Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Chipola River

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Long overdue, I'm back to finish my story about the Halloween'09 Florida Panhandle River Exploration with my friend John Moran (http://www.johnmoranphoto.com/). Check out my blog, The Mighty Apalachicola River (10Dec09) which is 'part 1'.

The Dead Lakes are said to have been created when sandbars formed by the Apalachicola River blocked the mouth of one of its tributaries, the Chipola River. Many acres were flooded and thousands of trees died. The result - a broad expanse in the southern end of the Chipola River that runs for several miles - is filled with tree stumps, cypress trees, fish, and great beauty. However, boating in the Dead Lakes is treacherous due to many barely submerged stumps. We never saw another soul the whole day. And we had an amazing day on the lakes - the sky, trees, water, fall colors, sun and moon all coming together to make magic.


John's jonboat is rigged to setup his johnnypod allowing us vistas from 15 feet above the water. Wow, it was really a bird's eye view. Nature's displays kept us gawking from morning til dark... we barely found time for a nap in the shade of the swampy lakeshore in midafternoon. First there were the parhelions or sundogs. The ripples of high cirrus clouds in the blue sky fractured the sun's rays into rainbow prisms. These were stunningly beautiful with both short and long telephoto lenses, as well as the carefully shaded naked eye.




If it wasn't enough to have rainbow colors in the sky, the lake was full of brilliant fall colors against the blue water surface and grays of dead trees.




Later in the afternoon, we were searching for the right setting for the full moonrise. We found it in a twisted snag beside a living cypress. The sun would set behind us while the moon should rise in the east at about the same time. Nevermind that we would be far from the boat ramp in stump-filled waters after dark. Getting back was a nerve-racking feel-along-crawl , but SO worth it. The moonrise in this setting couldn't have been more breathtaking. And to think, the Dead Lakes were only our first day on the Chipola.

From locals at a cafe in Blountstown, we learned how to find 'Look-and-Tremble', the famous Chipola shoals. On the way, we stopped at the bridge over the river and found two other interesting images, one of a cypress on the riverbank, and the other of a long-dead garfish curled up in the sun by the parking area. As with most of our trips, John demonstrated his master-craftsman's knowledge about lighting. At this wayside park, he broke out reflectors to rake sunlight across the front of the cypress's buttressed trunk, and then again to brush bright sunshine horizontally across the garfish's bones, accentuating the texture and dramatizing the composition. Good lessons.


Here's Look & Tremble. John's idea to set up the johnnypod so we could get a higher perspective on the shoals and line up the sun in the oak. Another good lesson.
Our final journey on the Chipola was to try to find a remote spring that I had happened upon once on a kayak-camping trip in the past. John had seen my photos and wanted to bring his entire bag of lighting tricks to make a photo for a future book project. I had studied maps and Google Earth so I would "know" about where it was, but I was off by a half mile or more. We eventually found it, but not without doubts, and having to wade the boat upstream over several shoals. Here are shots from my first trip, when we first discovered this hidden spring.





In the next image, full credit goes to John for the amazing set up and lighting of the spring (well, along with Sun who contributed the pink dawn sky, and Earth, for this remarkably-sculpted vase of clear water in her crust). I do regret NOT documenting the entire production. There was a bright strobe in a specially-designed plexiglass housing attached to a long aluminum pole. This was carefully placed under a deep ledge at the bottom of the spring bowl. There were two additional flashes above water. All of these were rigged with photosensors to fire when the camera's shutter was released. The intensity of each flash had to be adjusted to put out just the right amount of light. John's image will include even more light painted (by moi, with a waterproof dive light) across the surface of the shallow ledge in front, and perhaps more painted light in the distant trees. We experimented with many techniques. (The fish in the smaller opening at the foreground was presumably happenstance. Ha.) This was a labor-intense process that involved lots of trial and error. We spent the previous afternoon, well into darkness, slept a bit on sight... and then were back at it well before dawn. The best light in the dawn sky only lasted for a few minutes, so when it really came down to it, we had to scramble to get our shots... hence, all the preparation.

Another lesson - thanks, John.

There were other adventures and images made on this leg of the journey - frogs in the palmettos and explorations of side creeks and islands... but beautiful and fun as they were, Hidden Springs was the highlight.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Exceeds the quality I've come to expect from you David. ~Bob Tilden

Rosanne said...

Absolutely amazing! Thanks David!

Tally said...

This is wonderful photo-journalism. I'm sorry you didn't document the lighting process also. It would have been fascinating to observe.