Category Archives: Wildflowers

Lake Jesup Sunflower Bloom update: Oct 11, 2019

I made it out to the Marl Bed Flats at Lake Jesup today. The sunflowers looked to be at peak bloom, so if you are planning to get out there, this weekend may be your best bet!

Unlike the past couple years, the fields are not flooded and the blooms are prolific. Perhaps not as dense as some earlier years, but impressive all the same.

Nothing but Sunflowers and Sky…

The rain earlier this week did make the fields marshy and you can’t venture too far out into them without flooding your boots but there are photographs to be had if you stay close to the oak hammocks or follow the lines of palm trees that stretch out toward Lake Jesup. Either way, bring tall waterproof boots and maybe an extra pair of dry socks (I wish I had!)

Both the Red and Yellow trails are good this year with the best blooms in the fields between where those two trails exit the tree cover.

Not something you see everyday…

I didn’t get out there today until 9:30 so the light was a bit harsh but at least I was able to do some scouting. Hopefully I can get out there again at an earlier hour Monday.

In addition to the wildflowers, there are plenty of birds…a pair of bald eagles soared over the fields the entire time I was there.

If you’ve never been out there, check out my blog that has detailed maps, tips and other things I’ve learned over the years about this wonderful event.

Jeff

PS: I got a little write-up about the sunflowers on a website that features neat things to do in the Central Florida Area, check it out!

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Lake Jesup Wildflower Update: Oct. 6, 2019

The 2019 Lake Jesup Sunflower boom is underway! Unlike the past two years when flooding wiped out the fields, this year the field are (relatively) dry and the flowers are blooming.

A shot from 2015...
A shot from a few years back, my understanding is that the sunflowers this year are TALL! Bring your tripod

A few of my readers and fellow Central Florida Photographer, Ed Rosack, hiked out to the fields over the past couple days https://edrosack.com/2019/10/05/sunflower-scouting-report/ and reported that we are open for business.

I hope to get out at least a couple times over the next week and I’ll post updates.

If you have any free time in your schedule over the next couple weeks and you live in Central Florida, it is worth your while! Please see my guide for directions, maps and other info that you will find helpful. http://www.firefallphotography.com/sunflower-island-lake-jessup-wildflowers/

Jeff

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There won’t be a 2018 Lake Jesup Wildflower Season

The rainfall the past few months has resulted in quite a bit of flooding in Central Florida…but not as bad as we experienced in 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.  Last year, the flooding wiped out the annual bloom of sunflowers in the low-lying fields on the north shore of Lake Jesup, but I was hopeful that we wouldn’t get skunked two years in a row.

I drove out there today to check it out.  Unfortunately, the fields are totally flooded and almost no sunflowers were visible.  Normally, by this time of the year (first week of October) you would see vast fields of immature sunflowers and pockets of blooms.   The lack of even immature plants out there today pretty well wipes out my hopes for 2018. 

I’m afraid this year will be a bust and we are going to just have to wait until 2019 to see this spectacle again.

 

Jeff

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The Sunflowers are Blooming! Lake Jesup Update: Sept. 27, 2016

For those of you waiting for the annual Lake Jesup sunflower bloom, the time is here!

Lake Jesup Sunflower Field Bloom Update: Sept. 27, 2016

Florida the Beautiful

I made my first trip out to Jesup’s Marl Bed flats today and the flowers were there in abundance.  Not full peak…let’s call it about 30-40% of max bloom.  Lots of the flower buds haven’t opened yet and I would think that another 7-10 days or so will be the peak.

The good news this year is that the fields are pretty dry.  Water levels are the lowest I’ve seen in the past five years.  Although you can still get your feet wet, it’s much better than years past.

The bad news is that you are going to have to walk a bit further than in 2015 to reach the best fields.  Plus the fields are not as expansive as last year.  Perhaps that is largely because the bloom isn’t at its peak…time will tell.

Lake Jesup Sunflower Field Bloom Update: Sept. 27, 2016

Not quite as lush as some years but still impressive!

 

If you are planning to visit the fields and haven’t done so before, follow this link to my post that has full directions as well as tips about what you will want to bring with you.

If this isn’t your first time, be aware that the best fields are in different locations than in 2015.  The map below will help steer you in the right direction.  Usually, the sunflower fields start right where the oak hammock ends.  This year you have bear to the right (north) once you reach the fields or walk east well out into the flats (about ten minutes) before you hit the best areas.

