Water Sports in Southwest Florida

One of the many attractions of living on the coast of Florida is the accessibility of keeping yourself entertained with water sports. Fishing is big here with charters available to take you deep sea fishing or the many tournaments that are offered around the year. As with any hobby, it starts with something small and before you know it, things have a way of spiraling out of control. I get phone calls from folks who are at trade shows asking, if spending $6,000 on three lenses is a great deal! (It is depending on what your are buying…that is the scary part!) Most folks in our area have boats, these range from little fishing boats to multimillion dollar yachts. Throw in some surfing, jet skis and a boat tow ride and you should be able to keep busy for a while. Since snow doesn’t seem to come this far south, this makes these kinds of sports very attractive since they can be enjoyed all year long.

Over the past couple of months I have been compiling photos that I have taken while I was on safari with field trips or just had a few hours to kill and the wife thought I was working! As I go through these I’ll explain how these were taken as I always do and tell you the equipment that was used. All of these photos were taken at the South Jetty in Venice, Florida. I have created posts before from this location as it’s a hot spot for all kinds of activity and it’s free. This can be a great place to try different techniques or equipment out before it counts on a real job. Put on your purple polka dotted bikini, here we go…

 This guy is flying as he hangs onto his harness. Taken by Spencer Pullen at Sharky's Pier in Venice, Florida.Who Needs A Cape To Fly – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

First up is flyin’ board man. This guy had the right idea. Paddling out and surfing back into shore seems like too much work to me. Just attach yourself to a parachute and four wheel drive through the water, no paddling needed. The fellow was way out there, like shooting birds it’s best to have them to come to you so you can fill the frame as much as possible. I had the camera fitted with my 80mm-400mm. Even at 400mm it was way too short. As he caught some wind, he stared to come to shore, then the real fun began.

 This surfer is doing some board tricks. Photographed by Spencer Pullen at Sharky's Pier in Venice, Florida.Fancy Feet – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Once he was closer to shore he stared flipping the board around up in the air. The first time he did this I just stood there watching in amazement. Then I realized that I was there to take photos! I was hoping that he was going to come in for another pass. I was in luck. There were some ladies sunning themselves on the beach so it wasn’t long before Mr. Muscles came in for another trick of the board. This time I was ready. Since he was pretty close to the shore my 400mm had no issues with reaching out and touching him.

Girls waving as they come into Venice, Florida through the South Jetty. Parade Wave – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

The main inlet into Venice has quite the boat traffic. This is a great time to find a boat that you may want to purchase yourself or just laugh to yourself thinking, “I wonder how much it costs to fill that full of diesel?” I like to position myself past the inner marker. On the other side is the no wake zone so they are supposed to keep the speed down. Some of these folks seem to miss the sign and keep er’ moving along. That’s OK, the guys in green (marine police) pull up and they have Cokes together as they discuss things. Being on the other side of the marker, this allows one to get some nice action shots. These boaters have been going two miles an hour for quite some time so they are ready to open it up and head out into the Gulf. In the above photo, I was able to capture a couple of girls that were being friendly as they were coming back into port. For this photo and the rest of them, I was using my 70mm-300mm. I actually like this lens better as it’s faster focusing, sharper and much lighter than my 400mm.

Spencer Pullen was able to freeze the action of this jet ski at South Jetty at Venice, Florida. Wide Open Jet – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Along with all of the boats there are a number of jet skis coming in and out. Since these are lighter, they can get up and go faster which means better action photos. This guy had found the throttle and was testing to see if his hair was going to stay in his head. One of the best tools that the photographer has is continuous or burst mode. Even if you don’t get single frame, it feels as if you are a real professional ripping of ten frames a second! (Maybe this is a guy thing.)

 Spencer Pullen photographs this jet skier at South Jetty in Venice, Florida.The Jet Has Taken Off – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

The same person made a U turn in the Gulf and came back for another pass. Since a boat just went through the Jetty, he was able to jump one of the wakes created by the boat. As you can see, he was able to get some air and with the continuous mode, the camera was able to capture this moment in time. To ensure that the subject is going to be frozen, this is where you are going to need a really fast shutter speed. When I checked the metadata on these, I was shooting at 1/3200. I try for at least 1/1000, however the faster or more erratic the subject, the higher the shutter speed you need.

