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Florida Gulf Sunset

Crystal Beach Pier Crystal Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

My friends and some readers here know that I have two homes now; one here in Michigan and one in Florida.  The Florida home is in western Florida on what is known as “the Gulf side.”  We are in the Tampa Bay region and between the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay, and Clearwater Harbor, water is everywhere.

Water is often conducive to sunrise and sunset photography

Water is often conducive to sunrise and sunset photography.  And the Florida Gulf is renowned for its spectacular, colorful sunsets.  So it is interesting; almost surprising to me that though I live no more than 10 minutes from the gulf, I have made very few sunset images.

Part of the reason is that I haven’t made the opportunity.  My trips to Florida are usually short, and often centered around the holidays, and spending time with family and friends.  Unless one of them is as enthusiastic about photography for its own sake, it is more difficult to fit a dedicated photography outing in (even a short one).  I have noted here before, that the best light conditions for late day photography often fall at the same time people make plans for dinner, or other evening activities.

Crystal Beach Crystal Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Crystal Beach
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The other reason is more personal, and perhaps, esoteric.  Back in “the day” (in context, when we shot with film and mechanical cameras), getting a successful sunset (or sunrise) shot required some knowledge of the science of exposure, a decent camera, and a tripod.  It really took a more or less “dedicated” outing to do.  So there were fewer of them out there (in print and later, on the internet).  Consequently, almost any well exposed sunset shot with some color in the sky was new, different, and to many, interesting.

The other reason is more personal, and perhaps, esoteric

Technology has changed that.  Particularly in the last 10 years, digital cameras, and especially the cameras built into cellular phones, have become increasingly impressive at rendering all kinds of scenes in all kinds of light conditions.  Today, we get 100’s of posted sunsets each day on Facebook, Google, Instagram, and the like.  And they are often technically pretty well exposed, even in instances where the shooter really doesn’t know anything about the science of photography.  This doesn’t necessarily mean they are “good” images though. (although I will concede that at some level, “good” is very subjective).  Part of human nature (mine at least) means that this glut of “sunset” photos make them less interesting, and it takes something more to not only capture my interest, but make the image worth making.

Crystal Beach Pier Crystal Beach, FL Copyright 2017 Andy Richards

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright 2017 Andy Richards

During the “Christmas” holidays (roughly late December through early January), I was in Florida for a more extended period and I did make some time to do some scouting and then eventually, shooting.  I try to get in a 15-20 mile bike ride every other day or so, and the Pinellas County Rail Trail is very close to our home and basically skirts the gulf from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs.  I ride it most of the time, and have taken a few detours down to the water, in exploration of possible photo ops.  One of the really nice places I found was a very small community sandwiched between Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs, called Crystal Beach.  There is a nice little park, a small beach, and a community pier.  So Crystal Beach became a destination for some sunset shooting.crystal_beach_pier_4_2017

My own criteria for sunset shots is different from many of the shots I commonly see (mostly on Facebook).  To me, for interest, there needs to be something more than water, sky and sun (or light) in the shot most of the time.  I emphasize “most” of the time, because I think there are occasions when the sky alone (or the water reflection) may be the true subject and any other objects in the photo may detract from this.  But not most of the time.  This really isn’t different from general “photography 101.”  A good photograph needs a good subject, and good placement (or exclusion) of other elements in the photo to enhance the view of the subject.  A couple of basic things I like to remember as I set up and compose are to be sure the horizon is level (probably the number one “cell-phone” shot issue I observe), and that the horizon (most of the time 🙂 ), is not dead center in the image.  Aside from that, I look for something that will give the image perspective (and, to me “interest”).  Sometimes you just feel the urge to do a “gimmicky” shot, too.  While in Key West a couple weeks ago, we celebrated my 60th birthday at a nice restaurant with a deck overlooking the ocean, noted for sunsets.  I didn’t have my camera at the time so a cell phone shot would have to do, as I saw this image developing.  There was no other place I could get to to shoot the orange ball as it dropped, so I framed it in the pier next to us.

