Shooting the birds – Dennis Goodman gives expert tips on Rookery Bay photo cruise

It’s great to own an expensive camera, but it helps to know which buttons to push. Adjusting the settings, setting up your shots, and getting the most out of your equipment were covered by Naples photographer Dennis Goodman, when he hosted the Conservancy’s Wildlife Photography Sunset Cruise, aboard the Good Fortune II.

Over 30 photo enthusiasts boarded the 38-ft. vessel on Tuesday afternoon at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s dock, located down Shell Island Road off of Collier Boulevard. The cruise departed at 5:30 sharp; one couple who didn’t get there in time were reached by cell phone and told sorry, they had missed the boat.

What did show up as the cruise shoved off, right on time, was a sharp rain shower, driving passengers away from the gunwales toward the center of the boat, and causing photo enthusiasts to do their best to shield their camera equipment, never mind their skins. This was a serious issue, with the number of large and expensive telephoto lenses slung around the necks of the passengers.

At a conservative estimate, there was probably $100,000 worth of camera gear aboard the Good Fortune II that afternoon. Dennis Goodman alone had a camo-covered 600 mm lens, almost three feet long and mounted on a tripod on the bow like a deck gun, that sells for $13,000, camera not included. It gave new meaning to the name Canon.

As usual, the serious shooters were divided up about evenly into the Canon crowd and the Nikon enthusiasts, with all other manufacturers relegated to a distant third. Goodman, a dedicated wildlife and nature photographer who has captured some amazing images, despite being a Canon guy, shared some of his techniques as the boat moved out into Rookery Bay.

Focus on the eyes when shooting wildlife, he said, and look at the background as much as the subject, to allow the subject to stand out. He advised setting the camera at a fixed shutter speed – “time value” on a Canon, or “shutter priority” on a Nikon, and allowing the aperture to fall where needed, and to be sure not to overexpose the highlights. A shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second, said Goodman, is good for capturing a bird in flight, and half that, 1/500 or 1/640 of a second, for resting birds.

The rain stopped, and volunteer guide Dennis Coleman talked mangroves, and pointed out wildlife to the passengers. Bottlenose dolphin were spotted all around the boat, and cameras came out to try to capture a shot of several manatees who broke the surface with their tails.

But most of the emphasis was on birds. Great egrets and snowy egrets, tri-colored herons, and ibis posed for the cameras as Good Fortune passed by them. Dennis Goodman, who volunteers his time for the Conservancy’s photo cruises, allowed photographers to shoot through his big lens, popping their memory cards into his camera so they could keep the images.

Along with the big single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, some were shooting with their phones, which also allowed their owners to follow the boat’s progress on GPS maps, share photo albums, and even take calls. They were not going to get close up shots of birds, though.

A bald eagle sat in a tree near his nest, and the boat approached several osprey nests, including one whose occupant was holding a fish, still struggling, but destined to be dinner for the nestlings. As the sun set, the boat completed its loop through Rookery Bay and the Intra-Coastal Waterway, and stopped at a rookery island where thousands of birds, ibis, herons, and brown pelicans, were settling down to roost for the night. Darkness was falling, and a few no-see-ums made themselves felt, as the Good Fortune returned to the dock.

“My camera’s too sophisticated. I have no idea what I’m doing with it,” said George Doerner, speaking for many as he disembarked with his wife Bridget. With the overcast skies, it was not an ideal evening for wildlife photos, but the lessons imparted will help all those who heard them.

Goodman, who also conducts private photography workshops, classes and excursions, handed out cards advertising the gallery he and other photographers are opening in the Galleria Shoppes at Vanderbilt. To reach him, or view his images, go to For more information about the Conservancy’s nature cruises, call 239-403-4236, or go to

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