Ringling’s Ca d’Zan – Part 2 – Sarasota, Florida

This post is the second part of the Ringling’s Ca d’Zan. If you missed the first part, you might want to look over that post first: Ringling’s Ca d’Zan – Part 1 – Sarasota, Florida. A brief recap of the day’s events, I was fortunate enough to have my own private photo tour through the Ringling’s Ca d’Zan (House of John) with the curator. I was also allowed to use my tripod, which is usually forbidden on Ringling property. This meant that I could shoot with slower shutter speeds and lower ISOs to get a much higher detailed photo.

Let me explain the process for how I accomplished these. Since I wasn’t going to be able to drag all of my lighting stuff around from room to room, floor to floor, I wanted to travel light. I took my Nikon ultra wide-angle lens, tripod and camera card wallet. This combination would allow me to shoot bracketed sets of scenes and blend them back together in the computer later. There are many different types of merging software packages on the market and they all tout to be the best. I have tried a few of them, but I have always used one, Photomatix. Photomatix has been around the longest and they have really refined the software. Some might be asking, “Isn’t this HDR?” Yes and no. The process starts out as you would with a high dynamic range scene. However, I use a process called “Fusion” that creates a low dynamic range photo, or what we are used to seeing. Some swear off “HDR” photography as they look on the Internet and what they see are black, beat up skies, over saturated colors and halos galore. Personally, this is one option that folks have. We can call this look “creative”, but I’m more interested in what the scene looked like when I was standing there. I guess you could call my style “realistic”. I’m not knocking anyone who likes the “creative” look, that’s why we have a choice. Whatever floats your boat. I have been using the fusion technique for many years now. In fact, I used to photograph the interiors of restaurants and they would get published in magazines. No one knew the difference. Humm.

I shoot RAW files and use Lightroom to export everything over to Photomatix. I’m not a big Lightroom user, but I do like that I can check the histogram before I select my photos to use in the process, which is a big help. Lightroom also exports them as TIFFs so Photomatix doesn’t have to do any RAW conversions. Photomatix is up front about how their software is “not optimized” for RAW conversions. In English, the conversion sucks, use something else!

After Photomatix does what is does best, merging the separate photos into a single composite, then I run the composite through Camera RAW and polish it in Photoshop or Elements. There are times when I have to take parts of the original photos and mask them back into the composite to get the look I’m going for. For example, if you look at the previous post, you’ll see the windows in the living room ceiling are vibrant colors. This is “lac” glass and I wanted to make sure that it came through in the final photo. I took one of the original RAW files where the glass was the color that I wanted and masked that back in over the original to get the exact look I wanted. Pretty sneaky, huh?

In the previous post we looked at the exterior and ground floor of the Ca d’Zan. In this post, we’ll be looking at what’s on the next two floors. If you have been before to the Ringling Museum, I hope this brings back some happy memories. If you’ve never been, I hope this will spark your interest to check it out.

 John Ringling's bedroom in the Ca d'Zan in Sarasota, Florida. Photography by Spencer Pullen.John Ringling’s Bedroom – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

We’ll start in John’s bedroom. There isn’t a shortage of space. You will notice as I mentioned in the previous post that there aren’t any stanchions in the photo. I was allowed to move these out of the way for the photo. Did you know that each of these weight 40 pounds? It was a work out before the day was over. You can see his shoes and cane are sitting there as if waiting for John.

 John Ringling's tie collection in the Ca d'Zan in Sarasota, Florida. Photography by Spencer Pullen.John Ringling’s Ties – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Since I had the pleasure of being with the curator, he had the secret keys to open up everything. I had no idea that the place was stocked with all their clothes. These are John’s actual ties. You won’t see these on the regular tour. I thought it was amazing that all the closets and drawers are as they left them. How cool is that?

 John Ringling's bathroom in the Ca d'Zan in Sarasota, Florida. Photography by Spencer Pullen.John Ringling’s Bathroom – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Notice the tub, as it was carved out of a single piece of marble. Also, above the tub there is what looks like a heart or butterfly. The marble was cut in a special way for this pattern to show itself. No waste to detail in this location. You can also see his shaving mirror peeking around the corner on the left side.

 John Ringling's office in the Ca d'Zan in Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.John Ringling’s Office – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

This was one of his three offices that he had. The other two were off site. While on the paid private places tour, the docent mentioned that John would stand out on this balcony and watch to see if the workers were slacking off on his real estate projects that he had going on across the bay. Everything is original.

 Mabel Ringling's bathroom in the Ca d'Zan in Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Mabel Ringling’s Bathroom – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Mabel had her own bathroom and bedroom. As you can see, the different colors and it’s much more feminine than John’s bathroom. Again, I was able to move the velvet ropes and stands to get a clean photo.

