“The Senator” is the nickname of what was a 3500 year old Cypress Tree in Big Tree Park in Longwood Florida. Sadly, it burned down in January of 2012 when a drug addict lit a fire in the hollow at the base of the tree because “it was dark and she wanted light to see the drugs she was using.”. The culprit confessed and is expected to be sentenced shortly to either probation or a few months in prison.
I’ve written several blog articles about this and I hope you’ll forgive me for writing one more:
The latest chapter in this story is even more personal and began in December of last year when someone posted a comment on this photo of the Senator on Flickr asking if I’d be willing to sell a copy of the image. Tony Seifred and I exchanged a few emails, and to make a long story short we also ended up exchanging gifts. I gave Tony copies of two photographs of the Senator and he gave me a piece of the tree itself! I’ll let Tony tell his side of the story:
“Back when the tree burned, NPR covered the story the following morning. Within an hour I was cold calling county personnel and getting passed from one person to another. I was trying to encourage them to make offerings to school systems for educational purposes.
After many months I received an email that the decision had been made to take applications for remains. I contacted my local schools and museum trying to get them to apply. I even provided the applications. No one applied.
So I decided to try on my own. Eventually I did receive a piece of the outer part of the tree, but pick-up had to be in person. The story after that is long and convoluted but eventually did find someone there to accept payment to collect and ship the piece. Upon arrival the box was open and the piece had clearly been out.
Despite the rather expensive UPS store packing. Some pieces were broken off and still inside the wrapping. I am gifting you the largest of those pieces.”
Kudos to Tony for pursuing this and making it happen. I had the piece mounted together with the photo I made before it burned. Here’s how it looks:
This means a great deal to me and I’ll treasure it as a reminder of visits to the Senator before the tragedy. I’m exceptionally grateful to Tony for his generosity in sharing with me.
For some reason, I’d never noticed Hillsborough River State Park until fellow Photography Interest Group member JT Smith asked me about it – thanks JT! There are a lot of photos of the park on Flickr, many of them quite nice. So I decided to go over on a scouting trip. Flickr’s a great place to research new locations and I spent a while going through their search results as well as Google maps before my trip.
Dark river in the deep woods. A Hoya 8 2/3 stop neutral density filter let me stretch my exposure time to 25 seconds at f/8 and ISO 100 to smooth the water surface.
The park is about 20 miles north-east of Tampa and an hour and 40 minutes west of where I live. Not too long a trip. With all the rain we’ve had recently, added water’s made the current look pretty fast through the rapids. My kayak would get a few scrapes paddling through this.
Hillsborough River rapids. I’m a sucker for Cypress Knees and it was a treat to find some by the rapids to use as foreground. Since the wind was blowing a bit, I made two exposures. A slow one (30 seconds with the ND filter), and another not so slow one (no filter, 1/13th second). To eliminate the blurred leaves, I combined them in Photoshop using layers and masking the first for the water and second for the foliage.
I want to see what this looks like when we haven’t had so much rain. I think a few more exposed rocks would be nice. Here’s one last image from the trip:
Hillsborough River. This is an Infrared, false color, three exposure panorama. This place is near the kayak put-in.
I’m going to make a return trip and bring my kayak. I think I’ll paddle the parts in the first and third photos and not the second.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
And if you know of a good photo photo-op in Central Florida – please let me know. I love to explore new places.
Sometimes after a photo shoot, I’ll skip over images if I’m short on time or something looks too hard to deal with. Other times, I may play with a photo for a while and then set it aside when I just can’t seem to get it right. When I learn a new technique or get a new software package or upgrade I try to go through my image library and pick out existing photos that could benefit from the new capability. And yes, I also notice images that no longer look as good to me as they did at first. Something I did a few years ago may have seemed great then – but tastes change.
