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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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Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Alachua County, Florida
Gearing Up
Here’s what I suggest for planning a visit to Florida. Start by getting a copy of the DeLorme Florida Atlas & Gazetteer. GPS units are great, but I’m not giving up on this generously oversized and detailed guide to the backroads and meandering streams of Florida. Mark it up! Get out that yellow highlighter and fine-line Sharpie®, and map out an itinerary with contact information, notes and ideas scribbled in the margins. Those notes are a high-value record of your adventures and may serve you well on future visits.

Bring your canoe or kayak. As the poet Loren Eiseley said, “If there is magic to be found on this planet, it is to be found in water.” I can’t say enough how key my canoe is to my work and my personal enjoyment as a Florida nature photographer. I’ve made many of my best pictures literally within sight of my car, but as we all know, sometimes nature photography isn’t about the picture; it’s about the experience of being out there, chasing the light—alive, awake and aware, and far, far away from internal combustion.

Don’t have a canoe or kayak, or you’re flying in? Scores of outfitters are ready to serve with boats and advice. Florida is pulsing with rivers, and they’re not all developed yet. Learn more at www.floridapaddlingtrails.com. You’ll also find information there about the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, which we like to refer to as the saltwater version of the Appalachian Trail.

As for alligators, we have a few. But remember this: Alligators are like investment bankers; they’re looking for maximum return on minimum investment. Generally, alligators are more inclined to expend their energy eating a bite-sized bird or turtle or one of their own offspring rather than taking on an adult with a camera. Don’t push your luck on this point, but seriously, exercise a bit of good judgment. Google “alligator safety tips,” and the odds are promising that you’ll live to return home to your familiar spot atop the food chain.


Putnam County, Florida
As an aside, plan on wearing water shoes or sandals while swamp slogging, and bring a dry box or bag for your gear while canoeing or kayaking. Trash bags don’t cut it, laying there on the bottom of your boat. I suggest a Rubbermaid® plastic tote (best for a canoe) or a collapsible dry bag that allows you to quickly get to your gear (generally preferable for a kayak). The point here is that it’s not just about protection, but access. I like the Northwest River Supplies duffel-style, clear-sided dry bags. One model, the Access Duffel, neatly holds my loaded Lowepro Mini Trekker, as well as a body with a 100-400mm zoom lens.

Bring your bike and your hiking shoes. Florida has an impressive network of biking, hiking and equestrian trails managed by an alphabet soup of federal, state and local agencies. I’ve found that bicycling with my cameras works well in Florida, given our flat or modestly hilly terrain. Slap a rack and a basket on that bike, grab your camera, and hop on. A standard grocery-store milk crate works great as a basket, a perfect fit for my Lowepro camera bag. Zip-tie it to the rack, pad the bottom with foam and use a bungee cord to secure your bag and tripod, and away you go!

Bring your camping gear. You’ll save major dollars by sleeping on the ground, and you can roll out of your sleeping bag to shoot early light before the parks open at 8 a.m. Many Florida state parks, which number 160 and counting, offer developed and backcountry camping.

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