Red Bug Slough – Sarasota, Florida

Have you ever visited a place and only to be there five minutes and think to yourself, “I drove here for this?” It amazes me, I’m always looking for neat parks to go to, especially when I teach classes and I need a venue for the students to flex their always increasing creative muscles. I have been to some “parks” listed in a travel guide or on a website only to find when I get there, I’m greeted with a picnic bench and a trash can. Also, the grass is almost up to the seats on the bench and I would be afraid to lift the lid on the trash can, you never know what you may find or what smell would knock you unconscious.

One of the places that I teach is through the Adult Community Education (ACE) located at the Sarasota County Technical Institute (SCTI). This is a great venue and they just finished construction of a brand new building. As I have taught my photo classes there in the past, I’m always on the lookout for new venues to go to. On the way to the school I pass a brown sign that reads “Red Bug Slough”. Hummm, brown signs usually means a park of some kind so that may be a great place to check out. However, all I could see was a playground, bathroom and parking lot. I was surprised that a county would spend this kind of money on a very small piece of property.

In one of my classes, one student recommended that we go there for the field portion. The class agreed and most of them had never been there before either so this was a win-win. The next week we assembled in the parking lot and headed out. There was a map in the parking lot that showed the outline of the property and a lake. OK, now I have something to work with. We walked through a wooded area and met many folks with their four pawed furry family members. After a few minutes walking, we came upon a clearing and were greeted with a lake and a couple of picnic tables. This was picturesque. As in all my classes, I was answering questions along the way and demonstrating how to do certain things that we had been learning about. We sat at the tables and made sure everyone was flying right. The class was shortly over and as I walked back the way we came, I couldn’t but think, “Am I missing something?” I took a few other classes there during the following months to shoot and every time I was considering deep sixing this place from the list. Then one day it all changed.

As well as teaching regular classes, I also offer private classes. Folks who take this option along with the regular class seem to really like this as they get one-on-one attention and using their specific gear. A student called me up and asked if we could go shooting. I said no problem, after mulling around possible locations to shoot, we decided Red Bug Slough. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Little did I know whom I was with. We met at the parking lot and took the trail into the clearing that I had taken with other classes. As always, we were greeted with the same benches. We went over some settings for the camera and then it was time to shoot. I thought to myself, “How many photos can you take of the lake or nails in the picnic table?”. We started walking in a new direction. There was a path that ran parallel to the main road. We took a few photos and she looked at me and said. “Here we are.” I said, “Ugh, here where?” There was grass that was well over my hips (I’m 6’4”) and all I could think of was this is prime snake bite country. She explained that this is one of the many trails that run through the property and she used to walk her dogs on the trails every day. OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Hesitantly, I stared up the path. Off to one side was a spider web that was the size of Texas. My student is burring through this grass path like it was nothing. After a few minutes, we ran into a couple who was walking their dog. At this point I’m gaining her trust that she was telling me the truth and not leading me out here to have me killed and steal my camera gear! (Just Kidding!…sort of) After a few moments we were out of the high grass and the scenery opened up. Then I was stunned, trees, not any ole’ trees, really, really old trees.

 Spencer Pullen captured these old oak trees at Red Bug Slough in Sarasota, Florida.Old Oak – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

I love old stuff. This was amazing, this place had to have some of the oldest oak trees that I had ever seen. Since I enjoy shooting black and white, I thought this would make a great subject. I set up the tripod and I happen to have my Nikon 12mm-24mm wide angle lens with me. These trees were huge and I kept working on trying to find the best composition. After being backed into the palmettos, I was able to get the shot that I wanted.

 Spencer Pullen took this black and white scene at Red Bug Slough in Sarasota, Florida.Leaning Oaks – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

After a little walk we found another path and sure enough there was another network of these wonderful trees. Now I could see why this place is so popular with the locals. It’s a great place to get away from everything that requires electricity and enjoy nature and listen to all the birds.