I use Lightroom to catalog my photos and I have a keyword called “Process” with three sub-keywords “Color”, “pano”, and “other”. Using these, I mark photos I want to revisit and I’ve built up a collection of them for future processing. I had a little time this week to go through and pick three to work on:
Kelly Park Reflections: Merritt Island, Florida, February 19, 2013. The water was amazingly calm that morning and I like the reflections as well as the detail / lights on the horizon. I bypassed this image at first because of trouble with the white balance. This time through the result is much closer to the look I wanted.
The Main Sanctuary of the Cathedral Basilica, Saint Augustine, Florida, February 28, 2013. Black and white infrared. I don’t remember why I didn’t finish this photo back in February. I like the light, detail, and tonality.
Three more cypress trees: Blue Cypress Lake, near Fellsmere, Florida, June 2, 2012. False color infrared. Since IR doesn’t capture color as your eye sees it, color conversions are very subjective. As I gain experience, my tastes are changing. This version is very different from how I processed other IR photos at the time.
So, some recommendations:
If you’re struggling with an image, don’t delete it. Mark it and move on. Come back and revisit it later.
Organize, document, and keyword your images so you can find hidden gems to re-process.
Review your photo library occasionally. Your photography skills and tools aren’t static. So your portfolio shouldn’t be static either. Revise older images and make them better. You might be surprised what comes out of your archives.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go revise some photos!
Mary and I took our kayaks to Shingle Creek last week. I wanted to post a few photos to show you again how pretty this area can be.
Winds are usually calm early in the morning – leading to scenes like this.
It was a calm morning, but the current was strong – probably because of all the rain we’ve had recently. Shingle Creek gets narrow in spots. If you go kayaking, watch for it and turn around before I did so it doesn’t knock you up against the cypress tree knees!
The reflections weren’t as pristine after Mary paddled through them – but the sunbeams made up for it.
I’m still building my kayaking skills and I’m not yet confident enough to take non-waterproof gear out with me. I made the top two photos using a GoPro camera mounted on the bow of the kayak. I set it to make a shot every few seconds and compose by positioning / pointing the kayak and selecting from the results. It’s a bit hit or miss, but I usually manage to get some I like.
The GoPro is super small, comes with a waterproof case and has a fixed, very wide-angle lens. I like all its built-in capability but it does have a couple of limitations. There’s no viewfinder, although there’s a model with wi-fi and an iPhone app that lets you control it and see the output. I don’t use my iPhone on the kayak, since I don’t want to drop it in the water either. Also, like most small sensor cameras, the dynamic range is limited (compared to larger sensors and shooting in RAW format) – so highlights have a tendency to overexpose. But if you work within its capabilities you can capture great images. You can also try the old Black and White trick to hide any blown highlights.
Shingle Creek is wonderfully scenic. There’s not as much wildlife as we see at other sites, but there are plenty of birds, turtles, fish, and I’ve heard reports of alligators and otters. If you want to see more, there are other Shingle Creek photos in this set, and kayaking photos in this set on Flickr,
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
re·flec·ting (verb): 1) to be reflected or mirrored; 2) to think, ponder, or meditate
head-wa-ters (noun): the upper tributaries of a river.
Clouds and Cypress Reflect from Shingle Creek – It’s hard to believe this urban creek just south of Orlando is the northernmost headwaters of the Everglades
If you look out the window as you fly over Florida, you’ll see much of the land is undeveloped. As you near Orlando though, you’ll see a great deal of housing, roads, city buildings, and theme parks. Central Florida can be a very urban place – it’s encouraging that even in the midst of all the development, there are a great many areas where you can experience nature, wildlife, and beautiful landscapes. Many places I visit are fairly well-known. But I had never heard of Shingle Creek before reading Wild Florida Waters, by Doug Alderson – a book about exploring Florida via kayak and canoe.
Driving through Kissimmee, Florida in the middle of airports, fast food, shopping malls, housing developments, and theme parks, you might not even notice this waterway – but you really should look for it. The first pioneer settlement in the Central Florida area was along this creek. Settlers cut down old growth cypress to use for shingles, hence the name. Shingle Creek is also generally considered to be the northernmost headwaters of the Everglades. The creek begins in a swamp very close to I-Drive where thousands of tourists visit the convention center and theme parks and go shopping every day. It flows into Lake Toho in Kissimmee, then into the Kissimmee River system and on through south Florida to the Everglades.
