Thanks for stopping by The Adventurer’s Grotto Blog, this is where I update most often and where you can read about my adventures in the field, get the latest updates for the alligator documentary “Birth of a Predator” and get to know a little about me too. This page is the heart of the website but there is plenty to see and do while you’re here. Best place to start is my bio and home pages and then from there it’s up to you! Comments and suggestions are always welcome so feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com. Enjoy your stay here but watch out for the occasional gator crossing
November 2, 2015
Well, it’s been a long time friends. Since the last blog I have sold my mother’s home, found a new home in Ft. Lauderdale and settled in over the last few months. Although I’m not sure this is my permanent home, it is my home for the time being and I am happy. The old house sold quickly…almost too quickly. I had a contractor come in and make many improvements which increased the value of the home. As a result my mother’s house was listed and sold within 3 days. Luckily, I found a home on the market in Ft. Lauderdale and was able to close the day after the closing on my mother’s house. I’m still trying to find space for some things and storage for others that I’m not ready to part with just yet. There are many reasons why I didn’t fly the coup so to speak and head to Georgia or the Carolinas. Friends, family, and familiarity are some of the reasons. It would have been too much to deal with to find a home in another city or state. Although after getting my property tax bill I’m tempted to take the plunge and try something new LOL. But not just yet. First, I must try to find a market for my art here. My home. The place I am most familiar with. The place I love. If I don’t see progress in a year’s time then I may seek greener pastures but until then…I’m here. So. Let’s talk. First off, I have a new website…The Alligator Outpost. It has it’s own blogs, galleries, and is set up to allow you to purchase prints directly from me. The main difference between this site and The Alligator Outpost is the blogs I post. The blogs here will be of a more personal nature. Things going on in my life, my “adventures” so to speak, and my thoughts. Blogs on The Alligator Outpost will be more in the form of tutorials and useful information as it pertains to photography and technique. So there you have it…I hope you will follow me on both as each will offer different insights into who I am as a person, a photographer, and an artist. So let’s catch up!
Since I last posted I took a trip to Southern California which was an amazing journey but also convinced me I have no desire to live there. Not because of the weather, which is flawless, not because of the landscape, which is amazing, but because of the traffic. Picture rush hour 24/7 and then you have an idea of what it is like in the L.A. area. There is not a time during the day when you will not encounter heavy traffic. It is unfortunate as Southern California is nothing short of amazing.
The first day of our trip was dedicated to visiting the one, the only, ORIGINAL Disney theme park…Disneyland. While not as extensive or impressive as the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, it was still amazing to know that we were walking on the same ground as Walt Disney himself once walked on. That this was the place where it all started and grew from. I have to say that despite the smaller castle and acreage, I had to keep reminding myself that I was not in Disneyworld. It was just as magical as Disneyworld and perhaps even more so due to the fact that as an adult, Disney “firsts’ are hard to come by.
Our first stop the next day was the Golden Girls house. This was the house used as the exterior for the first 3 seasons of The Golden Girls. Starting with season 4 they filmed the exteriors on the backlot of the MGM studios in Orlando which has since been replaced with another attraction. So this is the only, and original, Golden Girls house in existence today. Shortly after this was taken the owner appeared in the doorway and we quickly made an exit. Oh well, you’re house is part of television history so get used to it! But I understand, many people have no respect for property and will actually trespass which I must emphasize is something we would NEVER do. We also visited the houses from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween.
A few days later we got the chance to visit the grave of Estelle Getty who played the wisecracking mother of Dorothy on the show. I won’t lie, I actually got a little teary eyed and thanked her for the laughs over the years. But I digress….
That same night we made the trip to the Griffith Park Observatory which offers stunning views of the entire L.A. skyline. This was one of our must see places while in L.A. and it was worth the effort to make the trip. The view of downtown Los Angeles from here is one of the most famous and has been used in many films including the famous rooftop scene in “Rebel Without A Cause” starring James Dean. It is truly a breathtaking view. One caveat, if you ever make the trip get there EARLY as parking is a nightmare since it is one of the most popular destinations in the Los Angeles area.
Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood runs the gamut from the gritty to the glamorous. There’s nothing like seeing a strip club with “totally naked” printed in several different languages on one of it’s lighted signs (look at the bright sign above “Showgirls”). Or underneath “Showgirls” where it advertises “1000’s Of Beautiful Girls & 3 Ugly Ones”. Yup…you’re in Hollywood alright. On the other hand seeing famous places like The Improv or the Whiskey a go-go where many notable performers started their careers was a lot of fun.
