While paddling through the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, I came upon an awesome scene. Multiple juvenile alligators were stacked upon logs and lily pads in a small cove on Minnie’s Lake. My eyes took in the whole scene and I was overwhelmed with delight and wonder. But my joy was replaced with a bit of sadness because I knew the limitations of photography would hinder capturing the scene.
One young alligator lay close to my canoe, while three gators were stacked on a fallen cypress further back in the scene. This was a problem, for, in photography terms, they were in different focal planes. If I focused on the three alligators up on the log, the one near me would be out of focus. And if I trained my lens upon the gator close by my canoe, the triplets on the log would be blurred. So my little brain ticked away and I decide to take multiple shots and see if I could “focus stack” them later.
One source states, “Focus stacking is a digital image processing technique which combines multiple images taken at different focus distances to give a resulting image with a greater depth of field (DOF) than any of the individual source images.” In simpler terms, you take one photo with the foreground in focus and combine it with another photo with the background in focus. The two (or more) photos are “stacked” in layers in the processing software and a final image is produced that has the entire scene in focus.
Ideally, you want to have the camera secured without movement on a tri-pod so each photograph is identical in composition. I was in a moving canoe, and had to do the best I could. Although it was more of a challenge to combine the photos, it worked out fairly well with my alligator scene. Still, a photograph just can’t replace the immensity of the moment… alligators on the left, alligators on the right, a breeze blowing through the Spanish Moss, the buzz of dragonflies, and the gentle current of the Suwannee River as it flows through the Okefenokee Swamp. You just have to be there!
The Okefenokee Swamp presents the adventurer an impressive number of alligator encounters. Large gators often line the edges of Okefenokee’s lakes, like Billy’s Lake, Minnie’s Lake and Big Water. These gators rarely pose a threat to humans, and more often than not they dive into the water before you even approach too closely. But at times they will allow some real close-up shots. (The alligator in this series of photos was very reluctant to leave its warm sunning log.)
In early spring, when the waters are cool and the sun is warm, they may stay upon their basking spots and allow some really close approaches. But don’t mistake their tolerance for tameness. Even though the gators look huggable, they are not pets and the Okefenokee is not a petting zoo!
In my many visits I have had no real concerning close-calls. Only once, while photographing a pod of babies, did a female alligator approach rather than evade. Female alligators will protect their young and nests, so it is best to stay clear of an angry momma.
On the final day of our 2019 Okefenokee Swamp canoe trek, my daughter and I came across a nice sized Cottonmouth snake. It was just off the side of the boardwalk of the Trembling Earth trail in Stephen C Foster State Park.
I was amazed how well hidden it was, camouflaged in his brown and black colors that matched the sticks, branches and leaf litter of the swamp. In fact, I would never have spotted it if another hiker hadn’t pointed it out. It was just six feet off the side of the boardwalk and there is no telling how many people just walked on by oblivious of its presence.
After taking a few still shots with my telephoto lens, my daughter wanted some footage with her GoPro camera. Being a bit too far away for a decent video with such a wide-angle camera, I had to make a decison. What good father wouldn’t oblige his daughter? So I jumped off the boardwalk, found a branch, fished the venomous reptile out of the tannin stained waters and tossed him up on the boardwalk at my daughter’s feet!
The Suwannee; a mysterious blackwater river. Textured cypress tower high above, doubled in their height by their reflection in the obsidian-glass water. Their knees bumping and hindering the passage of the canoe. Pale green lichens and mosses creep out of the waters, ascending the base of every tree. Like swaying specters, the Spanish moss haunts every level overhead, left and right. The waters draw you slowly onward, hardly hinting at a current, and refusing to reveal what awaits around the next turn. So still, so quiet, so dark. Mystery. That is what draws us here. The Okefenokee.
Why come to the Okefenokee Swamp? Gators galore! Other than a zoo, I haven’t been to another spot where there are so many alligators and so many opportunities for close up photography in the wild. Alligators of all sizes lie everywhere about this majestic swamp!
Often, I return home with hundreds of usable alligator photos and footage. It is hard to decide what to delete, so I keep them all! Each gator has its own personality when you sit and watch them closely enough.
The Okefenokee Swamp Park is broadcasting Professor Don Berryhill’s video series, Okefenokeology! Subscribe to their YouTube channel to receive updates. “Watch this episode of Professor Don Berryhill’s Okefenokeology Program. In this episode, he answers the question of why fire is necessary in the Okefenokee and discusses the Big Turnaround Fire of 2007.”
The Okefenokee Swamp Park is broadcasting Professor Don Berryhill’s video series, Okefenokeology! Subscribe to their YouTube channel to receive updates. “Watch this episode of Professor Don Berryhill’s Okefenokeology Program. In this episode, Professory Berryhill will discuss several deer hides he has obtained over the years.”
Birds and reptiles! Large wading birds and huge reptiles of the order Crocodilia! That is what the Okefenokee is all about. It’s a wildlife photographer’s dream! But in 2019 there was something new for me: small passerines!
New for me on this year’s paddling excursion was my new pair of Zeiss Conquest HD binoculars that I bought from Redstart Birding. I clipped the strap to my canoe seat with a carabiner just in case. At times it was a pain to swap back and forth between my camera and the binoculars, but the clarity and the field of view with the Zeiss optics was unbeatable! It was much easier to locate the birds and wildlife with the binoculars, switch and fire away with the Nikon D500, and then go back to the Zeiss once the shot was captured. I enjoyed watching the quirky behavior of the Parulas through the binoculars.
The Okefenokee Swamp Park is broadcasting Professor Don Berryhill’s video series, Okefenokeology! Subscribe to their YouTube channel to receive updates. “Watch this episode of Professor Don Berryhill’s Okefenokeology Program. In this episode, he discusses cypress trees and the cross section displayed at the Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross, GA.”
The Okefenokee Swamp Park is broadcasting Professor Don Berryhill’s video series, Okefenokeology! Subscribe to their YouTube channel to receive updates. “Watch this episode of Professor Don Berryhill’s Okefenokeology Program. In this episode, he will provide information about ‘How did the Okefenokee Swamp get here?'”