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.

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Responses

  1. Truly exceptional photos, Kerry!

  2. I’m a follower of your blog for a few years now and I’m always amazed by the beautiful pictures you take. Keep up the great work 🙂

    • Thanks very much for the kind words!

  3. Flat, barren, and mosquito-y, I know. There’s a lot here that could translate perfectly well to the Texas coastal plain, and a lot that could help me capture a decent, larger-scale landscape.

    Besides that, I’ve never been to the Everglades, and your photos make me want to head there. It looks like a wonderful place to visit, as well as a rich subject for photographers.

    • It’s definitely not an obvious place to go to photograph the landscape. During the time I was in the Everglades–and I spent parts of seven days there–I saw plenty of other photographers in the bird-heavy areas (e.g. the Anhinga Trail, Shark Valley, Paurotis Pond, etc.). I saw a few tourists snap the odd photo elsewhere, but I literally didn’t see a single other person engaged in photographing the Everglades landscape. It’s possible–if not probable–that there were others and I just didn’t see them but…Long Pine Lake is such a phenomenal spot in the AM (I was there on four different mornings) and I never saw another soul with a camera while I was there.

      As I’ve suggested, the Everglades is challenging. It has basically none of the elements that make for obvious landscape appeal. But, yes…I found it quite rewarding and if you go there with the right attitude (which you certainly possess) I think you’d find it well worth your while.

  4. Much of the Everglades landscape in your photos reminds me of meadows, and I know you like meadows. I am not surprised that your were able to come away with some stellar photographs.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  5. Such fascinating images, Kerry…I think they may be some of my favorites yet…. Wonderful.

    • Thanks very much, Scott!

      • You are most welcome!

  6. As a Florida native and resident, I have really enjoyed your series on the Everglades. I grew up in South Florida, basically on the front doorstep of the Everglades and took many camping and canoeing trips there growing up. I moved to the northeastern part of the state long before taking up photography. One of these days I plan to return to my native land with camera in tow.

    You made some really beautiful images, especially for a first visit. I was glad to hear someone else write about the challenges of working in such flat topography. I find that I’m almost always composing wide and low to the ground, so I was interested to see how many of your photographs were made at telephoto distances. I don’t think I’ve ever used a lens longer than 50mm in a Florida landscape image, but that’s just me!

    I wouldn’t say composition is easier necessarily out in the canyons and ranges of the west or in the Blue Ridge mountains, but it sure feels that way. Going to the Colorado Plateau feels like going to a candy store after working in my local coastal area. Of course, I’m usually the only one out with a tripod on my beach, which is quite nice.

    In any case, keep up the good work and I hope you return to the Sunshine State for more photography adventures.

    • Thanks very much for the thoughtful comments; I love batting this stuff around.

      I use telephoto focal lengths for landscape work in general more often that just about anyone I know. Overall, I still use wide and normal perspectives more than telephoto, but I use a long lens a significant minority of the time. When I was shooting landscapes in the Everglades I’d estimate that I used my telephoto lens somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/4 or 1/3 of the time. I had my share of “low and wide” experiences as well, but that was dependent on finding a smallish foreground element that I found compelling.

      I’ve blogged in the past on the subject of different focal lengths in different settings:

      https://lightscapesphotography.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/on-foregrounds/

      https://lightscapesphotography.wordpress.com/2009/12/26/wide-angles-in-tight-places/

      https://lightscapesphotography.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/counterpoint-telephoto-landscapes-in-wide-open-locales/

      As to the last point…I’m convinced that composing truly is easier out west (among other places). I cut my compositional teeth in another highly challenging area for landscape photography–northeast Illinois. It was an experience I liken to learning to swim by jumping into the deep end of the pool. I found it infinitely easier to compose in the Pacific Northwest, the Colorado Plateau, the Smokies, etc. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. When people who developed their eye for landscapes come to my part of the world–which they rarely do, admittedly–they’re almost always lost. This is anecdotal, of course, but there’s too much of this sort of evidence to simply ignore.

  7. […] 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 […]


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