Recently, I was in the Everglades with a friend photographing those amazing wetlands in December. Years ago, I would have thought that this meant I was in the Everglades National Park, but we never went into it. I have spent a lot of time in Florida over the past 15 years or so and I have grown to love the nature of that flat place, including all of the Everglades, which is an area from about Lake Okeechobee to the national park.
Like so many people, I used to think Florida was kind of a waste of time as a place to visit and photograph. It was way too hot and humid, had a lot of mosquitoes, and it was flatter than my old home of Minnesota. Plus, it seemed to be just a place for old folks to retire to after living a better life up north.
I was wrong. Terribly wrong.
How often have we prejudged places of nature because they are different than what we know? Obviously, I have. I think this is a real problem for nature photography and nature. I often say that we nature photographers are the eyes of the public, because ... we are! People don't get out as much as we do, nor do they "remember" aspects of nature the way a photographer does. Good nature photography can connect people with the natural world and even encourage them to get out and see it differently.
The Everglades drainage actually begins up by Orlando, follows the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee, then flows into what is commonly known as the Everglades, a very wide (wider than normal concepts of a river), shallow river south to the national park. Now why is that important to a nature photographer? Because so much of the Everglades has been photographed from only the national park, that is what too many people see the Everglades as being. Yet the rest of the area is critical to the survival of the entire ecosystem, including the national park.
Nature is so much more than a national park, yet if a visitor from another planet looked at a lot of nature photography, that visitor might think national parks are the only places to find nature. Now I want to be very clear. I love national parks and I am very proud that our country has done such a good job in preserving these places. I love visiting and photographing in them.
This is not about national parks vs. other places. It is about national parks and all other places of nature. All of the images seen here were taken in Everglades country, but none actually in Everglades National Park. We need to continue to photograph and support national parks, but if we truly care about nature, we cannot stop there. If the only time we shoot nature is during that once a year trip to Yosemite (and I know folks that do exactly that), then we are shortchanging both ourselves and nature.
Simon Barnes is a British writer who did a wonderful book a few years ago about nature called, How to Be Wild, a book you won't find in the U.S. I went to AbeBooks.com and ordered a used copy to get mine. His book follows this theme, too, that there are big, important places where nature is preserved and protected, such as national parks, and there are small, also important places, where nature is not as "official", yet can be just as important. I highly recommend his book.
I also highly recommend photographing nature wherever you find it. If that is a national park, great, but don't wait until you get to a national park to get your camera out and capture the wonders of nature elsewhere. And even when you get to a national park, realize that the park is probably not the only place to find great photo opps, such as the Everglades drainage compared to just the Everglades National Park, and that your images can help others better understand the extent of ecosystems and habitats. If we are to take good care of our world for future generations, we need to understand that ecosystems rarely stop at park borders, and this is especially true in the Everglades.
The photos here are: top, multiple plant communities in the Grassy Waters Nature Preserve, West Palm Beach; second, anhinga in the rain at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach; third, swamp lily in bloom, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Boynton Beach; last, sword ferns in rain, cypress swamp, Loxahatchee.
Remember that my new photo e-book for the iPad, A Nature Photography Manifesto, is available for free from the iBooks Store accessible from the iBooks app on the iPad (the iBooks app is also free if you don't have it). Check it out! If you get a chance, put a review on the iBooks Store page about the book. I am finishing up a PDF version of the book that will be available for anyone and it should be on my website shortly. I will let everyone know when that happens.