Florida is a place of beauty, abundant nature to observe and photograph, and unexpected experiences. When given the opportunity to go to Busch Gardens, I knew there were animals there. What I had not realized was how many and how close I could get to some of them. Add a zoom lens, and I was able to take photographs I had only dreamed of before I got my DSLR and traveled to The Sunshine State.

I love palm trees too, so they were high on my priority list. These tall, spindly ones are among my favorites.

Many of my animal photos were taken from the steam train ride. I didn’t always catch the guide’s descriptions in their entirety, which unfortunately means I don’t have a proper kind for this beauty. Just an antelope. I really like the way it stands out against the pop of green it grazes.

Though the head of this white rhino is nearly in silhouette, its distinctive horn is unmistakable. Rhinos are so tragically endangered that it makes me both incredibly happy and incredibly sad to see one. These creatures deserve to live on Earth as much as we do. Hopefully, some way, some how they will be given a renewed opportunity to thrive.

I read somewhere that modern DSLRs have something like 5,000 setting possibilities. Um, no. I’m learning how to use it and may continue to do so for as long as it’s mine. I concentrate on lighting and composition to get what I want. Or try to. I end up with a higher and higher percentage of shots I love, so I’m satisfied with how I’m doing so far. I still have some trouble with depth of field. Sometimes those mistakes turn out to be happy accidents. I was able to crop this giraffe one so that it looks like an intentional piece of pop art. I’ll take it!

Elephants have such timelessly beautiful faces. They look old and ageless at once, with wisdom gained and emotion endured etched into the lines around their eyes. Just like us. It’s my understanding that they are very similar to us in many ways. They bond with family and friends, love them, grieve them when they are gone. It would be a pretty wonderful thing to have an elephant for a friend.

Emus are so cool and fluffy. They seem sweet, but I’ve heard they can be cantankerous, kicking very hard among other things. Years ago I was at a wildlife park in New South Wales, Australia. I was enraptured, photographing koalas high in a eucalyptus tree (The koalas were high in the tree, not me!), when I felt a presence behind me. It didn’t touch me. I could just sense that something was close. I reluctantly removed my face from my viewfinder, and slowly pivoted. It did not take a full body turn to come face to face with an apparently curious emu. When I say face to face, I mean that it was really close. We gazed into each other’s eyes for a heart stopping moment. Then, I slowly backed away, until I realized it was still standing where I’d left it. At that point I beat a hasty retreat, glad to have had such a close encounter, and also glad to walk away emu kick free.

I’m glad this zebra was in the shade, so that its amazing markings were able to really be showcased. Bright sunlight could have caused too much contrast or glare, but this is perfect. Really studying the complex patterns of striping on its forehead and knees in particular, show what a wonder zebras are. Beautiful, almost but not quite comical looking, they’re a gift nature has bestowed upon us. Let’s enjoy every stripe.

This lion and lioness seem content in each other’s company. They’re both gorgeous. His mane surprised me by how rough it looked and how much actual red was in it. Nearby, a lioness had taken up residence in the fake bed of a fake truck that decorated the exhibit. By looking at her through the glass right over where she lay, I could see, count even, the individual hairs on her back. That is the closest I’ll ever be to a lion, I’m sure. I could have stood there, gazing upon such majesty for hours. It was an experience I’ll always treasure and never forget.

I’ll close this out with a pic I took with my phone. It’s not sharp like the ones from my camera, but it gives an idea of how beautiful the Christmas decorations were. I rode the Skyride and loved dangling, swinging, and swaying high above the gorgeous lights, but nothing quite compares to being close to them. it was a day filled with many of my favorite things, the top favorite being, as always, the magic that comes out of my camera.