I love to experiment with my photography. And if you follow my blog you know one of my favorite spots to spend my down time is in the beautiful Florida Everglades; so why not combine the two? I was there over Memorial Day weekend and invited my camera buddies down, however I know this place isn’t for the faint of heart, the elements (hot & humid) and the bugs (mosquitoes) are voracious. The ones who showed up are not fearful of the elements and wanted to learn something new, as this adventure is definitely not for those who are intimidated by the outdoors. We met up around 7pm and took off down a very long dusty road within the Big Cypress National Preserve. The temperature was quite warm and humid due to the rain earlier in the afternoon, however the sky was clear unlike earlier in the day when I had scouted out the area.
We arrived at our destination, and proceeded to set up “shop” with tripods, remote triggers and this wonderful object called a Thermacell! The Thermacell was our lifesaver when it came to being basically mosquito free for the entire night.
As the sun set and the stars began making their first appearances, those who had never seen this site were in awe of the majesty it provided. Then came the Lightning Bugs; in a few of my photos you can see them skittering across the grasses.
We knew the direction of the rising Milky Way Galaxy because someone in our party had an app which told us when and where; of course this is why we were there, to photograph the Milky Way in complete darkness. We almost accomplished that feat except it’s rising in the south, south west sky and Miami was throwing off quite a bit of ambient light.
While waiting for the galaxy to rise, we did a bit of light painting and my photographer son Tommy Owen wanted me to photograph him with a really bright flashlight and we came up with this Star Wars type image.
I’m not entirely sure what that yellow streak is toward the left of the photo, possibly a plane heading for Miami International Airport. The orange glow is the aforementioned Miami.
I learned a lot as did my photographer friends. None of us had ever attempted astrophotography and we found it quite a challenge. We found in the dark we really needed a red gel flashlight to see our settings and we need to find a way to turn off our backlit screen. We also found that too long of an exposure (over 30 seconds) would create the beginning of star trails, and make our stars appear more blurry. We all did concur in the end that it didn’t feel as if we were out there for four hours and we all want to return in the fall/winter when the humidity will not require us to wipe down our lenses every few minutes and the sky will be crystal clear. It was a fun evening and we were able to come up with some usable images, but will still need a bit more practice.
My take away on all this is to keep growing and practicing and learning new techniques. It will keep your mind active and improve your creativity and it’s FUN.
Again this year I went camping down in the Big Cypress. I have needed a really good stint away from all that’s electronic, my phone, computer etc. and totally disconnect for a few days. I have been really busy the last few months and just felt my body calling me to get away and to refresh and relax, and that I did. My youngest son lives/works in the Big Cypress and I went to Trail Lakes Campground/Everglades Adventure Tours to spend Thanksgiving with him and friends. I brought a dish to share at his request; candied yams & marshmallows. I was able to go to sleep early and wake up just as early pretty well rested and ready to simply do nothing or to take my camera and capture whatever caught my fancy.
I left late Wednesday afternoon and got there with plenty of time to set up camp which takes less than a half hour; simple is best for me. I went to sleep fairly early and woke up Thursday morning ready to head to Turner River Road to check out their boardwalk. Took a few photos, but later that evening was what I was waiting on. You see Thanksgiving evening was a full moon and I was excited to capture it in a really dark place.
For the rest of the afternoon I hung out at the store and talked with the people as they came in to check out this little piece of nostalgia. I also took some photos of my son’s butterfly garden which was quite active.
We had dinner around 4pm and there was so much food, most made by campground residents and probably the best turkey I have ever eaten. It was so good, and lots of tasty sides to accompany the main bird, all the traditional things, plus some really good repeats from last year. I was definitely in a food coma and really wanted to sleep, but I waited for the moon to rise…..and rise it did simply stunning.
The next day I wanted to go to where my oldest son works as an alligator wrestler/handler and check out he and his best friend’s show. I got some great video and photos of the two of them working.
