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Trip Report from our 2013 Manatee Photography Workshop



The 2013 Manatee Photography Workshop was a great success again this year. Florida performed like a champ blessing us with warm sunny days. This winter has been very warm which is great for visitors from colder climates, but not best for manatee viewing. Manatees seek the warmer waters of the freshwater springs when the weather and water temperatures on the open water gets too cold. This year many manatees remained out in open water closer to their food sources. Our first 2 days we experienced a very special population in the springs : pairs of mothers and babies. 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. A few of the guests tried some small strobe lights powered very low and used them to add a pop of light to the manatee’s chest. 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).


The middle of the week turned colder and brought in a new assortment of manatees. Some of the younger manatees seemed very happy to be in the springs and engaged with us and other manatees providing some great shots. A few of the guests forgot their cameras and just enjoyed the opportunity to interact with these endearing creatures. Our favorite times were in the late afternoons when the manatees returned from where they spent the day into the springs for the night.


manatee-workshop-log-5 image_3

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 residents of the springs. Guests were engaged in photographing the schools of large mullet, bass, and needle fish that reside in the springs. Turtles, boiling sand, crabs, and cyprus trees are also great subjects.


We also took an afternoon off to drift – snorkel down the Rainbow River. This 100% spring fed river flows at a nice pace. Along the way we saw the dense patches of eel grass undulating in the current, white limestone formations, fish, turtles, and diving birds. The river was a fun and beautiful way to spend a sunny afternoon. A visit to the Homosassa State Park gave us a chance to take pictures without underwater housings. Their collection of Florida native animals and wild birds gave us a great variety of subjects.

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. One of the guests will be joining me in a few weeks on the Tiger Shark Dive Expedition in the Bahamas.

Manatee Photography Tips from my Manatee Photography Workshop

Cinemagraph of a Manatee


My next manatee photography workshop will be in February 2015

Get details

We will be in the water nearly all day with the manatees which gives you plenty of time to practice your techniques and get some really great shots.  Unlike other underwater creatures that are gone in one exposure, manatees are slow and linger. Take advantage of this by planning each shot and doing some in the field analysis and learning from images you just made.


Getting a Great Shot of a Manatee Up for a Breath

The Situation:

There is a manatee asleep on the bottom near you.  Regulations say that you are not allowed to disturb them – especially diving down to get pictures of them asleep.  They can stay under for 10 minutes which is way to long to hover just underwater and wait. How do you get a good image of them coming up for a breath?

1) Choose a manatee who is facing such that there will be light on its face (not in the shade from a tree) and is preferably not facing such that you will be shooting into the sun.

2) Decide your angle; 3/4  shot, directly on, full side pose, vertical or horizontal camera position.  Scan what will be the background and plan to place undesirable elements like people behind the manatee or out of frame.

3) Get into position and float relaxed. Think about your settings, take test shots, adjust.  Take special note of the view of the sky through the water. The deeper you are the more sky will show. This may not be ideal.

4) When it is time, you will want to force some air out of your lungs which will make you sink a bit (you have already tested this and set your weights correctly). Push water up slowly but firmly with one hand to get you under – Do not move your legs or you will cloud your own picture and possibly freak out the manatee.

5) Watch the manatee. They usually have a “tell” when they are preparing to surface. Their body will rock a bit then begin to rise.  Exhale and sink, snapping pictures and keeping your body still and compact to limit movement.

6) snap shots  while the manatee is on the way up. Watch the framing of your shot to get the whole animal – nose to tail- in the shot.

7) Get a shot as he breaks the surface and takes in air. Then some on the way back down with the ripples on the surface.  The manatee may fall pretty fast.  Sometimes they dont get enough air and go right back up or linger.  Just hold your breath and be still .  Get the shot. You will have 10 minutes to rest and try again.

8) While you wait for the next breath examine your shots. Make a new plan.  Try a different manatee if this one is not in a good spot.