Lake Jesup Sunflower Field Bloom Update: Sept. 27, 2016

2016 Map for Lake Jesup Sunflower Fields

The fields were deserted today…didn’t see another soul.  After all these years, I still find it amazing that I can be sitting in bumper to bumper traffic at 8:00 and thirty minutes later be standing in the middle of a silent field with sunflowers stretching to the horizon.

Although homo sapiens were not to be seen, I did run across an inquisitive raccoon as well as the usual cows.lake-jesup-wildflowers-95lake-jesup-wildflowers-122

Saw hundreds of birds of all types.  The eagles are out again this year but never got close enough for a good shot.

Mosquitos were much less active this year.  I saw a airboat spraying along the edge of Lake Jesup, maybe the county is actively trying to control the bugs this year because of the Zika scare…whatever the reason, I didn’t need nearly as much bug spray this year!

Hope you get a chance to get out to the fields this year.  I’d say the next two weekends are going to be as good as it gets!

Jefflake-jesup-wildflowers-62-2

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“La Florida”: Time-Lapse of Lake Jesup Sunflowers

I’ve enjoyed the blooming sunflower fields near Lake Jesup every fall for a number of years.  Although its always glorious, I found that it was getting challenging to photograph the spectacle in new and exciting ways.  So this year, I set a new goal:  Capture the fields in a way that hasn’t been done before and help the viewer see and feel the experience of standing in a field of yellow flowers that stretch to the horizon.

My solution was to make a time-lapse.  Here is the result:

My website can’t handle the size of the video in high-resolution, so I apologize that this version isn’t HD.  However, to see the video in High-Resolution, click on this link and it will take you a HD version I put on You Tube.

To make this video, I used two cameras and recorded over 12 hours of images on two different days.  I took about 10 shots per minute, so I ended up with over 7,000 photos.  The amazing thing is that those 7,000 pictures amount to less than 3 1/2 minutes of video!

Twelve hours might sound like a lot of time to spend sitting in wildflower fields…and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d have the patience…but it really wasn’t all that bad.  I just set up the cameras, put my camping stool down in a shady spot, lathered on the mosquito spray and pulled out my latest Jack Reacher novel.  Actually, not a bad way to enjoy a beautiful Florida afternoon.

I’m on the steep side of the learning curve when it comes to figuring out how to edit videos.  As a result, I won’t allow myself to figure out how many total hours I spent editing this 2 minute “film.”   It was certainly a learning experience but I think the result achieves my goal to help the viewer “see” the blooming fields in a new and more personal way.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it as well.
Jeff

 

 

“La Florida”:  Time-Lapse of Lake Jesup Sunflowers

“La Florida”:  Time-Lapse of Lake Jesup Sunflowers

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Lake Jesup Wildflower Update: October 10, 2015

Hi all,

The fields are still blooming in the Marl Bed Flats area by Lake Jesup but it is  still wet…very wet:  Unlike the drought out west, Florida’s rainfall as of October 1st has equaled what we normally receive for a full year.  Plus, some of the areas that are usually packed with flowers are overgrown by other plants.  I’ve heard from a number of you who have tried to see the fields this year but were disappointed.

The good news is that I’ve found a new, relatively dry field filled with flowers. Take a look below…what do you think?Jesup-124-Pano

I’m guessing that we have another week before the flowers start to fade, so this might be the last weekend for you to see the extravaganza this year with the flowers at their peak.  If you are interested, then I’ll help you get to this spot.

But first, let me be clear.  Don’t be like the couple I met at the trailhead yesterday who expected that they were going to drive up to an overlook, step out of the car and start snapping photos.  This isn’t Disney.  You are going to have to hike about 20 minutes out to the fields.  You are going to be bit by mosquitos (no matter how much DEET you have on) and your feet are going to get wet (unless you have waterproof boots).  If you are still game, then read on.

Note:  If the following directions look familiar to you, it is because they are identical to those I’ve published in past years UNTIL you get to step #6:

  • 1. First of all, once you are in the Orlando area, get on SR 417 (the Greeneway toll road) and exit (east) on E Lake Mary Blvd (the first exit north of Lake Jesup) and head east.  Then take a right (south) on South Sanford Ave.  Take a left (east) on Pine Way (this will be just before you drive under the 417 again). Take a right (south) on S.Mellonville Ave. This will dead-end into Oakway…turn left (east). Oakway is a narrow two lane road with no shoulders so be careful if a vehicle is coming the other way.

