Lakes Park – Fort Myers, Florida

One of the many famous quotes that I have heard over my lifetime is, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Recently, I have been making lots of lemonade. As photographers, we have our great shoots and other days we wonder why we even bothered to leave the house. I have had the pleasure of teaching classes at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers lately. As luck would have it, every time we are slotted to go out on a field trip, it clouded over and rained. Of course, during the other days when we are inside the classroom, the weather cooperates just fine. After the third class of rotten weather, I’m starting to take it personally! I did what any photography teacher would do for their students, I offered one of my Compact Flash cards as a sacrifice to the Photographer God, hoping this was going to ease the situation. Apparently, it was the wrong brand or size, as it didn’t work!

The class was to assemble at Lakes Park in Fort Myers, Florida for the class field trip. This is a pretty cool place as there is something for everyone and the price is right. I just drop $5 in the meter so I can stay the day. There is a botanical garden, water park for the kids and other activities such as biking and canoeing. The hot dogs and ice cream isn’t bad either, I’m just sayin’. I arrived a few minutes early to make sure everyone knew where the correct meeting place was and it’s starting to cloud over. I’m trying to be hopeful that the weather will hold off for a couple of hours so we can at least get through the class. As folks arrive, we chat with each other and come up with the day’s activities. We just make it out of the parking lot and start down one of the paths and the skies open up. This is where I’m glad that I paid the extra money for a weather sealed camera body. I know; the zip lock bag was in the car…great place for it. Everyone bolted for the nearest shelter, the students split into two groups. One group made it into the garden under a gazebo and the other group found a pavilion where parents were scrambling to get their five year old’s birthday party stuff under cover. Being childless, I naturally found myself in this group. At least the kids’ screaming was at a  minimum so I left my duct tape in my bag. As we are standing there waiting for the rain to stop, I half kiddingly said, “At least there’ll be rain drops on the flowers!” Less than five minutes went by and the rain stopped and the cool air arrived. We just had our “cold front” arrive in Florida. It was still clouded over, however checking the radar on my iPhone, it assured me that the squall line of storms had passed. We threw the dice and started back on the path to the gardens and met up with the other half of our group.

Since it was cloudy, this was going to be perfect for photos as the contrast was going to be in a range that the camera’s sensor could capture all in a single frame. We started to spread out and see what we could find. Having been to this location before, I usually get stuck in the garden for my stay. Thinking this may happen again, I fitted my Nikon with my Nikon 105mm macro lens. This lens is one of my sharpest and fastest focusing. With macro photography, the “rule” states that you need a tripod and shutter release. I agree with this….as long as you aren’t getting rained on. This day we were going to go old school, hand holding. Knowing this, I split the difference with my ISO and aperture to get a fast enough shutter speed as not to incur any blur. Since it was cloudy out, I had less light to work with. This meant a higher ISO than usual. I set my ISO to 800. To achieve maximum depth of field at these close-working distances, I would have liked to stop down to f/22, but I was going to hand hold and that would have killed my shutter speed. I set the aperture to f/11 to get started with. This was giving me a shutter speed of around 1/160. This was going to be fast enough for sharp photos. As the day went on, the sun came out once in awhile and I adjusted my shutter speed accordingly to keep the correct exposure.

 Spencer Pullen photographed this Monarch butterfly at Lakes Park in Fort Myers, Florida.Monarch Butterfly – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

As I walked down the path, it wasn’t long and this wonderful butterfly appeared. He was all over the place, but after watching him for a few minutes, it was apparent that he was favoring a certain cluster of flowers. I got in position and waited. Sure enough, he came back time and time again. I was able to take multiple shots during each of his visits to the flower.

 This is a birds eye view on a monarch butterfly eating at Lakes Park in Fort Myers, Florida.Monarch Butterfly – Birds Eye View – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

One of the photos that I wanted to take was a “birds eye view”. After a few minutes, he realized that I wasn’t there to eat him so he stuck around longer and let me get closer. When I was processing this photo, I didn’t realize that butterflies had back hair. I guess I can share my waxing appointments with him!

 This Gulf Fritillary was getting something to eat at Lakes Park in Fort Myers, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Gulf Fritillary Butterfly – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

I continued down the path now that I had about 100 shots of the Monarch and decided to see what else I could harass. I got about twenty feet down the path and I walked into this fellow. Again, working on gaining his trust and watching which flowers he was favoring, I was able to grab a few frames as he landed to get something to eat. Since it was cloudy out, I was able to keep the detail in his white spots on his wings. This is why I love shooting on overcast days.

