Photographing Florida Wildlife: Three Can’t-miss Locations to Hone Your Skills – Guest Article by Steve Russell

8H7A6341Okay, so you are a nature/wildlife sort of person and you took an RMSP workshop and/or thrived in Summer Intensive. You have a pretty good handle on the manual adjustments of your camera but are looking for a place other than a zoo to practice your skills and creativity when shooting wildlife. Boy, do I have some good recommendations for you. I just returned from a trip to Florida where I piggybacked a photography adventure onto a conference I attended in Orlando and the photo ops were only limited by changes in the weather and the time I had to spend at each shoot.

Perhaps the location with the greatest number of opportunities was of all places, Gatorland (http://www.gatorland.com/index.cfm). It just so happens that Gatorland has a sizable breeding marsh or bird and alligator rookery with a quarter-mile-long boardwalk that in the Spring brings you close to nesting Great White Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Wood Storks, Tri-colored Herons, White Ibis, Anhingas and, of course, alligators. The nesting birds have a symbiotic relationship with the gators – they build their nests just high enough that the gators can’t reach them except when the young accidentally fall out, and the gators keep other predators away.

8H7A6379Another great spot for photographing birds, especially Roseate Spoonbills, is the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park (http://www.alligatorfarm.com/) located a little over two hours north of Orlando on the east coast. It also has a boardwalk amongst the trees where hundreds of egrets, storks and spoonbills roost, nest, mate, and fly within reach of a telephoto lens. Both Gatorland and the Alligator Farm offer a special pass to photographers that allows us to come early and stay late on certain days, which allows us to avoid the crowds (other than a fair number of photographers) and take advantage of the best light.

A third place to shoot is th8H7A4524e Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Merritt_Island/) about an hour east of Orlando near Cape Canaveral and right on the coast. I only had a couple of hours to shoot here and only scratched the surface of the possibilities. It is a much larger, more natural habitat with miles and miles of roads and trails around marshes and lakes where all of the above birds (and more) find sustenance. But there’s more: manatee viewing (which I did not get to), dragonflies, predator birds, alligators, snakes, and beaches. More space and variety but less concentrated wildlife shooting opportunities than the others.

So if you have a little extra cash after you purchased that telephoto lens and tripod and have the inclination to get out and hone your skills shooting wildlife this Spring, Florida offers these fantastic locations and plenty of other places to do so.

Steve Russell