Gainesville, Florida
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An Outdoor Lens

An Outdoor Lens

Get a look at a photographer’s perspective

By Kellilynn
Hann

BY Kellilynn Hann

Gainesville is known for its history and, of course, as the home of the University of Florida. What most people don’t know is that Gainesville, and Alachua County, is a natural wonderland boasting a wide variety of habitats—and the diversity of wildlife that goes with it.

To put a spotlight on these amazing places, we interviewed three of our Facebook Outdoor Photo Contest winners. Their unique perspective as photographers allows us to see the area in a different light and to find out what inspires them to call this place home.

Underwater head shot of photographer Jennifer Adler wearing a snorkel mask in Gainesville, Florida
Jennifer
Adler

A marine biologist, Jennifer moved to Gainesville without knowing much about it. She soon fell in love with the area’s numerous freshwater springs. These beautiful waters are what inspired her photography career.

Jennifer Adler
Black and white photograph of a manatee in the water in Gainesville, Florida
Q:
What are your top three photography spots around Gainesville?
JA:

What makes Gainesville so special to me is its proximity to a large number of springs. You can drive 45 minutes to an hour in almost any direction and end up in clear, 72-degree water any day of the year.

Some of my favorites are Blue Springs Park, Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Ginnie Springs. Blue Springs is beautiful because of its crystal water and flowing vegetation, the Ichetucknee is great because there are two springs to swim in as well as an entire river to explore and Ginnie is my favorite cave dive in the area.

Q:
How can visitors enjoy and photograph the springs without damaging them?
JA:

One thing people may not be as aware of is that we shouldn’t walk on the bottom, especially in areas where there is vegetation. Sometimes, these native grasses don’t grow back after we trample them and then they’re replaced by nuisance algae or sand, which is harmful to the spring and wildlife.

Photos by Jennifer Adler
Photograph of a woman snorkeling outdoors taken from below the surface of the water in Gainesville, Florida | Photograph of a bird diving into green grasses growing underwater in Gainesville, Florida
“Some of my favorites are Blue Springs Park, Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Ginnie Springs.”
Q:
Do you have any tips for people who want to get some great water shots?
JA:

Get really comfortable in the water first. If you can’t control your body position or don’t feel completely relaxed underwater, you’re going to have a hard time getting clear, crisp shots.

Also, know that you can get good photos with most cameras, even if they’re not the top-of-the-line DSLR. If you’re just getting into it, get something small and manageable but with manual control (ability to change aperture, shutter speed, and ISO), as well as a good underwater housing.

Q:
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about enjoying the outdoors in and around Gainesville?
JA:

Don’t be afraid to go to the springs when it’s cold out! This is when I get my best shots and my friends and I are usually the only people in the water. Plus, 72-degree water feels like a hot tub when it’s 30 degrees outside.

Head shot of photographer Roy Herrera in Gainesville, Florida
Roy
Hererra

A Florida native, Roy has lived near Gainesville for 20 years. While his favorite spot to photograph is on his property, as a bird enthusiast he also ventures out to the many Gainesville area wetlands. Here, he shares some of the best places to spot wildlife.

Roy Hererra
Black and white photograph of two ducks in the water in Gainesville, Florida
Q:
What’s unique about photographing nature in Gainesville?
RH:

There are numerous parks and preserves with well-maintained trails a short drive from or right in Gainesville, encompassing habitats from mature mesic hammock to river bottom forest, flat woods pine forest, open savanna and marsh as well as creeks, ponds and lakes. This variety of habitats sustains vast wildlife, including alligators, deer, bobcat, otter, coyote, opossum, armadillo, fox and more than 200 hundred species of birds.

The gem of the area, of course, is Paynes Prairie State Preserve, which has herds of wild Cracker horses, bison and thousands of migrant sandhill cranes in the winter.

Q:
Your photo of the cattle egret and horse—is that one of the wild Cracker horses?
RH:

Yes. It was taken at La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie, probably the best place to encounter one of the herds. These horses are completely wild and are descendants of those brought to Florida by the Spanish Conquistadors and later adapted by the Florida Cracker Cowboy. This mare was just off the trail in the marsh with half a dozen of her herd. She was just begging to have her photo taken!

