Travel

Photographing Florida’s Everglades

by Paul Marcellini | October 1, 2013

© Paul MarcelliniThe Everglades is a special place to me; I grew up just 25 miles from the main park entrance. After college, I moved back to Miami and have been shooting the Everglades consistently for 6 years. Popular for bird photographers at tourist stops like Anhinga Trail, the Everglades has so much to offer.

A landscape photographer may initially be frustrated with the lack of icons in the Everglades, but I have learned to appreciate that. It means you have a greater chance of coming away with an original image, and it forces you to look harder.

Since the Everglades is lacking in mountains or other strong backgrounds, I try to make the scenes intimate. I want the viewer to feel as if they were right there. I love wide-angles and am a big fan of up-close foregrounds. Although I have found lots of great spots to shoot, many times I go out with a blank slate for what I may photograph and simply follow the clouds. Summer storms in the Everglades produce wonderful and dramatic sunsets, which can be as eye catching of a background as anything. I like bold colors to accentuate the many textures and forms in the scenes that I encounter. Despite being called the “River of Grass”, there are many other beautiful and diverse habitats to explore. Here are some that I like to spend time in.

Everglades and sun © Paul Marcellini

Pinelands

The pine rocklands are a special ecosystem in the Everglades. They used to cover over 180,000 acres in Miami-Dade County. Now, as a globally imperiled habitat, only about 12% remains and most are protected within Everglades National Park. Like all forests, the pinelands can pose a compositional challenge for photographers. Fortunately, bands of marl prairie, dominated by lower growing grasses, run intermixed through the pinelands. This allows for “edge shots” that contain the full height of the pines. This way, the tall trunks do not lead the eye out of the photo. Saw palmetto also make wonderful foregrounds, and their bold green palmate leaves contrast well with the surrounding grasses and undergrowth. As always, consider the best light to complement your scene.

Everglades photography © Paul Marcellini

Dwarf Cypress

The cypress is one of my favorite trees, both the large trees of a traditional swamp scene, and the dwarf trees growing mainly along the elevated ridge called Rock Reef. These dwarf cypress are some of the oldest cypress in South Florida, spared because the loggers of the early 1900’s considered them worthless. As natural bonsai, many of these trees take on unique shapes and make for engaging subjects. The most famous, and one of the few icons of the Everglades is the Z Tree.

Everglades trees and sky © Paul Marcellini

Florida's Everglades © Paul Marcellini

Cypress Domes/Strands

These are areas of deeper water and a higher nutrient level in the substrate. This allows for larger cypress and shadier conditions. With higher humidity, epiphytes cover the trees and offer even more refuge for the many animals that congregate for the shade and water. In the dry season, these areas will usually still hold water, attract and concentrate birds, frogs, snakes, and of course, alligators. This is the type of habitat many would picture when they think of “swamp”, though it is far from dirty. The Everglades ecosystem is a purifying filter, so the water is quite clear, though slightly tannin stained from the leaf litter.

Everglades marsh © Paul Marcellini

Mangrove Marsh

This is an area of transition. The mangroves have begun appearing but it is still freshwater marsh. The Red Mangroves are somewhat dwarfed and grow singly or in clumps, allowing for much easier maneuvering compared to a mangrove forest. The prop roots are quite eye-catching in some specimens and add a lot of interest to a scene.

Everglades hiking © Paul Marcellini

I hike off-trail a lot, and if you choose to do the same I recommend that you take along a few items. Remember to take a bug jacket or extra bug spray. The mosquitoes may not be bad when you head out, but once the sun dips, they can get quite ferocious, even in the winter. I usually wear a light long sleeve hiking shirt so I do not have to apply bug-pray directly to my skin. Long pants are great for walking in sawgrass, which can really do a number on you. Take a flashlight—two if you have the space. Cottonmouths come out at night and you don’t want to step on one. Don’t forget water; the Everglades is subtropical and you will sweat a lot. A taller tripod can be very handy as the sawgrass grows quite high in places and a chest-high tripod may not get your camera above it all.

Even though South Florida doesn’t have the red rock of the Southwest, the fall colors of the Northeast, or the dramatic shorelines of the Pacific Northwest, we have the Everglades; unique and beautiful. So don’t forget the wide-angle on your next trip!

The Ultimate Guide to Everglades Photography eBook © Paul Marcellini

The Ultimate Guide to Everglades Photography eBook by Paul Marcellini

The Ultimate Guide to Everglades Photography by Paul Marcellini is a 43 page, downloadable eBook PDF (31.1 MB).

Drawing on 6 years of consistent shooting, Paul offers insight into the seasons, locations, landscapes, and wildlife found in the Everglades. Chapter 1 covers locations, giving details as to the best time of day and what subjects can be found. Chapter 2 gives tips on shooting from a water craft. Chapter 3 gives locations and details for lodging and camping nearby. Chapter 4 details preferred clothing and Chapter 5 highlights dangers and discomforts to avoid. Learn more »

About the Author

Paul Marcellini is a full time nature photographer based in Miami, Florida. He focuses on the unique habitats Florida has to offer and leads workshops and private tours as time allows. Primarily focusing on fine art prints, he participates in many art shows throughout the state in the winter season. His work has been displayed in national parks and museums, as well as being published in multiple magazines and books. His work can be viewed on his website: www.PaulMarcellini.com.

5 thoughts on “Photographing Florida’s Everglades

  1. Very nice work, you have at least temporarily extinguished my burn out on sunset images. Are alligator proof leggins available for this environment? I can’t run to fast anymore.

    • Thanks Steven! Yes, I think we all go through that, though the Everglades offers much more than big skies. Maybe a shark suit could be modified for you, though I feel that will only make you slower.

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