To close out my small series of blog posts about my trip to Florida, I’ve saved what might be the best for last- those Florida skies. I don’t want to say that I took it as a given that there would be some great sunsets and sunrises during our stay but- I kinda did. We’d be staying on Sanibel Island’s Gulf side which faces west so it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, right? Err- sort of.
What I ended up learning during my week there was that sunrises and sunsets had different challenges. Sanibel Island (and Captiva Island which is connected by a small bridge) is shaped like a banana. Our lodging for the week was the Island Inn (which I cannot recommend highly enough) and it faces almost due south. This small point was driven home during our first afternoon when the setting sun went down directly over the beach on our right side. Sanibel Island is a popular tourist destination so I wanted to minimize my chances of people appearing in my compositions and this meant I would have to figure out some alternate locations for sunsets.
The biggest challenge with shooting sunsets from Sanibel Island is going to be that, for the majority of the beaches, the sun sets directly above the shore break. On a tourist heavy location like Sanibel, this means that you’re going to have people in your compositions. In order to have photos with the sun setting over the Gulf, you’ll need to head north to Sanibel Island where the beaches have more of a western aspect. On one particular afternoon, there weren’t any good clouds to the west but there was a huge thunderhead towards the south out over the Gulf. If you find yourself in similar conditions, consider heading to the south end of Sanibel Island to the Lighthouse Beach Park. I was able to photograph the thunderhead with side lighting from sunset and this worked out quite well. There’s potentially another option but I don’t have experience with it. I’ve seen some nice “sunset” photos taken within Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The problem is that the refuge closes a half hour before sunset so I don’t know feasible this is.
This is more problematic than sunsets. Unless you’re staying someplace on the bay side of the island, public access to the bay side is pretty limited. Ding Darling would be nice for sunrise but it doesn’t open until after actual sunrise. The sure shot is to photograph the western beaches and just enjoy the backlight that any offshore clouds would embrace. The previously mentioned Lighthouse Beach Park provided the best bay side waterfront access I could muster during my week there. There is some driftwood present that can provide foreground interest along with some living trees/shrubs. The view back across San Carlos Bay is pretty open with only a faint display of development (2 or 3 high rises). The biggest downside to this location were the people collecting seashells. Despite the early hour there was a steady stream of people and they didn’t really care about photographers set up & taking photographs.
All that being said, here’s my quick rundown on the various locations I utilized:
- Lighthouse Beach Park-
- Pros: Good for sunrise; good for certain sunsets (storm clouds over Gulf); plenty of parking; not as crowded
- Cons: Sea shell hunters numerous and oblivious/uncaring about photographers
- Bowman’s Beach Park-
- Pros: Lots of Parking; 4 miles of beach so lots of opportunities; Easy to loose the majority of people with a short hike up the beach; located at start of island’s aspect change to due west
- Cons: Still faces a little too much towards the southwest; tire tracks in beach sand (from sea turtle monitoring 4WD vehicles)
- Turner Beach-
- Pros: Westernmost- facing aspect for Sanibel Island proper; short hike north to lose the sunset crowds
- Cons: Limited parking on either side of bridge; lots of people immediately on either side of Blind Pass
- Captiva Beach (Captiva Island)
- Pros: Westernmost facing aspect that you can get on Sanibel/Captiva Island
- Cons: Lots of people near parking lot so short hike south needed to find a thinner spot along the beach; potential for people walking through your frame; parking limited
If all of that isn’t enough to keep you busy, there is also the opportunity for some storm photography! The high humidity of Florida generates afternoon thunderstorms and something called heat lightning. Several evenings, after 10pm, I noticed regular flashes of lightning out over the Gulf. I spent about an hour each of these evenings photographing the stars, lighting, and the Gulf. I was skeptical that I would be able to see the Milky Way given all the development up and down the Gulf Coast but I was successful! Except for the bites from sand fleas, I could have sat there for hours watching the lightning and listening to the waves lapping the shore.
As I learned, the trick was to get into rhythm with the lightning. Once you’re in sync with the lightning’s timing, you’ll start getting a lot of photos with lighting. Once you’re set up, wait for the first lightning strike. After it flashes, wait another 2-3 seconds and then click the shutter for a long exposure. This should get you in sync with the lightning. You always won’t be so lucky, though. During my sunset shoot at Lighthouse Beach Park, the thunderhead over the Gulf also had lightning striking the water for over a half hour. Despite my best attempts, neither my SLR or my GoPro shooting a time lapse could successfully capture any of the strikes. That was very, very frustrating!
