In the midst of camping season, we have just completed our 9-day paddle that took us around Whitewater Bay and up into the head of the Shark River Slough (Rookery Branch area). The term "rookery branch" implies lots of birds. Historically, this is a great place for birds, fish and gators as it is where the swampy saltwater mangrove forest meets the freshwater grassy marshes of the Everglades. Shark River Slough runs the freshwater down into this area and it is here where gators normally make good homes, and by doing so, enhancing the creeks and waterways. This in turn creates an optimal place for fish and consequently birds. So you can imagine that I was excited to spend a couple days in that area.
We began our paddle from Hells Bay Trail, over to Joe River, up to Oyster Bay, crossing into Shark River all the way to Avocado Creek which leads into Rookery Branch. From there, we headed back down Shark River into the labyrinth that leads us back to Whitewater Bay, into North River and Roberts River, eventually into Lane Bay and back out to Hells Bay and the trail. This was an 8-night stay and mostly chickee camping. The chickee camping was interrupted midway with 2 nights on the Canepatch ground site (next to Rookery branch).
Since we are always on the water by 7 am, give or take, early morning photography is the best. I was able to capture the waterscapes with beautiful lighting and colors. Photographing from my canoe on such trips has some unique challenges. For instance, I am traveling with companions and more frequently than not, cannot stop long in one area for photographing. Thus, most of my photos are shot "on the fly". But, I make the best of it and take as many shots as I can with the expectation that one of them will be worth framing and many of them will help to tell the story of our trip. I do like to photograph my companions on the water. This is especially nice when the water is calm and the lighting is ideal. The reflection of the boat is sweet, as seen here:
Probably the most frustrating challenge for me on these long trips is that lack of wildlife photography. Mostly, the wildlife scenes are fleeting or too far away. I see lots of birds and mammals on these trips, but only on occasion do I get opportunities for close ups. When paddling, I typically have the small lens out since the watescape shots are more abundant. Frequently, a good wildlife shot comes into view, but I will not have my telephoto lens out to shoot it. One good example is on the morning we were paddling down Roberts River. The early morning light was spectacular as we came up to an osprey nest that was positioned perfectly for photographing. I didn't see any birds, so I photographed the scene with the small lens. Within a minute, one of the osprey parents came flying in with some branches and continued to fly in circles over the nest, obviously disturbed by my presence. The lighting on the bird's wings was magnificent and of course, I did not have my telephoto out. That sort of thing happens a lot on these trips. Here's one shot I did manage the day we arrived in lane Bay:
There is one particular challenge that is constant. The mangrove shorelines typically surrounding me do not always indicate a straight horizon line. I will often line up the shot with one of the following; the mangrove canopy, the shoreline or the boat bow. But rarely will all three be horizontally parallel to one another. I think I am getting a straight shot and then will see a crooked horizon in the photo. I find that most of the time you cannot use the traditional rule of lining up the trees or shoreline with a perfect horizontal ruler. Often, I have to rotate the photo enough that my eyes are no longer fooled by the illusion and can see the scene as straight, regardless of the ruler's orientation. Look at this photo below. I lined up the right shoreline in front of the boat with the ruler and now the photo looks crooked. That's what I am talking about. The second photo is yet another example. From my perspective, the mangroves were not perfectly in front of me, and so they line up at a slight angle. I could have changed the angle of the photo to make them horizontal, but that would have placed the moon and its reflection at an angle. So, I made sure the moon and reflection were vertically lined up as they should be.
Lighting is often a challenge on a paddling trip because you frequently do not have the luxury of going in a direction that gives you optimal frontlighting. Since we are on the water early, most of my shots are taken between 7-10 am and I will mostly have to stop and turn myself or my boat to get the right lighting. After 10 or 11 am, I usually put the camera away and wait until evening to shoot from the campsite.
Another issue concerns keeping the camera dry. I don't see this so much as a challenge since I have it pretty well down to a science and feel comfortable in the boat with my camera. The pelican case is locked at all times except when to take out or put back the camera. I clean the lenses every night when at camp.
Sunset and sunrise shots are abundant on these trips, both from the water and from the campsite. I particularly like the photo opps from the chickees because the view is often open and nicely situated for a sunrise or sunset photo. Below are two photos, the first taken from the water on Lane Bay and the second taken in the evening from the Roberts River chickee. For the chickee shot, I used the tripod.
Probably one of my favorite subjects for photographing on these trips are the clouds. Over a course of 9 days, anything can happen, weather-wise. We had two fronts pass over us and we had one day that was completely cloudless (a rare thing). Here's a shot of some storm clouds forming as we headed toward Whitewater Bay on our second day:
Lastly, we so looked forward to spending time in the Rookery Branch area. We purposely spent two nights at Canepatch, allowing us one day to explore. I imagined that I would wander off alone and find some areas with lots of wading birds during our day off. It didn't happen quite that way. First,the day was overcast. Second, the water levels are so high right now (lots of freshwater run off from the slough) that the fish, gators and birds are dispersed and mostly nowhere to be seen (somes vultures at the campsite and a few woodstorks flying overhead was about it). On this day, there was no fishing or photography. The photo below sums up my day on Rookery Branch. So it goes sometimes in the Everglades:
For this trip, here is a list of camera equipment that I brought with me:
Tripod and ball head
In the 1500 pelican case:
Sony a100 attached to 18-70mm lens
Sony a700 attached to 70-400mm lens
Extra camera batteries and extra AA batteries
Three lens clothes (once a cloth is exposed to any amount of salt water, such as from my fingers, I put it away)
Extra memory cards
Cleaning solution and lens brush/stick
In the 2100 pelican case:
External flash and better beamer
Voice recorder (to record specific places and events)
Overall, I was very pleased with the photos, they do tell a good story and show the areas where we paddled. For a day to day photo account as a slideshow, please go to this link: http://s257.photobucket.com/albums/hh202/cmierkayaker/Whitewater%20Bay%202009/?albumview=slideshow
Also, I have several photos in my pbase gallery: http://www.pbase.com/cmierkayaker/the_everglades