    IMG_0371

    The lot can handle only about 4 or 5 vehicles…

  • 2) Oakway dead-ends at a small parking area that is open during daylight hours (see photo above).  If the gate is closed you can park outside the gate on the shoulder of the road.
  •  3) The trail starts at the gate (see below) located in the back south-eastern corner of the lot located next to the parking area. As you walk to the gate, you will likely see your first sunflowers in the fenced field to your right.

    IMG_0370

    Gate at the trailhead.

  • 4) Follow the trail on the other side of the gate (actually an old overgrown dirt road).
  • 5)  You will see trail markers with both red and yellow diamonds. red yellow diamond
  • 6) Within five minutes, the trail will split.  In past years, I’ve always told you to continue straight (on the Red Trail)  but this year, you need to take the right fork at this split and follow the Yellow Trail 
  • 7) This trail is marked with yellow diamonds and will take you thru an oak hammock.  The trail will curve to the left (south).  Continue on the trail (actually an old dirt road) until you see the flats .
  • 8) At the edge of the flats, the trail/road will take a sharp right and become completely overgrown.  As you stand here looking out to the flats you will see a long, perfectly straight row of palm trees leading off south-east into the flats.
  • 9) Walk along that line of trees (no need to follow it to the end).  As you do so, you should see the field of sunflowers to your left (south-east).  This area is particularly nice in the afternoon with the sun to your back.

Here’s a map that shows the trails:

Lake Jesup WIldflower trail map

Follow the Yellow Trail this year. “X” marks the SPOT!

It is really gorgeous out there right now and I hope you are able to get out there and enjoy it.  If so, be sure to review my list of tips and suggestions before you go…it will help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past and make for a more enjoyable day.

PS:  If you know of any other good locations, please let me know.

  • I’ve heard rumors that are good fields in the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area along Power Line Road.  I hope to check that report out in the next 3 or 4 days.
    • UPDATE:  I drove out to Tosohatchee on Oct 13.  I only found a few small clumps of sunflowers.
  • I did check out the Caldwell’s Field area at Lake Jesup Park on Oct. 9th, but it was totally underwater…don’t waste your time.
  • I haven’t yet hiked the East Lake Jesup Tract or the North Cameron Tract this year.  If anyone has seen these areas recently, please let me know if they were dry.
    • UPDATE:  I heard from one of my readers on Oct 11th that the North Cameron Tract is dry this year, but the flowers are not as profuse as they are in the Marl Bed Flats.

PSS:  Fellow local photographer Ed Rosack was out at the fields yesterday also.  Here is his report: http://edrosack.com/2015/10/10/beauty-and-bugs-in-the-soggy-swamp-sunflowers-2015/

PSSS:  Here is a shot of my 6′ son in the fields yesterday:

Lake Jesup WIldflowers Sunflowers in Central Florida

I told you these sunflowers are TALL!

 

 

 

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Lake Jesup Wildflower Update: Oct. 2, 2015

If you happen to live within driving distance of Central Florida, you may have been thinking of photographing the annual wild sunflower fields that bloom this time of year in the Lake Jesup area.  If so, I wanted to let you know that now is the time.

Lake Jesup Wildflower Fields

I hiked out to the fields yesterday and they are in full bloom.  Compared to previous years, the flats are very wet and you won’t be able to get out very far into them, but you can still shoot from the edges and get some wonderful images .  If you do try to venture into the flats, you will need hip waders and lots of mosquito spray!  I just walked along the area where the oak/palm trees stop and the flats begin.  That area has some trails and is pretty dry but I was glad I had waterproof boots.

Lake Jesup Wildflower Fields

Lake Jesup Wildflower Fields

If you haven’t been out to the fields before, check out my previous post for directions and tips.

Have fun!
Jeff

PS:  Don’t forget that these sunflowers are TALL…like 6′ tall, which means you need to get your camera elevated if you want to be able to see the horizon.  So unless you are a pro basketball player or want to bring a ladder, you should bring a tripod with a center column so you can extend your camera a bit above the flowers.

PSS:  Bring your macro lens for close-ups and don’t forget that there are lots of Bald Eagles and other birds, so you might want to have a zoom with you as well.

 

 

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Monet Memories

Last week I headed over to a local outfit that rehabilitates hawks, eagles and owls (the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Fl).   I spent about two hours there and came away seriously impressed with the admirable work accomplished by their volunteers (I’ll share more in a separate blog next week).

After an hour or so there, I noticed a dock at the rear of their compound that extended out into Lake Lotus.  I wandered out to the dock and happened to see a few water lilies blooming along the shoreline.  I’ve always been a sucker for lilies…maybe because I adore the series of paintings that Claude Monet created in the pond behind his home.

