Everglades Coalition Conference 2017 and JN Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

I had the opportunity to attend my 4th Everglades Coalition Conference this year to continue learning about how I can help preserve and promote the natural resources that I enjoy capturing through the lens of my camera (see prior conference posts here and here). This year the conference was held just across the bridge from Sanibel/Captiva island and a short drive to the JN Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. I arrived at the conference a day early to give me an opportunity to visit JN Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge with my camera and see if I could capture some good images of their famous birds.

Last year my job kept me very busy traveling and did not leave much time for me to engage in any photography. Therefore, one of my goals for 2017 is to make some time to engage in the hobbies I love such as photography and fishing. To kick start this goal I spent a few hours in Ding Darling before the conference started. I managed to capture a few good images of some of the native birds and even captured a very vibrant sunrise.

One of the main things I learned about Ding Darling was that the tides have a larger influence on the birding than does the time of day. In most places the best time for seeing the largest variety and number of birds is to arrive early in the morning and to a lesser extent late in the afternoon. For Ding Darling this is only true if this time of day also corresponds with the occurrence of a low tide. On my trip low tide occurred just after noon. Therefore, when I arrived in the morning there were very few birds. I spent some time exploring the refuge and identifying some good future photography locations. I almost gave up thinking that I was a little to early in the season to see large number of birds, but decided to come back after lunch.

When I returned to the park after lunch the tide was nearing low tide and the birds were congregated in large numbers wading across the shallow flats looking for food. The good news was that I was able to spend some time watching the birds wading and eating, the bad news was the harsh midday lighting made quality photography difficult. To combat this I tried to photography birds that were located in sheltered areas or were sitting with good side lighting versus overhead or back-lit. I still managed to capture some good images but I they still exhibit strong contrast of highlights and shadows.

In the late afternoon I noticed we had some great high thin clouds that I thought would make a great reflector of color after the sunset. Therefore, I decided to stick around in anticipation of a good sunset. I was not disappointed, about 15 minutes after the sunset the sky lit up a vibrant yellow, orange, pink and purple. The thin clouds absorbed this color and reflected it back down on to the shallow calm waters to amplify the colorful show. Unfortunately, I did not have any great com-positional options to compliment the great colors. I like to use foreground subjects to anchor my photos and give my photography depth. The best I could come up with at this location was using the fast tidal flow from a nearby culvert to create a moving leading line to distant birds and ultimately the vibrant sky. It works but only because the sunset was so colorful.

While I was there exploring I also came across one large and one small otter walking down the main road and swimming in one of the tidal pools. Of course I did not have my camera in my hands when I saw them and by the time I came back with it they had moved on. I saw both of them around culvert 6 at different times making me think there is likely a family residing somewhere nearby.

I recommend stopping by Ding Darling if you are in the area. It is a nicely maintained refuge and I enjoyed my time there. However, for birding I believe there are equal or better locations in the southern everglades. Therefore, I don’t know that I would recommend traveling to Ding Darling specifically for birding if you did not live nearby or if you were not already in the area. Additionally, the birds were typically fairly far away requiring a long focal length (greater than 400mm) to generate quality closeups. Also, I was there on a Wednesday and Thursday and there were still large crowds all day long. This has a tendency to take away from the general nature experience.

All bird images in the below gallery were taken using my 70-200 mark ii with 2x iii teleconverter. Most images were also cropped to give the appearance a longer focal length was used.

Fort Myers Beach Sunsets

My whole family decided to take a family vacation this year to Fort Myers Beach. We all had a great time and Jackson had a blast hanging out with his cousins. I also used this opportunity to add to my collection of beach sunsets. We had some great clouds and great sunsets almost every night we were there. For one of the sunsets I had to have someone hold an umbrella over my camera because there was a light rain falling. This resulted in an almost uniform orange glow across the sky as the sun set. It made for a unique and very colorful photo.

Bahia Honda Bridge

My wife has requested that I capture a creative photo of the Bahia Honda Bridge to put on one of the walls in our house. I had a vision of the image I wanted to capture and so I headed down the keys chain to see if I could make her happy. I couldn’t. The image I envisioned needed the sun to be setting at a further Azimuth south. Unfortunately, it will not be in the position I want until later on in the fall. I will plan to return in another 6 months or so and try again. I still managed to capture a nice pleasing image but not what I wanted for the particular space on our wall.

Bahia Honda Sunset


While traveling on business to Jacksonville and Tallahassee I snuck in some photography time and captured some Cityscapes just at or after sunset. I tried to use the moving car lights to create some interest and give the image an active feel. I like the results of both images. One is downtown Jacksonville and the other is the Florida Capital in downtown Tallahassee.

Myakka State Park

I had a conference to attend in the Tampa area and decided to bring my camera with me and stop by Myakka River State Park on my way back south to Miami. I first visited Myakka years ago when I was only 10 or so but remember being impressed with its numerous and large alligators. I returned about 4 years ago for the first time since I was 10 and spent a day exploring and hiking some of the trails. This time I did not have much time to spend in the park but still enjoyed what little time I did have there.