I see different numbers for the size of Shingle Creek Regional Park. One source says that it’s about 456 acres, another says that over 1000 acres have been purchased. Either way, it’s large and the landscapes are beautiful. There are trails to hike and bike and if you have a canoe or kayak you can venture into some very thick cypress swamps south of the Steffee Landing park entrance. You can see alligators, otters, water moccasins, ospreys, hawks, woodpeckers, limpkins, herons, egrets, and even bald eagles. It’s truly a wonderful oasis in the middle of urban Central Florida. I’m grateful we’re preserving it and I’m going back soon to explore more of it.
Apple snail eggs – These snails deposit their eggs just above the water line. Seeing them is a good sign of healthy water. The snails feed on an algae that grows on eel grass which helps filter and clean the water. Eel grass doesn’t grow well in cloudy polluted waters, so you won’t find Apple snails there. You won’t find Limpkins or Snail Kites there either because Apple Snails are a main part of their diet.
More reflections – Shingle Creek south of Steffee Landing
You can enter the park from two locations. Use these addresses to search for it in Google Maps (just searching for “Shingle Creek Park” didn’t work too well for me): 4266 W. Vine Street, Kissimmee, FL 34741 -or- 2491 Babb Road, Kissimmee, FL 34746
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, step away from the pavement and go make some photos
You may remember my posts about “The Senator”, a 3500 year old Cypress tree in Big Tree Park in Longwood, Florida (Big Tree Park – Home of the Senator, and “The Senator” is destroyed by fire). The destruction of the tree in January of last year was an awful event. The park closed after the fire but it’s open again now and the story has taken a fascinating twist – so I went by to check it out.
The Senator in September of 2011 – just a few months before the fire
The Senator in March of 2013 – the charred base of the original tree is all that’s left.
In 1997 a branch fell from the Senator after a storm.
A Miami science teacher happened to be there and happened to know about a North Florida tree farmer who was creating a cypress grove cloned from trees from all over the country.
The science teacher gave the branch to the farmer who used it to create ten cloned trees.
Seven of them survived (an unusually high percentage).
Fifteen years later, in January of 2012, the Senator burned.
A forestry specialist at the University of Florida heard about the fire and recalled the cloning project.
Seminole County officials then worked to move one of the clones to Big Tree Park.
The identical clone (appropriately named “The Phoenix”) was transplanted to Big Tree Park and dedicated on March 2nd, 2013. It’s doing well and is already more than 50 feet tall!
The Phoenix rises: An identical clone of the 3500 year old “Senator” cypress tree was started in 1997. Already 50+ feet tall, it was transplanted into Big Tree Park in 2012
There are some other changes, including a refurbished boardwalk, new signs with information about the park and trees, and new fencing (to keep drug addled arsonists out).
It’s horrible that this ancient tree burned, but it’s amazing that a clone existed. I wonder if people will visit “The Phoenix” far in the future and think about the 21st century, just like I sometimes think about the time 3500 years ago when The Senator first grew.
Deborah Sandidge and Jason Odell led a sunset photo walk around Lake Eola in downtown Orland on Friday evening. I’ve followed their work online and wanted to meet them, so I signed up. Conditions weren’t the best for sunset photography, but I still had a good time. I used a neutral density filter to make several long exposure photos and I thought I’d walk you through my process. First of all, here’s the final version:
Lake Eola – Orlando, Florida. Long exposure, cloudy, sunset. You can click on this image to see a larger version on Flickr.
And here’s the initial version of this photo:
f/8, 25 seconds; after initial adjustments in Lightroom.