Monet water lily photography

The Fragrant Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) might be common, but it has a rare, simple beauty.

So I stopped and took a moment to enjoy the lilies.  As I stood there daydreaming, I noticed how calm and clear the water was…and how perfect and pristine the lilies were and how nice the light was.  Well, that was the end of my tranquil moment…the photographer in my head kicked in and the next thing I knew I was calculating angles, f-stops and ISO settings.

Monet water lily photography

The clear water was like a sheet of black glass.

I love how photography encourages me to see beauty in the world that I would otherwise miss.

 

No awe-inspiring landscape vistas in this post.  Just taking a few moments to appreciate one of life’s less appreciated smaller vignettes. Monet water lily photography

Have a wonderful day,

Jeff

Monet water lily photography

“Where’s Waldo?”…See if you can find the spider

 

 

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“The Flowers are Here! The Flowers are Here!”: 2013 Annual Lake Jesup Sunflower Extravaganza

Last week, my fellow Central Florida photographer Ed Rosack reminded us in his blog that: “The flowers are coming!  The flowers are coming!”  He was referring to the annual bloom of Sunflowers that cover fields as far as the eye can see on the Marl Bed Flats that border the northwestern shore of Lake Jesup.

I drove out there before dawn yesterday and was greeted with this sight:

Lake Jesup Sunflower Photo Tips and Guide

One of those sunrises a photographer dreams about…

Not only are the sunflowers in full bloom, but yesterday morning was blessed with one of those sunrises that had folks talking around the water cooler for the rest of the day.  It was still pitch black when I had arrived at the parking area and started hiking down the tunnel-like trail, so I had no idea that this incredible sunrise has developed until I cleared the treeline.  Needless to say, I practically ran to the edge of the flats to set up my tripod and capture the moment.  Time stood still for the next 20 minutes as I worked to take full advantage of this wonderful surprise.

Lake Jesup Wildflower Tips

I thought I had oversaturated the colors in photoshop…until I checked the raw file again and saw that the sunrise really was just this spectacular.

Like most sunrises, the 20-30 minutes before sunrise was better than after the sun actually peaked over the horizon.  The shot below was the last one I got before the color started to fade:

Lake Jessup Sunflower Photo Tips and Guide

I used some lighting to illuminate the Sunflowers in the foreground to help them ‘pop’ a bit.

I love taking panoramas here, so I stretched the limits a bit and got this 15 frame shot that actually covers more than 360 degrees.  See that tree at the far right and the far left in the shot below?  Same tree.  I kinda liked how including it twice added symmetry to the shot:

Lake Jesup Sunflower Photo Tips

Yes…15 frames…I must be insane.

Once my sunrise frenzy faded, I was able to take a breath and just enjoy the vista.  It is a calm a peaceful place.  For the next two hours, the only sounds were dragonflys and the cry of bald eagles.  It is hard to believe that you are only a few miles from  the 417 expressway.

Even if you don’t get there for the sunrise, the sunflowers are just magnificent.

Lake Jesup Sunflower Photo Tips and Guide

These are called Swamp Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius), another common name is Narrow Leaf Sunflowers

Okay…do you want to see this for yourself yet?  If so, I’ve got full directions as well as tips for you on a blog I wrote last year: Lake Jesup Wildflowers:  Photo Tips and Guide.  Click here to check it out.

You know, I’ve traveled across a good part of this planet to satisfy my passion for landscape photography.  Fifteen hour flights, 6500 mile roadtrips, 15 mile hikes thru the desert…so it still amazes me that one of the best landscape photography subjects on Earth is right here in Central Florida.  If you call yourself a serious photographer and you live anywhere near Central Florida, you owe it to yourself to make the effort to capture this spectacle yourself during the next two weeks before the blooms fade.

PS:  The mosquitos this year are truly ravenous.  Be sure to load-up on your DEET before you get out of the car!

Enjoy yourself!
Jeff

Here is one last panorama I stitched together in photoshop:

Lake Jesup Sunflower Photo Tips and Guide

A World Class View…right here in Central Florida

 Lake Jesup Sunflower Photo Tips and Guide

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Central Florida Wildflower Location: The Joys of Selective Focus

 

Central Florida Wildflower Location

Fields of Philox and Lantana Wildflowers on Plymouth-Sorrento Road May 2013

Wow!  Does this look like a huge, expansive field of wildflowers stretching to the horizon or what?!

