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Key West

Key West Harbor Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Key West Harbor
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I have a travel “bucket list,” (of sorts).  One of the places on that bucket list has been the Florida Keys, and particularly, Key West.  In January, we traveled to Key West for a long weekend.   As can happen, it turned out to be a bit of an adventure.

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

From Fort Myers Beach, you can take a Ferry (The Key West Express) which will land you in Key West in about 4 hours.  I have always thought of Key West as being south of Miami.  It is more accurate to say it is southwest of Miami, and it is really further west than south (sounds like the beginning of a Jimmy Buffet song).  And it is actually straight south from Ft. Myers Beach, so the ferry ride is a pretty straight shot right down the gulf.  From Ft. Myer’s the drive is substantially longer and were were interested in getting there and back as quickly as possible.  Personally, I don’t mind driving — especially when it is to new places. But my traveling companions; well, not so much.  “Be careful what you wish for,” it turns out, applied here.  More on that later.

Fort Myers Beach Fort Myers FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The Ferry pulled away from the dock early in the morning, and we were aboard to see the sun rise over Ft. Myers Beach.  As we left the harbor, we were able to see some of the popular “beach” hangouts from the deck of the ship in early morning light.

Fort Myers Beach Fort Myers, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

As promised, just under 4 hours later, we landed at the Key West Harbor terminal, where the main boating activity, including cruise ships, fishing boats, ferries and pleasure craft, occurs.    A short jaunt from the ferry terminal, Key West’s main tourist attraction, Duval Street, begins just southeast of Mallory Square, on the harbor.  While the island itself is oriented primarily west to east, most of the streets run diagonal from either the Northwest to Southeast, or North East to Southwest.

Sloppy Joe's Bar Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sloppy Joe’s Bar
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

As soon as you set foot onto Duval Street, you are confronted with bars and restaurants and shops.  While there are a number of “tourist” and “family” activities available, the main event (for adults anyway — in it definitely is an “adult” kind of place) seems to be the bar/restaurant scene.  We visited several bars while there, including the famous Sloppy Joe’s.  We were interested to see the substantial influence from the military — particularly the Navy.  Since my father-in-law was a career Naval Officer, we enjoyed seeing some of the paraphernalia left by military personnel over the years.

Sloppy Joe's Bar Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sloppy Joe’s Bar
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

It was also fun to visit a restaurant and learn a bit about Key West history.  Blue Heaven was such a place with a singular history of  cockfighting (100 years ago), gambling, and Friday night boxing matches purported refereed by Hemingway himself.

Blue Heaven Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Blue Heaven
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Notwithstanding its “quirky nature, one of the draws it its very unique, partially covered, outdoor area.  In Key West, it is a restaurant/bar of some repute, with live music and good food.

Blue Heaven Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Blue Heaven
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Our B&B was at the southeastern end of Duval Street, near the furthest south beach in the U.S.  Not surprisingly, there is also a resort next door, aptly named, “The Southernmost Beach Resort.”  After our arrival in Key West, we first took our luggage to the B&B and found a restaurant (equally aptly named), in the resort:  The Southernmost Beach Cafe.

Southernmost Beach Resort Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Southernmost Beach Resort
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Southernmost Beach Resort Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Southernmost Beach Resort
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

A stroll down the approximately 1 mile long Duval Street from the B&B back to Mallory Square, gave us a bit of the “lay of the land” and a precursor of the chaotic night life that Duval Street is known for.  Among other famous figures, Key West was a favorite haunt of Hemingway and of President Truman (both of whom had substantial homes on this island).  But for me the personal favorite “famous” person is Jimmy Buffet.  :-).   So I couldn’t walk by the original Margaritaville without stopping (and I couldn’t walk out with out buying a T-shirt) :-).

The Original "Margaritaville" Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The Original “Margaritaville”
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I recently noted here that the Florida Gulf is known for its sunsets.  Key West is certainly no exception.  We sat at an outdoor bar listening to a local live band in Mallory Square at the end of our first day and watched the sun set as “our” Key West Express departed with its passengers for Fort Myers Beach.  We thought we would be on that same boat 2 days hence.

