there’s a trail (of sorts) that provides access to both the north and south sides as well.  What’s the background like in these various locations?  What kind of foreground and mid-ground options are there in different spots?  Are there rocks or grasses or other elements that make for good choices?  What about reflections?  Is the location sheltered enough for reflections to be present in a light breeze or is dead calm required?  How will directional light at different times of day impact the scene?  These are the kinds of questions I asked myself when I scouted Pine Glades Lake on my first full day in the Everglades.

Pine Glades Lake Reflection Abstract, Everglades National Park, Florida

Of course, if there are different elements present at least some of the specific questions will be different.  For instance, when I was on the Oregon Coast a couple of years ago I was dealing with far different topography and issues involving things like tides and their impact on the scene, prevalence of wind, the relative positioning of seastacks, and so forth.  But the fundamental questions are largely, if not entirely, the same:  backgrounds, foregrounds, light, access, etc.

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

The “notes” I make when scouting are of the mental variety with the exception of marking the spot on a GPS unit I take with me wherever I go so that I can easily find the location, particularly if I think I might want to arrive there again in the dark (thing a would-be sunrise location).  My visual memory is such that I’ll remember the details for future reference…as long as it’s the near future.

Slash Pine Bark Abstract, Pinewood Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

So what did I actually learn from my scouting session at Pine Glades Lake?

  1. The best time to shoot at the location would be at sunset
  2. There were several specific spots that were worth photographing from, but the best spot (to my eyes) was a location with a series of foreground rocks
  3. The reflections were potentially nice but even a slight breeze would cause all kinds of rippling in the water as the location isn’t sheltered at all

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

You can see how helpful this would be going forward.  I knew that this location would only be under consideration for a late afternoon/sunset shoot when there was little or no wind.  For other times of day, I could focus on other locations.  Ditto for late afternoon/evening when there was a breeze.  Knowing where not to go can be as important and as actionable as knowing where to go.

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

General Locations

My modus operandi is, superficially, a bit different when I’m more generally exploring an area–hiking a trail, say, with the intention of photographing along the way.  In such an instance–my hiking of the Long Pine Key Trail in the Everglades,  I’m not exploring a specific spot; I’m moving, on foot, which makes the experience a dynamic one.  In this case, I’m looking for something that catches my eye as I move along.  If I find something interesting, then I essentially replicate the process above:  I’ve found a subject that I think is photo worthy; how do I go about best capturing it?  That’s the broad question which is operationalized by going through the process outlined earlier.  Included in that expansive question is the implicit possibility that it might be best captured at a different time of day and/or under different weather conditions.

Rock Reef Pass, Everglades National Park, Florida

Serendipitous Locations

And then there are the spots I’m not actively seeking out.  This is a kind of variation of the “general locations” approach.  The primary difference is that it’s typically something I see from the car that gains my attention.  When this happens–as it did repeatedly during my time in the Everglades, be it from the main park road, the Pa-hay-okee Road, the Mahogany Hammock Road or any of the other spots along the way–the one thing I always do is stop the car, get out and scout the location on foot.  It’s impossible to properly scout a location from a vehicle; you have to get out and move around.  When I do that, I follow the process outlined in the first section above.

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

 

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 28, 2017

Scouting: A Florida Case Study

As reader Shoreacres astutely pointed out as part of a comment in response to a recent post on this blog, (and I quote):  “It occurred to me this weekend that one thing you talk about a lot, but haven’t really highlighted, is the importance of scouting.”  It’s true.  I discuss scouting on this blog all the time when relating photo trip experiences, but have never given the subject the thematic attention it deserves.  So, using last month’s trip to South Florida as an example, I’m going to rectify this longstanding omission.

Sea of Grass Black & White, Everglades National Park, Florida

Foggy Morning, Long Pine Key Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

This is going to sound prosaic to the point of absurdity, but I never cease to be amazed how many people don’t seem to realize it:  it’s much, much easier to make good images at places that are at least somewhat familiar then at locales that are not.  It’s a rare thing, at least in my experience, to simply show up somewhere and have everything come together in some kind of magic moment.  And, if you are so lucky to experience something special happen in terms of conditions, there’s an excellent chance you’ll make something less than optimal out of it with a so-so composition–a product of unfamiliarity with the lay of the land.

