Hi Res Panorama of Tampa Skyline from hospital carpark
Tampa from Platt St Bridge
I had an opportunity to visit Tampa last weekend because of a business trip to the area, and so decided to travel early and spend a couple of days shooting the sights (and sites) to extend my portfolio. This long post (which I might break into two) is intended to give a photographer’s view of the area and the best places I found to take iconic photos of this area. I must first give a word of thanks to Andrew Vernon, a photographer based near Tampa, with a great blog about the best places for sunset shots. Andrew kindly helped me with some sunrise locations as well as I will explain.
I flew into Tampa International Airport in the mid morning on Saturday. Nice airport, and easy access to the car rentals. A word of warning – both Thrifty and Dollar were extremely busy and the agents took a good 10 minutes per person, so I waited over an hour to pick up my car. I’m usually good at turning down the various “fees”, but they were threatening about the need to have a printed proof of my rental car insurance from American Express, and then caught me out with the toll charges you find on Florida roads where your number plate is photographed and the rental company can charge an administrative fee each time your number plate is snapped. Of course, for only $8 a day, they can waive this charge. I think I could have avoided a couple of tolls, but I couldn’t see an easy way around this extra charge! The other rental companies were far less busy – so perhaps if time is critical, choose one of those at Tampa.
I used my smartphone and Google Maps to get around – worked fine, as I had a car charger for my phone. My first destination was the car park of the Tampa General Hospital. Thanks to the tip from Andrew, the top floor of this car park gives a great panoramic view of the city and skyline. Parking is only $3 and free for the first hour. I decided to leave the car there and walk into the town, taking this view from Platt St Bridge along the way. I continued past the Convention center to Harbour Island (for a nice lunch at Jackson’s Bistro). From there, a walk back to town to catch the TECO tramcar to Ybor City.
Tramcar to Ybor City
Clearwater Beach Florida
The tram is interesting, Ybor City perhaps less so. There are some good street scenes, tattoo parlors, cigar shops for local color, and, of course, the trams. But it is pretty hot in mid summer (and humid) and so it was all I could manage to walk round a few streets then catch the tram back to the Convention center and back to my car to cool off. There is a ticket machine that takes cash and credit cards for the tram in the city center – they don’t have change on the tram itself. I decided to go to my hotel next – I decided to stay in the Hampton Inn in St Petersburg – nice and clean and close to my sunrise spot for the next morning. After unpacking, it was off on the road again for a sunset. Unfortunately, the clouds seemed to be gathering, but I had decided that Clearwater Pier was going to be my destination and I arrived a couple of hours before sunset. This is a congested area at the weekend – no parking close to the pier, but there are some public parking places a little south along the main street. The beach is typical for this area – white and wide and crowded. The clouds were still around and so I took the opportunity to take some lifeguard huts, some people shots and the coin operated binoculars on the pier. As there was no hope of any type of sunset, I headed back to St Petersburg to see if that had better opportunities. There is a jetty out into the bay with a now-closed restaurant at the end, and I walked out there to look back to the city of St Petersburg. Again, the weather was not helpful and so I didn’t even take a shot. Just decided to have a beer in the small bar at the entrance to the pier – perhaps 25 local brews if you like that sort of thing!
Sunrise from Fort de Soto Park
Up early the next morning for sunrise. I had decided on Fort de Soto county park to take shots of the Sunshine Skyway bridge that stretches across Tampa Bay. I was at the park well before dawn, but if you turn left on entering the park and then take a car park on the right, you can get a good view of the bridge from the beach. The sunrise was OK – not great, but a little manipulation in Lightroom brought out the colors that I was sure were there. I spent the next couple of hours in the park – lifeguard chairs, fishing piers, beaches, canoes, cycle races and some fellow photographers trying to get close to a sea bird.
Three keen photographers and a bird
Boardwalk to Sunset Beach
My plan now was to travel up the highway on the coast and check in on all the beaches that Andrew had recommended in his blog post. First up was Sunset Beach at the southern end of Treasure Island. Some great boardwalks and sea oats growing from the sand dunes. Of course it was boiling hot again, and I decided to leave the main camera bag in the car and just take my new 16-35mm F4L lens (the one with Image stability) and also try the Singh-Ray Gold’n’Blue filter
. I often find that I put a lens on the camera and that is fine for an hour or two – your eye tends to see the shots that best fit that lens. Here I was after the paths and steps to the beach. I’ll do a separate blog on the benefits of using this filter – but on hot humid days when the sky is more a light greyish blue, the picture here shows how the filter can really make a difference to the blues in the sky. I wandered around this area taking signs, more board walks, some beach scenes (although Florida beaches are not that photogenic in my mind…). So after an hour or so, it was back to the car and on to Madiera Beach. There is an interesting drawbridge over the channel here, and then a long wide beach with sea oats and grasses in the sand dunes again. A nice line of yellow sun shaded beach chairs to lead the eye down the beach as well. What surprised me with the filter is that even with a very wide angle lens, the sky was not suffering from the sort of polarization issues that you often get. You can rotate the filter to change the hue and I tried to balance it out to get the best blue color and wide coverage that I could. Of course, the wide angle helped with getting very close to the sea oats to give some foreground interest.
Madiera Beach behind Sea Oats
Redington Beach and the pier there was next. It is tough to find the pier – there is a small sign to a fishing shack and parking for that fishing shop, and that is the right spot. I managed to get some street parking here, which saved a little cash. The pier is interesting – wooden beams, perhaps now showing its age, but there were some good beach and detail shots here.
Fisherwoman in the sea by Redington Beach Pier
Sponge Diver Statue at Tarpon Springs
Now back to the car and on, I decided, to Tarpon Springs. A great pub/restaurant for a late lunch in the old town of Tarpon Springs (not the dock area), but after that leisurely snack, I went on to the dock area where the Greek sponge diver community still remains. It is pretty touristy now, but interesting and great ice-cream from a little shop in the small Sponge Exchange shopping center. There are also boat trips down the river, but I’ve never make that journey! This statue of a sponge diver is in the main street – this was again taken with the Gold’n’Blue filter and you can see one of the side effects – the blue colored reflections off the surfaces of the statue. Not a problem in this particular image, but the filter works by changing the colors of reflections – sky, water and other objects as we can see here. By now – mid/late afternoon on Sunday – I had to make my way to the hotel where my real work was about to begin. However, I made use of a bit more time in Tampa to take other shots – Part Two
will expand on that!