Sunset, Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunset, Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I neglected to say, the occasion of our visit to Key West was a birthday present from my wife.  For the actual birthday, she found, and booked a restaurant on the water, called Louie’s Backyard.  For anyone visiting Key West and looking for a nicer restaurant with wonderful food in a great venue, I highly recommend Louie’s Backyard.  As we sipped a Martini and watched the sunset, I captured this image with my wife’s smartphone, of an adjacent pier which must have been yet another bar or restaurant.  Not too shabby a birthday night.  Certainly one to remember.

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

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

Also, all good things must come to an end.  Sometimes abruptly.  I had carried a cigar around in my shirt pocket for two days, waiting for the right opportunity to enjoy it.  It turned out to be after we returned from the restaurant and up on the 2nd floor balcony of our B&B.  And as I sat there enjoying the night time activity and pleasant weather, and wondering what we would do the next day, my wife received a text from Key West Express.   Due to predicted, near-40mph wind gusts and thunderstorms over the gulf, they would not be there to pick us up at our appointed time at 5:00 p.m. the following day.  I am fond of saying that if things don’t work out as planned, it is always important to have a “plan B.”  When asked what “plan B” is, I usually say that the reason it is “plan B” is because I have no idea what it is. :-).  It is another way of saying sometimes you just need to roll with the punches.  We (actually my wife and brother in law, as I sat back and watched them in action) rented a car on line and the next morning we left the B&B at 8:00 and picked up a rental car at the Key West airport.  So, I did get my chance to drive through the keys!  It was a very long day, but an enjoyable weekend.

 

 

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.

Missing in Action (and Some R&R)

Clearwater Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Clearwater Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I haven’t posted for a couple weeks.  That happens at certain times of the year.  This is one of those times.  We have traditionally taken a Caribbean Cruise during this period of Winter.  This year, we took a break from cruising, but spent the time allotted for that enjoying our Florida home and surrounds, with some of our cruising friends.

When I think of Clearwater (which is essentially where we are), I think of the cleanest, whitest, sandiest beaches around.  We have spent time on different parts of the Atlantic Coast and while the beaches there are wonderful, Clearwater Beach looks like it was filled with the “play sand” you buy at Home Depot!  When I land in Florida, my first impulse it to take my shoes off and change to flip flops.  And when I hit the beach, my first impulse is to take them off, and bury my feet in the sand.

Clearwater Beach FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Clearwater Beach FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

When I hit the beach, my first impulse is to remove the flip flops and bury my feet in the sand

But you can’t spend all your time on the beach.  There has to be time for good food and drink.  I have lived in so-called “middle-America” for over 30 years.  While my city has treated me admirably and I have known a great many wonderful friends, raised a family, and had a very good career there, one of my disappointments has been that for whatever reason, these communities do not support a large variety of great independent eating establishments.  The chains are the rule.  So one of my “vices” over the years has been to seek out nice restaurants and unique food opportunities when I visit areas that have them.  Well, we seem to have hit the mother lode in the Tampa-St. Pete area.  We have found a number of very nice restaurants, and there is a substantial Greek and substantial Cuban population in the area, which means some incredible food.  I have not yet eaten in a chain restaurant in the 3 years we have been in the Clearwater area.  And I really don’t intend to.

Palm Pavillion Clearwater Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Palm Pavillion
Clearwater Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

One of our favorites–The Palm Pavillion–is literally “on the beach” in Clearwater Beach and you can sit outside and see the beach-goers.  The food is good too, and it has become a favorite lunch destination.

Our community is actually Palm Harbor (home of the Innisbrook Golf Resorts, among other things).  We are bracketed to the north with Tarpon Springs, a great Greek community with Greek Orthodox Church, Greek Festival, and the nationally famous Sponge Docks.  It is a quaint little tourist destination, but the food is great.  I nice place to walk around in the sun (which shines often in Florida).  To the South, is Dunedin, an equally quaint, tourist destination, but with a very “local” feel and presence.  There are many residents of the area that frequent the downtown, which features several very good restaurants featuring Italian, barbeque, authentic Mexican, and more.  Dunedin has also become a destination for craft beer afficionados, with at least 4 local brew pubs and a couple very nice independent bars which specialize in wines and craft beer.  It is a welcoming and great place to walk or bike.  The Pinellas County Rail Trail runs right through the middle of Dunedin and it is usually well-populated with walkers and riders.  In addition to these more well-known attractions, the little downtown areas of Palm Harbor and Ozona have some really fine local bar/restaurant establishments and one 5-star restaurant (Ozona Blue).

