Manatee Village Historical Park – Bradenton, Florida

What is the best gift that one photographer can give another? A photography day! I know some would rather have a new lens, camera body or computer (is anyone writing this down? Just kidding!), but just the simple act of going out with your friends and shooting for the day can be loads of cheap fun. Recently, a good friend of mine had a birthday and we coordinated on where and what he would like to do. He’s a great black and white photographer and enjoys old buildings and Florida history. We decided to head to Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida. This was perfect, old Florida history and buildings all in one place. This is a smaller version of the posts that I have done on Heritage Village in Largo, Florida. Here is a “revisited” post that I also did awhile back at the Heritage Village that was photographed in color with flash.

I had a brief visit at the Manatee Village Historical Park a few months ago. I was taken by all of the structures and how the folks had kept everything as it was, right down to every last detail. Another benefit is that most of these places there aren’t any ropes up to ruin your photos. You have full access to all the areas and can walk right up to objects and inspect them. Of course, touching isn’t a good idea, but it’s nice that they believe in the honor system. Since this was going to be my second visit to this location, I was a little bit more prepared for what I wanted to do. Last time I shot these structures using high dynamic range (HDR) technique, which worked quite well. This time I wanted to see what my lighting gear would do. This is a bit more elaborate on site, but you are basically creating the photo in the camera at the time of capture instead of being tied to the computer. As we go I have been asked to give links to the gear that I use. Here’s the disclaimer, I don’t get paid for any of these links. Feel free to click on them and do your research. These are the products that I have been using for many years and have served me well. I also have set up a page with all of these items, it’s at the top of the site and it’s called “My Gear & Project Kits”. I’ll tell you what works for me and what doesn’t, that’s what nice about not having any affiliation with companies.

As we arrived we found a shady spot, it’s August after all in Florida where the heat index can get to 100°+. Shade is your best friend. We unloaded the car and we were off. The price of admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. I don’t mind contributing to this cause as it’s ran by volunteers and the money goes towards projects that need to be completed around the park. Besides, where else are you going to get a chance to photograph buildings like this?

The first stop that we made was the boat works. It’s truly amazing to what detail these folks have put into these places to keep them as original as possible. In this building there are even wood shavings still on the floor. Inside it’s dark, I mean like cave dark in the middle of the night. Having seen this last time, I was prepared with some lighting equipment. We set up a couple of Impact Light Stands fitted with Manfrotto 026 umbrella brackets and Westscott 43” shoot thru umbrellas. For the actual flash, I used my Nikon SB800 which is out of production, the Nikon SB910 has now replaced it. However, I have seen many students using the Vivitar DF-583 that is a quarter of the price of Nikon and does a real nice job. The camera was on a Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod legs with a Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead. The last two pieces of equipment that I used was an electronic release. Mine is the Nikon MC-30a, however if you don’t want to pay the Nikon price, I would go with one from Vello for a fraction of the price, I mean it’s a release for crying out loud! In the camera’s hotshoe I was using an Acratech double spirit level to keep the camera level because I was using my Nikon 12-24 wide angle lens. Any shift up or down would make the doors and windows look wonky. Ok, enough with all the gear stuff, let’s get to the photos.

 This is the boat works at Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida. Photo taken by Spencer Pullen.Boat Works – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

  As soon as you walk into this building, this is the scene that you are greeted with. I didn’t do any special effects with this. I always shoot in color and convert to black and white in the computer. I did use Nik’s Silver Efex Pro to do the conversion. For the lights placement, we had a light stand at camera left and camera right. The flashes were trigged through the pop up flash on the camera as the external flashes were set to slave mode (that would be SU4 mode for you Nikon people out there). In one instant, it’s perfect, no bracketing or merging in the computer. I spent about five minutes processing this image in the computer. I love it when everything works like it should.

 This is a workbench in the boat works at Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Boat Works Workbench – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

On the other side of the building was another workspace area. Again, attention given to detail to preserve the history of this building was truly amazing. The lighting was a little trickier on this one. There is a door at the end of the building. We put one light stand with a flash in the door to get some directional light to get some depth. Then we used a second light next to us at a lower flash power to just bring up the light in the room. I work in manual mode on the camera and flash. This way, I’m in control and I know what is going on as the camera one too many times in auto mode has screwed me. I pressed the shutter release and after five minutes of tweaking the lights we got it.

 These are some old gears in the boat works at Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Gears In The Boat Works – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Since we already had the lights in the correct position, I decided to take some detail photos, this one being of some old rusted gears. This photo was taken with the same flash that was in the door that I mentioned. To give some detail to the shadow side, I took the umbrella off the other stand and used it as a white reflector on the left side of the gears to throw some light in the shadows. This was quick and easy, not to mention that the old table helps sell the effect.

