Manatee Photography Workshop, Crystal River Florida
Photograph manatees in the clear water of Central Florida's freshwater springs with host and photographer Gregory Sweeney. Workshop guests will enjoy a private boat from which to snorkel and we work at the manatee's pace: slow and patient, sometimes staying in the shallow water all day if conditions are good.Gregory Sweeney has been photographing manatees in this area for over 10 years and is eager to share tips and techniques with his guests. He also knows how to read weather, tide, and local conditions to get to the right area at the best times for photographic encounters. Guests will learn techniques to anticipate and capture behaviors and how to enhance their images with post processing techniques. We will also snorkel the breathtaking Rainbow River and take time to photograph local birds.
Is this trip right for me?
This trip is ideal for adults who want extended encounters with manatees; far longer than those offered by the morning tour boats. This excellent opportunity to see manatees is enjoyed by both photographers who want great images and wildlife lovers who just can't get enough manatees and the Florida springs. Guests should be comfortable being outside in varying weather conditions and on a boat or in the water all day. Because we are dealing with nature guests must have a patient attitude, adventurous personality, and respect for the wildlife during their encounters. Guests will return with new understanding for the lives and conservation challenges of manatees and treasure this fleeing chance to be with them in their natural habitat.
The water in the springs and Rainbow River is a constant 72' F. It is colder when mixed with the bay water. The daily weather is typically sunny and warms to temperatures comfortable for being outside in shorts and t-shirts. The weather can be windy and cloudy in which case it will be colder during the day. Nights can cool to just above frost temperature if a cold front is present.
Rules for engaging with manatees in and around the protected areas are will established and strictly enforced. Guests are expected to comply with them. Fish and Wildlife will fine anyone not following the rules. Guests will be asked to sign a participation agreement.
There is no scuba permitted in one of the protected springs, but the other has a small cave where scuba may be interesting. Rainbow River is a wonderful scuba or snorkel.
The Fish and Wildlife Service reserves the right to close manatee sanctuaries to visitors should the area experience extreme and unusual cold.
We will have a small tender boat available for guests that need to return to the hotel ahead of the group.
Some of the days we may stay on the water all day. Guests should have warm wetsuits and protection from wind, cold, and sun while on the boat such as fleece jackets, wind breakers, hats, swim towel, and sun protection.
Guests should arrange to arrive to Tampa (TPA) or Orlando (MCO) as these are the closest airports. The ride to Crystal River takes about 1 hour. We would like guests to arrive in by late afternoon so we can give the orientation at the hotel dive shop and have equipment such as weightbelts and cameras ready for a morning departure on the boat the next day.
We can recommend a taxi service to Crystal River from Tampa. We will do our best to coordinate sharing of taxis with other guests. Rental cars are available at the airports.
Hotel rooms have refrigerators and a free breakfast. Some mornings we may leave before the breakfast. Guests may bring food on the boat
Manatee Magic 2014
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 2014 Manatee Workshop was a magic experience for everyone with excellent weather and plenty of manatees. This year was special for me as it was my chance to introduce manatees to an all foreign group from New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Belgium, and Germany
Read Comments from our Manatee Workshop Guests
Using good techique to photograph manatees
Capturing the beauty of the springs
part of the group taking a break on the boat
Manatees seek the warmer waters of the freshwater springs when the weather and water temperatures on the open water gets too cold. With the usually harsh winter, it was easy to hope for warm weather, but this is not the best for manatee viewing. Florida has had a few cold snaps so far this winter so the manatees were congregated in the area and would move into the springs at night and in greater numbers on the colder nights. Our first 2 days we experienced very pleasant weather with sunny skies.
We would arrive early in the morning when much of the springs were shaded by the trees. The dimmer surface light made for some nice reflections on the water surface with a mirror like effect in the images as the manatee rose up to breath. In some areas of the spring, the white sand bottom created enough reflected light to illuminate the underside of the manatee. I do not use strobes very often relying mostly on the natural light. I was using my Canon 5D MK3 with a EF16 - 25mm lens. I was using ISO between 320 and 640 and a shutter speed of 1/100 or 1/125 sec (manatees are pretty slow).
By Wednesday it became cold and windy with some clouds. While not as comfortable, this was great for photography: softening the harsh overhead sun into the clear water. Manatees were plentiful. Some of the younger manatees seemed very happy to be in the springs and engaged with us and other manatees providing some great shots. Our favorite times were in the late afternoons with the incoming tide bringing many manatee into the spring.
There are multiple locations in the King's Bay region to find manatees. We visited a few of these to photograph in the different water conditions. Outside of the springs the water is greener and less clear giving a different character to the photos. Manatees are not the only wildlife in the springs and we had fun photographing the cypress trees and schools of fish. During a quiet moment one of the mornings, a very large and menacing snapping turtle presented himself. Several other turtles made appearances as well. The springs were not the only place we saw turtles and fish. While navigating the drift snorkel down the Rainbow River we encountered plenty. The 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.
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.
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. Conservation was never far from our minds as we engaged with manatees according to the rules. We witnessed some manatees with old injuries and some who were tagged for observation and possible medical intervention.
I want to thank all of the guests for making this such a wonderful and successful week. We had some great conversations at dinner and while standing waist deep in the water. I hope to see each of you again. It was also a treat to see people who were with us last year and on other underwater trips. Some of the guests will be joining me in a few weeks on the Tiger Shark Dive Expedition in the Bahamas. I look forward to returning to the manatees and sharing this magical experience with more guests next year.