Well, it’s not.  In fact, this wildflower field is about the size of a convenience store parking lot and is framed by unattractive metal-walled buildings on one side and a nondescript two lane country road on the other.  And this is precisely one of the reasons that I love photography!…because it allows you to selectively focus on the beauty in our world.  If you live in Central Florida, today’s brief little blog will let you know where this spot is and how to get a similar shot but if you live anywhere else, I hope to inspire you to take advantage of a camera’s ability to block out the unimportant, unattractive and unnecessary.

Central Florida had a very wet May and it resulted in an explosion of spring wildflowers that was impressive enough to even get a notice in the local newspaper. Unfortunately, the article didn’t tell me exactly where the fields were and an Internet search came up with zip.  Luckily, I was on an errand earlier this week up in Leesburg and met a guy who told me that there were some fields on the east side of Plymouth-Sorrento Road between SR46 and Kelly Park Road  (see map).

Well, I was incredibly unimpressed when I drove by.  Yes, the flowers were gorgeous, but the fields were actually little more than a 500′ strip between the road and a couple non-descript metal buildings.  But heck, I was there, I had my camera…and the light was wonderful (it was slightly overcast, so the sunlight was uniform and the sky on the horizon was dark due to a storm had just passed thru).

Now, this blog isn’t meant to be a wildflower how-to clinic, but here are some quick pointers:

  1. Bring a tripod!  You will need long exposures to maximize your depth of field.  If you don’t have a tripod, set your lens to Vibration Reduction (VR).
  2. Set your camera on a high aperture (say f22 or so).  Most lenses loose some sharpness at their maximum apertures, so you might want to back down a stop or two from your lens’s highest aperture rating.
  3. Keep your ISO as low as you can to maximize sharpness
  4. Use your Live View to get your focus perfect.
  5. If you have a neutral density filter handy, it will help hide the horizon, which isn’t overly attractive.  You could also do this in post-production in photoshop with the graduated filter.

Other suggestions:

  • Come early in the morning or late in the day when there is likely to be little wind.
  • The fields look like they might well be on private property (they are right in front of a couple plant nursery businesses).  I wouldn’t show up during business hours out of consideration for the owners (besides, the light is better before or after work hours).
  • If you can be there right after a rain shower, it will perk up the flowers and intensify the colors.

Now, I am positive there are better locations out there than this one.  If you know of one, please let me know and I’ll share that info thru this blog with other local photo buffs.  After all, it is a long time until we will be able to photograph the Lake Jesup sunflower fields  in October!

Okay, so that’s it for this modest little blog.  FYI…I am working on a detailed how-to article on photographing hummingbirds. Hope to publish it within a couple weeks…stay tuned!

Jeff

PS:  I found a couple sources on the Internet that you might find helpful.  This website details local wildflower locations and this facebook page for the Florida Wildflower Foundation has good info and input from their members as well.

Fields of Philox and Lantana Wildflowers on Plymouth-Sorrento Road May 2013

Central Florida wildflower locations

 

 
Fields of Color
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Where Eagles Dare: Eagles, Sunrises and Wildflowers at Lake Jesup 2012

I am a planner.  I won’t deny it.  Always been that way, always will.  Even so, it’s funny to me when a perfectly planned photo trip gets high-jacked by something I never anticipated.  It happened to me again this week.

I was out at Lake Jessup to see if the sunflowers were still peaking.  Although some areas were a bit past their best I was able to find whole fields that still look as good as ever. The fields were serene and peaceful…didn’t see another person the whole day.

What I did see though, were eagles.

Eagle at Lake Jesup Marl Burl Flats sunflower fields

“Silly photographer…why are you standing in the middle of that swamp with wet feet?”

I saw at least two pair of eagles and they visited me a number of times throughout the morning. This was be best frame of the morning and  I’m tickled-pink with it!  It’s not perfect, but it is as nice a shot of an eagle that I’ve ever gotten in Florida (Alaska is another story…eagles there were as common as pigeons).   I was working with my new D800E (more about my baby on a later post).  I had it set on the DX mode, which effectively made my 300mm lens a 450mm, which was more ‘reach’ than I’ve ever had before and it really made a difference.

What really makes me happy is though the wildflowers will be gone soon, I’m betting the eagles will be around awhile.  So I can go back again and again and practice improving my technique (and hopefully getting even better eagle portraits)!

lake jessup marl burl flats sunflowers

“Heh, heh….they won’t see me now!”