I’ve always been a fan of vintage signs and there was no shortage of them during our visit. They are everywhere. Neon signs for motor inns, bowling alleys with all night diners, restaurants, etc. I loved photographing them and for me it’s like a trip back in time to the 1960’s. It’s unfortunate that so many of these old places are disappearing, they are a slice of American life and I’m old enough to remember when they were quite common. We moved to Florida when I was four and I’ll never forget the Holiday Inn’s we stayed at. It was when they had the signs with the arrow pointing towards the hotel and the star on top that would gradually light outward, flash a few times and then start over. One of these days I’d like to take a road trip and do nothing but photograph vintage signs and buildings!
Our last couple of days in California were spent in Palmdale, a suburb of Los Angeles about an hour north of the city. This was my first time seeing Joshua Trees and since we were basically in the desert, I made it a mission to photograph the night sky with a Joshua Tree in the foreground. We drove for about 30 minutes out into the desert to get away from the lights and I found a spot where the silhouettes of the mountains could be seen. I picked out a Joshua Tree and spent the next 45 minutes doing timed exposures for star trails. I loved how the star trails came out but my favorite shot was just the night sky with millions of stars and the Joshua Tree. I was lucky enough to capture a meteor during one of the timed exposures and included it in the final photo. I had a total of three meteors during the 45 minutes so I chose the brightest one which also happened to be in the best position in the sky. The other two were cool but were too close to the top of the tree and somewhat distracting. It was a fun evening and since I wasn’t alone for a change it was nice to chat with friends under the night sky. This photoshoot actually went by TOO quickly.
When I last posted back in January of this year I felt that it was the close of a big chapter in my life. I had fully intended to come back here and start blogging again but after the move my heart just wasn’t in it. I have more than three years of my life documented here and I had no desire to visit the past as there were too many memories. Ironically, it was that same reason that has drawn me back here. I missed this site, I missed blogging about everyday things, and I now look back on the past with fond memories. Many of those memories are here. I’m currently organizing the archives so they can be easily accessed in case I want to take a trip down memory lane. I will also make them available to you in case you’d like to do the same. There will be one change, after this week the blogs will be moved to an archive page. All of the content will still be there for you to check out but future posts will be posted on a new blog style page which makes it easier for you to read, subscribe, and has automatic archiving which makes things easier for me. The blogs at The Alligator Outpost currently follow the same format but will be mostly tutorials and photography tips and tricks. The blogs here will give you an opportunity to get to know me on a more personal level but I hope you’ll be a part of both. I try to stay on schedule with these blogs but that is not always possible with a busy schedule. There is an easy way to find out when a new blog is posted. Instead of having to constantly check back to see if there’s anything new all you have to do is subscribe. This way you’ll be notified via email when I post a new blog and most of the time the blog and photos will be included in the correspondence…you don’t even have to visit the site! But I hope you do visit since the galleries will be constantly updated with new work, videos, and news about my documentary film “Birth of a Predator”. I do not share your information with ANY 3rd party and all emails are kept private. SO there you have it….I’m back and I hope you are too. We still have a lot of adventuring to do and I’m looking forward to having you along for the ride. Thanks for being here and I’ll see you soon.
-Mark Andrew Thomas
January 29, 2015
I’m back! Hope everyone had a great holiday season and a Happy New Year. I spent my New Year in Colorado and froze my ass off LOL. It was a nice visit though I have to say it was nice to come home. This will be the last blog for several months as I get ready to work on my mother’s house and get it ready for sale. As you can imagine going through things and getting repairs done on a house your family has lived in for over 40 years is a huge job…and an emotional one. My priority over the next few months will be the house and finding a new place to live. So wish me luck and if you’d like to join the mailing list to be notified when this blog returns go here and sign up…it’s as easy as that! This way you’ll be notified whenever I post a blog and I think it’s a much better way for us to keep in touch. Easier for me…easier for you. So I’ll see you soon…take care and thanks for being a part of this.
