I’ve spent a lot of time reading photography books lately.
One of them, Lance Keimig’s Night Photography: Finding your way in the dark, was absolutely superb. I only wish I had read it before our last two trips—first to the Florida Keys and then to the Black Hills, both of which offer excellent opportunities for night shooting. I’ll speak more to this when I have a good series of night photographs to post.
After that, I read Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography Book, Volume 3. It was fine, though scattered. It’s one of those books that hold a few gems of great advice, hidden throughout in unlikely places. To find them all means that you have to read every word, since they’re never where you expect them to be. The first volume in this series is a must-read for aspiring photographers.
Currently, I’m halfway through Tom Ang’s Digital Photography Essentials. So far, it’s been interesting. It feels like an attempt to provide a one-stop toolkit for all things digital photography, but it might be spread too thin and its intended audience far too broad. Nonetheless, it has given me some food for thought that is relevant to the pictorial theme of this post.
Ang offers two seemingly contradictory pieces of advice. The first is to share (post/print/display) only your “best” work. (In other words, of your thousand vacation pictures, pick only the “best” to share.) The second is to resist the urge to delete photographs that you feel are sub-par, since they might actually be awesome without your realizing it.
This begs the question: Can you identify your “best” work? Even the question assumes some universal standard. And who is best able to apply that standard? The impartial viewer or the biased artist? Accordingly, do you share only the work you consider best? Or do you share your work to find out which is best? Does the distinction even matter?
These questions have been harassing me while deciding which photographs of Fort Jefferson to include in this post. On the one hand, I am tempted to include only my very favorites—just the three or four shots that evoke a visceral response in me every time I see them. But to do so might risk omitting the photographs that cause a similar reaction in others.
So, as usual, I’ve decided to include both types—the ones I consider my favorites and those I feel have potential. I’ll let you decide which is which.
If you’ve never heard of Dry Tortugas National Park, you’re not alone. It is not like most other national parks, since it is a remote destination requiring a long boat ride or seaplane for access. Most who visit the park embark on a three-hour catamaran ride west from Key West.
In deciding to visit Dry Tortugas, we were mostly just excited to experience such a remote beach and to snorkel around Fort Jefferson, which sits all by its lonesome on the tiny island of Garden Key, one of the islands that make up Dry Tortugas. But, for me, the fort itself ended up becoming the highlight of our visit.
Fort Jefferson is a massive shell of a structure constructed of over sixteen million bricks. From just outside its walls, Fort Jefferson is imposing, much taller and looming than the impression I got from the few aerial pictures of the fort I'd seen. Inside, it is eerily beautiful, with long brick archways and white gravel floors. The windows and embrasures throughout the fort have no glass, screens, or bars—just openings to the sea without. And many seem like they were created with well-aimed cannonballs.
As we walked through the place, in awe, I couldn’t help but imagine the history and secrets kept within its walls. The archways have been stripped almost completely bare of whatever used to be there, exposing just the outlines of old fixtures and implements, only adding to the mysterious air of the place.
Eventually, as you make your through Fort Jefferson, ascending a series of small staircases during the self-guided tour, you end up on the roof, among old cannons and cacti. The view from the top is amazing, affording views of a few nearby and distant islands, as well as the reefs beneath the crystalline water of the surrounding ocean.
Overall, Fort Jefferson was my favorite surprise of the trip, and we spent much more time inside than we had expected. This was just as well, since the water was awfully cold for snorkeling. We got in for a little while, just long enough to say we did it, and spent the rest of the time walking around the moat, eating lunch, and photographing birds.
I’ll leave you with the same advice we got from various sources along the way to Key West. If you have the opportunity to visit Dry Tortugas National Park, take it.