Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Everglades is beautiful, but...

  I recently finished a 4-day trip through a part of the Everglades known years ago as the Bill Ashley Jungles. All within the park, this complicated area is lightly speckled with chickees from Pearl Bay to Watson River. Daily distances traveled between them can be as little as three miles; a perfect set up to spend more time exploring. This is an area of the Everglades that was once known to only the heartiest of the gladesmen, the hunters and fishermen of days long past. Now with satellite images and GPS, the less heartier can manage to get into the jungles; but many still get lost.

In addition to exploring new routes, I wanted to photograph. Without expectation, I was on a quest to capture the landscape. To pull it off, I needed two important elements, clouds and a foreground subject. I've been in here many times, but these elements have mostly eluded me. You see, this area of the Everglades is quite challenging for several reasons. One reason, it is flat. No matter where you are, water and sky dominate, leaving little room for anything except for a thin line of mangroves to separate the two. Harry Truman once said of the Everglades, "Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land." He got that right.

This is by far not the first choice for a landscape photographer to pad her portfolio. Doubtful you will see many images of this low lying maze of mangroves and water on 500px among the glorious mountain ranges, dramatic rocky shorelines or picturesque waterfalls. If you really want to photograph this part of the Everglades, your best hope is for clouds in the sky. The Everglades produces dramatic skies which can go up against a mountain range image most days. But, they are unreliable and infrequent during winter months. 

Strong foreground subjects are few and far between in these parts. Best bet is to come here when water levels are relatively low so the grasses and sea floor patterns are revealed. Or maybe get yourself into a spot where a small mangrove tree stands alone. Without an interesting sky as background, you have very few strong elements to place in a landscape image. Sounds fruitless in every way, yet there I was.

And I have very little to show from this trip. It was a short trip comparatively and the wind was relentless. It was the wind that kept us on the chickees in the afternoon; no reason to go back out and explore the area to find an image when there are 20-25 knot winds blowing. At least on Lane Bay chickee I was able to photograph the wind-driven water. The wind created froth trails and with those afternoon cumulus clouds in the sky, I was attracted to the scene. The trails offered leading lines that worked well with the clouds. I attached a 50-lb water container to the tripod to secure it and attached filters to the lens under the midday sun. Using 2-sec exposures, I proceeded to capture the water as the wind drove it toward the chickee. That was about as exciting as it got behind the camera lens.

So why bother? It's the challenge of the off-the-grid Everglades that keeps me going. Take a look at the satellite image above. It's the Everglades, that's why.


  1. Thanks Joel! Hope you and your group had a nice trip. Thought about you all a lot with those SE winds!