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

The time I spent in the southern section of the Everglades will serve to illustrate the point.  When I arrived in Florida on February 13, I had hoped to have an hour or two at the end of the day to scout the Everglades–enough time at least to locate a sunrise spot.  But, for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t to be.  By the time I reached Florida City, where I would be staying, it was dark.  That meant that I’d have to find my way to an early morning location the next day without the benefit of daylight, let alone experience.  Clearly this is less than ideal, and points out one of the obvious advantages of being able to scout.  And that first day was the only morning during my time in the Everglades that I didn’t have a firm plan of where to go and what to do at sunrise.  That’s because I’d taken the time to scout.

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

The park road runs roughly 40 miles from the Everglades entrance gate–which itself is several miles beyond the park boundary–to its southwest terminus at Flamingo.  Between the gate and Flamingo, which is located on the Bay of Florida, there are several side roads up to several miles in length apiece.  On the first day I was in the area, I spent most of my time exploring.  I probably spent at least nine of the 11-plus hours of daylight on this day scouting.  And this paid off in a major way in my ensuing time in the area.

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

During the remainder of the week that I spent time in the Everglades, the scouting–which continued, in a smaller way, in the succeeding days.  When a certain set of conditions arose, I knew just where to go.  And when I arrived, I already had compositions in mind.  The alternative is a mad scramble, which often leads to poor results.

Evening’s Onset, Everglades National Park, Florida

Admittedly, scouting is a lot less fun than photographing–which is the reason I think so many people skimp on it, if they don’t omit it entirely–but the payoff is so substantial, it can’t be overstated.

Photographic scouting:  don’t leave home without (doing) it.

Pah-hay-okee Evening, Everglades National Park, Florida

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 21, 2017

South Florida: An Introduction

In mid-February I spent about a week photographing in South Florida.  It was an interesting experience, for a number of reasons, which I’ll outline below.  Unlike most of the photography trips I’ve taken over the past few years, however, I’m not going to produce a daily chronology on this blog, for two principal reasons.  The first is that I think the format has become a bit stale and I’m hoping a different approach will liven things up.  The second reason?  There are some broader points that I want to make about the photographic experience and I don’t want the themes to be lost in the wash.

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

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

Why was this particular trip so interesting?  Because it deviated in so many ways from just about every other photo trip I’ve ever taken.  Specifically…

Snowy Egret, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Planning (or Lack Thereof)

Almost without exception–perhaps entirely without exception–every other photographic trip I’ve made over the years has involved lengthy, copious planning.  This one?  Not so much.  I was not anticipating making a trip in February…or this winter more broadly (more on this specific point below).  The idea wasn’t even broached until some time in mid-December; my wife (bless her) suggested I go and, when I more or less brushed the notion off, strongly encouraged me until I caved some time in the first half of January and started taking the idea seriously.  It wasn’t until about six weeks in advance of when I would actually leave that I began to approach this trip as something that was actually going to happen.  (By comparison, with other trips, I usually have all of my plans set in stone long in advance of six weeks prior to departure.)

Anhinga Drying Its Wings, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

Cypress Swamp at Sunset, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

This all required a bit of scrambling, as I attempted to put a travel itinerary together and decide exactly where I wanted to photograph…and then try to find some resources to help me make the trip not just a reality but a successful endeavor.  I decided relatively early on in the process that I wanted to focus primarily on the Everglades.  It’s a place that has always intrigued me, though I’d never visited.  In fact, prior to this trip, I hadn’t been down to South Florida in roughly 20 years and I’d only been to the region once since I was a little kid in the early 1970s.  I had been a regular participant in annual baseball tournaments in Florida for nearly 15 years, but those had all been held in Sarasota or Bradenton, on Florida’s central Gulf Coast–a long way from southeast Florida.

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

White Ibis, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

So I was almost completely in the dark about photographing in the Everglades–or anywhere else in the area.  My wife found several used books on Florida natural areas, which were helpful, and I found an ebook guide to photographing in Everglades National Park, which was a huge asset.  In fact, it was the discovery of the ebook that really made me start taking the notion of the trip as a realistic option because I finally felt as though I had some direction.