I know that eagles have incredible eyesight, so I thought I should try some camouflage. What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 Oh, yeah..almost forgot about the reason I drove out there in the first place…the wildflowers!  I’ll be making some big panoramas by stitching shots together (see my last post about Jessup) but the last image I’d like to share with you was the sunrise.  It was one of those mornings that make you appreciate the beauty of this rock we call earth.

Central Florida's best landscape photo location

Dawn breaks over the endless fields of wild sunflowers at Lake Jesup’s Marl Burl Flats

I’ve also published a how-to guide of everything you need to know about photographing this location, just click on the following link http://www.firefallphotography.com/sunflower-island-lake-jessup-wildflowers/

Good Luck and Good Shooting!
Jeff

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Sunflower Island (Lake Jesup Wildflowers at the Marl Bed Flats): Photo Tips & Guide

Oct 11, 2019 UPDATE:  For the first time in a couple years, the fields didn’t flood and we have a Sunflower Bloom!   I was out there today and the flowers are at peak bloom.  It might not be the most profuse bloom we have ever had, but it is still impressive.  My guess is that the flowers will start to fade from here on out so if you have time in your schedule, this weekend would be your best bet!

 

For years I had been envious of the wildflower fields out west.  Ponce de Leon may have named my state “Florida” after being inspired by our wildflowers, but I had seen precious few of them in my three decades here.  That is, until the day I stood behind my camera and saw this scene in my viewfinder:

Tips for the Lake Jesup Marl Bed Flats Sunflower Bloom

“Sunflower Island”  The oak and palm hammock in the background looks almost like an island floating in a sea of sunflowers in this six frame panorama.

I was simply amazed.  It was absolutely incredible…beautiful yellow wildflowers as far as I could see.  What really rocked my world is that I had lived less than 15 miles away from this vista for nearly thirty years and had no idea it existed!  I probably still wouldn’t if not for Ed Rosack.  Ed is al local photographer who has a great blog called Central Florida Photo Ops http://edrosack.com/wordpress .  Ed, if I ever meet you, I owe you a beer!

Although photos are great, sometimes a video tells the story even better. Take a look at this 90 second ‘film’ that might give you a greater appreciation of the Sunflower fields:

I’ve been back to this place every year since.  Rarely do I see another soul.  Usually a bald eagle or two will circle me probably wondering what the heck I am doing in the middle of nowhere.  It is blissfully quiet, which is amazing considering how frantic and busy Central Florida can be.  I think I would have a great time here even if I didn’t have my camera.

Okay, so are you interested in getting in on the fun here?

Tips for the Lake Jesup Marl Bed Flats Sunflower Bloom

Spider’s web reflecting in dawn light at Lake Jesup

First of all, this incredible display only lasts for a couple of weeks from late September into early October.  As a general rule, the flowers peak around Oct. 1st but obviously every year is a bit different.

Second, keep in mind that this isn’t Disney.  You can’t just pull up, jump out of your car and snap some shots.  You will need to hike for about 20 minutes out to the fields, it will likely be hot, the fields are muddy and you will help feed the local mosquito population.  Also keep in mind that is is a wild area on the shores of the lake reputed to have the most dense alligator population in Florida (421 gators per mile of shoreline is the eye-opening stat I’ve read).  If that doesn’t scare you, then read on….Wildflowers at Lake Jesup Marl Bed Flats

How do you find the spot?

  1.  First of all, once you are in the Orlando area, you want to get on SR 417 (AKA: The Greeneway Tollway/Expressway).  The flats are on the shore of Lake Jesup, which you can see from the 417.  Some folks actually take photos from the shoulder of the road…but that looks dangerous to me and  State Troopers take a dim view of parking on the side of an expressway.  Besides,  you can take MUCH better photographs from the location I reveal below
  2. Here is a link to a Google Map that you can print that will help you find the place.
  3. If you don’t like maps, here is a description:  Drive north on the 417 and exit (east) on E Lake Mary Blvd (the first exit north of Lake Jesup) and head east.  Then take a right (south) on South Sanford Ave.  Take a left (east) on Pine Way (this will be just before you drive under the 417 again). Take a right (south) on S.Mellonville Ave. This will dead-end into Oakway…turn left (east). Oakway is a narrow two lane road with no shoulders so you may have to (carefully) pull off to the side if a vehicle is coming the other way

    Parking Lot

  4. Oakway Lane dead-ends at a small parking area that is open during daylight hours (see photo to the right).  If the gate is closed, there is room for a couple of cars to park outside the gate on the shoulder of the road.
  5.  The trail starts at the gate (see below) located in the back south-eastern corner of the lot located next to the parking area. As you walk to the gate, you will likely see your first sunflowers in the fenced field to your right.
    IMG_0370

    Gate at the trailhead.

