Category Archives: Trip planning

Florida Highlights – Gators and Vultures

alligator resting at picnic pullout spot, Florida
Alligator resting at the picnic pullout spot. Olympus OMD1 Mark II, 300mm, F/4, 1/400 sec, ISO 200, FotoPro X-Go Plus tripod.

This blog continues from last week about our Florida vacation and the highlights of our trip. After spending a week in the Fort Myers area, we headed east to find alligators. Our first stop was the Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, known for alligators, waterfowl and other swampy stuff. If this location sounds familiar, I mentioned this location in my “Buttonbush” blog too. The loop trail is a series of boardwalks through the swamp. A great location to see the swamp safely. Since we visited at the end of the dry season, water levels were low and we did not come across any gators. But we found an amazing number of fun things to photograph. For instance, a spider wrapping up its recent catch to a red shouldered hawk and even a common squirrel. I carried my tripod and two cameras (12-100mm and 300mm telephoto lenses) so I wouldn’t miss a thing.

The loop drive was a 24-mile gravel road through mostly cypress swamp areas. Frequently, the road crossed culverts and almost every culvert had alligators basking in the sun. We saw so many “gators” we decided we didn’t need to visit the Everglades; so we planned visiting the Florida Keys the next day.

Big Cypress National Preserve

After the swamp, we drove south to catch the Tamiami Road for our drive to Homestead, FL. We stopped at the Big Cypress National Preserve visitor center to discuss their scenic drives and pullouts. I often stop at visitor and tourist centers; the employees always have an opinion of the best places and sometimes they are not on the published maps. The Ranger recommended the Loop Road Scenic Drive and since it was on our way to Homestead, we took it. But, before we got to the loop road, we encountered a picnic pullout spot with a canal and many alligators. Watching these magnificent prehistoric looking creatures was mesmerizing. They glided easily through the water and stalked prey silently. We watched an alligator catch a turtle.

Homestead

Florida Keys
Curry Hammock State Park

We rented a room at an Airbnb in Homestead, FL from a lovely couple very attentive to our needs. It felt like home. With limited time in Homestead, we spent one day driving down to the Middle Keys just because we wanted to experience it. We ended up at Curry Hammock State Park and sat on the beach watching the kite surfers and played in the warm water. It was a long drive for just a few hours at the beach, but we were both glad we did it. After returning to Homestead, we ate dinner at Black Point Ocean Grill, a waterfront restaurant with live music and enjoyed our grouper and fish and chips. The next morning we took a detour to Everglades National Park before driving back to Fort Myers. After all, we were so close, how could we not stop?

Turkey Vultures

Turkey vultures in Florida
Turkey vultures picking at rubber in Anhinga Trail parking lot, Everglades National Park.

We entered the Everglades National Park through the main Homestead entrance and drove to the Anhinga Trail. This trail was recommended by my friend, Beth Ruggiero-York from her book, Everglades National Park: A Photographic Destination and it was easy to access. We tried to visit the Nike Missile Site too, but it was only open on weekends. As soon as we drove into the parking lot of the trail, we noticed a large number of turkey vultures and a few vehicles. Some vehicles had blue tarps on them, some vehicles had large numbers of vultures on them. We spoke to the park staff and they recommended putting a tarp (supplied by them) on our car. Apparently, the vultures love picking at the rubber on cars. We witnessed that love… some cars had as many as ten vultures picking at the rubber. We were happy to find our car untouched by the pesky vultures when we returned from our hike.

anhinga bird
Anhinga. Olympus OMD1 Mark II, 300mm, F/4, 1/6400 sec, ISO 800, FotoPro X-Go Plus tripod.

The Anhinga Trail is a short boardwalk trail through swampy areas with many alligators. At one point, I photographed a great egret next to the path and an alligator cruised past in the canal beside the egret. The egret was so close to me I had to use my short lens (12-100mm) to get the shot. Notice the photo below with the alligator slithering through the water. Otherwise, I used my 300mm lens to photograph anhingas, gators, and egrets.

Great egret and alligator in Florida
Do you see the alligator in the canal? Olympus OMD1 Mark II, 12-100mm, F/4.5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 320, FotoPro X-Go Plus tripod.

Heading Home

We felt accomplished. We fulfilled our mission to see alligators and to visit the Everglades, so we headed out to drive back to Fort Myers. We stopped one last time at our favorite alligator picnic spot and then drove to our airport hotel. We ate an early dinner at the hotel to prepare for a 6am flight heading west the next morning. Our Florida vacation was over and we returned to Flagstaff rested and relaxed (except for the normal airport nonsense). We are ready for summer in Flagstaff.

So many alligators! Olympus OMD1 Mark II, 300mm, F/5, 1/640 sec, ISO 400, FotoPro X-Go Plus tripod.

Benefits of Photographing Alone

Fall Colr
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/14, .5 sec.., Circular Polarizing Filter.

Benefits of Photographing Alone

Dried leaves

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 100, f/4, 1/100., 8 image focus stack in-camera.

Not long ago, I spent a morning in Sedona photographing fall colors. Whenever I travel alone, I do check in with my husband at the start and end of my trip. Checking in with him is more for my benefit; knowing someone is aware of my location makes me feel better. My husband is very optimistic that I will be safe regardless. Photographing alone does require discipline, after all, hitting snooze on the early alarm is tempting, after all, no one is meeting up with me. But I stayed disciplined and left before dark to drive to Westfork in Oak Creek Canyon.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/8, 1/8 sec.., Circular Polarizing Filter.

