I learned about the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key in November of 2014. I'd stopped for a fresh fruit milk shake at the famous Robert is Here fruit stand in Homestead and while I was enjoying my strawberry-key lime treat, a Floridian at a nearby table talked endlessly about how tiny and friendly these deer were, and that I only had to drive around and they would be visible everywhere on Big Pine Key. As Barney Stinson would say, "Challenge accepted!"
My search for photogenic Key deer didn't go so well in 2014. I think I managed to make an image of one deer as he turned tail and ran. It was a bright, sunny day and the image was contrasty and harsh but the deer were very tiny and cute so I continued my Key deer safari in 2015.
I think I mentioned in my last post that the weather in Florida was crappy. The gravel roads of the somewhat rural Big Pine Key were deeply rutted and swampy puddles of rainwater hampered our already slow progress as we searched for the supposedly easy-to-spot Key deer. Finally, we saw a buck peek out of the brush along the edge of the road, and then run straight back into it. We followed his path and a half-mile and 2 Olympic-sized puddles later, we hit the Key deer jackpot: another buck, 2 does and 2 fawns, one with little antlers budding on his forehead. After 30 minutes, I pretty much had to be dragged away. I would have been more than happy to miss my flight home as long as I could have had a few more hours making images of these sweethearts.
The good part about the rain that day? With the clouds obscuring the sun, the light was bright yet soft and even. I kept my shutter speed high at a relatively low ISO and could shoot to my heart’s content without worrying about contrast-y shadows. I used my new Canon 7D Mark II and my even newer Canon Extender EF 1.4X III on my 70-200 lens. It was the first time I used the extender and the reach was phenomenal - especially on the 7DII's crop sensor. I'm really pleased with both the bokeh (background blur) and the sharpness of the details.
Conclusion: If you're headed south from Miami to Key West, definitely spend a few minutes exploring Big Pine Key. Even if you don't have a camera with you, it's the perfect experience for all ages (but it's especially fun for photogs)...