Favourite Locations: Florida

In the “Favourite Locations" articles we will be asking photographers to tell us about a particular location that they simply love to photograph.

It might be a small, local site that only a few people know about, or a huge expanse that requires some expert knowledge to get the best out of. It doesn't matter whether it's within walking distance or a day's plane flight away; it's all about the location, location, location.

Here, Richard Peters tells us about one of his favourite places for wildlife photography: Florida.

Ibis flying at sunset

What?

Florida is the sunshine state of America. It's famous for it's theme parks but more importantly, and the reason I love it, is that it’s also home to an abundance of wildlife. This makes it a fantastic location to go if you want to photograph species ranging from Ospreys to Alligators to, if you're lucky, the Florida Bobcat!

Burrowing Owl

Where?

Sticking out of the bottom of the east coast of America, Florida is almost entirely surrounded by water, which means no matter where you stay you’ll never be too far from the gorgeous beaches where you’ll find lots of waders, pelicans, crabs and more. It also means there are plenty of fantastic sunrise and sunset opportunities with the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast, providing sunrise shots, and the white powder beaches of Sarasota and the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast providing stunning sunset opportunities. So, wherever you stay, you'll never be too far from the water, and a glorious sky during those all important golden hours. Head further down to the Florida Keys and at times you'll be almost entirely surrounded by water wherever you look. It's a true paradise!

My personal choice, is to stay in the southern half of Florida, on either coast, although the west coast tends to have the upper hand for wildlife hot spots. Also, the lower you go, the closer you get to the wildlife mecca that is the Everglades.

Alligator at the Everglades

When?

Like any destination you’d visit to photograph wildlife, spring is one of the best times to go with high volumes of activity from the all the local wildlife. Reserves and National Parks come alive with the sight and sounds of birds darting around either gathering nesting material or food for their young. But that said, I've been to Florida eight times and pretty much any time of year can be good, with the exception of mid-summer. With the temperature reaching 100 degrees+ at times it will come as no surprise to know the animals tend to be very inactive. Also, summer is hurricane season, and I've been there before for almost two weeks with no blue skies and lots of wind, so again, if you want the wildlife then winter (anytime from November onwards) and spring are your best bets.

A Cormorant

Why?

With it’s abundance of wildlife, it’s hard for me to not like Florida. Added to that the sub tropical climate and stunning beaches, I challenge any wildlife photographer to dislike the sunshine state. With so many National Parks and Reserves to choose from, it would take a long time to list them all, but a few to get you started include:

  • Viera Wetlands - particularly good for CaraCara and in the autumn, bald eagles.
  • Wakodahatchee - elevated broad walks allow you to view the nesting heron from almost eye level.
  • Green Cay - a mile or so from Wakodahatchee, but much larger. Everything from Red Winged Blackbirds to Osprey
A Halloween Pennant balancing on a leaf
  • Brian Piccolo Park - absolutely fantastic location for Burrowing Owls (also try Cape Coral for these great little birds)
  • Everglades - The ultimate wildlife hotspot, with all the major species making an appearance. But watch out for alligators in the road (it happens), and mosquito's in the summer!
  • Merritt Island & The Venice Rookery also offer plenty of wildlife opportunities, with MI being right next to NASA if you fancy a break from the wildlife for an afternoon.

I've barely even touched the surface there but the great thing is, not only is there wildlife at almost every turn (I was sitting at some traffic lights in Port St Lucie once and a bald eagle flew past!), but much of it is very approachable making it easier to get great shots. And it’s not called the sunshine state for nothing, with the ‘golden hour’ being perfect almost every day, and it just seems to go on forever. Words and pictures simply can’t do it justice, you need to see it for yourself. The light there is simply beautiful.

Green Cay, Florida

You'll also find the locals are always friendly because the almost constant sunlight not only keeps everyone in a good mood but it makes everything seem bright, vibrant and alive. Even walking around with a large telephoto lens, you never find yourself intimidated or in threat. The food is always good (quick tip, grab yourself a fresh 'made to order' sandwich from a Publix supermarket) and as long as you have a cool bag full of drinks in the car for those extra hot days, you'll never find yourself stuck for refreshments if you're out in the middle of nowhere.

There are no two ways about it, I have a huge soft spot for Florida. You simply can't beat driving around the big open roads, checking out the wildlife that's all around as you make your way to the various parks and reserves in search of even more. It's like being out in the countryside on the best day of the English summer, but better, and everyday!

Richard Peters is a professional photographer based in London, whose main interest is wildlife and nature photography. Richard has been on the judging panel for both the BBC Countryfile photographic competition and the I AM NIKON photography competition. He blogs at http://www.richardpeters.co.uk/blog/

Do you have a particular location you'd like to share with fellow photographers? Do you know a special spot that is so beautiful makes it almost impossible to take bad photos? Have you stumbled off the beaten path and found a landscape that others should know about?

If so, we'd love you to write a Favourite Location article for the WEX Blog! Simply write to us telling us what the location is, where it can be found, when people should visit and why it's one of your favourite places, plus include any of your own photos that show the location at its best.

We're hoping to publish one of these a month, so get thinking, shooting and writing and send your submissions to blog@wexphotographic.com.