Here are the steps I went through to get to the final version: First, I corrected the distortion to make the buildings vertical in Lightroom. Then I edited it in Photoshop. I used content aware fill to finish the vertical distortion fix, then added a layer and masked out noise from darker areas. Finally, I ran the single image through Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 to enhance color, contrast and details. Back in Light room again, I finalized exposure, contrast and white balance and applied sharpening and a small amount of vignette. I like how it came out.
For comparison purposes, here’s a 1/20 second exposure of the same scene.
f/8, 1/20th second; Same initial adjustments as the version above.
Looking at the long exposure version, the main differences I see are: the smooth sheen on the water surface, the much more prominent tree shadow in the lower right, and the radial motion blurring in the clouds. The tree shadow surprised me the most. In the short exposure version, the water ripples break up the shadow. They don’t in the long exposure version, which makes the shadow much more interesting.
There are lot of upsides to long exposure photography and a few downsides. For instance, since the wind was blowing so hard on Friday, some of the smaller tree branches are a little blurry. Also, when you use very dense neutral density filters, your camera probably won’t auto expose or auto focus correctly, so you’ll have to take care of those things on your own. And some of these filters can also add a color cast to your photos, so you may need to be careful with your color balance. But all in all, it’s a great technique to have in your bag of tricks. Have you tried it yet? Why not?
Happy Holidays! Once again the season has snuck up on us. I hope that all of you, your families, and your friends have a joyful and happy season!
Photographer Jim Goldstein has an annual tradition of organizing a “best photos of the year” listing. I’m very glad he started this, since it’s a good reminder for each of us to take time to review results and contemplate how to improve our photography. And also to put together an annual “Favorite photos of the year” post.
2012 was another good year for me photographically. The 2012 folder on my hard drive takes up about 284 GB of space – almost double 2011. There are 80 folders, and each one represents a separate “photo-op”, with a total of over 6200 photos, so it does look like I’m trying! I had a lot of opportunity to make good images this year, and I’m pleased with the results I achieved. But it doesn’t seem like my ability and skills have grown as much this year as in the past. Perhaps I’ve plateaued. Maybe I don’t know what I don’t know about getting better. Maybe I’m just getting more picky and critical. Regardless, I think I need to make a stronger effort in 2013.
I’m still using the following system to rate my photos. The numbers in parentheses are the counts for 2012.
1 star – The photo is interesting (174)
2 stars – The photo is worth showing to others (396)
3 stars – The photo is the best of (or one of the best of ) any given photo shoot (68)
4 stars – My favorite photo of a year (1)
5 stars – My favorite photo ever (still none, I’m not finished making photos yet!)
The rest of the photos don’t have stars and are seconds or not so good versions. I usually keep them, but they probably won’t get any more attention. This system seems to work for me and I’ve reviewed my 2012 photos and selected my favorites. This is a hard process for any photographer. It’s difficult to separate my opinion about a photograph from any emotional connections that I might have with the scene or situation. But making this effort is important and part of the learning process. Still, at the end of the day, I don’t claim to be objective about my photography. These photos are the ones that I like best, so feel free to disagree – but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve picked.
You can click on each of these to go to Flickr and see a larger version. Or you can click on this link to go to the complete set on Flickr.
I have 1 miscellaneous subject, 1 mammal, 1 bird, 3 people photos, 7 landscapes, 3 sunrises, 0 sunsets, 6 color, 4 Black and White, and 4 Infra-Red photos. Definitely a trend away from wildlife and toward landscapes and infra-red. Here we go…
My number 1 favorite photo of 2012:
Many cypress trees, Blue Cypress Lake, near Vero Beach, Florida, June.
I have a thing for Cypress trees anyway and when I made my first and only visit to Blue Cypress Lake this year, the natural beauty of this place overwhelmed me. I’m planning to return early next year when I can also see many nesting Ospreys and other birds. See this post for more info.
My number 2 favorite photo of 2012:
Pre-dawn Jetty, Jetty Park, Cocoa, Florida, October.
When I saw this scene, I really liked the way the light on the walk drew my eye to the bottom left and then the rail and the jetty lead to the sun rays coming up from below the horizon. So I straddled the rail with my tripod and made this photo. See this post for more info.
