Category Archives: Outings

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is composed of 7 islands approximately 70 miles west of Key West. It also contains and protects about 101 square miles of marine habitat. The most notable landmark of Dry Tortugas, however, is Fort Jefferson. It was thought a good idea to have the fort to help protect the straits connecting the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Construction began in 1847 and continued on through the Civil War, but was never fully finished. It served as a prison during the Civil War and its most famous inhabitant was Samuel Mudd, an American physician who was convicted and imprisoned for aiding and conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the 1865 assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

I had been wanting to get to the Tortugas for years and finally planned a trip this past December. I timed it for the full moon, so I could try some night photography. I booked a two night camping trip and got all my gear ready.

The trip started with 25 mph winds and made for a rough boat ride. I took the Yankee Freedom over, from Key West. I paid to have a kayak ferried with me, which never was launched do to wind. It also clouded over and I spent 2 days waiting for the wind to subside and the sun to come out. Snorkeling is supposed to be great down there, but with all the wind, visibility was pitiful. Just at sunset on the second day, the clouds began to break and I made sure to take advantage of it.

The clouds also stayed sparse enough for me to get something including the moon, or at least the light from it.

I went to sleep a little less nervous about a failed trip and awoke for sunrise. It didn’t amount to much but I knew what I wanted to do with the warm early light.

Although this image is iconic of Ft. Jefferson, I felt this light was pretty rare to capture. Most photographers are day-trippers and are never on the island when the light is this good. I camped for 2 nights and finally got this on the third day. Lucky me!

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Iceland

At the end of September I was extremely fortunate to go to Iceland. I was extremely excited for the possibility of seeing Aurora Borealis, something that had been on my bucket list.

It was a relatively quick flight for somewhere that seemed so exotic and detached. Just 5.5hrs from JFK airport. We landed at sunrise and made the trek east, after getting the rental vehicles and some food. It was quite cloudy and eventually the rains came, and stayed for several days. We had breaks where it was only windy, but it made for photographing anything a little more difficult. For a Florida boy, 40 degree weather, rain, and 40 mph winds don’t make for the most favorable conditions. So, we searched for things we could use the conditions with. Things that didn’t move. We found a big mossy area, which I was to learn is the old lava fields from Laki, one of the largest volcano eruptions in Iceland, happening over 7 months in 1783 and 84 and killing 25% of the population. Moss doesn’t move much, but I was determined to get some shots of the small bushes dotting the landscape in full fall colors. This took a lot of patience but I got several images over the next couple days that I really liked.

The boulders of lava went on for miles, covered in 6 inches or so of moss. It made for treacherous foot travel and I took a fun little tumble. Luckily, it is like landing on a tempurpedic bed! We encountered this area west of Vik on the way to Klauster.

Another amazing area is Jokulsarlon. There is nothing like it and it is oft photographed by travelers to Iceland. Icebergs calve from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and float out to sea, where some are washed back onto the black sand beach. This makes for a dramatic contrast and a scene unlike anything else.

This was also a tough shoot because the icebergs move. With each wave you either have to dodge them coming back in, or chase them back out, always recomposing your shot. In the second image, my iceberg actually broke in half and floated away just 3 waves after the image I got.

After 2 shooting sessions at Jokulsarlon, we made our way back west to trek into the highlands. Along the way we stopped at several waterfalls along the road(no shortage of them) and I took this image at one we nicknames Paul’s Falls because I had wanted to check it out for several days. I loved the recessed nature of it and how it had carved its way back into the rock.

Somewhere along the road, we also got a touch of sunshine and I was sure to capitalize on it. Whooper Swans were the only native wildlife we saw(lots of sheep) and I timed this image as a flock flew through the image.

Once into the highlands, we encountered a scene that seemed unreal. A nondescript canyon from afar, nestled among all the lifeless volcanic rock harbored at least 40 waterfalls, all leaking from the porous rock. At the bottom was an amazingly blue river and on the third shoot at this location, a freezing sunrise, we got some sun!

The last image was taken at Haifoss, meaning High Falls. It didn’t have that many compositional opportunities, but at 400 feet tall, and the accompanying canyon, still a great view.

Iceland was a land of amazing scenery, the weather sure made it challenging, but I am happy with what I got and hope to return in the future.To purchase an image go to my Iceland gallery: Iceland

 

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Ahh, the Swamp

Two weekends in a row I have been able to get out exploring Big Cypress with Mac Stone, a great photographer working down here for Audubon. It is the end of the dry season, so water is at it’s lowest. This allowed for much quicker travel, and we covered a lot more ground. Last week, we hopped from gator hole to gator hole, where the last of the water remained. They are called gator holes because the gators will dig out what may already be a depression to create small ponds. This can keep fish alive, one food source for gators, and attract others like raccoons looking for water.

We found this one gator almost buried in the mud, and it wanted to keep its mud-hole to himself. Fortunately, it led to some different perspectives for our photographs.

