Want to know where the prettiest beaches and parks in Tampa Bay are? How about when and where to see wildlife? Some people would tell you to consult Visit Florida or the state and county parks websites. Excellent suggestions, for sure — but I’d tell you to ask a photographer.
These adventurous souls are always exploring the area looking for new places, people, and things to point a lens at. Follow in their footsteps, and you’re sure to see some of the most beautiful places in Tampa Bay. We asked three professional photographers to tell us their favorite places to photograph in Tampa Bay. Here’s what they had to say.
John Chesnut Park, Clearwater Beach, and Phillipe Park
If you’re a fan of the Safety Harbor literary journal Odet, then you’ve probably seen Patricia Blauvelt’s beautiful nature photography. If you haven’t, then visit Pour Yours on Saturday. The Clearwater wine bar is hosting Blauvelt’s first solo photography show, Affections of Nature, which gives you a chance to be face-to-face with 18 Blauvelt photographs. Two of them are local landscapes — one taken at Clearwater’s Kapok Park and the other at Crystal River — but most of them are macro shots.
“I like maco and abstract,” says Blauvelt, who’s also done landscapes. “People buy more of those, but I’m more into the macro.”
Macro photography is a lot like holding a magnifying glass up to nature. For this reason, it’s often used to photograph insects, but Blauvelt loves to focus on something that tends to get overlooked.
“I’m a big fan of weeds,” says Blauvelt, who will take photographs anywhere she can find some nice weeds. Shooting macro, she says, lets someone get interesting photos without having to travel far from home.
“One of my favorite pictures is a piece of [this giant] cactus we have in our yard,” she says. “Everybody thinks it’s a snail. That’s why I love it so much; it’s abstract, and it’s nature.”
Two-hour, early morning photo adventures with a camera bag on her back have become a habit for Blauvelt, and they’ve found her visiting Moccasin Lake, John Chestnut, Philippe, and Kapok Parks. St. Petersburg beaches and the Clearwater pier get attention, and Blauvelt likes to take photos at the Safety Harbor pier at sunrise.
“If you take pictures in Florida, you do a lot of sunrises and sunsets,” says Blauvelt. One of the photographs in her show is a picture of seaweed floating in the water near the Safety Harbor pier. Another one of the photos is a picture of an umbrella in the water at Kapok Park.
“The pattern on [the umbrella] matched the water so well. I messed with the colors a little bit — there’s a blue tint on it. That’s one of my favorite pictures,” says Blauvelt, adding that it’s not always about the location.
“You don’t have to carve out half a day to go to Honeymoon Island,” says Blauvelt, who does admit that the trek is worth it. “I go mostly where I can get to easily by bicycle. People can explore their own neighborhood’s green spaces.”
Fort DeSoto, Circle B Bar Reserve, and Honeymoon Island
Fort DeSoto is also one of Jim Gray’s favorite places to take photographs, which makes sense considering his love of birds. Gray has traveled all over Tampa Bay and beyond to take photos of various birds.
“They’re everywhere, and they’re very convenient,” Gray says. But more than that, he finds their behavior fascinating. “Nesting season and courtship brings out the best in them, not only the behavior, but the colors as well.”
Gray says that the entertaining courtship of the skimmers, royal terns and sandwich terns out on the beach happens from March to May; someone could go out on just about any beach and look for flocks of different terns.
“They get very colorful and pretty entertaining,” he says. “The things the males will bring to try and entice the females with, from fish to squid to shrimp, it’s amazing.”
Many of Gray’s photographs have appeared in Audubon publications, from calendars to boating guides; 21 of them are on display at the Florida Aquarium in the hallway leading up to the Mosaic Center. This October, he’ll be sharing more photos at the Florida Birding & Nature Festival at Hillsborough Community College’s Brandon campus.
“I tell people if they want to get close to birds to photograph them, then they’ve got to go where there’s a lot of people, like a public beach,” says Gray, further explaining why Fort DeSoto is such a great place to photograph birds. Honeymoon Island is another one of Gray’s go-tos.
“The thing that’s cool about Honeymoon is all the osprey in the natural nests out there,” he says. The Osprey Trail is the most popular (and aptly named since it’s a mecca for the bird of prey), but eagles, great horned owls and hawks also fly there. The marshy areas, according to Gray are good for watching birds wade. “But I think the big attraction over at Honeymoon, for me anyway, is the birds of prey.”
Gray will go to the other side of the Bay area, however, and Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland is a regular spot thanks to its variety of wildlife.
“You can see bald eagles, hawks, wading birds, spoonbills, all kinds of egrets, birds of prey like great horned owls and barn owls,” says Gray of the Polk County greenspace, noting that there’s action on the ground, too. “Not only birds, but also bobcats, alligators and snakes.”
Sunken Gardens, Lake Maggiore, and Fort DeSoto
As the Director of Photography at the Morean Arts Center, Beth Reynolds pretty much photographs anything and everything, from portraits to tropical flowers to landscapes. When she’s not taking photographs, Reynolds is teaching other people how to take one through classes and workshops. This September, she is teaching a sold out dance photography workshop with Tom Kramer at [email protected] and organizing the soon-to-be-famous 24-hour community photography project called One Day Tampa Bay.
Reynolds’ top three places to photograph are Sunken Gardens, Lake Maggiore and Fort DeSoto, which I probably could have guessed from following her on social media (@bethphotoreynolds on IG).
Reynolds likes Sunken Gardens for its exotic tropical flora and fauna, and they often make their way online via beautiful photographs of the garden’s flowers and flamingos on Instagram. Boyd Hill Preserve’s 380-acre Lake Maggiore is another regular Reynolds haunt.
“I love to go out there and kayak with my point and shoot camera, and take wonderful pictures of our parks from the water side,” says Reynolds. Within the preserve, Reynolds tells us there are great hiking trails, a boardwalk that goes around the marsh area, and lots of owls.
“Fort DeSoto provides a lot of options for either doing those big vista landscapes, or macros of tiny little crabs in the sand, or water droplets on sea oats,” says Reynolds, who adds that Fort DeSoto is right on the migratory birding path.
“Every season there’s a different set of birds that come in… There are a lot of great trails to walk through [in Fort DeSoto] that I don’t think people realize,” she says. “Sometimes you can get a much closer look at some of the song birds that migrate through, or osprey, or marsh hairs. It’s just fascinating, you see something different every time.”