 Spencer Pullen photographed this honey bee gathering nectar at Lakes Park in Fort Myers, Florida.Honey Bee At Work – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

As I mentioned in the past, I don’t do well with bees. As a kid I would walk into an underground nest of yellow jackets up north and my arm would blow up the size of a balloon. I was told that I’m not allergic but “sensitive”. Needless to say, I stay out of their way and they usually leave me alone, unless I’m wearing one of my Hawaiian shirts, where they come and try to pollinate the flowers on my shirt. This flower was unusual, as I had never seen one like this before. As some of the students and I were discussing this flower, a bee showed up and started to stick his head into the center of it. The wind was blowing all over so we had to stabilize the flower enough to get a shot. With the camera in one hand, I reached around and held the flower still with the other, hoping that this wasn’t going to result in another balloon arm. He left me alone, as he was busy doing his thing. I kind of laughed when I was taking this; some of the students asked what was so funny. I explained this was a self-portrait. They gave me a strange look, I said this is what I look like when I get a fresh box of doughnuts from Krispy Kreme!

 This purple lily was photographed by Spencer Pullen at Lakes Park in Fort Myers, Florida.Water Lily – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Sometimes you have to have an intervention with nature to get the shot. Especially when a student is trying to take a photo and is frustrated because there is an obstacle in the way that is going to ruin things. There is a little man made fountain/pond where there was this lone purple lily. It was gorgeous and it even had raindrops on the leaves! The problem was that there was a stick that fell on the flower. This is one of those times that you want to fix it at the time of capture and not have to spend an hour in Photoshop cloning it out. We were trying to decide who was going to draw the short straw to go into the water and remove the offending stick. I realized that I had my tripod with me. I extended one of the legs out and balanced myself on one of the rocks on the side and I was able to “massage the scene”. Tripods aren’t just for holding cameras anymore!

 Spencer Pullen photographed this lily at Lakes Park in Fort Myers, Florida.Monochrome Lily – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

On the other side of the fountain, there was a yellow lily. This one didn’t need an intervention (is there such a thing as a plant whisperer?) and was perfect just the way it was. Since it was a pale yellow color, my wife suggested that I try it in black and white. I really like the way it turned out as the details held together. I could have painted black around the outside for more impact, but I need time to sleep so this is going to fly as is.

After the initial two-minute monsoon, the weather did hold and we all walked away with some amazing photographs. Crappy weather can mean opportunity to get photos that no one else has, you have to just be prepared. If you live in a metropolitan city, I would go out at night in the city after a rainstorm. The colors of the city will reflect off the wet pavement and enhance your scenes. When buying a camera, I recommend getting one that is weather sealed for an extra layer of protection. My camera has been in numerous light storms and still works like the day I got it. I’m not advocating subjecting your gear to harsh elements if you don’t have to, but if you get stuck, you won’t have to worry as much. Another tip is to slow down, I’m guilty of this myself. I get so excited to what is in front of me that I just start shooting and praying that something will come out. I find if I slow down a bit, the quality of the photos will improve and you’ll take home more keepers.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Beautiful!

  2. You’ve outdone yourself! Beautiful!

  3. Hey, Spencer – The one you’ve identified as a monarch is actually a queen butterfly. There are a whole bunch that look the same, and you end up looking at the number, color, configuration, and size of the dots to determine who is who. There’s the monarch, queen, viceroy, soldier, and the American Lady. It’s incredibly confusing, especially when they are flitting all over and you can’t get a good look. I recommend getting an Audubon app for your phone – they have multiple photos with wings open, wings closed, etc. The other thing folks might like to do is volunteer for periodic butterfly counts down at Corkscrew Swamp. You get to ride around in a truck with people who know their butterflies, and you learn a whole lot. Hope this helps! – Erin

    • Spencer


      Thanks for the clarification. I had no idea that there were so many classifications. It’s always nice to have a naturalist in the class to help identify these types of things. Thanks again…


  4. Thanks again for sharing so much beauty and info.
    And, may I say thank you to Erin for the butterfly info. Sounds like a road trip is in order!

  5. Spencer beside the fact that you are a wonderful photographer and a great instructor you are a gifted writer as well who with such a simplicity can give life to such beautiful pictures and combine information on photo techniques for us (students) to practice practice and practice over and over again! I hope to accomplish what it takes to become such an expert in photography. Thank you for sharing
    Ana Lilia

  6. Spencer

    As always, I appreciate everyone’s kind comments. I’m glad that folks are getting some useful info out there. I’m not special, anyone can do this, all it takes is practice. Shoot lots, and process the best ones.


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