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

Great Blue Heron, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

In addition to the Everglades, where I expected to spend the majority of my time, I also decided I wanted to do some ocean/beach photography and that’s what led me to spend most of a day in the Florida Keys and the last couple of days near Jupiter Island, about 90 minutes north of Miami.

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

Submerged Alligator, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

While I won’t be producing a chronology of entries, here is how I ultimately allocated my time (which was eight full days plus one morning):

Day 1:  Everglades, south section (heavily weighted towards exploration)

Day 2:  Everglades, south section

Day 3:  sunrise, Everglades south section; rest of the day spent in the Keys

Day 4:  Everglades, Shark Valley section and Big Cypress National Preserve

Day 5:  sunrise, Everglades south section;  late morning/early afternoon at Big Cypress National Preserve; sunset, Everglades south section

Day 6:  Everglades, south section

Day 7:  sunrise, Everglades south section; relocation to Jupiter, Florida; exploring Blowing Rocks Preserve and Coral Cove Park

Day 8:  sunrise, Coral Cove Park; mid-day,  Riverbend Park; sunset, Coral Cove Park

Day 9:  early morning, Coral Cove Park; travel to Miami International Airport for flight home

As you can see, the largest segment of time was spent in the southern section of the Everglades, by far the largest area of the park open to exploration.

Great Egret, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

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

Subject Matter

As everyone who’s been reading this blog for any period of time knows, I’m a landscape photographer.  Full stop.  I don’t photograph much of anything else and on the rare occasions when I do it’s essentially unorchestrated.  I don’t plan trips centered around photographing anything but the landscape.  That’s mostly true with regard to this trip as well, but not entirely.  I expected to have the opportunity to do a fair amount of bird photography (based on conversations with people I know who have spent time photographing in South Florida, and based on the aforementioned ebook).  And this turned out to be the case.  I spent a lot of time photographing birds.  In fact, on several occasions during the trip, I went to specific locations with the express intent of doing just that.  I spent more time photographing wildlife (mostly birds, but alligators as well) on this trip than I have on all of the other trips I’ve ever taken combined.  What’s more, I spent a surprising amount of time doing something I’ve never, ever tried to do before:  photographing birds in flight.

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

It all made for an interesting change of pace and while I’m still no wildlife photographer (not by a long shot) I learned a lot and have some things to say on the subject.

Alligator on Stump, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

The Landscape that is the Everglades

I’d never been to the Everglades prior to this trip but I’d seen photos of the place over the years and have spoken to others who have been there.  Based on this “indirect” experience, I was expecting landscape photography to be a particular challenge and to a greater or lesser extent, it was.  There’s really no place on earth quite like the Everglades and I’ve certainly never photographed anywhere remotely like it.  Large portions of the park are probably most similar, in broad appearance, to the open prairie of the Great Plains…only flatter.

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

I live in what is widely regarded as the flat lands–northern Illinois, central Indiana–but Florida is another kind of flat.  How flat?  There are two spots along the park road that runs from the entrance to the southern section of the Everglades, just west of the town of Florida City, for more than 50 miles to the visitors center at Flamingo, on the Bay of Florida, that display the elevation (i.e. above sea level).  One sign reads “4 feet.”  The other reads “3 feet.”  It’s a kind of inside joke, but it’s entirely apropos; there’s simply no elevation change to speak of, anywhere.

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

So, yes, this makes for challenging photography.  But I knew (more or less) what I was getting into and was anxious to take it on.  And I can say that the beauty of the place–a kind of haunting beauty–became more and more apparent with each passing day.  I always try to let a place reveal how it wants to be photographed rather than impose myself on the landscape, and I think I had at least some success in so doing.  I’ll discuss this in more detail in a future post.

Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Time of Year

Prior to this experience, I had never taken a photo trip during wintertime.  Not once.  And, admittedly, South Florida isn’t exactly what typically comes to mind when one mentions winter photography (think:  snow and ice).  But it still provided certain inherent challenges, involving potential travel issues for instance (which I was lucky enough to avoid) and clothing.  It’s not a point worthy of a blog entry, but it’s part of what made this trip different.

