I don’t consider myself to be a “Floridian”, I’m still holding on to the vision that I’m a northerner that has been misplaced for many years. This may not jive well for some since there is a raging snow storm in the northeast as I write this from Florida in my shorts. Our family moved down here in 1988, I was a ripe old age of 11. When we arrived and got settled in we did the usual touristy things. We drove all over to see what the big thing to do was. At the time Port Charlotte didn’t have a mall so we would drive down to Fort Myers to go to the mall and Sam’s Club. After awhile it seemed as if we did everything and spent usually one weekend a month in Kissimmee with my grandparents to get back to civilization. When we moved down here, the job that my father had was a pest exterminator. This allowed him to really get to know the area and talk to people.
One of the places that he had to service was the Babcock Ranch. He came home and told us about the alligators and other wildlife they had like a three horned cow and a panther. Then we had company come down from the north to visit. We all went out to the ranch for a tour, but there wasn’t enough room for all of us, so my father, my uncle and myself stayed behind while the rest of the family went. We figured we lived here so we could come back “someday” and take the tour. Fast forward 26 years later, that someday had come.
Since I had a day off, my father said that we never took the tour out at Babcock. The weather was nice and we haven’t been out shooting in some time. He made the arrangements and we were all set. When the big day came, we gathered our gear and took off. We went down a part of the state that I hadn’t been in a very long time. These roads had speed limit signs posted but it seemed if they didn’t matter. I’m not usually too concerned about driving, but in this part of the state, it was like NASCAR driving. You knew you were going fast enough when the light poles were a solid color as you were passing them so fast. We knew we were there when we saw the flags. We drove for a bit down a dirt road and as pulled into the parking lot, we were the first ones! We walked around and paid for our tickets. Since it was a weekday, I thought there might be less folks and we would have more of an opportunity to shoot. While waiting for our tour to depart, I photographed a few items.
One of the animals to check out was “Cutter” a cute little pig. I took a few photos as he was running around but nothing really worked for me. I came back a few minutes later and it was apparently his nap time. I took a few more frames and something was missing. He was in shade and open sun, a photographer’s worst nightmare. I decided to try the ole’ pop up flash since that was all I had. When I use flash and if my lens comes with a lens hood, I use it all the time, even indoors. The only time I don’t use it is when I use the pop up flash as it will create a rising moon shadow on your subject. I just take this off and shoot without it. I came up with an exposure for the highlight area and then goosed the flash power until I got the mix that I wanted.
Right next to Cutter’s pen was the three horned cow that I had heard about when I was 11. Granted Lulu is now there in spirit….and taxidermy. Lulu is under a structure that has an overhang on it. Since I was already set up for flash, I figured I would give it a go and see what happens. I ended up shooting a few frames and had to reduce the power of the flash as it looked like a “flash” shot. This might sound kind of strange, but I don’t want people to look at my photos and go, “Oh, you used a flash. Good Job.” By mixing the light coming from the flash with the ambient, it fills in the shadows and lets the ambient light take over the highlights, how cool is that?
These were placed around the property and reminded you that you were on a ranch. I saw one that was burned into the wooden fence and thought it might look good in black and white.
During our tour I was able to capture this windmill. Again, it had the old look so I wanted to go for black and white. Our tour guide Terry (who was awesome by the way) told us about this area’s rich history. This used to be known as Rouxville and the folks that used to live here used to work in logging.
At one point, Terry stopped the vehicle and here comes a cow with a full set of horns straight at us. Granted we were up in a modified school bus so it wasn’t like we were in any real danger. Terry was telling us all kinds of great info, but all we could do was kind of point to tell her that we may have a problem. All I could think of was a flash back from Jurassic Park after the fence went down! She picked up a canister and sure enough, the cow stuck her head in the bus to get a treat! I know there is a hand rail running through the cow’s head, but this is one time I thought I would let it go! I guess she knows the tour vehicle and knows that there’s treats associated with it so it was time to come visit. They don’t do this on the tour at Busch Gardens!
At one point in our tour we stopped and walked through a beautiful boardwalk through some old cypress trees. This is a special location that I’ll elaborate more on later. But at the end of the board walk was a panther. This was wonderful, we got to see a panther in its environment without a bunch of screaming kids crawling on top of each other to get to the front. We had eight people on our tour, it was great. This panther was laying in the shade keeping cool. I took my Nikon 18-200 lens with me as I had no idea what we were going to encounter and I didn’t want to bring every last lens to weigh me down. Since this was a civilized group we each took a turn and I was able to get right up on the fence and make it disappear.
After we got back on the vehicle, all of the sudden Terry shows up with an alligator. We all looked at each other and asked where and when did you have time to pick that up since she was right behind us. Secrets of the ranch. Anyway, she explained about alligators and took some questions. Everyone had the chance to touch the tail area. Terry explained that even at this size, they can really ruin your day! This was an ambient only shot as I didn’t exactly want to startle him while she was holding him!
Along the way we stopped at this point where there were many birds and alligators. I was kind of taken back by the cypress trees and the reflection. Since we were stopped and she even turned off the motor (did I mention how great Terry was???) I was able to steady the camera on the edge of the window of the vehicle that we were in and I rattled off a bracketed set of nine photos. Later I merged and made it black and white. Who says you need a 12×20 view camera to make photos like these :).
A couple of times we came upon some turkey. I have never really got a good photo of a turkey before. When they would come out, I was always on the wrong side of the vehicle. I was kind of bummed, however the photographer’s Gods were on my side. Terry threw out some feed on my side and the turkey were six feet away from me. How cool is that? These guys weren’t phased by us and were still eating as we drove away.
As we were leaving, I noticed this old cabin. Since I’m into old buildings, I loved this. Remember I was talking about the special place where the boardwalk was? As I understand it, this was used in the movie “Just Cause” starring Sean Connery and Laurence Fishburne. This cabin was placed where the boardwalk was and that is where some of the scenes for the movie were shot. As before, the lighting was a challenge so I shot off a bracketed set hand held and merged in the computer.
After the tour, my father and I ate at the restaurant. It was really nice, comfortable and the prices were very fair. If you’re wondering, they did have gator on the menu. After lunch we strolled through the gift shop where they have all kinds of items available for purchase. They also have a photography tour that you can take. This is on my list when I get some time off. That would really be great to have time to get out and set up a tripod, just watch for alligators! If your interested in going or checking out their website, here it is: http://www.babcockwilderness.com. Take lots of camera cards and a variable zoom lens. Also, as a side note, I saw more wildlife on this tour than I have seen at one time at Myakka River State Park. It’s worth the drive out there and you’ll come home with some great photos for your collection.
Until next time…
Keep Your Lens Clean