Photographing Florida’s Fort Pickens on beautiful Santa Rosa Island is quite a sensory delight. Not only is the Fort itself a labyrinth of faded brick archways and tunnels, it’s location on Florida’s stunning white beaches is a photographer’s paradise. In fact there are so many amazing photography opportunities nestled within the confines of this massive Fort and the surrounding Gulf Island National Seashores, it is hard to know where to begin.
To learn more about the Fort see: Fort Pickens.
Where is Fort Pickens?
History of Fort Pickens:
In 1828, the United States purchased about 998 acres of land on Santa Rosa Island in Pensacola to begin construction of Fort Pickens. At the time, the Government believed that military bases and important bays had to be protected from foreign attempts to overturn the young government. Therefore, the Fort was built to protect the United States and not as a civil war fort. Fort Pickens, however, ending up playing an important role in the Civil War by being the only Florida fort under Union control during the entire Civil War. It was also only one of 4 forts in the South not under Confederate control.
Photographing Fort Pickens Tips:
- Expect to encounter many areas of high contrast while photographing the Fort. So to reduce contrast, photograph the Fort as early and/or late as possible in the day and exclude brightly lit windows and entrances from compositions.
- Allocate at least two days to photographing Fort Pickens and the nearby beaches.
- Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes.
- Bring water and snacks as you are a long way from amenities.
- Be sure to have bug spray on hand.
- Use a tripod and do not shoot from eye level. Instead photograph from various heights that will help transport the viewer into the rooms and accentuate the bricks. I rarely found eye level compositions to work great in this Fort.
- Bring lens ranging from wide angles to 200mm lens as well as a macro lens.
The Fort’s photographic opportunities are limited only by one’s imagination and energy level.
Fort Pickens Interior Photography:
A vertical composition was chosen for the following image in order to capture both the curves in the floor and archways. Additionally, the image was shot from hip height.
In this next image, I wanted the viewer’s eye to be drawn into the interior room. The entrance walls, however, were busy and a bit distracting. By exposing for the light in the interior room and slightly underexposing the overall image, I believe I was able to draw viewers focus into the interior room.
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The following waiting room/weapons tunnel was photographed with a small aperture of F11 and a tripod placed at hip level for sharpness and perspective.
This was one of the more difficult rooms to photograph as I struggled with how much living space to show in order to portray the fort’s living spaces. While in the Fort, I encourage you to constantly experiment with lens choices and compositions.
Here is another example of the challenges you can expect to encounter photographing Fort Pickens. Not only did this area have numerous archways, but the texture and brick colors were amazing. However, producing an image that showed these features without overwhelming a view was difficult. In fact, it required multiple attempts.
Lastly, notice how the horizontal shoot of the same room as the first photo above produces a completely different feel to the Fort’s interior.
Fort Pickens Exterior Photography:
As beautiful as Fort Pickens is on the inside, the exterior of this Fort is every bit as amazing. Regrettfully, terrible light conditions limited outside photography during my visit. That’s OK as I plan to visit Fort Pickens again.
Lens in the range of 17-200mm work best although the 28mm range was my favorite choice. It was wide enough to capture the Fort without distortion. A 100mm Macro lens was also used to capture the close up detail in the old brick work. If I had owned a fisheye lens, I certainly would have used it.
A tripod is essential since much of the interior is in low light and requires a slow shutter speed. Thankfully, there fort has plenty of room to work with a tripod without interfering with other visitors.
A polarizer is very useful when photographing the Fort’s exterior.
If you have a second person with you who can lend a hand, I highly recommend bringing a large reflector to pop some light into the fort’s darker areas. I definitely plan to bring a helping hand along next trip.
A flash was used at times but the results were not satisfactory. Only when photographing with a telephone lens did the flash produce good results. In most of my compositions, the flash was not able to cover the width of the room. It also created an unpleasant look on the brick walls.
I combined multiple exposures on only a few images but will do more HDR photography on my next visit.
The town of Santa Rosa Island is about 10 miles east of Fort Pickens but be aware it is a long slow drive from the Fort to amenities.
There is camping available directly at the fort which can accommodate RVs as well as tent camping. However, a large number of spaces were rather tight for larger RVs. For those who prefer not to camp, there are a wide range of motel options 10 miles from the Fort in downtown Santa Rosa.
If you love seafood as much as I do, you will love the food choices on Santa Rosa Island. From great restaurants to grocery stores, the selections are great. In addition to seafood, there is a wide selection of restaurants to enjoy.
So pack your camera gear and imagination and prepare to be awed and a bit exhausted and don’t forget to capture at least one coastal sunset!
I grew up in Fernandina Beach, Florida by Fort Clinch State Park and am familiar with old forts. In fact, I thought Fort Clinch could not be beat with it’s beautiful tunnels.
Fort Picken’s however, blew me away.
To explore more photography destinations in Florida, be sure to read: MERRITT ISLAND PHOTOGRAPHY
As always, thanks for joining me on another Road Trip Friday adventure and I hope to see you back next week at a new destination.