Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Finding Chokoloskee Bay
I have an advantage during the summer months here on Chokoloskee Island. With fewer boats and people around, I own the bay and can indulge my desire to photograph it in a way that few have bothered to try. After all, the bay surrounds an inhabited island where large Florida-style houses, 40-ft trailer homes and marina docks clutter up the island's edge. Not only that, the bay is riddled with ugly oyster shells, all muddy and sharp. Nothing attractive about that. Or is there?
The beauty of the bay is that you can situate yourself south of the island and have a 300-degree view of the Ten Thousand Islands (all within the national park) while observing a sunrise or sunset. The sky dominates over the thin line of mangrove shorelines, so it is in summer when you really want to be here. I look for those mornings or evenings when the tide is low enough that I can paddle to a revealed oyster bar and set up the tripod. I bought boots to wear so I can walk over the sharp shells without mutilating my feet and ankles. My boat is at risk to, so I brace it between two stake-out poles. That way it cannot move in the shallow waters where sharp shells lay in waiting to scratch the gel coat.
Not only do you have the oyster bars to contend with, composing an image on Chokoloskee Bay comes with some creativity challenges. Forget interesting foreground, except for a moderate size mangrove sticking out of the muddy oyster shells. If you want any kind of focal point, you got to work with the oyster bars. What makes them interesting is that they form long curvy narrow paths that seem to lead the eye toward the sky. My mission was to capitalize on this and capture some summer storm clouds over Chokoloskee Bay during low tide.
The other challenge is the weather, a catch-22 of sorts. If you want beautiful clouds to photograph, you got to have storms. And if you are photographing from a canoe, you got to out-paddle those storms. The last morning I was on the bay, I got to an oyster bar to set up before sunrise as a southerly storm approached. The winds were already a steady 10-12 knots, which thwarted my idea of using a lone mangrove for foreground interest. With a long exposure, the leaves would be blurred to no end and I really did not want to deal with multiple exposures to try to overcome that with a fast shutter speed.
Because the water levels were too high to reveal the oyster bars, I had only the water and sky to work with. But the sky was amazing, and at one point, a moderate-sized rainbow appeared, although somewhat covered by low-lying dark clouds. By 7:30, the storm was nearing the bay, so I put away the gear and paddled back with a brisk 20+ knot wind pushing me along. Here's the scene as shown on the radar at about that time.
Because the clouds were the main interest, I used long enough exposures to smooth out the water and overexpose it somewhat. For some images, I set the white balance to a blue temperature. And, I experimented with black and white compositions during post-processing. All in all, I think I am beginning to reveal Chokoloskee Bay as I experience it. I love that bay.