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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Photography In The Sunshine State

Florida offers the nature photographer incredible variety in landscapes and wildlife. Renowned professional John Moran takes us on a tour of some of the hot spots.

Labels: LocationsHot Spots

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Newnan’s Lake, Alachua County, Florida

So you’re coming to Florida this winter! It has been nearly 500 years since Ponce de León began the Florida tourist rush when he stepped ashore a beach near present-day St. Augustine. Arriving during Easter Week in 1513, the Spanish explorer surveyed the scene, liked what he saw and christened the place La Florida, the Land of Flowers. What a picture that would have been. Change being the only constant here in the Sunshine State, we’ve since added plenty of condos, golf courses and shopping malls to the mix of distractions you’ll pass on the way to where you want to go with your cameras in hand. My Florida, however, is a place steeped in blackwater swamps and rivers, populated by egrets and alligators. There’s a quiet rhythm here, but make no mistake: The beauty of natural Florida is rich and potent if you know where and when to go looking.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Collier County, Florida
Like many OP readers who have photographed alligators at the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park, snowy egrets in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge at Sanibel or manatees at Crystal River, I’ve been there and done that, and I love those places, too. But I believe that if the point of being a photographer is, in part, to claim the world in terms uniquely your own, half the battle is choosing subjects and locations where you’re not tripping over other photographers.

I’m often struck, in my own off-the-beaten-path Florida adventures, with the grateful realization that the masses have gone elsewhere, perhaps to those familiar, crowded places that put Florida on the tourist map even before Walt Disney changed Florida forever. So this article is intended not just to help you see familiar Florida in an unfamiliar way, but also to inspire you to discover your own secret Florida.

One State, Many Worlds
Borne of water, Florida has been a sublime place of liquid landscapes since the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago gave shape to the peninsula we now call home. A place of stunning biological and geological diversity, Florida is one state, but many worlds. North to south, water is the common denominator in shaping and defining the Florida experience. We have 1,200 miles of coastline, 7,700 lakes and 11,000 miles of rivers and streams, plus the Everglades. My advice to those looking to experience the real Florida beyond the tourist facade: Plan on getting wet.

Okay, it’s wintertime, and maybe you’re not up for fully taking the plunge. But as the noted war photographer Robert Capa said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” For nature photographers in Florida, that translates into at least getting your feet wet. And winter really is fine here; bugs and sweat are generally in remission, and just like up north, that low light rakes sweetly across the land all day long.

Travel photographers routinely scour local postcard racks when arriving for visits in unfamiliar locales. Doing location research and scouting is just another example that lends credence to my hunch that the Internet was invented with photographers in mind, in providing a forum to both share and view pictures. Google “Florida nature photography,” and you’ll see what I mean. I love seeing the work other photographers have created in areas I’d like to visit, and I’ve learned a lot online about the places in Florida I haven’t yet checked off my Photographic Bucket List.


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