My number 3 favorite photo of 2012:
Keb’ Mo’ in concert, Plaza Theatre, Orlando, Florida, February.
I like The Plaza and they often bring in acts that I like too. We were lucky to get seats up front and when the spotlights lit up the smoke, I made this photo. See this post for more info.
My number 4 favorite photo of 2012:
Water Dragon Sunrise, on board the Carnival Paridise in the Gulf of Mexico, April.
I stalked this sunrise for about 45 minutes before this scene developed. I’m happy I waited for it – sometimes patience pays off! See this post for more info.
My number 5 favorite photo of 2012:
Submarine sunrise: The British Trident ballistic missile submarine HMS Vigilant leaving Port Canaveral, Florida just after dawn, October.
This was a bonus photo when the sub turned south after leaving the inlet and posed for us under the rising sun. See this post for more info.
My number 6 favorite photo of 2012:
Cocoa Sunrise, North of the Hubert Humphrey Causeway in Cocoa, Florida, August.
This is an infra-red, fish-eye photo (an “IRFE”). It’s a really good combination to shake up your photography and inspire some creativity.
My number 7 favorite photo of 2012:
Play time at Union Station, Cincinnati, Ohio, December 2011
This photo missed the deadline for last year’s favorites – so I included it here. I usually wait for people to clear out when I’m trying to make a photo. This time I went ahead and made it while these two girls played around the fountain. Since this is a stitched panorama, they show up multiple times, which I think adds to the image. See this post for more info.
My number 8 favorite photo of 2012:
Cruising White Pelican, Black Point Wildlife Drive, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Florida, December.
White Pelicans are winter migrants to our area, so we don’t get to see them very often. This one cruised right in and posed in the middle of my viewfinder. I couldn’t have arranged it better! See this post for more info.
My number 9 favorite photo of 2012:
On the beach, Venice Beach, Florida, September.
We were wandering around exploring the area near the Venice Pier. Since it was close to mid-day, I didn’t expect the light to be good, but I took my IR camera in case something came up. I think the IR characteristics add a lot of interest to the photo. And it makes a great example of how “playing around” can lead to good things. See this post for more info.
My number 10 favorite photo of 2012:
Late night?, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Orlando, Florida, May.
This photo was difficult to make since the lighting was challenging and I had to photograph the Gorilla through glass. But it’s a great pose and expression and I was able to clean the image up considerably in post processing. He looks like I’ve felt a few times. See this post for more info.
And here is one last photo that I care a lot about:
The “Senator” – a 3500 year old Bald Cypress tree, Big Tree Park, Longwood, Florida.
I made this image in September of 2011, so it doesn’t officially qualify for a 2012 favorite. The reason I put it in this post is because in January of 2012, the tree caught fire, burned and collapsed. The fire was at first thought to have been caused by lightning, but later was determined to have been started by a woman inside the hollow tree so she could see the illegal drugs she was using. Now no one else will ever make a photo of this, so it became a lot more important to me in 2012. What a crazy, sad event. For more info see this post and this post.
If you’d like to see my favorite photos from earlier years, you can click on these links: 2009, 2010, and 2011.
If you’ve read through my blog or looked at my photostream on Flickr, you’ll already know that I enjoy black and white photography and occasionally post B&W images. Removing color from a scene abstracts reality – and emphasizes shapes, composition, and texture. The image becomes a bit unreal, but since we’re used to B&W – not too unreal. This makes B&W a great way to make your images stand out.
Another way to make your images stand out is by using infrared (IR) film or an IR modified camera:
IR captures a portion of the spectrum of light that’s different from what your eyes can see.
The spectral response makes blue sky look dark and foliage bright. This reverses a normal daylight scene’s brightness values, helps tame contrast, and allows you to shoot even when the sun is high in the sky.
You can interpret this alternate version of reality by processing your IR photo as B&W or various types of false color images.
IR can sometimes also capture details that aren’t seen with visible light.
