1. Fort De Soto Park Find out more
Fort De Soto offers a grab bag of unique photo backdrops. From nature trails to mangroves, to sand dunes peppered with yellow sunflowers, this historic and sprawling park –– the largest in Pinellas County –– boasts seven miles of waterfront, two fishing piers and the park's pièce de résistance: a 120-year-old fort that was built (but never used) during the Spanish-American War. The fort's weathered concrete walls provide a cool (i.e. austere) alternative to the rest of the park's beachy woodland vibe. Hit up the East Beach for a great view of the Sunshine Skyway and the far-flung, otherworldly North Beach for a killer view of the sunset.
2. Sunset & Upham Beaches Find out more
Sunset and Upham are quieter than most of St. Pete's public beaches. Sunset is tucked away on the southern tip of Treasure Island, where it’s home to a picture-perfect boardwalk and a jagged rock jetty that serves as a fun (and romantic) photo op for adventurous kids, parents and lovebirds. Upham is located between 67th and 71st Avenues a few blocks from historic Corey Avenue. Its rock jetty is a bit more treacherous, but that only makes the photos look more dramatic. (Picture daintier versions of the giant beach boulders that define Oregon and Washington State's coastlines.)
3. The Central Arts District & Warehouse Arts District in Downtown St. Pete Find out more
If you’re looking for an edgy/urban feel that’s just off the beaten (frou-frou) Beach Drive strip, I suggest scoping out a spot along Central Avenue starting with the 300-700 block and working your way up. This entire stretch is exploding with murals, exposed brick buildings and interesting alleys and architecture. From hipster eateries operating out of Airstream trailers to cozy galleries with porch swings and passing Mister Rogers-style trolleys, this eclectic section of the ‘Burg feels like the real heartbeat of the city. Some of my clients’ most memorable sessions have happened in these districts’ gritty nooks and crannies. The environment sparks a ton of personality. I’ve personally hired a fellow photog friend to take my family photos at the Historic Train Station, home to the Morean Center for Clay, at the corner of 5th Avenue South and 22nd Street South.
4. Crescent Lake & North Straub Parks Find out more about Crescent Lake Find out more about North Straub Park
You don’t have to be a treehugger to appreciate the knotty splendor of a good ‘ol banyan tree. The banyans at Crescent Lake Park are straight out of Pandora (Avatar anyone?) They throw great light and kids find them enchanting, which is a huge bonus when you’re shooting family photos. Downtown’s North Straub Park offers a similar setting, but I think Crescent Lake is better suited to small children. It’s less crowded, huge (over 50 acres), parking is rarely an issue and there’s a large playground that doubles as a fine pick-me-up should a toddler/baby meltdown occur mid-shoot.
5. Abercrombie Park Find out more
This park is a hidden gem nestled on 11 acres along Boca Ciega Bay in St. Pete’s Jungle Terrace neighborhood near Park Street and 38th Avenue North. It has a ton of biodiversity and amazing light. Its pine trees and mossy oaks rival the banyans at Crescent Lake, plus there’s a shaded boardwalk and small “beach” opening up to the bay –– my favorite little spot in the whole park. Abercrombie is what I like to call a one-stop-shop park, meaning it offers a variety of backdrops in one small slice of St. Pete.
6. Boyd Hill Nature Preserve Find out more
Boyd Hill is one of the only places in the City of St. Pete that feels like true wilderness. Personally, I love shooting here in the early morning before the bugs start biting. It’s a magical pocket of real Florida with impressive live oaks, banana trees, marshes, lakes, thick jungle-like foliage and an old world stone bridge in the middle of a grassy meadow. I don’t know if it’s the wild, unspoiled setting, but I’m always so relaxed during Boyd Hill sessions. I’m sure it’s because I’m feral.
7. Weedon Island Preserve Find out more
I love Weedon Island for all the reasons I love Boyd Hill. The main difference between these two parks (for me anyway) comes down to ecosystems and boardwalks. Weedon has more of a coastal ecosystem (lagoons! bayous!) with a much more elaborate labyrinth of boardwalks. I love shooting here in the early evening –– an hour or so before sunset. And I love venturing off the beaten path into the more heavily wooded section of the park, where there’s tip-toe access to a hidden lagoon.
8. The Postcard Inn Find out more
Thanks to a $6-million facelift, this former Travelodge-turned-boho-beach-hotspot is more photo worthy than ever. Located on St. Pete Beach, the kitschy hotel’s giant pool and weathered free-standing PCI Bar inspire lively, quintessentially Florida shots. And its retro-chic lobby with whitewashed built-in bookshelves, groovy light fixtures, modern/minimalist decor and natural light make it a fun place to slip in a discreet indoor photo sesh.
9. Sawgrass Lake Park Find out more
I love photographing kids at Sawgrass Park. The setting is laidback, quiet and calm. The boardwalks, bridges and benches are charming, but it’s the filtered light and beautiful maple swamps that make me go ahhh. The marsh, which is usually covered in this thin layer of minty green algae, gives the entire park an ethereal, fairyland feel. It’s hard to believe this park is located along I-275, on a whopping 400 acres off busy 62nd Avenue North.
10. Downtown Tampa Find out more
Downtown Tampa is a great locale for headshots and environmental portraits. It’s home to the historic Tampa Courthouse, Riverwalk, Museum of Art and the forever cool/lavish Tampa Theatre and its lighted marquee. (Hey, fun fact: the Tampa Theatre was built by Paramount Pictures and opened in 1926. It was the first commercial building in the city to offer air conditioning. Also, it’s reportedly haunted.) I digress. The point is, downtown Tampa has high-rises at every turn, so it’s easy to capture a sophisticated, big-city feel in one small walkable radius.