  6. Follow the trail on the other side of the gate (actually an old overgrown dirt road).
  7.  You will see trail markers with both red and yellow diamonds. red yellow diamond
  8. In less than five minutes, the trail will split.  Either trail will get you to the fields (see map below).Lake Jesup Marl Bed Flats Sunflower Wildflower Trail Map
    1. Red Trail.   This is the shortest route to the fields. It is less than a half mile walk and should take you about 20 minutes
      • At the first split in the trail, continue straight (don’t turn right).  The trail markers will now have both red and yellow diamonds.

        The hike thru the hammock is short but impressive.

      • After another five minutes the trail will split again…take the left trail.  The trail markers will now be marked with red diamonds and the path will lead thru a nice old oak hammock with wonderful spanish moss.
      • In another ten minues or so the trail will end as you emerge from the trees with the open flats directly ahead (you can’t miss it).
      • The best sunflower fields are usually to the right (southwest) as you exit the oak hammock.
      • You will be tempted to walk straight out into the flowers.  Don’t…unless it has been a really dry fall you will get bogged down in the marshy fields.
        • nstead stay on the drier ground near the  the oak trees and keep walking to the right (west) on the edge of the field until you find a good view.  Then walk straight out into the field, get your shot, then walk back to the oaks and continue your hike to the right.
           A shot of my son, Ryan...who is 6'1".   I told you these sunflowers are TALL!

          I told you these sunflowers are TALL!

          My best compositions are usually found when I walk well out into the fields, then turn around and shoot back toward the trees.  If you are there in the morning or early afternoon, this also puts the sun at your back or to the side. 

          • There are some areas in the flats that are a bit more elevated than others.  If you see a palm tree out there, you know it is on higher ground (although it still might be under water).  There aren’t real trails thru the actual sunflower fields but usually you can find some paths that horses, cattle and other photographers have made. Be aware that the sunflowers can be over 6′ tall.
          • If it has been a rainy Fall, the fields might be under a lot more than an inch or two of water.  If so, you won’t be able to see much at this location and you should try the Yellow Trail instead.
            Tips for the Lake Jesup Marl Bed Flats Sunflower Bloom

            Your choice of photo options is nearly as endless as the sunflowers.

    2. Yellow Trail.  This area is at a slightly higher elevation and it has a wonderfully photogenic line of palm trees that run in a straight line to the Southeast once you emerge from the oak hammock.  If the fields are wet, walking along this line of palms could be your best/only option to actually get out into the sunflower fields.
      1. This hike is a bit longer, but still shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to reach it from the parking area.
      2. At the first split in the trail described above, take the trail to the right (it will be marked with yellow diamonds). Yellow Diamond This trail will take you thru an oak hammock and will soon curve to the left (south).  Continue straight down on the trail (actually an old dirt road). As you reach the end of the tree canopy, you will notice that the trail/road is actually elevated and there is a narrow, nearly filled/overgrown canal to your right.   
      3. At the edge of the flats, the trail/road will take a sharp right.  As you stand here looking out to the flats you will see a long, perfectly straight row of palm trees leading off south-east into the flats.  Walk along that line of trees (no need to follow it to the end).  As you do so, you should see a nice field of sunflowers to your left (south-east).  This area is particularly nice in the afternoon with the sun to your back
Photo tips and guide. Central Florida's best landscape op location Lake Jessup Wildflowers

One of approximately 34 billion wild sunflowers at the peak of the bloom. Most folks around here call them Swamp Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) but another common name is Narrow Leaf Sunflowers

What should you bring with you?

  1. These fields are marshy…bring waterproof boots and a spare pair of dry socks (just in case)  
    1. If it has been a rainy Fall, it will be more than ‘marshy’, the fields will be underwater (it was so wet in 2014, 2017 & 2018 that the fields flooded and killed the blooms.) 
    2. Also keep in mind that although I’ve only rarely seen snakes here, you’d probably rather be wearing boots than flip-flops if you were to surprise a moccasin.  
    3. Cattle often wander through this area and folks ride horses here as well.  The cows and horses do leave their ‘calling cards’, so step carefully.
  2. Some years the mosquitos can be intense, bring your industrial strength bug spray.  
  3. Temperatures in September/October can often hit 90º and there isn’t much shade in the flats, so bring a hat, lots of water and use your sunscreen.
  4. Wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt and quick drying fabric (not cotton).  Many of the plants in the field are as tall as you are and they will scratch up any unprotected skin.  Plus, the plants are often covered in dew in the morning…and you will get wet.