My son Jimmy on the left and his best friend Dylan
Saturday I went to the Fakahatchee boardwalk and took a few photos there, it was late in the day so not much was out and about except this mama and one of her little ones.
Later in the evening my youngest son (the adventure guide) took me out on one of his tours and I was able to take some breathtakingly beautiful photographs. I also took photos of his clients and I will be sending those photos to them. I also met a nice woman and her son who was out at the same time. Really nice people. When we returned Tommy’s girlfriend had dinner ready for us when we got back to the campground and it was so good! Nothing beats dinner prepared on an outdoor fire. Later Tommy was trying his hand at candle making, and was quite successful, looking forward to some future creations from him.
Tommy our guide and my son
Sunset on the River
Sunday came too soon… it’s always sad to leave when I know I will be back at the grind for another month and a half without much of a break. I will be heading back down in January. I love going down there, I learn a lot of history from Jack who was born there and he is a wealth of local knowledge of the area. I come away always with something new learned.
On my way home I drove part of Jane’s Scenic Drive and captured a few good photos of the drive and prairie.
Jane’s Scenic Drive
Fakahatchee with MoWen Dome
What a fabulous few days, I am so blessed and thankful for the time off and that I got to spend time with my two favorite people; my handsome sons who I love and am so proud of the young men they have become.
For all of you who follow me and live in the United Stated, I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and for all of you who are from outside the US here is to a blessed and beautiful holiday season.
I really had not planned on writing tonight, but I’m home instead of being out celebrating and I didn’t know I would be as emotional about this whole New Year thing, but here I am at the computer typing my thoughts for the world to read. So here goes….
This time last year on December 31, 2013 I was also alone, but I went out and enjoyed an evening at a local establishment (which sadly is no longer open), listened to a band who was losing their lead singer to cancer, it was to be his final performance, he passed a month later. When I first arrived at my table, I was a bit upset, they didn’t seat me with anyone……I was in a huge outdoor seating area, sitting alone at a table for four and I felt really awkward and thought maybe I shouldn’t be there. You see I had just ended a four-year relationship and was determined that my life was going to be better alone than what I was enduring the last couple of years in that relationship. As I sat at my table being served a wonderful surf & turf dinner by the best waitress ever, I kept thinking “2014 will be my year”. It was quite chilly and I wasn’t really dressed for the coolness, but I endured to midnight, had a glass of champagne and toasted what was to come. A young girl came over to me and gave me a huge hug and invited me to her table, I declined, You see I was holding back tears, because I wanted her to know I was fine and really wasn’t staying much longer. I finished my glass, and took the rest of the bottle to their larger table and wished them all a Happy New Year and left. Driving home I was almost smiling at the thought that I got through the evening and I was going to be just fine.
Life simply got better, I was surrounded by friends who rallied around me and kept me encouraged in the midst of those sad few trying to discredit me and my work. I threw myself into my photography and began to pick up more and more work. I realized I was much more successful on my own and was regaining my self-confidence and finding my lost identity once again. I have talent and my photography is good and even though the gossip mongers were trying to tear me down I was surpassing my own expectations! I also picked up a new partner in my photography; my son Tommy who is incredible and he knows how to use his camera, he’s so amazingly talented and creative. We are my father’s prodigies, he would be proud of us.
Tommy allowed me to photograph him and in return I succumbed to the front of his lens as well, not an easy task for a photographer. It felt awkward and unnatural, but after a few minutes I began to enjoy the experience and really loved the images he produced of me.
As the year progressed I was able to add an incredible amount of images to my portfolio and actually had the privilege of photographing my all time favorite former Beatle Ringo Starr (bucket list).
I have had a set back or two, but I never allowed them to get the best of me, because I know I’m right where I need to be. God is in control of my life and what I am doing. My faith is unwavering. The end of the year has been trying with finding out a close friend was diagnosed with cancer, thankfully she is a fighter and it didn’t win, she did! I’ve added friends to my very small circle and I love each one of them. I also just sent a text my to my son and his response brought on the emotions. I have two incredible boys and my youngest is a lot like me in more ways than with a camera.