 One of the guest bedroom in the Ca d'Zan in Sarasota, Florida. Photography by Spencer Pullen.Guest Bedroom – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

There wasn’t any shortage of rooms to stay in when one visited. This is one of the guest bedrooms. Every bedroom had it own color theme and the artwork and furniture matched.

 ringling_ca dzan_guest bedroom 2Another Guest Bedroom – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Another guest bedroom, this one happened to be facing Sarasota Bay. How nice would that be to wake up to such a scene?

 This is John Ringling's wine room that is in the vault. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Wine Rack – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

On the next floor up is where the vault is located; also there is a wine rack inside the vault that would make any wine connoisseur jealous. If this sounds strange, there was this little event that was going on while John and Mabel were here, you might of heard of it….prohibition. Needless to say prohibition never saw this house. There is a secret panel that covers the vault door and if you didn’t know it was there, you would walk right by it, just the way they wanted it. Also, this is where the 20ish (not sure on the exact number) table leaves for the formal dining room table are kept. That’s a lot of guests!

 This poker table and Mason chair is in the Ringling's game room in the Ca d'Zan in Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Poker Table In The Game Room – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

If you remember I mentioned in the first post about if you won too much money in poker, you were sat in front of the killing painting at the breakfast table? Here’s the table. Also, you will notice a big brown chair to the right. This is a Mason chair. There wasn’t a Mason lodge around so John created one and this is the chair. This has some remarkable carvings on it.

 Spencer Pullen photographed this pool table that is in the Ringling's game room of the Ca d'Zan in Sarasota, Florida.Pool Table – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Around the corner is a pool table. It also has some amazing features that one could spend hours photographing. The game room is really dark. You’ll notice that there are only a couple of windows that go to the outside. They had lamps to help light the space, and since it was encased in concrete, the temperature was cool in this room. It was a blaring 100° outside, but it must have been around 70° inside this room. This is where you would have found me!

 Mabel and John Ringling that is painted on the ceiling of the game room in the Ca d'Zan in Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.John and Mabel Artwork – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

The ceiling of the game room is painted from front to back. Here you can see a portrait of John and Mabel. Included in the artwork are their dogs and birds that they had as pets. To get this shot, we put a movers blanket on the floor. Then we moved the tripod so that it was only 8” off the floor. Then my fellow photographer friend that was with me, laid on the floor to compose the shot. When she gave the thumbs up, I pressed and held the cable release and let the camera takes the different exposures. I don’t think this would be allowed on the regular tour!

 This is the third floor bedroom of the Ca d'Zan in Sarasota, Florida. Photography by Spencer Pullen.Top Most Bedroom – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

If you wanted to be in a more secluded part of the home, this was the spot. This was the last room on the fourth floor. I was told on the paid tour that when Roy Rodgers came to stay this was his room. The bedroom is complete with a bathroom that is not shown in the photo.

 This is the top lookout of the Ringling's Ca d'Zan, photographed by Spencer Pullen.Tower Party Space – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

This is the top most part of the home. It was mentioned that this is where a lot of parties were held and John would bring his potential investors here to show them what “paradise” looked like. John was a businessman and was trying to get folks to buy into the area so he could build up the real estate. Great idea since he owned most of it!

 The marble stairway that leads back down to the house from the lookout. Photography by Spencer Pullen.Stairs To The House – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Here is a view of what the stairs looked like going back down to the house from the tower space. If you look closely, you can see Longboat Key in the distance. This is one of Sarasota’s barrier islands…and one of many that John owned.

I hope you enjoyed this continuance post of the Ringling’s Ca d’Zan home. It’s truly amazing if you have never been and if you have, it’s always fun to take a second or third look. I just can’t imagine how someone could have come up with all of the details and layout for the home. If you would like to see the WHOLE home, take the private places tour, there you will see every room that was featured here, including the tower area. No tripods allowed, but shoot at higher ISOs with wide open apertures and this will allow you to get sharp shots in this lower light spaces as no flash is allowed. Have a great visit…

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. BEST EVER PHOTOS that I’ve seen of the Ringling, Ca d’Zan…….when’s the brochure coming out? Great photo of the one that I enjoyed the most;
    “Stairs To The House”….perspective and horizon line perfecto!!!!!!

    • Spencer

      Thanks for the words of encouragement. You never know where post will lead!


  2. Hey Spencer,
    Have you checked with Ringling? The shots are so clear and colorful that they may be interested in using them! How were you able to get such vivid colors?

    • Spencer

      Thanks for checking out the post. The colors and due to part of the “polishing” process that I do in Photoshop. Usually an “S” curve helps get these colors in line. Thanks!


  3. Spencer, I have literally seen thousands of Ca d’Zan pictures and have taken several hundred. These really are some of the best I have seen. I really appreciate your explaining the settings, shooting process etc. It’s not only entertaining to read the blog, but very instructive as well. Thanks.

    • Spencer


      I know you know Ringling and coming from you, this is quite a compliment. I appreciate it. Thanks…


  4. Best of your Best, makes you want to reach in and touch. The colors are just amazing. Thank you so much for explaining your process. Love the view from the tower stairs.

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