That pretty much wraps up my trip to Florida. I didn’t know what to expect and, although I certainly felt flustered and overwhelmed at times, the trip and opportunities far exceeded any expectations I had. Finally, I’ll leave you with this compilation of the various time lapses I shot during my various sunrise & sunset sessions. Enjoy!
In 2008, the Wild Sky Wilderness was established by Congress after several years of grassroots lobbying. The areas set aside as wilderness lie largely in the southeast corner of Snohomish County and extend some of the protections that exist thanks to the Henry M Jackson Wilderness. The Wild Sky is comprised of three individual units- Ragged Ridge, Eagle Rock, and West Cady. The Eagle Rock and Ragged Ridge units are both characterized by steep and rugged terrain and the West Cady unit is characterized by miles of alpine meadows. The Eagle Rock unit is surrounded by roads (Index-Galena Road to the west & North, Highway 2 to the south, and Beckler River Road to the east) but lacks any easy access to its interior. Sure, logging’s historical infrastructure of now decommissioned roads provide some small amount of access but this area is devoid of any hiking trails. The creation of a trail plan was required when the wilderness was created but it will be several more years before any of the trails identified get constructed.
I’ve been interested in exploring the Wild Sky for a little while and finally got started this past weekend. I started with photographing Bear Mountain, which is in the northeast corner of the Eagle Rock unit. Using some of the existing forest service roads as a start, my final destination was the ridge line of San Juan Hill. During my research with Google Earth, it appeared to me that there were some open patches located around one of the high points on the ridge. The first thing I encountered on my visit was a decommissioned road. This was aggravating since I checked the Forest Service’s Motor Vehicle Use Map before leaving that morning and it is still shown as drivable. Guess I’d be hiking just little more than I had anticipated.
Since they are no trails, the directions were basic: climb uphill until it levels out. The steepness was pretty unrelenting. Many of the trees on the slope were almost J shaped due to the downward pressure that the winter snowpack puts on the trunks. It was a sweat filled 50 minutes to climb the 600 feet to gain the high point for this portion of the ridge but it quickly became worth it. The ridge top did indeed have several clear outcrops that looked both west and to the north. Even better, there were several weather snags that could be used as foreground elements for my photos.
The weather was certainly dynamic. There was a 30% chance of rain and, minute by minute, the amount of blue sky patches would change. It was perfect for a time lapse so I tucked my GoPro behind the base of one of the snags and fired it off. It was quite rewarding to get this peek into the wild interior of the Eagle Rock unit. The clouds did prevent us from enjoying views of Glacier Peak and some of the other more prominent peaks in the distance. Although we didn’t see any, there was evidence that mountain goats had spent some time up on the top (a few tufts of white hairs in the lower branches of a tree).
After a healthy amount of time, I ended my time lapse and we packed up our stuff. We weren’t on the “true” summit of San Juan Hill but it wasn’t too far from us to the south. The ridge line is forested but travel wasn’t too bad thanks to the large amount of airy huckleberry shrubs. We even followed a faint trail or game trail for most of our traverse. We were close to the true summit but the point of diminishing returns had been reached. Neither of us felt particularly compelled to reach the highest point (it appears to be 100% forested anyways). The travel back down slope to the decommissioned road wasn’t as bad as our original ascent.
There was still some time left in the day and I decided that it was also high time that I visit the middle portion of the North Fork Skykomish River valley. It’s another place I’ve wanted to visit but haven’t been able to because the road (Index-Galena Road) had been closed to public access for several years due to flood damage. We made our way to the Troublesome Creek Campground. Across the road from the campground is a short nature loop trail along both sides of the creek. The water is clear and a brilliant shade of turquoise at times and the surrounding forest also has some interest as well. I thought there was a waterfall along Troublesome Creek but apparently it’s located along a different creek in the area. Oh well!
After coming home, I got a big scare- my memory card failed to read successfully. Oh god. Several weeks ago, I had a similar situation with my GoPro’s memory card. I turned to a card recovery program (RescuePro Deluxe) and it worked a miracle. Would lightning strike twice? Well- just about! I ended up losing a handful of images but I was able to recover the vast majority of them. After four years or so, I guess it was time to retire the memory card. There’s a lesson in there- retire your memory cards before you regret it!
I tried to shoot sunrise yesterday from Everett but things didn’t work out as well as I would have hoped. Skies were partly cloudy but those cloudy parts were east towards the mountains. Despite the presence of higher clouds, the sunlight never reflected off of them so that’s why I’m naming this “cloudrise” instead of sunrise! Making the best of it, I did notice some more interesting cloud formations towards the southeast of my location..