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



  1. I’m glad to see you seizing the opportunity to take nature photographs as well! Also, that coconut palm tree with its “trade winds” caption struck an adventure-chord within me, despite that I’ve lived in Miami for two years. Well done!

    • Thanks! The avian/wildlife photography I engaged in during this trip was an interesting experience. When the opportunity to do this arises in the future, I’ll certainly jump on it.

  2. The images from Long Pine Lake take my breath away. I have to re-evaluate my thinking about Florida (a place I only visited once 35 years ago). I’m looking forward to the theme-based sequence of blog posts. There’s always so much to learn from your approach.

    • Thanks, Ellen. There’s plenty to photograph in Florida, of that I’m certain.

  3. I’m looking forward to this. I’ve done a good bit of bird photography here on the Texas coast, and some of my favorite photos are of birds.It will be interesting to follow your journey, and read what you have to say about it all.

    It will be interesting to see some places I’ve visited through your eyes, too — such as Long Pine Key.

    • Thanks.

      Of all the places I visited in the Everglades, the spot I found the most enchanting (re the landscape) was Long Pine Key. I really found the pinelands ecosystem in general enchanting.

  4. I have been photographing in SWF for about 6 years and you are right – it is a whole different experience. The light is much harsher and as you observed, it is flatter than flat. You came at the right time of year – in summer the mosquitoes in the Everglades are murderous (or so I’ve heard) and the heat/humidity is difficult to work in. Also winter is the dry season so wading birds come to the road-side ponds to fish – in summer they stay deeper in the everglades. Photographing is also a bit safer because the alligators are in semi-hibernation so they aren’t as active – but they are still everywhere there is water. I had one hiss at me.
    Your photos are beautiful. I have had many wonderful mornings photographing birds on the Loop Road that runs off U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) through the Big Cypress National Preserve.

    • Thanks, Pat.

      What you say comports with pretty much everything I’ve heard and/or read. I would point out, however, that the mosquitoes were pretty awful in the south section of the Everglades last month…and they seemed to get worse during my time there. Even with just about all of my skin covered and repellent all over me I was being harassed.

      But, yes on the birds being more accessible during the dry season. And I actually started feeling a bit sorry for the alligators who were plainly more intimidated by me than I was by them.

      I exchanged a couple of e-mails with Paul Marcellini–the photographer behind the e-book I mentioned in the post–and he swears up and down that the best landscape photography in the Glades occurs in the summer (due to the cloud formations that accompany the frequent storms). But I can’t imagine what the insect situation is like there in the summer, given what I dealt with during the winter dry season. Hot and humid I can deal with, but incessant mosquitoes drive me crazy.

      I spent parts of two days on the Loop Road in Big Cypress; all the images you see in the post from Big Cypress were taken along the Loop Road. Terrific place!

      • Yes I recognized the Loop Road scenes, and I smiled. We we were on the loop road we were pestered by the mosquitoes this year, never was a problem in previous years. It was very puzzling given that southern FL is very dry this year. Have you picked up M.Timothy O’Keefe’s book “The photographer’s guide to the Everglades.” I recommend it if you are going to return next year – which I know you will. 🙂 It is such a unique environment that it took me a few years to feel at home in it.

        • I had been told that I probably wouldn’t need repellent during my time in the area and, in fairness, I never saw a mosquito outside of the southern section of the Everglades. There were no insect issues during my stay in Florida City or my time in the Keys or Palm Beach County. Repellent was enough to avoid any annoyance in Shark Valley and Big Cypress. But in the southern section of the Glades, they were bad. My first day on the ground, as I got down toward Flamingo they became impossible. I know that there’s a mosquito problem when I’m being attacked by swarms IN OPEN SUN. I broke down and purchased a can of repellent that afternoon in the small store at Flamingo and carried it with me everywhere I went. But even covered in repellent, the mosquitoes chased me away from the trail around Eco Pond. And, as the trip wore on, they became incessant–even when not near standing water or shade–as sunset approached. And by my final full day in the area they were becoming a problem in the middle of the day on the western end of the Long Pine Key Trail. I talked to some people from the Miami area who visit the park regularly and they told me that this was entirely out of character–that the bugs were worse this year than any winter they could remember. They attributed it to the much warmer than usual winter. And, in fact, the temperature did eclipse 90 degrees in the shade one day.

