Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Manatee Time

I was just in Crystal River last week to photograph the manatees in winter residence there.  Amazing that it is less than a 6-hour drive away for me, yet I hadn't been there for years, not since I shot a Quicksilver inflatable boat ad for Mercury Marine maybe 8 years ago.  Shame on me, because this is really a fascinating photo opportunity.

This time I was the guest of KC and Marybeth Nayfield.  They are big proponents of the the initiative to secure funding to buy the 3 Sisters property from private investors to assure that it stays as natural habitat for the benefits of the manatees.  This is a massively righteous project, and I urge anyone who'd like to learn more to visit www.savethreesisters.org .  A tax deductible donation would be a nice gesture as well!

Anyway, our project in Crystal River included a visit to Homasassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  This is a terrific facility, and while the manatees may be the stars of their constellation, I enjoyed photographing the flamingos, ibis, and white pelican as well.  Thanks to Park management, I was able to enter the water with the manatees, which offered some very nice encounters since these animals (friendly by nature) are extremely acclimated to being around people.

I also booked the local helicopter to get a sense of the surrounding region, and after seeing some of the other springs, you can see why manatees and underwater photographers are so fond of Three Sisters ... clarity, clarity, clarity.  This is where the viz is, and it is where the manatees congregate in the most significant aggregations.

The manatees are very approachable here, although they don't always choose to situate in the clearest water.  They stir up the bottom, although the fins of other snorkelers were just as troublesome in terms of generating backscatter. I found it often more productive to leave my fins on a rock and tip-toe around in my booties, rather than risk stirring detritus. At least in the very shallow water, that was a good solution for me. The reality is that even though the water coming out of the spring is stunning in clarity, it is sometimes tough to find a willing manatee in ultra-clear water.  But, potential is there, for sure.  

The first day was very productive, but I lost sunshine on the the second day of a two-day shoot.  A good reason to go back, and this time before another 8 years passes!

BTW - The lenses I used for manatees on my Canon 1DsMKIII (full-frame) D-SLR included the 15mm fisheye and 16-35II. However, the one I used most this time was the 14mm II. I wanted ultra-wide, but without the perspective distortion attached to a full-frame fisheye like the 15mm.

Thanks to Phil Darche for photo assistance on this project.

See http://www.chronicleonline.com/cgi-bin/c2.cgi?071+article+News+20090116125102071321 for coverage of the shoot in the Citrus County Chronicle.

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