Dunedin Restaurant Dunedin FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Dunedin Restaurant
Dunedin FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

We are fortunate to have a home in Palm Harbor which allows us to comfortably sit on our lanai and enjoy the sunshine, spirits and the occasional cigar :-), and our friends helped us enjoy that setting.  My great friend, Paul helped me open and sample this “bucket list” bourbon.  Very smooth, but not a bunch of character, in my own opinion.  But the bottle is pretty cool.

Willett Pot Still Bourbon Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Willett Pot Still Bourbon
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Couple things.  I don’t think I carried the camera, or turned it on the whole 2 week period!  All of the images here were made with my Blackberry “Priv” Camera.  I have blogged here about “going small” with my gear.  I am pretty impressed with the capability of this “smartphone camera.”  But fear not.  I have no intentions of ditching the Sony Gear.  These were basically just snapshots.  But I was glad to see the resolution allowed me to fine-tune these images in my post-processing software.

The eBook is Coming!

Second, an announcement and a tease.  Those who know me well know that I wrote an e-Book on photographing Vermont Fall Foliage which is available on the major e-book sellers like iBooks, Amazon, B&N, etc.   They also know that I have been working (for over 4 years) on an e-Book on photographing the Michigan Upper Peninsula (for those “in the know,” “The UP”).  Both of these books grew out of my notes of shooting locations and eventually, PDF files that I made available.  Well, after many fits and starts, and the addition of a co-writer, that UP e-book is at the publisher and I expect it to be available on the same outlets very soon!  So stay tuned for the major announcement.

Clearwater Sunset Clearwater, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Clearwater Sunset
Clearwater, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Like all vacations, this one had to come to an end.  The Florida Gulf is famous for its sunsets.  What better parting image (again, made on my “smart” phone), than a Clearwater sunset?

best regards,

 

Some Different Florida Imagery

Ybor City; Tampa FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Ybor City; Tampa FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

The day after New Year’s day, I had an opportunity to explore one of Tampa’s urban legends – Historic Ybor City. In the late 1880’s, Vicente Ybor immigrated there and began making cigars. Ybor City was the site of a number of large and successful cigar factories for many years. The factories attracted and employed thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain and Italy. It is said that during the next 50 years or so, Ybor City’s factories produced millions of hand-rolled cigars each year. Then, it began to decline, and by the time of the Great Depression, it became one of those many areas of decay and neglect that are found in so many great American cities.

From 1880 – 1930, Ybor City’s factories produced millions of hand-rolled cigars each year

Arturo Fentes Cigar Factory Building; Ybor City; Tampa, FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Arturo Fentes Cigar Factory Building; Ybor City; Tampa, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

More recently, the area has begun to rebound and has been transformed into a night club and entertainment district. The neighborhood has ben designated as a National Historic Landmark District, and some of the structures – which date back to the cigar “heyday,” have been designated as National Register structures. There is a cable car which runs the length of 8th street, which borders the north part of the district. 7th Avenue is the main drag, and we were impressed with the sheer number of restaurants, cigar bars (many of them having their own dedicated hand-rolling areas), cigar shops, and entertainment venues (comedy clubs, night clubs, music, etc.). We were there during mid-day, but one can only imagine the scene at night when things ramp up. The heritage of Ybor City was its – unusual for its day – multi-cultural mix of ethnicity, and that shows in the mix of establishments, which include Italian and Spanish restaurants, mixed in with the “Cuban flavor” of the neighborhood.

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL Copyright 2015  Andy Richards

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

The Columbia Restaurant is an “anchor” landmark in Ybor City

An anchor landmark in Ybor City is the Columbia Restaurant. It is said to be the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States, and the longest – continually operating restaurant in Florida. The huge, ornate building takes up most of a block and seats 1700 people. I have eaten in the Clearwater Beach “branch” restaurant and can attest that the menu is incredible, and the food wonderful (but “big”).

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

I will look forward to an opportunity to re-visit this place when it is hopping.

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