Photos by Roy Hererra
Photograph of an alligator with wide open mouth in Gainesville, Florida | Photograph of a small white bird sitting on a white horse’s back in Gainesville, Florida | Photograph of a young deer standing in grasses in Gainesville, Florida
“Do a little homework to learn the parks and trails. The best time for wildlife spotting is early morning, when the parks first open, or late afternoon—these times have the best light for photography.”
Q:
Where are your favorite locations near Gainesville for bird photography?
RH:

My two top spots—hands down—would be La Chua Trail and Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Both are a short drive from downtown Gainesville and the variety of bird life is unparalleled. Newnans Lake and the Bolen Bluff Trail in Paynes Prairie are very good, too.

Q:
Do you have tips for anyone who wants to visit or take photos in the Gainesville area?
RH:

Do a little homework to learn the parks and trails. The best time for wildlife spotting is early morning, when the parks first open, or late afternoon—these times have the best light for photography. Patience and quiet are your tools. Look around at the edges of trail, in the bushes and trees, in the water and sky. Look for movement or anything that stands out—a different shape or color.

Q:
Is there anything else you’d like to say about enjoying the outdoors in and around Gainesville?
RH:

Just come check it out. You will not be disappointed!

Breathtaking Gainesville Photography
Chris Lindamood
An orange sunset with a quiet dirt road and green vegetation alongside in Gainesville, Florida
Japa Magyer
An underwater photograph taken below a snorkeling photographer surrounded by streaks of red, orange, yellow, green and blue in Gainesville, Florida
Chelsea Brown DTCB Productions
Clouds in a blue sky are reflected in water below in Gainesville, Florida
Chrissy Martinez
Two owls sit on a tree branch in Gainesville, Florida
Thomas Rutkowski
A deer looks behind its shoulder standing in a lush green forest in Gainesville, Florida
Vivian Lantow
A black and white photograph of a tree standing at the water’s edge, reflected in the water in Gainesville, Florida
Black and white head shot of photographer Wesley Hetrick in Gainesville, Florida
Wesley
Hetrick

A Gainesville native, Wesley spent summers as a child playing in the area’s freshwater springs. He became a photographer only three years ago when he discovered the joy of using manual settings on a DSLR camera and the new view he had of the world around him.

Wesley Hetrick
Black and white photograph of a bird with a long beak in Gainesville, Florida
Q:
When most people think of outdoor photography, they think of going out of the city. But I noticed you take a lot of amazing nature shots in and around town. What makes Gainesville a great place for this kind of “urban outdoors” nature photography?
WH:

There’s been a push to keep Gainesville a “Tree City USA,” which is an initiative to keep the urban tree canopy intact. So, there are all these natural areas the city has been built around. The city parks are almost like nature preserves. There are the standard manicured parks, of course, but a lot of them are left natural and you can see a lot of wildlife.

Q:
Can you tell me more about the Gainesville PhotoWalk you led in October? (It’s an event held in a different location, and led by a different local, each year.)
WH:

It was a chance for people to get together, enhance their passion for photography, meet other photographers and find new places to shoot. I planned a route that included architecture, nature and landscape subjects, along with people and street photography subjects.

Photos by Wesley Hetrick
Photograph of a brown bird flying near the ground above tall green grasses in Gainesville, Florida | Photograph of a blue insect on a flower bud in Gainesville, Florida | Photograph of a man walking down a long series of wooden stairs in a forest in Gainesville, Florida
“Don’t miss out on the city. Check out the university campus, the parks, even the buildings. You’ll see a lot of beautiful things you’d miss otherwise.”
Q:
When you do head out to Gainesville’s more remote areas, which are your favorites?
WH:

The Morningside Nature Center is beautiful and there aren’t a lot of people, so it’s good for wildlife spotting. They have a nice upland area, wetlands and pine forest so there’s a lot of different flora and fauna.

Q:
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about enjoying the outdoors in and around Gainesville?
WH:

Don’t miss out on the city. Check out the university campus, the parks, even the buildings. You’ll see a lot of beautiful things you’d miss otherwise.

Get outdoors and see what you’re missing in Gainesville