I managed to capture some interesting landscape shots and even tracked a few deer that where skittish but curious about my presence. All in all it was a good trip. One of these days I would like to return to spend some time kayaking the river and/or camp in the campground.

Palm Island Cape Haze, Florida

This year my family and I took a much needed vacation to Palm Island Resort in Cape Haze, Florida. Palm Island is a beautiful and quiet destination with miles of undisturbed beaches and plenty of sea shells. I brought my camera with the hope of capturing some vivid west coast sunsets. The first 3 days or so did not cooperate with cloudy and raining skies. However, the last few days made up for the first few days with some great sunsets.

The only problem I had was trying to compose the shots with something interesting in the foreground so that the image would be more dynamic. I had to get creative as nothing jumped out at me. To make it harder I was also trying to keep an eye on my one year old while trying to set up my shot. All in all I am happy with the results.

On this trip I also had an opportunity to use my Outex cover some more. I really like this cover as it gave me the opportunity to create some unique photos that would have been impossible without it. I am still figuring it out but I am making progress.

Naples, Florida Colorful Beach Sunset

I attended the 29th Annual Everglades Coalition Conference in Naples, Florida this past weekend.  This is my second time attending this conference and I really enjoyed learning more about conservation, preservation and restoration issues affecting the Florida Everglades.  I also spent some time promoting the new National Park Trolley that was recently launched by the City of Homestead.  I will have another blog post specifically discussing this conference.

The purpose of this blog post is to post a few pictures I took while attending the conference.  I was able to run out to the beach Thursday night before the kick-off reception to capture what turned out to be an amazing sunset.  There was a large cloud bank out over the water that seemed like it might block the setting sun.  I looked up the azimuth of the sunset and checked it with my compass.  It turned out the sun was going to set just on the edge of the cloud bank.  I set up my camera and tripod using some nearby rocks as a foreground subject and hoped that the sun would light up the clouds once it sand below the horizon.  I got lucky and the sunset was beautiful to witness.

I used a slow shutter speed to cause the water to blur and give the image a more dramatic feel.  I used an aperture of f18 or higher to slow the shutter speed but also to give me a nice sun star as the sun sank low on the horizon.  Lastly, I used HDR to capture the full dynamic range and allow for me to see the foreground rocks as something other than black silhouettes.  I was happy with the resulting photos and will likely add one of them to my gallery of images on my website.

I also took a few shots late Friday afternoon after the conference dinner to utilize the almost full moon and empty beach.  I liked the result but would have preferred a cloudless sky or puffy clouds to the thin wispy clouds that were present.  I tried to turn the camera at an angle that would capture as little clouds as possible and more stars.  The resulting image was fun to capture and I will make a note to try and do some more full moon light photography in the future.

Click on Thumbnail for full size image.


Long Pine Key Campground Sunset

I ran out to Everglades National Park yesterday after work to try and capture a sunset.  Yesterday was very hazy due to the Saharan Dust in the air and I was hoping this would translate into a vibrant sunset.  I decided to try a spot I know near Long Pine Key and capture the sun setting behind the pine trees.

Due to all the rain we have been getting this year, the water levels are up and most of the normal low areas have at least a few inches of water flowing over the land.  This was the case at my sunset spot as the walking trail was covered in up to six (6) inches of water.  I used the flooded trail as a leading line in my photo taking the viewer to the setting sun.  I tried to balance the scene with a yearling pine tree that was growing next to the trail.  I was pretty happy with the results, capturing one shot with a sunburst and another after the sun set with the glowing thunderhead in the distance.

After the sun had set I turned around and shot the rising moon over the pine trees using the same flooded trail as a leading line to the moon.

Fakahatchee Strand Ghost Orchid and Turner River Road Sunset

I took a trip back to the Fakahatchee Strand in an attempt to capture a ghost orchid shot I was happy with.  The first trip produced some good photos, the second not any.  I figured the third time would be the charm.  I did get a few ghost orchid shots that I was happy with this trip but do not know if they will make the website.

This particular orchid is up high resulting in having to point the camera upward to photograph it.  Unfortunately, this also results in getting blowouts from the bright sunlight coming through the dense canopy of trees.  The last time I shot it there were so many blowouts behind the orchid it distracted from the orchid and killed the shot.  This time I went later in the afternoon when the sun angle was lower.  There were still blowouts but not as many and in better controllable areas of the shot.

When I first got there the sun was still higher in the sky and was directly in my shot.  I decided to try and create a sunburst in my image with the ghost orchid in the foreground.  I accomplished my goal but not sure I like the final product.  The sunburst is unique but also distracting.

After shooting the orchid I went over to Turner River Road to shoot a sunset with the same lilies I had used as a foreground subject for the lighting storm I shot there last week.  I captured two sunset shots that I was really happy with and will likely make the limited edition everglades gallery on my website.  Both sunset lily photos are HDR’s to account for the dramatic differences in exposures needed to capture both the foreground lily and the bright sun.