Do you ever just go wandering around, exploring new areas? Not to make photos, but hoping in the back of your mind that a good photo might show up in front of your lens? Sometimes I do. And sometimes it happens.
One day back in July of 2007, I drove over to Sanford, Florida and stopped by the boat ramp. As I watched the sun rise, I kept my eye on some seagulls flying around over the water. When the sun went into those clouds and the very pretty rays showed up – I framed my shot and started walking over toward the gulls, shooting in continuous mode. I was hoping for something exactly like this, and when I got home I was happy with how it turned out.
So, I’m just wondering. Would you ever drive to a boat ramp at sunrise for a photo-op? Maybe, maybe not. When you’re just out wandering around with your camera, your expectations are different. The photo pressure’s off. It’s OK to go home without a 4 or 5 star image. But the opportunities for photos may be a lot more varied than if you set off with a specific photo goal in mind. And if you do come home with a nice photo or two it’s a bonus.
So, just go wandering. And keep your eyes and mind open to the beautiful nature show happening all around you. And take a camera.
P.S. We drove by the Lake Jesup wildflower fields this morning and they’re just about all gone. If you didn’t make a photo there this year, you’ll have to wait until late next September for your chance.
At 310 miles, the St. Johns is the longest river in Florida. It’s one of the few rivers in the US that flow from south to north. Near Orlando it forms the dividing line between Seminole and Volusia counties, and it’s a favorite destination for fishermen, boaters, and folks on jet skis. It should be a favorite destination for photographers, too.
Vince invited Tom and I out on his boat for a photo expedition a while back. We finally took him up on his offer a couple of weeks ago. We were up early, put in near the I-4 bridge right around dawn, and motored north.
There’s a rule of thumb about sunrise and sunset. The rule of thumb is that there’s no rule of thumb telling you when the good colors / conditions will occur. You have to hang around and keep making photographs until you’re sure the show is over. The next photo is a good example of this rule (or is it a lack of rules?):
The St. Johns River near Blue Springs
When we first got out on the river around sunrise (~7am), there was some color in the sky, but nothing spectacular. About an hour later the conditions were quite different and much more photogenic.
This image is a 5 frame panorama that I merged in Photoshop. I made the exposures hand-held from a moving boat, so they weren’t aligned all that well. In post, I first ran all 5 RAW frames through Lightroom and adjusted several parameters identically, including color balance, lens profile, and camera profile. Then I moved to Photoshop to do the merge. After that, I worked on it a little more to take a small curve out of the shoreline, and then used Topaz Denoise 5 to selectively reduce the residual noise that you could see in the full res version. The last step was to add a duplicate layer and run it through Topaz Adjust 4. Back in Photoshop, I modified the transparency of the resulting layer and the strength of the Topaz filter. I also selectively erased portions of the Topaz layer until I liked the result.
Info for Photographers
Photo hints: We saw many kinds of birds and several alligators. But the wild life doesn’t like power boats very much. We had a hard time getting close to any of the birds, and alligators would see or hear us coming and submerge long before we got close to them. If you have time, you might try coasting in from a longer distance – but that could take a while and we didn’t try it so I can’t tell you whether it will help. You can also look for alligators on docks. They don’t seem to be as skittish when they’re out sunning themselves. In fact, they seem quite friendly.
Gators always smile at you, but this one was even waving!
Tripod/Monopod: They won’t do you much good on a moving boat, so save yourself some trouble and don’t bring them unless you’re going ashore.
Lenses: The boat motion will also make hand holding a long lens difficult, so don’t bother bringing really long glass either. Instead, carry your wide-angle lens and maybe a short telephoto or zoom.
Best time to visit: Early in the morning on a calm day before the other boats show up. The water should be calm, undisturbed, and very scenic. And you can get some photography in before it gets too hot.
Other: There are several places to stop and eat along the river. If you want to grab lunch ashore, do some research first. Also, if you don’t have a friend with a boat, don’t let that stop you. Nearly every marina we passed had pontoon and house boats for rent.
