Just Another Day At The Office – Boca Grande, Florida

When I left “Corporate America” it was liberating and nerve racking at the same time. I felt the freedom of not having to answer to “The Man”, especially one over me who had no clue about what I did for the company. On the flip side, you don’t ever know when your next project will come along thus your paycheck. Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone however, if you don’t mind working hard and beating the pavement, this could be the best thing that ever happens to some. When I worked for one of my past employers, it was a demanding job. We were understaffed and of course they wanted 300% production out of everyone. Going to the bathroom some days seemed like a privilege, not a right. Finally, I had enough.

With the support of my family, we decided that it was time that I made money for myself instead of making it for someone else. It has been in interesting road, some days are better than others, but I would never trade it for the best days that I had working in the corporate world. It’s projects like the one that you are about to read, makes this type of work environment very pleasurable.

Boca Grande Pass. Yes, the water is really that color. This pass leads out to the Gulf of Mexico.

One of our clients called and asked if we would photograph a tarpon tournament, in fact three tarpon tournaments. I’m always game for just about anything. You have to be a little nuts for this type of profession in my opinion. This sounded like another adventure so I was all for doing it. This project was going to take place in Boca Grande, Florida. Boca Grande is Spanish for “Big Mouth”, a good place for me. Boca Grande is where the Bush’s, Kennedy’s as well as other dignitaries stay when they want paradise, but don’t want to leave the country. Boca Grande offers clear, turquoise blue water and an atmosphere where you can relax in style…as long as you have money. As far as the real estate goes, I have heard that the billionaires are pushing out the millionaires! I was also told that Boca Grande has the highest number of billionaires in the world. It’s quite amazing to see what people do when they are “comfortable”. I’m glad that I live about 20 minutes from this location. It’s a great place to go fishing and sea shelling. There are miles of seashells and sharks teeth to pick from. When I have relatives in town this place is usually on the list. But, there is a dark side to this place as well, however I’ll explain that later.

The first of the three tournaments was the ladies only tournament. I was not able to get connected with a boat so I set up shop on the beach with a tripod and my 80mm-400mm lens. All of the fishing was going on in the pass so I was able to get somewhat out there and see what was going on. I watched through the viewfinder waiting for someone to get a bite. Hour after hour went on and nothing. Off to my right I heard a lot of commotion and hollering. I’m thinking this is great, finally a tarpon, not exactly. There were also some on lookers that were fishing from the beach. When I looked over, I couldn’t believe what I had seen. It was a Bull Shark. Here is the dark side of this wonderful place. As I was talking with people, they were telling me that Boca Grande also being paradise has one of the biggest shark populations in the world. It has to do with how the pass was created and the abundant “available food”. After watching River Monsters with Jeremy Wade, I knew that these animals are not to be messed with. As you can see from the photo, this caused quite a stir. Another photographer told me that the shark was going to make many meals for the fishermen. I waited it out for a while longer and still no tarpon was caught. I was hot and tired so I packed up my gear and headed home, hoping that I would grab the “money shot” on the next tournament.

A Bull Shark was caught on the beach. You can see what a stir it caused.

A few days later, it was time for the “Fishermen Guides” tournament. If you want to go fishing and want a guide, this is the place to come. This time I was able connect with a boat. I arrived a little early and gathered my gear. I had a chance to talk with the captain of the 24’ footish boat that I was going to be on. I could tell that she was an experienced salty sea captain and had lived in the area most of her life. She was also the head judge for the tournament, so I was going to get really close to the action. All of the tournaments are catch and release, with this format, the judge has to verify that the tarpon is on the line and verify the time that it was released. I wanted to keep the equipment to a minimum, as possible, salt water and expensive camera gear don’t get along. I took my camera bag, my case for the 400mm lens and most important a cooler with water. Once we got on our way, she showed me a red bucket and said, “If I needed to go, here’s the bathroom.” I knew it was going to be an interesting time. I don’t get to go out on boats to often so I had to get my sea legs really quick. I found a space on the back of the boat or should I say it was the actual side of the boat. I held on and once she passed the outer maker, she threw open the throttle and we were off to the races. This was boating, going what seemed like 60mph on the water.