 This is an old light bulb in the boat works at Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Light Bulb – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Even the original electrical wiring is on place with the light bulbs. I was amazed that these were still intact. Just the vintage look was amazing, however I knew this was going to be a difficult shot as we are now dealing with a reflective surface. We tried this with flash at first and it was ok, but since we were using umbrellas instead of a softbox, we were getting a weird elongated reflection of the umbrellas in the bulb. If I had my soft box with me that would have worked out perfectly as that would have just put a strip of light down the side of it and would have looked natural. So how was this lit? We opened the one door that was adjacent to the bulb and I held the white umbrella on the other side to throw some light on the shadow side. As you can see the inside of the bulb is broke so it doesn’t work, but it’s still very cool.

 Spencer Pullen photographes this school house at the Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida.Schoolhouse – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

After we exhausted ourselves with the boat works we moved onto the schoolhouse. Upon entering the structure the first thing that I noticed was all of the windows. This can be a challenge to wrestle daylight in a dynamic scene such as this. Initially we took an exposure for the daylight to see where we wanted it and how much detail we wanted showing through. Once we did this, we set up our lights in the back corners of the room and pointed them in opposite directions. This created an X shape lighting pattern. The structure is made of pine and the light reflection off the wood is going to warm it up quite a bit. Knowing that I was going to convert this to black and white, it really didn’t bother me. If I were going to use the color version, I would have corrected this either in the camera or in post. Again, after five minutes, it was in the bag.

 Here is a school desk at Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.School Desk – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

I have to admit; I stole this composition from the last time that I went up with another photographer friend. She shot it with natural light and I was amazed at how she got the light to work in her favor. Since I had the lights set up already, I repositioned myself to the front of the classroom and recomposed. This shot is a mix of natural light and artificial light, I dragged the shutter to mix the two together.

This is the USA's oldest courtroom. This was photographed by Spencer Pullen at Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida. Courtroom – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

There is a sign out front that says this is the oldest courtroom in the USA. That’s pretty amazing that it has survived this long, it was built in the 1800’s and still looks like the day it was built. They have done a great job keeping the maintenance up on this structure. The lighting was set up the same way as the schoolhouse. It was basically built the same way with rows of windows going down the sides of the room. No electric here, see the oil lamps that are on the tables?

 Spencer Pullen photographed this beautiful church at Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida.Church – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

This is an amazing church that is on the property. The sign out front says that it was built in 1860 and they are currently working restoring the steeple. When I walked inside, I couldn’t get over how big it was. Were we going to be able to light this space? This is how we handled it; we took the umbrellas off the stands and used just the bare flash. We angled the flash heads up into the ceiling and wall joint. This was white so it was the perfect color for what we needed. We set the flashes to 1/1 or full power or NUKE MODE, and let er’ rip. With an ISO of 800, and an f/stop of 8, this actually worked. Since I was using a wide angle lens, at f/8 everything was in focus.

 Spencer Pullen photograhed this living room at Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida.Living Room – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

The last structure that we visited was a residential home. Everything was open and this allowed us to get up close and personal. This only required one light in the opposite corner and we bare bulbed it as we did in the church. We did lower the power to 1/8, as 1/1 would have really over exposed the room. I kept an eye on the spirit level to make sure everything was level and pressed the release.

 This bedroom was photographed at Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida. Photo taken by Spencer Pullen.Bedroom – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

This was set up the same way as the living room. Once you have the solution figured out, no need to mess with it! At this point, we are tired and wanted to get this done, as there is no air conditioning in any of these buildings and we were sweating to death.

 Spencer Pullen photographed this kitchen at Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida.Kitchen – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

This was the last photo of the day. This kitchen was amazing to see how meals were put on the table back then. We ended up using two flashes like in the church. Again, by bouncing the light off the ceiling this gave us very soft light and let the space evenly. Best part is that it was 95% completed in the camera!

It was a full day of shooting. I see myself going back and just shooting details next time. I could spend three days just in the boathouse! If you are looking for a cheap daytrip and want to see some amazing structures from Florida’s past, this is a great find. If you don’t have/or want to shoot with flashes or do the HDR routine, the best advice that I can offer is to take a tripod and an electronic release. If your camera doesn’t offer this, use the self-timer. If your camera doesn’t have a self timer….IT’S TIME TO THROW IT OUT! It was a great trip and if your friends are into photography take them for a photo day.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Love knowing the equipment you used, thanks for that

  2. Very cool.

  3. I am liking the black and white. Enjoyed the reading how you set your lighting. Photos are great.

  4. ooooooooohhhhhhhhhh another place to put on my must do list. Another use for the extra large zip plastic bags: cut one end off on an angle the size that will fit over your lens. I keep a folded plastic zip bag in my gear bag and can use it to cover my camera and even my 300 zoom lens in a sudden rain storm; or, use it on the beach to help keep the sand out of your camera.

  5. Fascinating! Both my husband & I loved the photos – he especially as he is a woodworker. The detail and contrast is amazing! Thanks!

  6. your black and whites are fabulous. will have to go there sometime.

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