When I find a scene that interests me, I love working the scene for a while. Constantly challenging myself and looking for better angles or compositions. If there were people around me, they would hear me talk to myself saying things like, “what if I used that rock as foreground…” And then adjust my composition. Walking along the quiet path was relaxing and I didn’t feel a pressure in the world. I worked each composition for as long as I wanted with no time restrictions of leaving. I hiked up the side of the canyon along a small trail with awesome fall colors and scrambled down low when I found mushrooms. It was a fun and rewarding day. Sometimes, creativity is sparked just by shooting alone.

Hit the Road

After much anticipation, I left my wonderful home, spouse and kids for a two-and-a-half-month road trip to photograph water as part of my sabbatical project. It was exciting and a little scary to leave the relaxation of my home and family this morning for such a long trip. As I drove today I reflected on many conversations from the past week regarding my trip. I got questions like, “Why take such a long trip away from your family? Aren’t you afraid to go alone?” My answer is simply, “I need to do this.” Don’t get my wrong, I would love it if they could join me, but, they have work and school, so I am traveling solo.

Answering the question “Aren’t you afraid to go alone?” is a harder question to answer. Twenty years ago, I would not have considered taking a trip like this alone. When I was sixteen years old, my mom and I were kidnapped at gunpoint from a Phoenix mall. The ordeal could have been much worse; we were lucky. As a result, I spent many years fearful of being alone whether it was hiking or traveling and allowed that ordeal to limit my life experiences. Since then, I found a new awareness of my surroundings and only in the past few years taken solo trips scouting for new photo workshops. So, back to my answer, “I need to do this.” This trip, I will experience it all while overcoming those fears that limited previous travels. Now if I can just master backing up the trailer.

Photo Scouting

Scouting for a Photo Trip?

San Diego Harbor

Recently I spent several days in San Diego scouting for a future Women’s Retreat photo workshop. As many of you are making summer plans, I thought you might like to know how I scout and prepare for a trip.

First is research. Using websites like Facebook, Instagram, Google images and Pinterest is a great start. I often search general locations like, La Jolla to see imagery from the area. By clicking on a specific image and reading the metadata, I learn times of day (sunrise or sunset) and exact locations (Hospital Reef). Now I can search on even more specific locations. Local resources are even better than searching online. If you know someone or reach out to a Facebook group in the area it’s great to get the local perspective. When I was in San Diego, I contacted a few of my students from the area. They told me of a few areas I had not discovered. Throughout the day, I talk to many locals and ask them about their favorite spots to view a sunrise or sunset. If they have lived there a long time, their information is valuable.

One Note screen shot

One Note allows me to gather all my scouting information.

Once I gather the information, I need to put it all in one spot, so I use Microsoft Note. Microsoft Note is a great application on a computer and mobile device to compile this information. Tabs organize your notes so links, images, and text can be added to each location tab. It saves instantly and is always at my fingertips. A few other apps that are crucial to my scouting include the following.

Scouting Applications

Shelter Island Sunrise from scouting

Shelter Island Sunrise

Photo Pills is a mobile app with endless options. I use this app mostly for planning trips and viewing the direction of sun at different times of year. Sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset times are listed and with the augmented reality mode, you can raise the phone in the sky and see the path the sun or moon will take. Locations are saved for planning purposes for a later date. For example, in the middle of the day, I visited Shelter Island. I loved the view across the bay with boats in the foreground. I pulled up PhotoPills and identified the direction the sun would rise the next morning. When the next morning came, I was ready for the sunrise photo.

Scouting at Hospital Reef

Hospital Reef, La Jolla, CA

Tides mobile application is great for knowing high and low tides. This app is a necessity if traveling near the ocean. The application identifies the time of day when tide is highest and lowest and to what significance. For instance, a negative tide is best when viewing tide pools, so in this app you can pick the day and time for the best negative tide. The app includes temperatures, cloud cover and wind speeds and direction. I used this app to time a low tide at Hospital Reef in La Jolla.

So, next time you are heading on a trip for photography, spend a little time scouting. Your images will thank you!

Planning a Trip?

Amy Horn Planner

My 18-month planner with my image on both covers.

Being a smartphone user, I often find the “right” app to schedule, plan, list, or whatever the topic, as long as it keeps me organized. For the past month, I have been planning my year off sabbatical that starts in August, and again, I went to my phone to get organized. One app I appreciate is Microsoft’s “Notes” app. I can copy/paste websites, text, or whatever and it syncs with my computer and is easy to use. But a friend suggested another option: an analog planner. Analog meaning, old-fashioned, use a pen or pencil to write on the pages, type of planner. It took me a few days to concede and now I can’t believe I hesitated.

planner monthly view

Planner from Practical Paper Company, monthly view.

From Flagstaff’s Practical Paper Company, https://practicalpaperco.com/, I made my planner. The planners come in two sizes (thicknesses) based on the contents chosen for your spiral bound notebook. Several styles (daily, weekly) and options (notes, lists, expenses, etc.) make every planner custom and unique. What really made this experience special was the option to use my own photo on the front and back covers. My planner brings joy to me whenever I open it, not just because of the trips I will take with it, but because I designed it. The planner holds reservation numbers, detailed shooting locations and many other details for my camping trip along the Pacific Coast from California to Washington. There is something satisfying with putting down the phone and writing too. I use a written “to-do” list and feel so accomplished when I complete a task and cross an item off the list. Far more accomplished than deleting an item from a digital list. On a final note, I won’t need to worry if I have cell coverage to find my reservation numbers. It will be at my fingertips in my planner. So, if you are looking to plan a trip, consider a planner, it has made my trip planning quick and easy.