So here I am ending my year in a puddle of tears, yet I know 2015 is going to be even better than 2014. I will find love again this year because I’m ready and I know God is preparing someone for me, and I will be one step closer to realizing my dream of being a full-time working photographer. I am beginning the new year documenting the journey back to health of a woman in the fight for her life and hope to highlight her here in the very near future. So to all of my followers, stay tuned, it’s only going to get better. God Bless each of you, treat each moment as if it could be your last….Love, laugh, dance and sing…… 2015 is going to ROCK! Happy New Year!
I get out into the wild as often as I possibly can. I lived in the Swamps of Fakahatchee Strand for 13 years and even though I no longer live there I still love being there and enjoying the outdoors. As a photographer it helps me keep focused and to enhance my creativity.
Today I visited another swamp area called the Babcock Ranch Preserve and took their swamp buggy tour, well worth the trip. This area is a working ranch and contains cattle from the days of the conquistador.
Wildlife abounds in this rich environmental area and they don’t seem to have the surge of exotics that have invaded other areas of South West Florida.
I have passed the genetics of photography to my youngest son, who lives in the heart of the Everglades. They are constantly battling exotics such as the snake he encountered in April of 2013; check out the article from Huffington Post below.
In the past I have written about my father who was a wonderful film photographer and how I am so blessed to have inherited some of his genetic composition as a photographer, but not sure if I have mentioned that I also have a son who is carrying on the torch as a photographer. Three generations of incredible creativity and love of the natural world.
My father back in the early 1960’s won first place in a photo contest and the prize was $100 for that award; a lot of money for 1964. I have still have the framed photo, even though at this point in time the colors have faded and it’s in need of some work. I also have the newspaper write-up regarding my dad and his fantastic prize.
I myself am extremely fortunate that I have been able to photograh some of the rock stars of my youth. I love concert photography, and the challenge of capturing the perfect image. I know it’s simply a matter of time before I too have something published. I have a huge adventure coming up in early 2015 and I’m really excited for the opportunities I am getting.
Now to brag on my youngest son. He is 27 and his first camera was a Nickelodian 1.2 digital camera. He would sit for hours and create flip book images, or he would take our family video camera and create wonderful stories with his friends and his older brother Jimmy. He has also spent some time in front of a video camera from our family vacations (him falling in the Yellowstone River) to being on the PBS children’s program ZOOM! His segment can still be found on the PBS Teacher’s site on the Everglades. He also has a couple of viral videos on YouTube. Over the years like his grandfather and mother he has upgraded his camera as his skills have increased and the only difference between the three of us is my dad was a Nikon shooter and Tom & I are Canon users. Tommy just announced that he will be showing his work at the local museum where he is currently living in SW Florida in Everglades City area. He also stated he will have an entire month dedicated to his work in 2015. Tommy is incredibly creative and adventurous with his photography. He is the one who took the portrait photos of me, I was honored to have been photographed by someone I love.
As a mom I’m extremely proud of my boy, but even more so, I know my dad, Tommy’s grandfather would be beaming that his grandson was getting the recognition he so deserves. Please take a moment and click on the tab above that says PhloridaPhoto.us and click on the image to visit Tommy’s website, he also has a Facebook page with the same name, please take a moment to check it out and leave him a “LIKE” and tell him his mom told you to do it!
Tommy is also a legend in SW Florida for his amazing skills on the water as an adventure guide, you must see the video on his website.
Thank you for allowing this proud mom to brag a bit on her son. Maybe someday soon I can get him to be a guest blogger for me.