By the way, if you’re visiting Florida you may not know that it’s probably not a very good idea to swim in the river. The alligator in the photo above was about 5 feet long. It (along with some larger relatives) lives in the river. We also occasionally have people infected with water-borne diseases (such as amoebic meningoencephalitis), although that usually occurs in lake water.
We had a great time and were very grateful to Vince for taking us out. I got a photo or two that I really like.
I’ve posted once before about wildflowers on the north-west shore of Lake Jesup. They bloom this time of year and I’ve photographed them since 2006, mostly from the side of the road.
October 10, 2006: Lake Jesup Flowers and Sunrise. 4 shot panorama, assembled in Photoshop; Nikon Coolpix P1, ISO 50, 126mm eq. focal length, f/5.2 at 1/30 sec.
In 2008, the area was completely under water and there were no blooms.
August 31, 2008: Lake Jesup flood waters from tropical storm Fay; Nikon D80, ISO 100, Nikon 18-70 lens at 18mm, f/16, three exposures combined with Photomatix
All year, I really hoped that the flooding hadn’t killed the flowers permanently. Once the water receded, I did a little exploring and found a park and a path out into the blooms through the Lake Jesup Conservation Area. About two weeks ago, I revisited the park and made these photos. As you can see, the blooms came back from the flooding. If anything, there are more than ever. If you are into flower photography, you have to ask yourself why you’ve never explored this wonderful place in late September. Get ready for next year!
September 28, 2009: Lake Jesup flowers and moon; Nikon D700, ISO 200, Nikon 24-70 lens at 62mm, f/16 at 1/50 sec
Here’s a close in photo of one of the blooms. There are so many different types of wildflowers, that Identifying them isn’t easy (for me anyway). These are in the Aster family and resemble Black Eyed Susans, but are taller than the 14 – 36 inches my book says Black Eyed Susans should be. If you recognize them and can supply a positive ID, please let me know in the comments.
1/24/2010 update – These are most likely Narrowleaf Sunflowers, also called “Swamp Sunflowers”.
September 28, 2009: Lake Jesup flower closeup; Nikon D700, ISO 200, Nikon 24-70 lens at 70mm, f/4 at 1/500 sec
This web page has directions on how to get to the Marl Bed Flats part of the conservation area, where I made these photos. It’s a short hike over flat ground from the parking area to where the flowers are.
The plants are fairly tall and the blooms range from a few feet off the ground to as high as 6 feet. A tall tripod will be helpful to get your camera above the vegetation. Bring a wide-angle lens to take in the incredible vista of so many flowers in one place. You might want to carry your macro lens too.
Get there early for calm winds. I was a little leery of walking out there in the dark, so I passed on sunrise shots this year.
If you plan to do this, you should scout the area and the time-line before hand. The blooms last a couple of weeks, but they are definitely better in the middle of the period than at either end.
Lake Jesup is in Seminole County, Florida between Oviedo / Winter Springs and Sanford. Wild flowers on the north-east shore start blooming in late September and peak the first week in October. To see them, head north-east on the toll way (417) from Oviedo / Winter Springs. You’ll see them on both sides of the road after you cross the bridge. There are many more toward the east.
I made my first photograph here in October of 2006, using a Nikon P1 point and shoot camera (image 1 in the gallery). I liked it, but wasn’t completely happy. I made it facing into the sun just after sunrise, and the flowers were underexposed since the sky dominated the camera meter. Some post processing made the flowers more prominent but still not as bright as I remembered seeing them. By the time I returned the following weekend, the blooms had passed their peak – so I had to wait a whole year to re-make the shot.
The image above was made today at 5:45 pm, looking east, just before that rain storm swept over me. Luckily, I did get back into my truck with my camera gear before the storm hit – it was quite a down pour.
The light in the scene this time was much more balanced. I also used my Nikon D80 in raw mode, which gave me a greater dynamic range to play with. I do wish I could have gotten over the water filled ditch at the side of the highway to include some foreground detail in the scene. Oh well, there’s always next year.
I think this is a better image than the one from a year ago. You can see several more of my Lake Jesup flower photos here.