Being Crabby – Ponce de Leon Park – Punta Gorda, Florida

I took one of my photography classes that I teach here in Charlotte County out to Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. This might sound familiar as I did a photo shoot out there a couple of weeks ago at the Peace River Wildlife Center. If you haven’t seen what these great folks are doing out there to save these animals lives, click here.

Teaching in Charlotte County has its strong points and it’s challenges. We are on the Gulf of Mexico so there are many beaches and seascapes to photograph. However, when it’s 97 degrees out, I avoid the beach like a treadmill after going through the Krispy Kreme drive thru! This was the last field trip of the class so we wanted a variety of subjects to photograph.

We arrived on location around noon. I know this is the worst time of day, but this is always great practice for any photographer. If you can make an exposure in these harsh lighting conditions then you can make a photograph anywhere. One of the volunteers at the wildlife center met us out there and she tipped me off on something that I had never seen before in the 20 plus years that I have lived in the area. When the tide goes out, there is access to part of a secluded beach. With camera and hat secured, we trekked over mounds of seaweed, driftwood and other items that I’m still not sure what they were. As we moved along the beach we were bombarded by crabs. If you notice from the photo below, they are ALL looking at me with their claws in the “pinch” position!

 florida crabs ponce de leon spencer pullenCrabby crabs. – Spencer Pullen © 2012

I had my workhorse attached to my camera, my trusty 18mm-200mm lens. I racked it all the way out to 200mm and I wanted to get as close as possible to these guys to get their close up. Now, I’m a proponent of getting dirty if need be to get the shot. Well, I was already crouched down as far as I dared go as hundreds of these guys were crawling all over the place, including under me. All I could think of was getting the shot and making myself taller so they didn’t get any crazy ideas of pinching me in any precarious places!

Since it was noon out, I was faced with harsh shadows. All I had with me was my pop up flash. Well, this isn’t the sexiest light, but when it’s all you have, then it’s the best flash. I popped up the flash and adjusted the flash power to fill in the shadows and not over power the photo. This took a couple of tries. Since I was now using flash, I was limited to 1/250 of a second (If you are thinking hypersync, we’ll save that for another post).

One of my students didn’t let anything phase him so he, ugh….chased and picked one up! I was waiting to get the photo of him cussing as it pinched him, but he got it from behind. Here you can see him holding it long enough for me to get a portrait photo.

 purple crab florida ponce de leon spencer pullenTake me to your leader. – Spencer Pullen © 2012

After chasing the wildlife, I noticed some of the seascape had partial mangroves. In color I thought this was kind of a boring photo, but in black and white it had potential. I find that the worse the lighting condition, the better the black and white. I think it has to do with that higher contrast ratio thingy.

 black white charlotte harbor florida spencer pullenAlone in the mangrove. – Spencer Pullen © 2012

Since it was a little hot out, we made our way back to the main part of the park. I came upon this pelican as he was waiting for a fish from one of the fisherman. As you can see he is backlit. Originally the camera metered for the surrounding area and the result was that his chest area and under his wings were dark. I laughed and knew I was going to have to flash this bird (pun intended). Again, all I had was my pop up little flash. I cranked it up to the “nuclear” setting, as I had to throw the light quite a distance. It kind of worked. It certainly didn’t hurt it. This is where I would of loved to have my SB800, but I had to use what I had. So I came up with plan b. I held the camera as still as I could and I took one that was exposed for the highlights and one for the shadows. When I got home, I layered the two together and layer masked them together to get a pleasing photo. Sometimes you have to shoot for post. It’s better than no photo at all

 florida brown pelican ponce de leon spencer pullenWhere’s my fish? – Spencer Pullen © 2012

So there you have it, another successful trip in the great harsh outdoors. If you have a flash and haven’t used it, dust it off and give it a try. I have external flashes that use AA batteries. I like the Energizer rechargeables from Walmart. They are cheap and recycle quickly and last quite awhile, especially in these conditions where you are pushing full pops from the flash. Give yourself a challenge and go out and shoot at noon and see what you can come back with.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Great shots for noon-day lighting!


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