I have wanted to go camping for several months now and finally had a weekend free where I could even think about doing it. I love to camp and if I can take my camera and explore even better. I decided on camping at Trail Lakes Camp Ground in Ochopee, Florida which is a multi-generation family owned business. I have known the family for several years and my son went to school with the current owner. This place is unique as it’s been around for well over 50 years and owned by the same family. Big Cypress has tried to have them removed but they have endured. This particular trip had a goal in mind, my youngest son wanted me to take portrait style photos for him, so I knew I would be using the camera a lot and for this reason I was even more excited about going.
I decided to arrive on Friday evening after work because I wanted a full day on Saturday and didn’t want it interrupted with drive time, even though it only takes an hour to get there I knew I would have plenty of time Friday evening to set up my campsite and eat a bite before dark.
This was a great decision because I was awarded with an amazing night sky. I met up with Tommy after he got off work and we shared a meal at my camp. My son lives on the campground and is a guide for Everglades Adventure Tours which is housed out of Trail Lakes Campground and is run by Jack Shealy who also is now running the campground area. Tommy is a bit of a local legend himself because last April he had an encounter with a ten foot Burmese Python, one of the exotics currently trying to take over the Everglades. Growing up in this area and the son of a biologist, Tommy’s instincts kicked in and he got in the water and grabbed the snake. You can see the video on his website www.phloridaphoto.us
The weather was near perfect for sleeping cool but not cold and the stars! I was also serenaded to sleep by a chorus of frogs, so delightful to hear. I woke up fairly early and planned out my day. Made a quick breakfast and headed out to Turner River Road and HP Williams Park. I saw the usual, alligators, wading birds and tourists. I ventured on down the extremely dusty road toward Wagon Wheel road in hope of encountering a Purple Gallinule and to get a wide vista shot of the Big Cypress Preserve; goal two was achieved, didn’t get the Purple Gallinule as the growth was incredibly heavy. I headed back to my campsite to get a bit of lunch and to see what time Tom would be off work, I then proceeded to take a brief nap in my very warm tent. I awoke and muddled about cleaning my camera until Tommy’s quitting time. A short time later we met up packed our gear and headed off into the Saw Grass prairie in back of the property. Tommy brought several changes of clothes as he wanted to get some different shots in different areas. His first choice was business wear, dress shirt & pants, totally out of place in a swamp, but then again if you knew my son, you’d understand. The contrast of being dressed up and being out in this wild area was actually quite striking and it accented his natural good looks. As we were shooting we had a visitor, whom he thought was secured in the house; his dog Sunny, she had broken free and knew where to find her master, it turned out really well as I was able to get some shots of the two of them. This was a pleasant surprise.
After several scenery and clothing changes we packed our stuff back up headed to his place to see what I captured, (this is the most exciting part for me). I was blown away at the incredible images that came forth on his computer.
I headed off to my camp cut up by the Saw Grass (lives up to its name) and excited for Sunday as we were going to head to the Fakahatchee Strand. After trekking around for a couple of hours I was tired and sleep came quickly.
Sunday morning arrived and I packed up most of my gear back into my car and headed to get Tom. We detoured into Everglades City and had a wonderful breakfast at the Island Café. Then off we headed to the Fakahatchee. My ex-husband, Tommy’s dad is still biologist there and it’s easy to understand why he loves this place, as there is nothing else like it in North America. We drove down Jane’s Scenic Drive heading to our destination with a few stops on the way to look for the illusive Everglades Mink which Tommy was fortunate enough to capture on video and on camera (first person to post it ever on You Tube). We checked the spot and didn’t see any signs of them. We did encounter plenty of Great Egrets, White Ibis, and Snowy Egrets in our path. We also stopped at an Alligator hole and were fortunate enough to see one being quite active. As you can see from the photograph, it was VERY active!
