Florida or Bust Florida or Bust - washington oaks state park

Published on August 12th, 2013 | by Kelsey Arnold


Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

It’s easy to drive past Washington Oaks State Park along the scenic route to St. Augustine without paying any more attention to it than thinking “I should check that out sometime.” I’ve done it at least a dozen times in search of interesting photographs and never knew what was inside.

Washington Oaks, located two miles south of Marineland on S.R. A1A, offers a variety of natural Florida landscapes for you to explore. Featuring beaches littered with coquina rock, sprawling live oak trees stretching their branches nearly to the ground, and native species intertwined with formal manicured gardens; it’s pretty much a photographer’s dream.

As you drive up to the park, it can be easy to miss with only a couple of small signs along the stretch of road. When you visit this park, I encourage you to plan ahead. Palm Coast is a long way to drive only to get there and realize what you forgot or didn’t do ahead of time…like I did.

Carefully read all of the information online before you go, as you should with any state park. While pets are allowed in the park, it is only in certain designated areasscott and zoya which can prevent you from seeing everything this gorgeous park has to offer if your furry friend tags along. Dogs are permitted only on the hiking trails, bike trails, and in picnic areas. This can be a little deceiving however, because the only way to get to some of these areas is through “Dog Free Zones.” If this is your first time visiting the park, it’s probably best to leave Fido at home.

In warmer months make sure to bring your bug spray and lots of it. Almost the entire park is shaded by a live oak canopy and is full of wet environments such as reflecting ponds – a mosquito breeding ground. You will need a thick layer of insect repellent. If you don’t (speaking from experience) you will leave the park in complete desperation and searching for the nearest can of spray. Learn from my mistakes and just do it ahead of time.

Once you’ve made yourself invisible to Florida’s tiny monsters, take the time to really appreciate the beauty of this park. Each month, Florida State Parks host a photo contest, and this park makes it easy to capture incredible photos.

You don’t need to be a professional to participate nor to create beautiful images. To enter the contest, you must first register online and receive your Photographer ID number here. Once you do this, you do not need to register again and can begin submitting up to ten photos per month from any Florida State Park or State Trail.

Keep in mind that there are a few restrictions on submissions. No photos of invasive species, either plant or animal, will be accepted. These creatures threaten Florida’s native inhabitants and include species such as Australian pine trees, Brazilian peppers, iguanas, armadillos and feral hogs. On the other hand, lay off the Photoshop and enhancements. While a few minor adjustments are acceptable, it is best to submit a photo that is as natural as possible. Restrictions include borders, frames, backgrounds, watermarks, dates, signatures, copyrights, and any other major alterations.

You’re almost ready to get shooting. If you’re still learning your way around a camera, don’t worry, this park makes your job easy.

shallow flowersDon’t be afraid to experiment:

Try a variety of angles when shooting your subject, even ones you feel silly taking. Don’t be afraid to get down in the dirt. State Parks are not the place to stress over getting your jeans a little messy. You’ll get sweaty and dirty, but that’s the beauty of being the photographer. You’re the one behind the camera. Find a spot to get up high, or try shooting from up close as well as far away. Try shooting through other objects, creating a sense of depth. Adjust your depth of field by changing your camera’s aperture to create different effects. Depending on what you are trying to capture, you can either focus exclusively on the subject or get everything you see in the shot in crisp focus. In the digital age, you don’t have to worry about using up all of your film. The best way to learn is to just keep shooting, and then learn from what you have taken.

Play with Light:

Tree resizedAsk anyone – I prefer natural light. Photography was created to capture the beauty of natural light, and to me there’s nothing better than that. Be aware of the time of day you will be photographing. Different times offer different light, and it all depends on what you want to shoot. Early mornings and dusk offers beautiful light if you are in a more open environment. Under the canopy of live oaks in Washington Oaks, brighter light is diffused by leaves and can create interesting shadows. Don’t always assume that clear skies are the best and overcast skies mean a cancelled photo shoot. A massive storm was rolling in as I shot Washington Oaks, which created beautiful soft lighting. Overcast skies act as a soft box which diffuses light and helps to saturate colors. If you’re struggling with your exposure, try zooming in on your subject and adjusting your meter then zooming back out and take the shot.

Keep it Simple:

Avoid times with lots of crowds. Try your best to exclude manmade backgrounds, which can take away from the photo.

Annual winners of the contest receive a Family Annual Entrance Pass to all Florida State Parks. Good luck, and get snapping!

Click here for full rules and details.

Washington Oaks State Park: 6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd. Palm Coast, 32137. (386) 446-6780. Open 8 a.m. to sundown.


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About the Author

Kelsey Arnold

Kelsey Arnold is a professional photojournalist with a Bachelor's of Science in Photography from the University of Central Florida. Her work focuses on travel and documentary photography. In addition to the NSB Observer, Kelsey owns and operates her own business, K. Arnold Photography. She loves to travel the country in search of the perfect photo.

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