          I didn’t know about the O’Keefe book; I’ve had mixed results with the titles in that “Photographer’s Guide to ______” series over the years, but I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on a copy. Thanks for mentioning it. I can’t make any promises about returning next year, regardless of how tempting it might be. 🙂

  5. Your photographs are beautiful and inspirational and I can imagine you garnish a good deal of pleasure working thru the images after a trip like this. I can relate to your slightly hesitant departure to South Florida, and if you are anything like me, it’s not the destination that’s my issue, but the departure from family.
    My wife, although supportive, is always reticent about me heading out, away from home and family. Now that we are empty nesters, it really has not been any easier. About 18 months ago, I made the initiative to take a few days on what we call “The Adventure’s Club,” and go to Utah’s eastern region to explore and photograph. In nano seconds, my grown son, and then my daughter wanted to come, she with her 7 year old son. We did it. A whirlwind adventure which none of us will ever forget, especially the seven year old with the dinosaur tracks, and he learning about erosional strata geology, photography and …a lot!
    You can see bit of this particular trip starting here:
    Looking forward to not only your future posts, but spending due time on previous ones. Thanks for the reports on your version of The Adventure’s Club. Marty ☺

    • Thanks, Marty!

      And thanks for passing along the link–it reminded me of a few spots I’ve visited over the years (Arches NP, etc.) and my desire to get back to southwest Utah. In fact, I was planning on heading to Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches and Zion NPs last fall, but circumstances beyond my control made that impossible.

  6. Such finesse with your camera–the creatures jump out of the frame! I have never heard of an anhinga–wow.

    • Thanks!

      Anhingas are really interesting to watch. They dive–much like loons–but are bigger…and they’re the only bird I’ve seen that will perch in trees and spread their wings to dry them. I have at least one image of an anhinga with a fish it caught which I’m sure I’ll post at some point.

  7. Nice opening set. I look forward to seeing the rest.

  8. Stunning photos. I love the birds and the reflections

  9. Loved seeing this departure from your usual MO. I imagine it’s a good thing to ‘stretch your wings’ so to speak every now and again! 😀

    • Thanks very much, Gunta!

  10. You really captured the essence of the wind and the palm in “Tradewinds.” The old painting masters would travel around the world to paint in different light conditions and wonder the differences you encounter further south of your usual locales other than the flatness, noting, of course, how significant that is.. Love the reflections of the cypresses and colours of the sunsets.

    • Thanks, Jane.

      When I was in South Florida (mid-February), there was slightly more than 11 hours between sunrise (which was a bit before 7 AM) and sunset (around 6:15 PM). That’s about one hour of daylight less than I had to work with in New England last fall. Because I was inside of two months from the winter solstice, the daily evolution of the quality of light seemed pretty typical to me; it really felt as though there was the traditional “golden hour” in the mornings and late afternoons (though it was often more difficult to tell in the morning given the frequent prevalence of fog).

  11. […] 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 […]

  12. […] I mentioned in my introductory post to the Florida trip, the landscape photography experience in the Everglades was an anticipated […]

  13. […] 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 […]

  14. Kerry, you may address this question later in the series, but I wonder if by challenging yourself with a new kind of environment to photograph that you found yourself changing your approach or technique, or even your visual perceptions?

    • Good question, Lynn. I think the answer is no. I definitely don’t change anything in terms of technique. If I change my approach at all it’s in terms of the specifics, not the broader, more fundamental process. So, while I’m seeing different things, tangibly, I’m using the same basic process to work with those things as I would in any situation. What I end up doing, specifically, will certainly vary depending on the setting, but not how I go about evaluating that setting. I hope that makes a modicum of sense.

  15. […] trips in 2017, which is one more than I’ve ever taken in any prior year.  I started out in South Florida in February; I spent time in California in May; and during a two-week period overlapping September […]

  16. […] rule.  For instance, I was on my own for the entirety of all three photo trips I took last year:  Florida, California and Colorado.  On this trip to Alaska–during which I was on the ground for 12 […]

  17. […] photo trip I’ve taken that involved any consequential amount of heat and humidity was to south Florida a couple of years ago and that was in winter, so it wasn’t as warm most of the time (though […]

  18. […] I took a photo trip to Florida four years ago (February, 2017), the opportunity to spend time in the Everglades was the principal […]

  19. […] few years ago, I spent the tail end of a week-long trip to south Florida in Jupiter, about 90 minutes north of Miami. The first five days or so of the trip had been spent […]

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