We finally reached our destination of West Main tram and saw a small gathering of people, watching something very intently with cameras in hand. We grabbed our gear and took a look at what they were watching. They were watching an entire family of Everglades Mink, this was my first time ever seeing them even after living there for 13+ years. I was so excited and hopeful that I would be able to capture one on camera. I did, even though it’s only the back of its head I was able to get a decent photo. Not only did I see one I have a photograph to prove it! Even the deer flies we later encountered were unable to dampen my day, it was incredible.
Heading down the hiking path we scouted out a few locations that Tommy was interested in using as his portrait backdrops, we came upon an old cabin and even though the hand scribbled sign said it was a private residence the place looked as if it had not been inhabited for quite some time so we stopped there to get a few photos again with him dressed like a business man. We also moved on and found some other interesting spots to shoot from including him climbing an orange tree.
A few clothing changes later we headed back out, but not before I turned around and for the second time in one day saw another Everglades Mink, we staked it out, but they are so quick and so quiet that neither of us were able to squeeze off a frame. Coming out of the swamp we were tired and hot and ready for ice cream. After making a short trip back to the campground we headed back off to Everglades City to a local shop called Sweet Mayberry’s for some wonderful gelato and a cookie. This little shop is owned by another local whom my boys grew up and spent a lot of time with. Tommy has a lot of his framed photographs in this shop as well as his postcards.
Finishing up our sweet treat we headed out and this is sadly where I had to tell my boy goodbye, as I had to head back home to begin another work week. You can bet I will be heading back down there again soon. It was a great weekend and one I won’t soon forget. So what have you seen from Behind the Lens?
I am really fortunate that I have lived in one of the prettiest places in North America, the Florida Everglades. I am also fortunate that my son Tommy is a guide in the ‘Glades and I get to visit. This past Friday I had that opportunity, but not only did I have the pleasure, but I was able to take someone with me (a new friend) who had this trip on her bucket list. Linda, is a friend of a friend and one of my future clients as well. Her son is getting married to our mutual friend’s daughter in July and my son Tommy and I are honored to be photographing the wedding as a team.
I picked Linda up from a location our friend and I agreed upon and our adventure began. As we drove along we were able to get acquainted and I really enjoyed her company. She is a school teacher from the north and for her being down here this time of year was a real treat, considering her home was blanketed in snow and still quite cold. She was enjoying our 80 degree sunny weather.
Linda wasn’t sure what to expect and of course didn’t know where exactly she was being taken, which I think added to her excitement. We arrived at Everglades Adventure Tours in Ochopee, Florida and while waiting for our tour guide Tommy (my son) we looked around the eclectic gift shop. Linda found a few things she wanted to purchase including an alligator head and a postcard of a photo my son took. She decided to wait until our return to make her gift purchases.
Tommy loaded us up and our driver took us to our destination; a place I had never been even with living down in that area. I had heard about it, but never took a trip. Generally our three hour tour would have been on the Turner River, however due to low water the river is closed for commercial use. I’m sort of glad it was. Donna Drive turned out to be a mecca of photographic opportunity. I am always proud to listen to my youngest son, do what he loves which is the interpretation of his home. This young man has quite a history of his own and being only 27 years old has had many wonderful adventures which include kayaking the Mississippi River (54 days) and again in a canoe for 500 miles. He also wrestled a python that was spotted in what he considers his home while on a tour; of which the video went viral. If you Google ‘Tommy Owen Python’ you should find a plethora of links to view that video. He makes his mother very proud.
As we were traveling, (the great thing about this trip is the clients don’t have to do any paddling) and this particular trip was an actual photo safari. As soon as I sat down in our boat I took out my camera, I didn’t want to miss any opportunity and Linda followed suit. It was a gorgeous warm day with a slight breeze and as we entered the river/canal we were greeted by a beautiful blue sky with wonderful white puffy clouds, picture perfect.
