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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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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!
Here is one last panorama I stitched together in photoshop:
Lake Jesup Sunflower Photo Tips and Guide
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.
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)!
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.
To see my how-to guide of everything you need to know about photographing this location, please see my previous post at http://www.firefallphotography.com/sunflower-island-lake-jessup-wildflowers/
Good Luck and Good Shooting!
For years I have been envious of the photos of wildflower fields taken out west. Although Ponce de Leon may have named my state Florida, I never did understand what could have possibly been his inspiration. That is, until last week when I stood behind my camera looked at this scene…
I can’t believe that I’ve 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!
The morning I was there, I didn’t see another soul. An immature bald eagle circled me a couple times probably wondering what the heck I was doing in the middle of nowhere. It was as quiet and blissful as I can imagine Central Florida can be. I think I would have had a great time even if I didn’t have my camera.
Okay, so are you interested in getting in on the fun here?
First of all, this incredible display only lasts for a couple of weeks from late September to early October. This year I first got out there on Sept 19th but there were only a few flowers in full bloom, but a week later the flowers were at their peak. I’m sure every year is a bit different.
How do you find the spot?
- First of all, I have seen folks take photos from the shoulder of 417…but it looks dangerous to me and besides, I think the best shots can be taken from the Marl Bed Flats.
- Here is a link to a Google Map I created that will help you find the place.
- 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 will dead-end at the parking area for the Marl Bed Flats.
- If you would like a paper map, use this link to get directions http://www.sjrwmd.com/recreationguide/lakejesup/index.html. Specifically, open up the PDF map and look for the Marl Bed Flats Tract located at end of Oakway Lane. LAT 28.741670LONG -81.245368LAT
- There is a small parking area located at the end of Oakway Lane that is open during daylight hours. If the gate is closed there is room for a couple of cars to park outside the gate on the shoulder of the road.
- The trail starts at the back of the parking area (this is at the south-eastern corner of the lot). The hike out to the flowers is about 2/3 of a mile and should take you about 20 minutes.
- The trails are clearly shown on the PDF you can print from the link above. You will be following the wide “red loop trail”. It is marked by red metal diamond shaped tags nailed to 4′tall posts along the way. Five minutes into the hike, you will see another trail to the right…don’t take it (that is the yellow loop trail)…keep bearing left. After another five minutes the trail will split again…take the left trail again. This will lead thru a nice old oak grove with some wonderful spanish moss. The trail will open up into the flats (you can’t miss it). My best compositions have been taken to the right (west) of where the trail enters the flats. If you walk another five minutes or so, you can be in the middle of the flowers.
- There are some dry, raised ‘roads’ thru the flats, but there aren’t real trails thru the actual sunflower fields. There are usually some faint paths horses have made that make the going easier.
Okay…so you see a big field filled with yellow flowers…now what?
Here are some photo tips & a guide for my fellow photographers:
- These fields are marshy…bring waterproof boots or your feet will get soaked. 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! Oh…folks obviously ride horses on these trails a lot…and those horses do leave their ‘calling cards’, so step carefully.
- Bug spray, sunscreen, a hat and some water will make you a lot more comfortable. Some years the mosquitos can be very intense.
- Wear long pants and quick drying fabric (not cotton). The sunflowers are covered in dew first thing in the morning…and many of them are as tall as you are. If you actually walk thru the fields, you will get wet.
- 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.
- Use your smallest aperture (f22 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.
- Bring a selection of lenses. I love wide-angle shots here and if you have a macro lens you can stay busy all day. Also, the first thing in the morning, there are thousands of dew covered spider webs that make wonderful compositions.
- Sunrise and sunsets shots here can be beautiful, but bring a flashlight since you will be in the dark heading to the fields (for sunrises) or the trail back (sunsets). flashlight handy.
I had so much fun last week that I’m going to head back at least once more before the show is over. I still can’t believe this is in Florida!
In my opinion, this Lake Jesup Wildflowers location is certainly the best landscape photography op / location in Central Florida, and certainly one of the state’s Top Five.
PS: Check out my follow-up report of this location at : http://www.firefallphotography.com/where-eagles-dare/