Tag Archives: Sunflowers

Lake Jesup Wildflower Update: Oct. 2, 2015

Note:  There is a more recent update published on Oct. 10th, click here to see it.

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

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

Have fun!

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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“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!

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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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!

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Sunflower Island (Lake Jesup Wildflowers): Photo Tips & Guide

For years I had been envious of the wildflower fields out west.  Although Ponce de Leon may have named my state “Florida” after being inspired by the flowers he saw here, I’d lived here for decades and had rarely even seen a wildflower.  That is, until the day I stood behind my camera taking in this scene…

Photo of wildflowers sunflowers at Lake Jesup Florida. Photo tips and guide for Lake Jesup Wildflowers

“Sunflower Island”  The oak hammock in the background looks almost like a island floating in a sea of sunflowers in this is a 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!

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?

Central Florida's best landscape op location  Lake Jessup Wildflowers

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 20-30 minutes each way, you will get bit by mosquitoes and it will likely be hot and muddy.  Plus this is a wild area on the shores of a lake reputed to have the most dense alligator population in the state (421 per mile of shoreline is the stat I’ve read).  If that doesn’t scare you, then read on….

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 be careful if a vehicle is coming the other way.


    The lot can handle only about 4 or 5 vehicles…

  4. Oakway dead-ends at a small parking area that is open during daylight hours (see photo above).  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.


    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 Sunflower Wildflower Trail Map
    1. Red Trail.   Personally, I think this trail leads to the best views so try this one first.  The trail (round trip) is less than a mile and should take you about 20 minutes each way.
      • At this first split in the trail, continue straight (don’t turn right).  The trail markers will now have both red and yellow diamonds.
      • 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.
      • The trail will lead to the open flats about ten minutes later (you can’t miss it).
         I told you these sunflowers are TALL!

        I told you these sunflowers are TALL!

        • My best compositions have been taken when it is dry enough to walk right out into the fields.  This will allow you to photograph in any direction with flowers stretching out to infinity.
        • There are some areas in the flats that are a bit more elevated than others.  If you see a 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 the water table is a bit high, the flats may be under an inch or two of water.  If that is the case, just stay on the drier ground under the oak trees and keep walking to the right (west) on the edge of the field until you find a good view.
        • If it has been a rainy September, 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.
    2. Yellow Trail.  This area is at a slightly higher elevation and although the views might not be quite as impressive, it could be your best/only option if the water table is high.  This hike is a bit longer, but still shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to reach it.
      • 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 continue, you will notice that the trail/road is actually elevated a bit over the land to either side.  Continue straight down the trail until you see the flats .
      • 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 or your feet will get soaked.  If it has been a rainy September, it will be more than ‘marshy’, it will be underwater (it was so wet in 2014 that you couldn’t reach the flowers without a boat).  Also, although I’ve only seen a couple of snakes, I’d rather be wearing boots than watershoes if I happen to surprise a moccasin!  Also, cattle occasionally wander thru this area and folks obviously ride horses on these trails a lot.  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.  I use 100% DEET and sometimes that even isn’t enough!
  3. Temperatures in September can easily 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 first thing 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. Use your smallest aperture (f/22 or higher) to get the maximum depth of field.  The tripod will help here since the exposure times 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.

    Lake Jesup Sunflowers Wildflowers

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

  5. Don’t forget your polarizer….it can make the blue skies absolutely breathtaking.
  6. Your best shots will be taken when the sun is shining directly on the fields.  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.
  7. 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.


Another location in Central Florida that usually has sunflower displays is the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area near Oviedo.  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:

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 consider the sunflowers at Lake Jesup to be the best landscape photography op/location in Central Florida and certainly one of Florida’s Top Five.  If you happen to be within driving distance during early October, you really should see this extravaganza yourself!



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.

Central Florida's best landscape op location  Lake Jessup Wildflowers

Sunflowers aren’t the only thing that might catch your eye!






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