This weekend, we were joined by Neil Losin and Garl and we went out to Robert’s Lake Strand. Upon getting to the lake, we saw tons of alligators and something very unexpected, a bear! My first bear in South Florida, although I have seen signs several times. It caught wind of us from across the lake and ambled off. We pressed on to another smaller lake and along the way, found this beautiful little moccasin. It posed so nicely and I am really happy to get this wide-angle image of it. I was at the minimum focusing distance for my lens and it was a bit nerve racking to be so close to a venomous snake, but it really goes to show they are not nearly as aggressive as their unfortunate reputation.

You can also see from this photo why they are also called the cottonmouth.

We continued on to the next lake and again saw it crowded with alligators. As we sat and ate lunch, we noticed them lunge into the air and come down sideways, attempting to catch the also crowded fish. It was great entertainment and I put together this little sequence of one.

We pressed on to the last area for the day and one of the most visually promising for landscapes. The swamp is so intense, with so many details, that it is always a great experience. It is not however, usually the most productive for landscape images. It is more about eliminating details from your image and that can be quite hard to do when everything crowds in on itself. Epiphytes, vines, shrubs, aquatic plants, trees going up, trees fallen down…lots of lines that don’t want to organize easily into an image. So with that said, I got a somewhat decent landscape, it probably won’t make it into the portfolio but it is always fun to exercise the brain.

What I liked about this image was how the light played on the distant layers of vegetation and the clean foreground, so hard to find. I may have moved a fallen twig or two though. =) And then began the 3 mile hike back to the car. I gotta say, my feet feel it a bit after all that tromping.

 

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Those Foggy Mornings

I am not a morning person. As a photographer, this can be a big hindrance. It means I am missing 50% of the good-light opportunities of the day.  If you look through my portfolio you will notice a lot of sunsets. The sunrises, however, are a bit limited.

One thing that sunrises have that definitely helps pull me out of bed, is the possibility of fog. I always strive to have a mood or atmosphere to my images. This can be created most easily by lighting at the ends of the day(sunrise/sunset). Fog, however, really can ramp things up.

In the Everglades, I  seem to gravitate to the pinelands when it is foggy. Sometimes hard to shot, the fog can really simplify things and allow you to isolate elements easier. I went out twice recently and got several images I am happy with.

The first morning I stayed around the Long Pine Key Campground. There is a lake there with an awesome island of pines that is a wonderful element. I created this panoramic before the sun came up and the moody blues really helped here.

The Still of Morning

This morning was so thick with fog, and you could hear the condensation dripping off the trees.  It was perfectly still and quiet. As the sun broke through the fog I hiked out in the pinelands to get a composition I had in mind but never with these conditions. As I was hiking out to this spot (1 mile away) I could hear turkeys calling. They were reintroduced to Long Pine key after several attempts and it is good to know they have stuck around and not become bobcat food.

A New Beginning

I hiked back to the lake to see how everything looked with different lighting conditions and got this tighter shot of the island.

This was the first shoot of the year and for several months. It definitely helped renew my desire to get out and to create new images.

As the forecast called for fog again, I ran out a week later and it happened to coincide with the full moon. What is great about the full moon is that it rises and sets opposite the sun. This can help with the evening out of lighting conditions and lead to some dramatic images.

As I was driving out this morning I noticed the fog wasn’t as thick as I wanted. I was thinking of running out to the dwarf cypress but decided to go to Pine Glades Lake. I figured getting the  moon setting would be a nice image. I waited until the sun was about the break the horizon and got this image. It is a single image double processed to just barely bring back the overly bright moon. The sun’s light on the foreground helped to even out the dynamic range.

Moonset Over Pine Glades Lake

I briefly walked back into the pinelands and shot this clump of pines, with a nice glow behind them.

Fog doesn’t always help produce dramatic images but sometimes subtle is what you need. Still there is no denying it helps set the mood. Have a great weekend everyone!

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One Mantis, Two Photos

Hey guys, miss me? It has been a while. This morning I finally made some images worth sharing. I have been shooting with John Moran and David Moynahan, two fantastic Florida nature photographers.

They have showed me some great new shooting methods and techniques, and while shooting a praying mantis this morning, I was able to try one out. First let me show you a traditional shot of how I would normally go about it. I shot this guy with my Tamron 180 macro, tripod mounted, with some off camera fill flash.

And now the “other” type of image. Both David and John use a Tokina 10-17 fisheye. This lens is WIDE! They usually shoot it on a crop sensor. I did try it on my full-frame 5d2, and it is really only usable above 15mm. Anyways, I dropped my memory card in John’s 7d with the Tokina mounted, and again, some off-camera flash. This is the result, a totally different feel, mood, everything. I have known about this wide-angle macro technique for some time, really getting it demoed to me by Clay Bolt. I definitely will need to play around with it myself more, but was quite excited by this quick result.

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