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

*                                                   *                                                    *

Some of the above topics will serve as focal points for individual entries detailing the trip; I’ll also use the Florida experience as the locus for posts covering subjects I’ve previously stated an intention to cover, such as the importance of scouting.

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

Wood Stork in Flight, Paurotis Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida

Regardless, I hope you find the descriptions of the experience remotely as interesting I found the experience itself.

Moonset, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

I left off last time by describing the majority of my final day in New England, spent in various parts of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  It was late afternoon by the time I reached the area around Lower Falls and the Rocky Gorge Scenic Areas on the Kancamagus Highway, locations I’d visited on Day 6.  As I was eastbound, I came to Rocky Gorge first and noted, without surprise, how much farther along the color was than it had been nine days earlier.

Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

After I poked along the Swift River bank a bit I crossed the footbridge and revisited Falls Pond.  There was a bit of breeze but at times the wind died down, allowing for the capture of reflections.

Falls Pond, Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

But I spent most of my time picking out tight “across the water” compositions with a telephoto lens, with an emphasis on color contrasts amid the predominant dark greens of the prevalent conifers surrounding the pond.

Falls Pond, Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Falls Pond, Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Lower Falls is only a couple of miles east of Rocky Gorge and I stopped there next.  The area was extremely crowded–it was the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend–and it was getting colder as we neared the end of the day under still slate-gray skies.  I noticed how tired I was when I got out of the car; I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised given that this was the 15th straight day of burning the candle at both ends.  But I milled around the Lower Falls area and waited for people to move as I scoped out a few compositions–like the intimate below of submerged leaves–that I hoped were different than those I’d captured at the same location on Day 6.

Lower Falls Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

I worked my way upstream, and produced an image or two featuring the colorful backdrop of maple and beech trees.  I waited, with some annoyance, for someone to move off a rock in the mid-ground.

Lower Falls Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

The fact that I was annoyed by someone standing on a rock admiring the view should have been a warning to me.  When people–who have every bit as much right to be in a place as I do–are annoying me by being in my shot (without even knowing it; it’s not as though the person on the rock could have possibly known that he was in my field of view) it’s always a clear sign that I’m running out of gas and my judgment is becoming a bit fuzzy.  So, a few moments later, when I decided to hop onto a small, slanted, wet rock about 50 yards farther upstream, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it didn’t go well.  In fact, in the cold light of failure afterward, I couldn’t believe that I even tried to leap on that rock because there was no way I could have done so without mishap; it was an impossibility.  What a stupid thing to do.  And, again, it demonstrated just how tired I was.  I guess I was experiencing a bit of overconfidence borne from having successfully rock hopped at various creeks, streams, brooks and rivers over the past two weeks.  And did I mention that I wasn’t thinking all that clearly?

In the greater scheme of things, it certainly could have been a whole lot worse.  I was carrying only my tripod and my camera was slung around my neck.  (My backpack was safely stored on shore, about 20 feet away.)  And I didn’t even fall; nor was my equipment impacted in any way.  I just slipped off the rock–it was inevitable–after trying to make the leap, and landed with one foot in the river, with water up to mid-calf, roughly speaking.  So there was no injury.  But my hiking boot filled up with water instantly…and it was cold.  Very cold.  And my sock was soaked.

And with that, I decided that the photo day was over.  I sloshed back to the car and wrung out the wet sock.  I had a change of footwear (which I put on), but I didn’t have a replacement pair of socks with me in the car.  Time to go back to the hotel, I decided, get a change of clothes and call it a trip.  There was only an hour or so of daylight left anyway and it was still cloudy.  No loss.  Besides, I’d already demonstrated that I was finished, psychologically.  So, with the heater on to help obviate a wet, cold foot, I began the 20-plus minute drive back to North Conway.

But…and you knew there would be a “but”…on the way, I noticed in the rearview mirror a line of clearing on the western horizon.  There just might be a sunset after all, I thought.  And then again, there might not.  But by the time I reached the junction with NH-16–where  a left turn would take me back to North Conway, I could see that there might really be a decent shot at a sunset.