Tips for my fellow Photographers:

  1. Bring a tall tripod.  Many of these flowers are over 6′ in height so it helps to elevate your camera over them.  Use a cable release/remote shutter.
  2. A typical shot here often features a wide depth of field when capturing a field of flowers that stretches from the horizon to a few feet in front of you.  In that case, use a small aperture (f/16 or higher) to get the maximum depth of field.   A tripod will be critical since the exposure time might be long. Mornings are great since there is little wind.
  3. Bring a selection of lenses.
    • Obviously you want your wide-angle lens…the landscape begs for them.  The wider the better.
    • If you have a macro lens you can stay busy here all day.  In addition to the flowers there are insects of every kind and first thing in the morning, sometimes you will find dew covered spider webs that make wonderful compositions.
    • There are often eagles circling in the sky over you…a long zoom can help you come home with some nice portraits.  In addition to eagles, I’ve seen hawks, wood storks, and  a plethora of other species…if you happen to be a birder, you will be photographing a lot more than sunflowers.
  4. Sunrises and  sunsets can be magical.
    Tips for the Lake Jesup Marl Bed Flats Sunflower Bloom

    Who says that there aren’t any landscape photography locations in Florida?

  5. Try a Panorama.  The fields can appear endless and this impression can be dramatically captured in a pano. 
    Tips for the Lake Jesup Marl Bed Flats Sunflower Bloom

    Endless Beauty

  6. Don’t forget your polarizer….it will make the blue skies absolutely breathtaking.  The exception to this rule would be if you are making a pano..a polarizer will often result in ‘blotchy’ skies if you are stiching together multiple shots.
  7. The flowers look great in direct sunlight.  Fortunately, in Central Florida we don’t have many overcast days.  Ideally, visit on a day with partially cloudy skies:  Nice big white clouds in a deep blue sky hanging over yellow field of flowers makes for wonderful images.
  8. If it is windy, you will need a quick shutter speed (1/250 or so) to ‘freeze’ the flowers in your image.

Other sunflower locations :

Lake Jesup Area:

Although I consider the Marl Bed Flats to be the primo location, there are 3 other flats with sunflowers surrounding Lake Jesup that you can explore.

    1. Caldwell Fields is very close to the Marl Bed Flats (basically just on the other side of the 417).  You can get there from a trailhead located in Lake Jesup Park (see map below).  This can be a wonderful spot since part of the trail is atop a berm…which allows you expansive views because of the height.  Unfortunately, the trail you take to the berm is at a very low elevation and I’ve rarely seen it dry enough to hike during the sunflower bloom.Lake Jesup Park Calwell's Field full res
    2. The North Cameron Tract is often dryer than the Marl Bed Flats but the flowers are not usually as profuse.  Check out this link to see a map.
    3. The East Lake Jesup Tract (also on this link) is on the southern side of the Lake and I’ve never had much luck there…but I honestly haven’t spent much time exploring it either.

Cocoa (Tosohatchee):

Another location in Central Florida that usually has sunflower displays is the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area which is about a hour southwest of Lake Jessup (about 30 minutes west of Cocoa.)  Although not as photogenic (in my opinion) as the Lake Jessup fields, it might be worth checking out if you live nearby.  The best spots are in the flats near the St. John’s River on Powerline Road.  This link will take you to a helpful map.

Ft. Myers/Naples (Pepper Ranch):

For those of you in west and south Florida, I’ve seen photographs of fields of sunflowers at Pepper Ranch in the Ft. Myers/Naples area.  I haven’t visited myself, but if you live in that area you should check it out.  Here is a link with directions and details.

I personally consider the sunflowers at Lake Jesup to be one of the best landscape photography locations in the state.  If you happen to be within driving distance during early October, you really should see this extravaganza yourself!

Cheers,

Jeff

 

PS:  I usually post updates with details about the bloom every year.  Check my blogs during late September and October to see what is happening this year. 

I’ve also published a couple other articles about the fields you might find interesting,  check here and here.

Tips for the Lake Jesup Marl Bed Flats Sunflower Bloom

 

Central Florida's best landscape op location Lake Jessup Wildflowers

Sunflowers aren’t the only thing that might catch your eye at Lake Jesup’s Marl Bed Flats!

 

 


 

 

 

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