We arrived at the pass about 15 minutes before the tournament and one by one the competitors arrived. I asked how much it cost to enter and she replied, “$2,500, but this is a deal because it used to be $5,000.” Now I know how “comfortable” folks relax. The time had arrived and it was time to drop the lines in the water. I took a few test shots with my 18mm-200mm lens and I quickly realized that 200mm was going to be to short. I switched to my 80mm-400mm lens and I was able to get right up on the fishermen. Here’s the thing, you will here all kinds of people tell you have to have a tripod with such a big lens. Well, I agree with that, however when you are on something that is bobbing up and down in the water like toy in the bathtub with a two year old, a tripod really won’t help you here. I thought to myself, what if I were to set this up like I did when I photographed the Blue Angels? I set my ISO 200, 1/1600 at 5.6. If you can picture this, I’m going up and down, the fisherman is going up and down on their boat, I had to somehow stop both of our bobbing and also get the content framed up. Looking through the viewfinder, I would see the boat, and then it would disappear. Getting a one off shot was going to be next to impossible. I set the camera to continuous mode and I was able to get 10 frames a second. I tried again, and the subject was in focus and I even got the subject in the frame! Here is one other tip, shooting on the water can introduce a lot of glare in your photos. I used a circular polarizer to cut through this. This is one filter that says in my bag all the time. This is part of the profession, you have to come up with solutions on the fly and hope that it works!

During the first hour, not one fish seemed present. I was hoping that is wasn’t going to be a repeat of the first tournament. After awhile, it was like someone had flipped a switch. People were yelling “Fish On!” all over the place. Now, I’m trying to get some great shots for the client, here’s where it gets even more fun, since I was on the judges boat, she had to go to where the fisherman was to verify the fish. At times this was across the pass. With no warning she would hit the throttle and go. One time I almost when overboard. I think seats are in order for this particular boat.

Here is what $2,500 looks like on the face of a fisherman, hoping to get the big prize.

At the end of the day, I think that 20 tarpon were caught and released. I captured some great images of the event, including the “money shot” that’s at the beginning of this post. By the way, I didn’t need to use the “red bucket”.

A couple of days later it was time to photograph the last event, the kids tournament. As the name implies, this was limited to kids 15 or younger. As I made my way back out to Boca Grande, I was wondering if I was going to be faced with another “red bucket” scenario. When I arrived at the docks, I was presently surprised. These people were first class and had given the media a “camera boat”. This boat was huge and had…PADDED SEATS! I was blissful with joy, no more sore bottom! I settled in and sat back and relaxed. The back of the boat had a canopy over it so we wouldn’t get to much sun exposure. On the way out the pass, I noticed one of the other photographers made his way up to the bow of the boat. There was a small ledge that was just wide enough for the ball of your foot that lead to the bow. On the bow there wasn’t any obstructions. I too made my way up to the front of the ship, not being a skinny nimble person, I had the First Mate pass me my gear through a window when I got up there. This time I knew how and what to shoot. Like before, the first hour there was nothing, then all of the sudden the kids started to get fish on the end of their lines. Not being on a judging boat, this meant we could cruise over and not feel like we were on a bullet train when trying to photograph. At the end of the day, many kids were able to hook up with tarpon and have the experience of a lifetime.

Here is one of the kids fighting all his might to bring in his tarpon.

On the way back to the docks, it was a beautiful sunset as I was over looking the pass. I felt like Horatio Cane from CSI Miami going to catch someone. It was a really great feeling, best of all, I was getting PAID to do this. So do I miss my 4 foot my 8 foot cubicle space that I used to have to work in….not at all!

National Geographic’s ship working on content for their Shark Week show.

As a side note, on the last trip out to the pass, we encountered this huge ship. I asked if anyone knew anything and I was informed that it was National Geographic’s ship. They were working on a piece for their “Shark Week” show. A Bull shark and National Geographic ship’s in the pass….I’ll keep my fat rump out of the water.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean

Spencer

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