Saturday, May 28, 2016

Working the Flats

For the past year, I've paddled my canoe out to Chokoloskee Bay many times to photograph near sunrise or sunset as one or the other can be viewed widely from the oyster flats. I go out to the bay when the tide is low enough to reveal its numerous oyster beds that have formed serpentine-like shapes with the ebb and flow of the tides. I get out of the canoe and set up the tripod and camera on an oyster bed. Sometimes, I arrive with an outgoing tide and watch the oyster flats below my feet steadily increase in size as the water levels recede. Other times it is an incoming tide and the flats gradually disappear and become covered with a shallow layer of water that makes ripples of intricate patterns caused by the millions of oyster shells.

I walk on these muddy sharp shells with my tripod and camera  in hand. With every step, I think about vibrio vulnificus, known in these parts as the flesh-eating bacteria. I think about falling and how attempting to get up would be as painful as the first impact. I started wearing bicycle gloves to add some protection to the hands that would make first contact. After my first walkabout, I realized I needed better foot protection so I use crabber boots reinforced with a plastic insole made from a cutting board. I am on my second pair.

My canoe is vulnerable too. I use two stick-it pins to hold the boat in place so it cannot drift into the oyster shells while I am photographing. I have to be mindful of the tides. On an outgoing, I have to position the boat so it is not left high and dry as the water disappears. The sound of sharp shells scratching the gel coat of the boat's hull is a rude interruption when photographing. Once my boat is anchored, I get out and carry the tripod to the oyster flat and scope out the scene. I plant the three legs into the shell-ladened mud and then go back to the boat to get the camera and filters. The camera's cable release and filter holder are attached to the camera before I make the walk back to the tripod. Every step is executed thoughtfully.

I have known this bay intimately for years, but attempting to photograph it has been recent. What attracts me to the scene is the dynamic water flow around and over the oyster flats. For example, below is an image taken one late morning and with use of a circular polarizer filter. You can see the texture from the water disturbed by the oyster shells. I used the water movement from the shells to create a foreground and waited for some clouds to form in the sky to balance the image. Notice the darker areas on the water in the background; these are evidence of oyster bars that must be avoided when paddling through the bay.

The bay changes dramatically with the tides, making it an interesting subject. Quite often there are clouds and sky colors to work with, and there is always the water. The next two images were taken from the same location. In the first one, notice how the water texture reveals the curvature of the oyster flat. This was taken near sunrise, with the sun behind me. the second image was shot in the evening at dead low tide during sunset.

One evening, I found myself on a favorite oyster bed with a fast rising tide. I started photographing in an inch of water, but within an hour, I was wading in thigh deep water to get back to the canoe. The mangrove is the only proof that there is ground somewhere in that water.

I must be mad because I can't stop photographing Chokoloskee Bay. Summer is here, which means the sky can fill with storm clouds most any day. This is when I will attempt to go back out to the bay, carefully and slowly working the flats.


  1. I find your Blog the most interesting, especially the descriptions of the different tests and experiments with the equipment. I read it over and over, many times, and marvel at your consistency and determination. i am learning about my camera by reading your postings and tests. As soon as I can have more control and understanding of my 7DMk2 I hope to join one of your workshops. Your comments about your outlook on photography are clearly inspiring. Of course, they touch a nerve, but I could never express them like you do.

  2. Zcecil, thank you so much! So glad you are getting something from my little blogs!