As I drove north on NH-16 I saw, on the other side of the road, a kind of unofficial pullout that looked like an interesting overlook facing west.  There were already a bunch of people there watching the sun as it sunk toward the mountains.  There was no way that I could cross the road to see for myself–too much traffic on this relatively high speed road–but I decided at this point, wet foot be damned, that I was going to try to head to an overlook I’d found north of North Conway that I’d identified a few days earlier as a possible sunset location.  It was an “official” overlook; a paved pullout with a small roadside park (I later discovered that it’s called the Intervale Scenic Vista…and I subsequently discovered that the view isn’t all that phenomenal…but I didn’t know that at the time).  So I drove into North Conway and hit the downtown area–probably two or three miles from my destination…and hit one of the worst traffic jams I’ve seen in a long time.  I mean, the traffic was at a dead stop and went on for I don’t know how long; I could see at least a half-mile in front of me and there was a line of cars heading into oblivion.  The jam was northbound only, but that was the direction I wanted to go.  Meanwhile, the sky to the west was getting nicer and nicer…and after about five minutes of sitting I realized that I had no shot at getting to that overlook north of town before dark.  So, I made a U-turn in the hopes of getting to the “unofficial” overlook I’d caught a glimpse of on the way into town.  I had no idea if I’d get there in time and I had no idea if it was photo-worthy…but I knew that Plan A was cooked and I’d better implement a Plan B immediately, even if I was unsure of its potential.

So, I got back to the unofficial overlook–which was on my side of the road this time as I was now headed south–as quickly as possible.  It probably took about five minutes though it seemed like 10-15.  And when I arrived there were at least three times as many people there as I’d seen the first time–an indication that I might be on to something.  Cars were clogging up the traffic lane.  Seeing this, I parked in an empty spot along the side of the road at least 500 feet shy of where the “action” was and grabbed my equipment, doing my best to ignore my extremely wet, extremely cold foot.

When the scene came into view, I knew I’d made the right–make that the lucky–call.  It was beautiful and the sky was just about set to explode into one of the ten or so nicest sunsets I’ve ever seen.  The place was crawling with people, some of whom had their phones out trying to capture what was unfolding in front of them.  There was one other photographer there with a tripod already set up.  He saw me coming, looking for a place to set up, and in a moment of true magnanimity, waved me toward himself and created enough room for me to squeeze in with my gear.  I thanked him profusely, got out my camera with the 24-70 mm lens attached and quickly went about metering the scene and fine tuning the composition.

I quickly decided that there were two ways to capture the scene.  Colorful trees lay in the immediate foreground on a slope below us.  The Sacco River made a wide bend in the mid-ground.  And the White Mountains–fronted by a layer of mist–and an incredible sky lay in the background.  The only question was whether to point the camera so the river was to the left-hand side of the composition or the right-hand side.  I quickly decided to play with both options.  Multiple exposures would be necessary–the dynamic range was off the charts–so I hastily established a five-frame/one-stop apart bracketing set and waited for the light.  I captured a mess of sequences of both compositions, and I’ve included one of each below.  Both essentially represent the sky at the height of its display.  We were looking just about due west so the shot that had the river bend on the right-hand side–which caused me to face southwest–included a more dynamic sky than the other option which was facing either directly west or even west-by-northwest.  I’m still not at all certain that I don’t like the second shot best, but it remains an open question.  Regardless, it was by far the most impressive sunrise/sunset I’d seen on the entire trip.  In fact, as I noted above, it was one of the better sunsets I’ve ever seen, anywhere.

White Mountains National Forest Sunset, Carroll County, New Hampshire

White Mountains National Forest Sunset, Carroll County, New Hampshire

Eventually–it took a long, long time–the sky show faded and it grew dark.  Most of the crowd had left by that time and my benefactor (turned out he was from Madison, Wisconsin, just a couple of hours from the Chicago area) and I said goodbye (he was off to Maine the next morning) after chatting for a few minutes.  My foot was freezing at this point, but I hardly cared.  Had I ever gotten lucky.  Without the stupid calamity with the rock at Lower Falls I probably wouldn’t have headed back early to North Conway and without the traffic jam I would never have returned to this spot.  In fact, without having headed back early, I never would have even known that such a spot existed.  I’d been on that stretch of road several times earlier but it was always in the pitch dark–either long before sunrise or long after sunset.

But sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.  And this was one of those times because it provided a fitting, glorious end to an excellent trip.

Older Posts »

Categories