Louie's Backyard Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Louie’s Backyard
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

My one other dedicated sunset photo outing was in early 2016, to Honeymoon Island, again, close to home and a “favorite” spot for viewing the sunset over the gulf.  The silhouetted couple was a stroke of luck, but it definitely make the image unique and in my view, certainly more interesting than that spectacular colored sky alone.

Honeymoon State Park Dunedin, FL Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Honeymoon State Park
Dunedin, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

The opening shot of the Crystal Beach Pier is an example of my thought process.  The golden sunset has a “wow” factor all of its own.  The sunset shot of Newport, Rhode Island is similar in that I don’t know that I could have duplicated that beautiful orange color ever again.  But without the sailboat, it would just be a ho-hum (colorful, perhaps, but still ho-hum) image.  AT Crystal Beach there were 20-30 people who arrived shortly before sunset, just to observe this phenomena, which is a frequent occurrence (thought always somewhat unique).  To the observer, the sunset is the rai·son d’ê·tre.  So we come for that and we watch it and often, we capture it with camera or phone.  But our subconscious puts that sunset into perspective; something the photograph often does not.  Our peripheral vision sees the pier, the ground, the plants, and that the horizon is “out there” (and level).

Narragansett Bay Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Narragansett Bay
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

There are many spots I have scouted and many I haven’t even discovered yet.  So there will be more Florida sunset shooting in my future.

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Some Florida Imagery

 

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Some readers here may recall me mentioning that we have a second home in the Tampa Bay area. This is a relatively recent acquisition and, still being a working “stiff,” I have had (or perhaps made) little opportunity to explore and shoot there. Over the Christmas/New Year holiday, I spent some time down there, and had a couple opportunities to get out and do some shooting.

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

I am told that opportunities abound, but I am still getting the “lay of the land.” One nice area is only about 1.5 miles from our house. Honeymoon Island State Park is a narrow spit of land that lays out in Gulf of Mexico, just northwest of Clearwater, Florida. It is north of Clearwater Beach and has been largely preserved as a natural/recreational area (though it may be hard to say “natural” with a straight face, if you look at the amount of paved surface area created for parking). On a given sunny day, hundreds of beach-goers drive out over the causeway from Main Street in Dunedin, Florida, to this day-use park. There are also hiking trails and natural habitat for much of Florida’s wildlife – primarily of the avian variety – but not exclusively so.

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL Rokinon 8mm Fisheye Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL
Rokinon 8mm Fisheye
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

My two quick trips out to the Island did not yield an opportunity for exploring. That will come later. This time, I made a quick trip on one of the last evenings of 2014, and again on one of the first evenings of 2015, when it looked like a sunset might be developing. The Florida Gulf Coast is noted for its spectacular sunsets. I have yet to capture one I would deem “spectacular.” But I do think I can characterize some that I did capture as “nice.”

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

I see many sunrise and sunset images these days. While a nice orange ball against a horizon is nice, the huge expanse of (relatively) uninteresting water in front of most of them makes them seem mundane to me. I try to either capture some kind of foreground element, or if I cannot find something in the foreground, exclude most of the water in favor of an interesting sky. These Florida Gulf sunsets seem to yield consistently interesting skies, so that is often easy.  The exception to the “expanse of water” might be when there is some color or interest to the water.  In some cases, I think its o.k. to add color and interest.

This outing also gave me an opportunity to use the newly acquired (traded “down” from the a7R) Sony a7 and I am cautiously pleased with the result and handling of the camera and the Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4 lens. I also used my Rokinon 8mm fisheye manual lens (for the NEX E-mount, but even with the vignette, I liked the wide result).

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL "Photoshopped" Copyright  2015  Andy Richards

Honeymoon Island State Park; Dunedin, FL
“Photoshopped”
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards