That was the time our middle son woke us up. “Can we go to the beach?” he asked less than nine hours after we arrived in our rented townhouse following a day of travel via minivans, bus, and a 747.
Through the open windows dawn had not yet unveiled itself but we could feel cool April breezes coming off the Atlantic and the gentle swishing of waves on the sand.
Our first visit to Amelia Island, Fla., was off to a bleary eyed, desperate-for-caffeine start.
Amelia Island sits like a shoulder blade in the upper northeast corner of the Sunshine State. It boasts of having 13 miles of soft-sand beaches and well-preserved dunes, as well as an abundance of golf courses.
My wife and our youngest son on the beach of Amelia Island, Fla. Taken with an iPhone 12 Max Pro.
Our son Liam enjoying the surf on Amelia Island. Taken with an iPhone 12 Max Pro.
We discovered it’s predominantly residential with some astonishing oceanside homes.
When you mention Amelia Island to people up here in the cold North, it may not be as well-known as other Florida destinations.
For a quiet few days, however, it certainly welcomed us with serene mornings, tasty cuisine, and starry nights.
The fishing pier on Amelia Island
The undeniable highlight for me was forcing myself awake pre-dawn and driving a few minutes north from our rented townhouse to Hutchens Avenue. There I walked a deserted short path over the dunes to the point where a fishing pier runs out into the Atlantic.
I brought a new 3x neutral density filter from Breakthrough for my EF 16-35mm. And it was phenomenal.
There’s something peaceful about waiting for the sunrise, after you’ve set up your camera and tripod. You’re present for nature’s light show.
Venus and Jupiter greeted me first, dancing just above the ocean. Then morning light begins as an orange ribbon playfully streaming across the eastern horizon, announcing the arrival of blue skies above.
Waking up super early will test your resolve. But you’ll never regret it.
After some testing, I decided a one-point-six-second exposure gave me the streaming ocean waves I love with the fishing pier in the back drop.
The fishing pier on Amelia Island, Fla.
Another view of the fishing pier on Amelia Island, Fla.
I also switched out my wide angle for a 70-200mm telephoto once the sun rose above the horizon. I wanted that golden hue and a sunburst off the silhouette of the pier.
The idea of course is to create images that make the viewer want to go there. Or for the photographer to want to return.
The fastest tortoises in the world
Access to the Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island was an easy walk on the boards over the dunes. And while our family could not wait for our first playdate with some waves, there was something to see before we ever made it to the water.
The dunes provided homes to some interesting wildlife, including the round-eared marsh rabbit, and the fastest tortoise I’ve ever seen.
A gopher tortoise of Amelia Island, Fla.
The gopher tortoises, so named because they live in burrows in the sand. They greeted us whenever we came to and from the beach, munching on vegetation, but to photograph one took some speed.
According to this, gopher tortoises can run up to speeds of a third-of-a-mile per hour. That may not sound like a Kentucky Derby winner, but when you go to photograph these reptiles, their agility will surprise you.
Gopher tortoises are a keystone species of north Florida habitat.
Strolling in downtown Fernandina Beach
One undeniable highlight of Amelia Island is its northernmost community, the historic downtown Fernandina Beach.
Quaint would be an appropriate word to associate with its storefronts, art galleries, and mouth pleasing cuisines.
A street performer in downtown Fernandina Beach.
Entrance to the Blue Door Artists gallery.
Don’t skip the fish tacos. Anywhere. Every fish taco I had in Fernandina Beach was the best fish taco I ever had.
And here’s to the restaurants like Timoti’s Seafood Shack and Slider’s Seaside Grill for installing playgrounds for the kids (so we parents can enjoy the simple pleasure of a quiet, relatively stress-free drink).
Delicious blackened fish tacos at Timoti’s.
Fernandina Beach is also home to what claims to the be the oldest continuously operating bar in Florida, The Palace Saloon.
Amelia Island provided a perfect, laid back start to our Spring break. It’s charm lingered with me long afterward as I contemplated how relaxed it all felt, how I wanted that calm to carry on through when we returned home.
And it does whenever I look at these images now. I breathe slower, even for a moment, when I look back on what was created.
Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa. He’s worked in wedding, family, and high school senior portraiture and today owns Creative Sports Photography, which provides portrait services for youth athletes. He also helps writers on his blog and social channels improve their photography skills. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.