A Day At The Beach – Siesta Beach – Sarasota, Florida

Since I teach all over Southwest Florida I visit numerous places and it’s interesting to see how things change over time. When my parents and I moved down in the late 80’s we visited everywhere to take in all of the “Florida” we could. After about a month we were Floridaed out, not to mention that four letter word called work was always getting in the way. On of the places that we visited back then was Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida. This is truly a great place to visit; it was just named “America Best Beach” a few years ago. I have to admit this shocked me as I live about 45 minutes down the road. I would have thought that Hawaii would have been a shoe in. In the back of my mind I put this place back on my “to visit” list as I hadn’t been there since we moved down. In my camera classes, I like to mix it up with classroom style learning as well as “in the field” hands on learning. I find this is a good method and helps the info stick in the grey matter.

One of the students suggested that we go to Siesta Beach for our field trip. This was a perfect time to revisit the area and get some shooting in as well. The following week we showed up at America’s best beach and hoped for the best. The first thing that came to my mind might not have been on the top of everyone else’s mind. As I looked around, this sand was pure white quartz. Nikon and Canon would kill to get their hands on this stuff. In case you didn’t know, this is the starting material for the lenses in cameras. I know that Nikon owns their own sand pits so they have QA over the entire process. After I stopped staring at the white sand and thinking about all of the 800mm lenses that could be made out of this, we got going (hey, I never said I was right to begin with!). It was an overcast day. Those of you who have been faithful readers of the blog will know that I love these kinds of days. You can’t take a bad photo, the highlights and shadows are most even and the camera has a chance of capturing all of the details. The students that I was with looked at each other and didn’t quite see the value of this situation yet. It wasn’t long and I explained the lighting and why they need to run and get their cameras on days like this.

As we were looking around, there were folks walking around and lifeguards in the shacks keeping an eye on everything. Other than this, the activity was pretty quiet. I wasn’t sure at this point what we were going to photograph. Some of the students took each other’s portraits and we photographed some shells. My creative tank was drying up quick and I needed to come up with something fast for these folks to practice their new skills on. Since I make a daily ritual of shredding a print to offer a sacrifice to the Photographer’s Gods, they paid me back ten fold when I needed it the most. I saw something down the beach and I told everyone let’s go take a look a see what was going on.

As we walked down the beach, there was a nice breeze and some birds came into view. A year or so ago, I took a wading bird photography course. This was going to be my chance to actually use it. I told my students to get low and get as close to the birds as possible to fill the frame.

 Spencer Pullen photographs Royal Terns at Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida.Someone Say Breadcrumbs? – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

The beach was filled with flocks of Royal Terns. If I didn’t have a class after this one, I would have gotten on my belly to get to their eye line. That would have been a sight! The next best thing was to crouch down and lower my angle. These guys were pretty tame, I would guess with all of the folks walking around they are used to people. Since it was overcast, it was perfect as the camera was able to capture the details in the whites and blacks.

 Flock of Royal Terns pointed in the wind ready for take off. Spencer Pullen photographed this at Siesta Beach in Sarastoa, Florida.Getting Ready For Take Off – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

The wind was picking up as we were there and the birds turned 180°. They were now facing into the wind. This reminded me of when I used to fly aircraft and we always had to take off into the wind. They were all lined up like jets on an aircraft carrier ready to flex some U.S. muscle on some country (Go Air Force!). Again, getting low I was able to try and get to their level. Some of the students were using scene modes, which can be pretty handy. I told them to use the “portrait” mode for these birds. They looked at me kind of funny and I explained that they probably wanted to blur the background and have the bird pop off the background. They agreed and told them to give it a go. This would be the same as shooting Aperture Priority with a wide open aperture such as f/2.8 for example. They looked at me with a surprise look and said it worked. I laughed and told them not to tell everyone, as they would all be doing it! Using the “portrait” mode might seem strange since there is an icon of a person for this mode. Here is my thinking; we are taking a portrait of a bird, works for me! I’m getting uneasy as we have some shooting time left and I was hoping for one more subject to photograph so the students would walk away with a collection of photos for the day. Once again, the Photographer’s Gods came to the rescue.

 A Skimmer makes a pass for fish at Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Here Come The Skimmers – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Off in the distance there was some kind of animal heading our way at high speed. I had no idea what was going on. I admit, not being a birder I had no idea what these creatures were, as I had never seen this before. One of my students told me these were “Skimmers”. I asked if their beaks were broken, they laughed and explained this is how they fished. Nevertheless, this was perfect. I see this as action opportunity and this was a chance for the students to try and stop the bird and get a clear photo. I shoot in manual mode so I dialed in 1/1000 at f/5.6 and set my ISO according to achieve that speed. I think I was at ISO 800 if memory serves me. I also put the camera in continuous mode, this is also known as burst mode. I was in luck as this guy made multiple passes in front of us and this gave us several chances at grabbing him.

 Spencer Pullen photographs a Skimmer fishing at Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida.In Pursuit Of Fish – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

For the folks that were shooting in scene mode, I told them to move from portrait mode to “sports” mode or the guy running. In an instant, their camera was programmed as mine was and they were off shooting at rapid speed. Again, if you look at the detail of the whites and blacks you can see detail everywhere.

There you have it, another successful photo adventure. At the end of the day, don’t forget to make a beautiful print and take it outside, tear it up and throw the pieces into the air as a sacrifice to the Photo Gods. This might have more about keeping your eyes open and looking for details. We were at the right place at the right time, which is really what it boiled down to. Keep the camera batteries charged and camera cards empty so the camera is always ready to be used at any moment, you just never know when you are going to get the shot of a lifetime.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Love the last one! Nice reflection in the water 🙂

  2. Hi Spencer
    Enjoyed reading about your day at the beach. Wonderful photos.
    Thanks for the info.

  3. Thanks, just beautiful! They are special, Helene

  4. Getting Ready for Take Off grabbed my eye. I’m trying harder to get into the birds. Love the hint regarding the portrait mode. If I could just remember the hints when I am out working with the camera. Still have the habit of being dependent on that iPhone since it is always with me! Was asked to give a session at an educational seminar on using the iPhone camera. Went well but wish I could stay focused on the Nikon. So I’ll just keep reading the blogs to get motivated.

  5. Really nice pics. I loved the pursuit of fish pic as well as the pic with the wings open with the reflection of the water. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I too like the last won with the great reflection.

  7. beautiful….. I love the bird photos…. if you can teach me how to do similar ones, I’d be thrilled… see you on the 14th for the start of the next class!

    • Spencer

      Not a problem. The easiest way is to use the “Sports” preset that is on the camera. Thanks…


  8. This inspired me to get down to Siesta Key Beach to get some great photo opportunities.


  9. I got some great pics with the class that day too. For me, it was when things finally started to make some sense and the camera hasn’t been on “auto” mode since!

  10. Great photos at Siesta Key. Love that beach. See you Wed for Photoshop

  11. Spencer,

    Reading through the blog I enjoyed each photo better than the one before it. The detail is great. And, it sounds as though more than one student in that class walked away with at least one “ah ~ ha~” moment. Looks & sounds like it was great day all around. Thanks for sharing.

  12. You have a great eye Spencer. I would love to see some of your other work, especially of the beaches. We first visited Siesta Beach in 2012. What an amazing place.
    I hope to retire there some day.
    Would love to post your pics on my travel blog.


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