The Orlando Eye

The most recent of my work travels took me to central Florida. What would be the epitome of excitement for most, was more subdued to me. After all, I am primarily a landscape and nature enthusiast - not so much a commercialism and shopping kind of girl. Sitting at the terminal and watching all the families with their matching Disney outfits, thinking to myself just how much these people are paying to stay at a resort with all the crowds is such a foreign concept to me. Even though I'd get to see some of my family during this trip, I knew that the subsequent photo opportunities wouldn't amount to much. Or so I thought.


Part of the never-ending list of challenges a photographer faces is embracing a location and finding the hidden gems, or not-so-hidden gems. I got out the old trusty google maps and started to look around. I was not going to go to Disney, as the prices are absurd unless its a package deal or you are an in-state resident. Plus, I was working with the few hours of down time in-between working. Saw a place called ICON Orlando, which included a Ferris wheel and was within a mile of the hotel. Being a long-exposure fan, I packed up my gear and headed there.


Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised with the urban landscaping, which included a few fountains. The fountains lined up nicely with the Orlando Eye, as the Ferris wheel is called. I ended up hanging out here for a little over an hour, playing with different compositions, shutter speeds, and reflections.

The Orlando Eye

I ended up really enjoying this area! The wheel itself moved a a very slow pace. In order to get the motion blur like this, I had to keep the shutter open for at least 90 seconds. However, this also started to blow out the highlights a bit. Another method would be to do multiple exposures, but I wanted to keep it simple. The best part was I was able to get a shot of the moon!



The moon peeking through the Orlando Eye

Another fun game to play is trying to make rather mundane areas look and feel nice. This was the goal one morning while out trying to catch a sunrise. Sunrises and sunsets in central Florida, specifically Orlando, are not as exciting as those found on the coasts, and that's due to the lack of landscapes to fill the foreground with. Granted some of the resorts due a fantastic job with landscaping, but that's not "natural" so-to-speak. While I was on lunch break at work, went for a walk outside and saw that the convention center has a pretty nice pond out front flanked with palm trees. I knew this was going to be my sunrise spot. The next morning, headed out!


Sunrise at the Orange County Convention Center

The trees reflected nicely in the water below and the colors of the sky "blew up" for about 2 minutes before loosing the vibrancy. A few minutes is all you need! Hard to tell this was located in front of a convention center. This day marked the last day in Orlando..... until Chicago said "J/K"! That morning at work, got an alert from American Airlines "strongly suggesting" that I change the flight due to blizzard barreling down in the area. After weighing the options for about 3 minutes, decided that hanging out in palm-tree land "might" me marginally better than risking be stranded at the airport. ;)


Here's where the unplanned bonus started! Again, got out my favorite phone app in the world - Google Maps - and basically just blindly pointed at the east coast of Florida. I landed on Cocoa, FL. With that kind of name, it's hard to argue not going there! Rented a cheap car and started the drive to the coast. I did forget how absurd the tolls are in Florida. Make sure you have correct change!! FYI - There is one booth by the airport that doesn't say what the toll is, and is exact change only. I tossed in what I had... but I'll be waiting for this to come and bite me in the @$$ later.


Arrived in Cocoa Beach just in time for a quick dinner and to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, the sunset wasn't anything spectacular. The beach still was, though!


Dinner with a view!


Pelican relaxing on the pier. (Google Pixel 2)

Despite the rather lack-luster colors of that night's sunset, I was still thrilled to be able to relax on the beach while back home 9" of snow was falling.


The following morning, went back to Cocoa Beach Pier to catch the sunrise. The clouds made for some nice dramatic skies, and played with both longer exposure shots and shorter ones. This one ended up being my favorite from the bunch.



Sunrise at Cocoa Beach

The rest of the day was spent exploring the small, but very cute town of Cocoa, and heading over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Cocoa, to me, had tha authentic "Florida" feel. The small shops were painted and decorated in pastel pinks, purples, greens, blues - much akin to the sunrises here! Also, being a surf town, it was very chill and laid-back.


Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge proved to show me why it is so popular for photographers. I went here not knowing what to expect, and ended up seeing Ospeys, Manatees, Pelicans, Vultures, and all sorts of other shorebirds. The Manatee made the whole trip, though! I've never seen one of those in the wild!


Wild Manatee at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Cormorant in flight.

I would be able to squeeze in one more sunrise at the pier before heading to the airport.

This one would end up being the most colorful one of the trip thus far. And for that, I'm grateful!


Pigeons flock to the roof of the Rikki Tikki Tavern.

Wide angle view of the flocking Pigeons a bit earlier.

Wide-angle view of the pier.

I was even able to satisfy my star-chasing obsession a little! Here's a star trail shot of the lifeguard shack. This image is is approximately 6-7 5/6 minute exposures blended onto a base image all shot from the same spot. This is what's commonly referred to as a "time blend". Milky Way season, (i.e. core visibility season) is over, so its fun to practice these other types of astro shots.


Watching the stars fade as the sun rises.

Moral of the story is there's beauty everywhere! Even if some subjects push you out of your comfort zone, take it as an opportunity to grow and learn. You may end up surprised!

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© 2018 MaryBeth Kiczenski

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