Dec 01 2012
If you’re already getting tired of scraping ice from your car’s windshield, why not take an early winter break to someplace warm—west-central Florida, say? Better yet, save your money and let Contributing Photographer Pat McKay take you on a virtual tour of some of the wilder corners of that fascinating state, which he last visited in late October. As luck would have it, Pat spent a lot of time in a kayak, and, as he notes, …
It's amazing how close you can get to wildlife when you approach them from the water in a stealthy little kayak. But the alligators do give one pause.
Still, you can’t say you haven’t been warned:
Toothy saurians notwithstanding, Florida certainly makes paddlers welcome, …
And it wasn’t long before Pat was hobnobbing with one of the local gentry:
But he never was one to outstay his welcome, so he paddled off to have a chat with a great blue heron, …
Who seems to have had a lot to say. This sandhill crane, on the other hand, was more of a strong, silent type, …
And not very sociable, to be honest:
Whereas this youngster, a little blue heron, was more outgoing, …
And this night heron didn’t seem the least bit sleepy:
A little further along, a roseate spoonbill pauses to exchange pleasantries with Pat, …
While a wood stork shows off his catch of the day:
This red-shouldered hawk, on the other hand, seems a little standoffish, …
Unlike this deer, who just appears surprised:
There’s a lot going on ashore, too, as brilliant butterflies compete for Pat’s attention. Take this Gulf fritillary, …
Or this rather pugnacious zebra longwing:
Of course, not everyone you meet is addicted to bling. A hoary edge skipper shows us that a subdued outfit in muted earthtones can be chic, too:
While knocking around ashore, Pat found himself in this peaceful setting, the Duchene Lawn at Historic Spanish Point, whose long views are framed by a portal that bears a passing resemblance to the torii greeting visitors to Shinto shrines:
Back on the water, Pat met another member of the local aquatocracy:
Here’s what Pat has to say about their encounter:
I was using zone focusing as I drifted up on a big gator snoozing on the bank. But as I approached, the alligator suddenly decided that it was time to take a swim. It quickly passed through my pre-focused depth-of-field while heading for the water as I snapped the shot, threw down the camera, and began to backpaddle madly in the opposite direction.
Good idea! It doesn’t do to linger overlong when calling on new acquaintances, though Pat was soon to have another chance meeting:
As you progress up the creek, the banks become steeper and the waterway increasingly narrow. When I had reached a point where the creek is no wider than, say, 15 to 20 feet, I suddenly felt something rubbing along the bottom of the kayak. It was not a submerged log. It appeared to have ridges of some sort. And it created a kind of pulsing sensation as it passed. No sooner had I experienced this when I struck something in the water with my paddle. The water was very dark with tannin, limiting visibility. Well the mystery was soon solved as a large alligator tail suddenly appeared directly next to the kayak, slapped the water, and left me soaked (and a little shaken).
Which just goes to show that you sometimes have to rely on the kindness of strangers when you’re getting to know a new place.
Maybe, like me, you’d like to learn just how Pat got these wonderful shots. If so, you’re in luck. Here’s a page from his notebook:
All images were shot with a Canon PowerShot SX40 HS. Many were taken in Shutter Priority mode, but I also used zone focusing for a number of pictures. My brother sent me some info on understanding DOF (depth of field), and I tried to put this to good use when drifting up on wildlife in the kayak. I guess it was a little like doing street photography in that I just had time to compose the pic and shoot before my subject was gone. Creamy bokeh is not very realistic with a slow lens, and I was more concerned about keeping the subject in focus than I was with eliminating detail in the background. I figured that the naturally dark background would help to isolate the subject anyway.
What can I say? Pat not only gave those of us in the frozen North a welcome holiday from shoveling and scraping, he also let us in on the secrets behind his breathtaking photos. Such generosity of spirit is indeed rare—and very welome.
Pat McKay is a Tamia Nelson’s Outside Contributing Photographer.
- “The Inquiring Eye,” a collection of photography articles from Tamia Nelson’s Outside—scroll the titles to find Pat McKay’s contributions.
- “Backcountry Photography: The Point‑and‑Shoot Option”
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