 Folks going on a parasail ride at the South Jetty in Venice, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Better Than Surfing – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Off in the distance, there was a boat that was attached to a parachute. They were loading these poor souls into a harness and they were going to pull them along with a chute attached. This is great way to get to see the beach from above, until I saw what they were doing at the end of the ride. When the ride was almost over they would “dunk” these poor people in the ocean. I’ve heard of a dunk tank, but this is a little extreme. Once I saw what was going on, I had to get the camera ready for the next paying suckers volunteers. Once I saw the next round of folks heading down to the water I pressed the shutter button and let er’ rip during the whole sequence to make sure I got one keeper.

 A surfer paddles back to shore. Taken at South Jetty in Venice, Florida by Spencer Pullen.Man Down – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

One of the students that I was photographing with actually knew this person. I asked a really dumb question, “Ugh, isn’t he supposed to be on top of the board paddling along?” I was told that is the way it works, but apparently he and been out quite awhile and this is a way of resting while heading into shore. You can see the splash that he made as he was using his hands to propel himself forward.

 Action shot of a jet ski at South Jetty in Venice, Florida by Spencer Pullen.Draggin’ The Jet Ski – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Since I visit locations multiple times with various classes, I need to try new things to keep sharp. I had seen photos of NASCAR races where the car was sharp but the background was blurred. Since a jet ski is as close as I’m going to get to a race car, this was going to be the perfect time to try this. As I mentioned above, I was using a really fast shutter speed to freeze the subject. Now it was time to try the opposite settings to get a special effect. To get the above photo, I set the camera to ISO 100, 1/60 at f/22. Here’s the deal, it’s really bright out and I need a slow shutter speed. My ND filter is in the car. Going to the car is going to involve a walk back to the car. I’m feeling lazy this day and to achieve this speed I had to close down the aperture as much as possible. Here is where it gets tricky, you want the background blurred, but you still want the subject fairly sharp. Some softness with this is acceptable from what all of my other “professional” friends tell me, maybe they just can master this skill? There is a low rate of success for this at first. You have to match the correct speed of the object to keep the subject sharp. I spent a couple of hours working on this and out of all the photos that I shot; there was a very small handful that I kept.

 This pelican was photographed at the South Jetty in Venice, Florida by Spencer Pullen.Blurry Sharp Pelican – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

To appease my birding friends, I tried this with some of the pelicans that were fishing in the area. This is the best one that I got. His body is sharp while his wings are blurry. This is actually what I was going for. This is something creative that you may want to try with your bird photos to help show motion. This is a difficult technique to master and I have to admit, I need more practice to get the result that I’m going for. As with any of this stuff, practice makes perfect. Now I see why everyone wants to shoot with a fast shutter speed, it’s easy to get the shots that way. Panning at slower speeds can be a challenge.

If you live in Florida, take some time and find a busy inlet or port. This is a great place to practice new techniques or play with new gear. Who knows, you might even be able to hook up with the folks who rent boards and jet skis and take photos and sell them. Shoot lots and try fast and slow speeds. This is what those other letters are for on the camera (S/TV and M). Trust me, your camera won’t blow up if you leave the green square for a bit.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Great shots Spence. Maybe our next field trip should be to an inlet. That sounds like fun.

  2. Love the “Wide Open Jet”. Looks like a good day near the water.

  3. The thought of you in a purple polka-dot bikini is a visual I won’t soon purge! I’d forgotten about the Venice jetty, thanks ~ great post.

    • Spencer

      Ya, I would look like cousin Eddie from the Vacation movies in my Speedo!

  4. I was on a trip to the Inlet with a few weeks ago. Your pictures are clear and fun, although as a novice I think some of mine were nice. I esp liked capturing the bubbles in the spray off the boats

  5. Thanks, Spencer, I really enjoyed these photos. Looking forward to our field trip tomorrow afternoon. I am going to take some photos today. I have a morning dove with a nest in one of my hanging baskets.

  6. What’s with the polka dots…?

    I enjoyed the pics, you brought them to life, you know a pro when you see one.

    My favorite was the Jet Spray

  7. thanks for your continued ‘posts’

  8. Hi Spencer
    I really enjoyed reading your adventures and the photos. Keep them coming.
    Linda O

  9. Fabulous! Love the action shots!


  1. Surfing at the South Jetty – Venice, Florida | Spencer Pullen Photography and Training - […] active surfing beach called the South Jetty. I have written posts on this location before, such as: Water Sports…

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