Trip reports from our past Manatee photography Workshop 2013

A Visit with Manatees 2013

Swimming with and photographing manatees is one of the most relaxing and rewarding underwater photography I do. I love sharing it with guests especially when it is their first encounter in the water with manatees. This year we had a mix of manatee veterans and those having their first manatee experience. Our 2013 Manatee Workshop was a magic experience for everyone with excellent weather and plenty of manatees. Whether they were from the UK, California, Oregon, or Florida our photographers of all skills returned with beautiful images, fun videos, new friends, and great memories.

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swimming the Rainbow River

A guests photographs a manatee photographing manatees in the freshwater spring

Lori plays with a baby manatee

Markus gets the shot

too fun to snap pictures

As underwater photography goes, this trip was very relaxing. Thick wetsuits were recommended due to the amount of time spent in the 72' water. We would arrive at the boat each morning after sunrise and make the slow idle speed trek to the springs. On the way we would spot several manatees swimming between springs. Our pontoon boat gave us plenty of room to suit up and relax on breaks from being in the water. Each night we ventured out into the town for a nice meal and good conversation.

The drift down the Rainbow River was a fun and unusual experience for everyone. The spring fed waters are absolutely clear and every detail of the "river of grass" and aquatic life is easy to see in the bright water.


mother and baby manatees


Patience and time is the best formula for getting great pictures of manatees in the springs. Our long days on the water gave us the luxury of taking our time and waiting for the manatees and the great opportunities. We would witness the change in water clarity as the tide flowed and how the manatees reacted to the other swimmers in the water. Being in the springs is a joy itself as the azure blue water and white sand bottom is breathtakingly beautiful and the whole tree-ringed spring has an oasis feeling. What a wonderful place to be on a sunny afternoon.

comerant underwater

Certain times of the day the manatees would become active and seek out interaction. We had chances to photograph courting behavior as well as rolling and asking attention from the human visitors. One afternoon we found ourselves alone in the springs with many manatees engaging with us and the sun shining into the clear water. Other manatees floated in mid water in a Zen like state adding to the dreamlike scene. This was the magic moment we will all remember from this trip.

Conservation was never far from our minds as we engaged with manatees according to the rules. Several times one of our group or another swimmer would spot a manatee with a concerning injury or odd behavior which was reported to the Manatee Watch and Fish and Wildlife personnel. Many officials were on hand to make sure the manatees are not stressed or bothered by the presence of the photographers and swimmers. No bad behavior is tolerated.

Photographing Manatees

manatee sleeping manatees swim a ballet

A manatee sound asleep on the bottom

Manatees perform a swimming ballet

Photographing manatees does not require the use of strobes: if the water is dark it is usually also stirred up and the strobes will only highlight the dirty water. When the water is clear, the light comes through nicely and reflects onto the underside of the animal off the white sand. Manatees are mostly near the surface which helps the lighting conditions. The best action or interaction shots come in between pauses for a 10 minute sleep so it is best to move around to catch the best light, an active animal, or check and experiment with your settings while waiting for the next burst of action. Manatees can also be quite funny and give you some unexpected and humorous shots.

manatee takes a breath mother and baby manatee

Taking a breath

Mother and baby manatee

During our learning sessions, we discussed using Lightroom for organizing photos and helping with the import, culling, rating and keywording, organizing, and resizing of photos. I also demonstrated the powerful nondestructive editing tools in Lightroom and when you might want to use Photoshop for access to more highly advanced tools.

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