Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cave Painting

Click on an image for larger version, then use your Back button to return to this story.  Enjoy!

When I read Bruce Morgan's 'Pauper's Holiday' email recently, I got all fired up to see the caves along the Chipola River.  Besides being a fine yarnspinner, Bruce included some enticing photos.   So last month, John Moran and I set off on a mission to find Alamo Cave and light it up to make a dramatic nightscape.
Our first stop on the river was Johnny Boy Landing (near Hwy 20) where droves of local tubers drifted off like colorful balloons in the summer sky.  Every cluster had big folks lounging, little folks being wild, AND a caboose-tube for the ice chest and goodies.  It was a sweet scene that I hope to join one day later this hot summer.
By the time we launched our boats in Marianna, it was almost naptime.  Accommodations: four cypress trees at water's edge.
Late afternoon, we rounded a bend to see a boy come flying off a cliff over a gaping hole in the lime rock and plunge into the river.  We had arrived!  The river was low and clear and ever so lovely.  The high and holey rock bank and giant boulders shouted THE CAVES ARE HERE.
Friends in the area had given us the GPS coordinates for Alamo.  Still it was a thrill to find the mouth of the cave there in the woods not far from the river.
Such a cool cave! Mouth-like entrances front and back.  So many possible compositions. Arggghh... which ONE for the night light shot?  Shooting from within the cave (photo at top)?  Nice.  West entrance?  East?  Which trees?  By the time we had a couple dozen test shots made, gear was sprawled out on the forest floor.
We finally settled on two spots about 10 ft apart where we set up cameras to capture similar sets of photos.  Let the fun begin!  (Well, fun for photo-geeks.)

The next two paragraphs are the ones to skip if you are not the least bit photo-geek.  Not that they're technical, just may ramble into 'boring'.  Anyway, the idea was to make multiple exposures (like the old double exposures from film days).  Each frame has the identical composition, but each is enhanced with light from off-camera flash, flashlight, candles, torch, or colored-gels-over-lights.  And finally a frame of "darkness".  Then some of these frames would get chosen to layer into a composite -- feathering in the different lit trees and rocks -- to create the "masterpiece nightscape" (one hopes).
We started with soft warm light in the cave entrance.  Then as darkness fell, we literally light-painted the trees and earth outside the cave. The human figure was a last minute afterthought "just to have another option".  Unlikely because we had thought that soft blue "moonlight" in the back of the cave would "show" there was a rear entrance.  That version didn't look so good.  The afterthought image read much better in the overall composite - that is, warm-lit human added elements of scale, underground space, and mystique.  Here's the final.
There seemed to be no way to show the front-door-back-door feature except by video... so we made a video too. Modern cameras have options.
Early the next morning, I went to explore the Ovens, another cave we had passed upstream.   By the time I returned, John was up and all excited about a beautiful new angle on Alamo, but was struggling to get the flash units to cooperate.  Technical difficulties. After a bit of fiddling with the flashes, he got his shot.  Nice one. (Here is my version.)
Entering the Ovens brought back memories of Tom Sawyer and my childhood.  My dad was from cave country in Indiana, so whenever there was an opportunity during a family trip, we'd go explore some cave.  In the red glow of my headlamp, deep in the Ovens and my reminiscence, I suddenly heard fluttering, growing louder, then softer, then louder again. There were many side tunnels, but the sound was hard to locate.  Finally,  I caught a glimpse of it.... a bat!  It continued to fly about so I went out for my camera and tripod.
The Ovens entrance was classically picturesque, well, except for the graffiti scratched into the limerock by modern day "cave painters".  Luckily, lush maidenhair ferns also adorned the limerock walls which stretched far overhead.  And then there were fine small jewels hidden in the moss and ferns.