Since it was around 3:00 p.m. the sun was in and out of the clouds. It was going to be a challenge to light all of this area evenly. Since I was on a tripod, I figured I would bracket my scenes so I could try and fuse them back together later. I shot nine frames, one stop apart. This is what my Nikon does automatically so it’s rather easy. I always check the histogram on the LCD to ensure that I captured all of the light in the scene. Great black and white photographers such as Ansel Adams and Clyde Butcher, rely on film to get their dynamic range and shoot a big negative so they can make massive prints. I don’t have one of those big cameras….neither do I want one. I feel that I have better equipment and have technology on my side. I may not be able to get all the detail in one frame, however I can get all the detail in a series of frames that range from dark to light. Also, with cameras now topping 36+ mp, you could print out a billboard at that size, not to mention there isn’t any cost for film or processing.

When I got back to the office I ran the frames through Photomatix Pro and merged them together. I was amazed to see how well the camera did. A side note, I find that the lenses sharpest aperture is at f/8 and f/11. One might say, “What about f/22 or f/32”. Then you risk diffraction, but we’ll save that for another day.

 This walking path takes you through some old oak trees at Red Bug Slough in Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Path To Somewhere – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

As we were making out way back towards the parking lot, I saw this scene. I love paths that have been made just by walking. In this case, there was a canopy of oaks overhead to frame the frame. I used the path as a leading line to help draw the viewer’s attention through the scene.

One of the most asked questions that I get is do I shoot in black and white in the camera. My answer is no. If I shoot color, then I have the ability to make the conversion look how I want it to on the computer and not let the camera decide for me. Once the photos were fused, I took them into Photoshop and used my favorite black and white plug-in, Nik Silver Efex Pro. I’m able to play with the brightness, structure and contrast. Also, it has digital versions of the old colored filters that photographers used to use when they shot black and white film. I gave it a final over all sharpen using Nik’s Sharpener Pro and I was off.

What was once thought as a dud location turned into a great venue. This is a great example of how local knowledge can improve your photography. If you’re going to travel to a foreign country or location that you have never been, it would be worth to hire a guide in my opinion. Don’t want to hire a guide? Then I would research as much as I could online about the place and putting out an SOS to other photographers wouldn’t hurt as they could share some great photography hot spots. That was my issue, after my initial visit, I wrote this off in my mind and didn’t ask any of the locals what’s the deal with this place. Now I would say pack your gear and visit this wonderful park. It’s completely free and take a lunch if you are too thin to survive for a few hours. (I need that problem.) Take wide angle lenses and a tripod and you’ll be rewarded with some great photos of old Florida that is still standing and haven’t been replaced with a parking lot or retail center.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Hi,

    Beautiful! Great place to visit. Merry Christmas!

  2. You turned these into some very beautiful black and whites.
    Thank you for your artistry.
    Merry Christmas to you and Angie

  3. Beautiful black and whites. I was at a park a few weeks ago and about 200 frames in I realized I was shooting in black and white. Rookie mistake. Not unhappy though. Some of the pictures I would not have imagined in b&w turned out pretty good.

  4. The “Path To Somewhere” shot is awesome 🙂 Definitely putting this place on my bucket list of preserves to visit.

  5. The black and whites are super. I love them.
    Merry Christmas

  6. really great or as they say in cape coral huuugeha, the path to somewhere all I can say is fantastic——-MERRY CHRISTMAS

  7. In your blog entry above, you write that you used f/8 and f/11 because smaller apertures risked diffraction effects. As readers of this blog might want to know, I was there at Red Bug Slough as one of your ACE students. You were using some very nice, professional equipment. Therefore, I am surprised (or just naive??) that you can’t go to a smaller aperture. Ansel Adams, whom you mention, was a member of the “Group f/64” of landscape photographers. (See wikipedia for more.) If their name is true, then I wonder how they could use f/64. How did they deal with diffraction?

    • Spencer

      As I understand it, since we are shooting digital, it’s more sensitive to the light and how it’s coming into the camera. But here’s the big difference, Adams was shooting to a black and white negative so the diffraction wouldn’t show up. Since I shoot color and convert to black and white in the computer, I’m mindful of this in case I want to use the photo for color as well. I have heard professional photographers mention that they don’t worry about this as it can be taken out in post and the newer lenses can handle the old issues such as distortion and aberration much better. The lens that I used wasn’t Nikon’s top shelf. If I were to use their best lens for this set up, I would have used their 14mm-24mm f/2.8. I’m only about $2,000 short in acquiring this piece of equipment!



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