If you use a modified digital camera, you may see improved detail in your photos, since the conversion process removes the anti-aliasing filter that most digital cameras use to slightly blur the image during capture (and remove Moire patterns and other aliasing artifacts).
I’ve gotten some questions about my infra-red images. And I haven’t written anything about technique recently, so in this post, I’ll go into detail about a recent IR image I made. I’m relatively inexperienced at this, but as a IR n00b I’ve learned a few things that may come in handy if you want to try it.
Messy knees: Cypress trees on the south shore of Lake Jesup. Cypress trees and their roots are good subjects, especially along the water where they’re usually found. The light hitting these tree trunks and the Spanish Moss also caught my eye. I’m still playing around with infra-red. There’s a range of post processing options available. I was hoping that this false color version looks just alien enough to make people take a second look. Click here to view a larger version of this photo on Flickr.
Older models like the E-PL1 are relatively inexpensive;
They have a large sensor (compared with compact cameras) which helps image quality;
They use the sensor for contrast type focusing so there are no focus calibration issues that can occur in a DSLR
Most have RAW format capture available
I shoot in RAW, not jpeg. For IR, it would be tough to get all the settings perfect in camera. Plus, there are a lot of post processing options which you’d give up if you only capture jpeg.
White balance is one thing that you should set. If you shoot in RAW, white balance can be adjusted in post processing. But setting a white balance in camera is important since it lets you judge your shots on the LCD screen as you take them. Unless you set a custom (preset) white balance all IR images would look very red. On my E-PL1 I use a temperature setting of 2000K which is as low as it will go. This camera has no tint adjustment, so photos still look blue, but it’s good enough for judging exposure.
Here are 7 versions of this photo that show the processing steps I went through along the way. Don’t be alarmed – this is quicker and easier than it sounds.
You can find out more about Infrared photography at these places:
The Khromagery website has several good articles on IR cameras and processing. They also offer an IR Photoshop action as a free download.
So, is IR an infatuation? Will I use it for a while and then let it fade away? Will I only bring it out for special photo ops as inspiration? Will it take over my photo life to the exclusion of all other approaches? Who can say? You’ll just have to keep reading my blog and see what happens. Along with me.
You can visit my IR set on Flickr to see more examples of what I’ve done. What do you think? Is IR photography something you’d like to explore?
Note: This post was updated on 2/29/12 after the arrest of a woman who has confessed to starting the fire. And on 3/18/19 to remove dead links.
Today is a sad day.
“The Senator“, one of the oldest cypress trees in the world, caught fire, burned and collapsed this morning in Longwood Florida. It burned from the inside out and local firefighters spent several hours trying to put out the fire and save the tree. Efforts even included dumping water on the flames from a Sheriff’s helicopter. The fire was apparently caused by a woman inside the hollow tree who started the fire so she could see the illegal drugs she was using. These Orlando Sentinel links have more details:
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/seminole/os-senator-cypress-tree-fire-20120116,0,6171920.story (sorry – no longer available)
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/opinion/os-ed-michael-sacasas-tree-myword-011912-20120118,0,2070404.story (sorry – no longer available)
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-senator-tree-fire-arrest-20120228,0,4902574.story (sorry – no longer available)
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-beth-kassab-senator-fire-030112-20120229,0,3475224.column (sorry – no longer available)
The tree was an estimated 3500 years old. A 20 – 25 feet section of the base is still standing and it’s all that remains of the 125 foot tall tree that was there only yesterday. It was even taller before the top section was lost to a hurricane in 1925. “Lady Liberty”, a nearby companion tree thought to be 2000 years old was not damaged in this fire. Seminole county is now planning to spend $30,000 for fencing at the site to protect the remains of the Senator as well as Lady Liberty.
It is a big shame that Seminole County did not adequately protect this site. I’m so very glad I went by Big Tree Park last September to photograph the tree and write it up for Central Florida Photo Ops. I hope you visited too.
The Senator: Prior to the January 16, 2012 fire that destroyed it.