The Learning Zone

Hey there.

I hope everyone has been well since the last post.  Sorry for the delay in updating the blog but time always seems to find new ways to make itself increasingly scarce.

The learning zone is a concept an instructor at Rocky Mountain School of Photography named Kerri Rosenstein covered with my group during a rather profound introductory lecture on the life of an artist (btw, Kerri is not only an engaging instructor, she is also an experienced gallery curator and an incredibly talented artist working in a vast array of media and you can see some of her work here).  The gist of her discussion was that we learn and grow most when we purposefully step out of our comfort zones, wherever in life they might exist.   Equally applicable to many facets of life, the discipline of seeking out one’s learning zone as often as possible is a helpful way to avoid sinking into complacency.

Guess what, lately I seem to have allowed myself to settle into a new comfort zone with underwater photography.  As a result I have noticed feeling less inclined to pick up my camera unless I intend on being in the water.  Fortunately a recent call from a friend helped to greatly diminish this building complacency.  Sarah Walters is a marine biologist working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  She invited me to join them on an upcoming aerial fish survey and offered me one of three research seats on a chartered Cessna.  I’d be in the plane with the pilot and two other FWC biologists who would be spotting spawning aggregations of “bull” redfish while directing FWC boats toward the fast-moving schools by radio.  The crew on the boats would then try to capture as many of the fish as possible, implant tracking devices, take tissue samples, among other scientific matters very much over my head.  My job would be to simply document what I saw as best as possible.  Piece of cake, right?  Excited by the opportunity to photograph the research from a low-flying propeller driven aircraft I quickly jumped at the offer.  After making arrangements to join them later in the week at a local airfield I began considering the challenges of aerial photography.  This type of photography includes a host of technical considerations and I was not entirely convinced I even knew all the issues I would face. Nonetheless, I brought along my most suitable camera and lenses and shot like I knew what I was doing.

Several hours passed before we first spotted any redfish.  In the meantime we spotted several schools of cownose rays as well as multiple sea turtles and dolphins.  However, once we found schooling redfish the action quickly turned on and we could clearly see sharks, dolphins and other local predators feeding along with (and likely on) the redfish.   After being directed to the schools by radio (which is not as easy as it sounds) the fortunate researchers on the boats then got to try their hand at landing one of the bulls via hook and line.  If you’ve ever caught one, then you understand what an exciting proposition that opportunity represents.  Watching the FWC crews fight these fish (often 1+ meter in length) was definitely an envy inducing event despite the perfect seats we had to view the action.  For some odd reason I felt that they were the lucky ones that day.

Nonetheless, I had a great time flying around with Alison and Kyle of the FWC and our pilot Bill.  They were great company for the 4 hour tour in a cramped, vibrating, bouncing, glare-filled little aluminum can.  I’d like to again thank Sarah and everyone at the FWC for this experience!

Here is a link to a short video of our landing and below is a slideshow of a few images from the day.  Hope you enjoy.  Jimmy

FWC Aerial Redfish Survey Images – Images by James White

10 Responses to “The Learning Zone”

  1. Marcy James says:

    Great Article, Jimmmy! I love to learn from you…. You provide your readers with such an unique inside view to a mysterious world.

  2. Kathryn Garlick says:

    Jimmy, I read your story with interest and I can appreciate your challenges with photographing from an airplane. I can only expect that it is easier now with digital cameras. The last time I did photography from a Cessna, it was with slide film, so I can appreciate your apprehensions with this new point of view from way above. How to overcome the blue haze was the big issue then with slide film. It looked like a fun day for you too. Wished I was there,
    best wishes,

    Kathryn Garlick
    Cool Cat 1

  3. Lee says:

    Great pictures Gum. I especially like the one of the rays. That is amazing. (I’d hate to see that if I was in the water!)

  4. Christin says:

    Thanks for sharing with us Jimmy. Certainly something we don’t get a chance to experience everyday. Fascinating. Christin

  5. Susan Wolfe says:

    Very nice documentation of your day. And, admitting your potential shortcomings. If there were any (shortcomings, that is) your images don’t reveal them.