Later I was making the photo of John (below), when an older couple (translation: older than me, I'm 58) showed up with their 10 year old grandson. Each was paddling his/her own kayak.  Grandpa said they'd known this place all their lives and they had decided it was time the boy saw the cave.  Nothing should be more exciting to a boy that age than exploring a cave on his own.  (G and G stayed outside.)  He loved it.  And no one could have better grandparents than these two who paddled 10 miles for him to have this experience.  (Of course, paddling the river was part of their gift as well.)
Moss-covered roots artfully decorated one stretch of riverbank drawing us in.  An hour and several photos later, we were still there as heavy raindrops began falling.  Oops, our gear was all exposed.  By the time we got it all under cover, it was really raining.
So beautiful was the rain on the river, that we had to get cameras out again.  John has an elegant rig for attaching his big umbrella to his tripod.  But me... I felt a bit foolish hauling my tripod and camera out into chest-deep water and setting it up one-wet-handed.  Kept thinking, is this tempting disaster or what?  I didn't make any great photos, but I got plenty chilled, and did get my quite-wet-camera back in its drybox before the storm really let loose.  Sitting out the 40 minute downpour with flashing lightening and crashing thunder in our camp chairs in soaked raincoats on the high bank, somehow John fell asleep.  Not me. With chattering teeth, I worried about my camping gear as I watched my kayak fill with rainwater.
Summer rains pass pretty quickly in Florida, and soon enough the sun was warming my bones again.  We paddled on, not sure whether we'd spend a second night on the river.  Unexpectedly, on the left, springwater flowed strongly from a small side creek.  We'd be spending another night on the river.
Maund Spring, we later identified, is a beautiful deep crack in the earth from which clear blue water spills.  The spring run curves horseshoe-like to the river, making a nice fish-eye composition (below). Fish played on the sandy delta at the confluence, while the photographers played with angles and compositions all round the spring.
After we were satisfied with looking and shooting, it was time for a swim.  I dived deep into the hole and looked up to see the trees haloing John's silhouette.  Here's how that looked (using my wife's little Pentax Optio).
We had a lovely summer night on the riverbank. (My camp gear had stayed dry!  Whew!)
Back on the river again, the next big landmark was the confluence of Spring Creek with the Chipola.  This is a popular tubing run - from Merritts Mill Pond to the Chipola to the outfitter's shop a few miles downstream.  In the low water, the jigsaw-puzzled-barerock bottom was showcased in the confluence of streams.  While starting to set up the johnnypod (tripod ladder) over the slippery rocks, a water bottle came floating down Spring Creek, and soon we heard voices.  The journalist and springs activist in John jumped at the opportunity, and here's the photo he made.  Followed by the beautyshot from atop the J-pod.
A bit further, a troupe of thespians frozen in mid-play in a tupelo tree caught my attention along the right bank.  We stopped there for lunch and a nap.  Setting up for this photo, the rain began.  Rescue my hammock? the chair and food? No. Get out a showercap for the camera and close the camera box?  Yes. Click. Click.  Click: "All the Tree's a Stage -- The Troubadours of Tupelo".
Our final stop was a tiny spring or seep flowing out of the riverbank.  Try as we might (below), neither of us could capture the beauty of this scene in a photograph.
Then John came up with the idea to make a video with his little waterproof Lumix.  Voila!  It came alive.  Here's my version with my Pentax.

The Chipola continues to amaze me... caves and springs this time.  But this is also home of the Dead Lakes, Prothonotary Warblers, Look-N-Tremble Shoals, and "Hidden" Spring, all places I've written about in earlier blogs.
Please feel free to leave a comment. (It won't appear at first, but I'll see it and attach it to the blog.)  Thanks for sharing in my adventure.


Kenny said...

As i expected. Another Great piece of work. Thanks again David!

Mac Stone Photography said...

awesome storytelling David! I love the adventures you and John go on and am always waiting to see what comes out on the other side. Thanks for sharing (especially the photo-geek parts).

Kati Schardl said...

Wow, David - thank you so much! I spent so much time as a young 'un on that river and exploring those caves - this really took me back. It's nice to see this place I love so much through another's eyes (and camera lens)!

Spencer said...

WOW! I wanna go there!

Bruce Thyer said...

Please ad me to your blog. Magnificently photographed, videoed and written. Thank you.

Bruce Thyer

anna said...

Wow, what a collection of cave paintings.

Allen Mosler said...

David great photos!
The Alamo looked quite different in your photo. The Chipola river was amazing as well.



Amanda Kirk said...

David, it's my first visit to your website and it's amazing. I guess it was a great adventure, I will keep visiting to read and see more of it.

Linda Hall said...

Your work is so beautiful David.. I think nature likes you.
THank you

Lynn Hobby said...

A reward for time spent picking peas or digging potatoes, my cousins and I were loaded up in the back of a pick-up and taken to Tater Hill on the Chipola. Toss in a bar of Ivory Soap (it floats) and bath time was completed along with a lot of fun. I learned to swim there and years later was engaged at Look-n-Tremble. As someone who doesn't get back there your pictures sure made me happy. Thanks for loving the river as us locals do.