We were on the lookout for birds, the possible alligator and any other creature who calls the Florida Everglades home. After about an hour on the water, we came upon a flat marsh area; one of many habitats within this community. Looking at it, you would think it would be dry and easily accessible. Linda was thrilled to be able to add this to her day and we all got a good laugh as we realized, this area was not “dry”, but actually quite wet and if we didn’t step in the grass areas we were going to sink, sometimes up to our knees! Linda was the first to go down, as I turned around to get a photo of her, guess who also fell? Me! We both had a good laugh and Tommy who had Linda’s camera, caught it all.
I was able to get a couple of photos of Linda “sitting” in the mud after I made my way back to a standing position. We walked around a bit more and then decided to work our way back to the boat. What fun! The most amazing thing, this so called mud really isn’t mud, not in the dirt sense of the word, but a mixture of peat like plant material that has decayed and built up layers in the water. Getting out of it we realized we were not dirty.
Our wonderful guide headed back out and took us in another direction into different habitat. We went through a couple of Mangrove tunnels then back out onto the Sawgrass areas where we finally saw an alligator.
Heading back in Linda said the trip far exceeded her expectations and she too had a camera full of photos. One of her goals on the trip was to get some tips and tricks in using her camera. She was happily snapping away and using her manual settings on her camera by the end of the tour. Teaching other’s to use their camera is something I truly enjoy.
Our day was not quite finished. After making her purchases in the Swamp Ape Headquarters gift shop, Linda, Tommy & I then headed over to Joanie’s Blue Crab Café, you simply can’t miss this opportunity. The food is very good, but the atmosphere can’t be duplicated. This little roadside café has been featured in the Disney movie ‘Gone Fishin’ with Danny Glover & Joe Pesci. You could spend hours simply looking at all the things in this place. I love the notice posted upon the wall behind the cash register that says “if you want fast food, keep driving”, kind of sums it all up. Joanie wasn’t there and was sorry I missed her this trip. For anyone reading this, you must stop if you are in the Ochopee area.
After dropping Tommy off back at Trail Lakes Camp Ground we said our goodbyes to him and Linda and I headed back, but not before we made a stop at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk at the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve Park. We were able to see two young eaglets in the Bald Eagles nest which is viewable from the boardwalk, and had some gorgeous birds greet us at the end of the alligator pond. There was also a nice large alligator at the entrance to the boardwalk.
All in all it was an incredible day and I’m always reminded of the wonderful area we live in and the diversity of wildlife we can possibly encounter each and every day if we simply open our eyes and look. I am fortunate because I have a child who lives and works in this beautiful area and I can visit and go out as often as I can with him. If you are ever in the area of Ochopee, Florida please visit Trail Lakes Campground/Skunk Ape Headquarters/Everglades Adventure Tours and tell them Tommy’s mom sent you. Take a guided tour with Tommy and you will be glad you did. The uniqueness of this tour makes it well worth the money. It’s a private tour, which means only your party is with the guide, you don’t have to paddle, your guide will do it for you. Take your camera because you will be able to capture your trip without worry of getting wet, and make sure you tell your story on Trip Advisor. For more information please visit www.evergladesadventuretours.com and Tommy Owen’s website at http://www.phloridaphoto.us/
A few months ago I spent the day with my son. He is a guide in the Big Cypress, down in South Florida. My son is also a photographer and has had some wonderful adventures on his own; like kayaking the Mississippi River not one, but twice. His latest adventure was back in April while conducting a tour with a family. He spotted a huge Python, jumped in the water, grabbed it and became a You Tube sensation. Back to my story, I took a canoe tour with him down the Turner River and was able to take my camera with me without worry of tipping, since he’s an expert paddler. It was beautiful! The water was so clear and reflective and the plants were all green and in full color. We also were able to get up close and personal with a couple of alligators which allowed me to focus up close. Once out there you forget that civilization exists, it’s so quiet and relaxing. My son is really great with interpretation and I love listening to him explain the natural world. If you ever are able to get to South Florida in the tiny town of Ochopee, FL stop by Trail Lakes Campground and take a kayak or pole boat tour with Tommy Owen.