November 26, 2014 – The Road Trip Part II
Waking up early Tuesday morning and realizing that this was the day did nothing to help my spirits. We had a quick breakfast and packed up our things since weren’t coming back to the hotel. We then set out for Arlington National Cemetery. My friend Sean who was traveling with me also has a blog about this trip and I’m using his words for this next part since he captured the emotions and atmosphere much better than I could.
From Sean’s blog: “We woke up with plenty of time to start off with another McDonald’s breakfast, heading through the drive-thru, and all seemed fine. I knew it was going to be a difficult morning – emotionally – but it was starting off smoothly. Mark had wanted to leave an hour beforehand, but the cemetery was less than 10 minutes from the hotel. At the most, with traffic, we should have gotten there in 20 minutes. But his GPS had other things in mind. She decided she wanted us to go the long route and not find the entrance to the place. The GPS he was using was “Scout” – one he had purchased for his phone. It turned out she had absolutely no sense of direction. She kept leading us back to the highway – which was full of traffic, and our “destination on the right” was nothing but a brick wall.
Mark was freaking out. He had 10 minutes to get to the administrator’s building, and we were nowhere near it. The last thing he wanted was to dishonor his mother by bringing her late to her own funeral. He didn’t get angry often, but today, he was angry…I mean, losing his shit angry. It was rare seeing him like this, that it made being in the car a bit uncomfortable. Nothing I could say would calm him down.
Finally, we saw an entrance to a gate, and as he passed it, he made an illegal U-Turn, being that the road we were on was going to take us right back to the highway. As he turned, he went off of the road and ran through a small patch of mud. For a split second, the car stalled, and there was an instant where we thought the car would get stuck. He was ready jump out of the car and run to the Administrator’s Building – Urn and all. Instead, the car then shot off, and we went back to the gate. One of the attendee’s pointed us to the direction of the Administrator’s building, which was on the OTHER side of the cemetery, but we made it – just in time.”
The service was filmed with permission from Arlington for family members who couldn’t attend:
Thanks to Sean for contributing to this week’s blog….via my cutting and pasting LOL. Ok, now it’s me again! After the service we drove around Arlington for a bit but very soon it was time to hit the road again as we were on a tight schedule. Leaving Arlington we set out for the Luray Caverns, an underground network of caves. We took the tour which lasted about an hour and was very interesting but soon it was time to hit the road yet again to make it to Sean’s sisters home in Clemmons near Winston Salem N.C.
We stayed in Clemmons for one night and then made our way to Atlanta the next day. Once I saw the city skyline I knew I had to have a photo so we found a good location and the resulting photo is above. The next day we drove to Senoia, a quaint small town about 45 minutes southwest of Atlanta so we could drive around and see some of the locations where they film “The Walking Dead”.
When we stopped on Main Street we were treated to something special….we actually saw them filming! We did not expect to see that. We hung around for awhile and then headed to the railroad tracks for some night shooting. My intention was to do some light painting on the tracks and then get the night sky. I heard a train whistle in the distance….another unexpected moment!
There something about being out in the woods at night and hearing a train whistle in the distance coming closer and closer….eerie, spooky, and exciting. As the train came into view around the corner I got another shot and then quickly changed position to get another photograph of the train as it came hurtling past the intersection.
The next day it was on the road again to start the final leg of our journey and head home but not before making one more stop…the Whistle Stop Cafe in Juliette, Ga. The Whistle Stop Cafe was made famous by the film “Fried Green Tomatoes” and is a popular stop for tourists even today more than 20 years after the film. We had some fried green tomato sandwiches and then it was time to head home.
I have to say that this road trip was one of the most rewarding, emotional, and interesting experiences I’ve ever had. Despite the reason for the trip it was good to experience a different part of the country and meet new friends and see old ones along the way. This is an experience we wouldn’t have had had we flown instead of drove. Flying is great but if you don’t mind driving and you have the time, I highly recommend taking a road trip. There’s nothing like it and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
November 26, 2014 – The Road Trip Part I
First of all I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you all have a great and safe holiday. It’s been quite some time since I’ve blogged and I apologize for that…it’s been quite a busy couple of months but now it’s time to get back to work and start blogging again. As many of you know, my mother passed away this past May. My father was a Major in the U.S. Army and his ashes are at Arlington National Cemetery and after a four month wait we finally got a date for a service to place my mother’s ashes next to my father’s. Arlington National Cemetery does about 30 services every day and there is a long waiting list. A close family friend and I made the trip by car to Arlington and back. It was very important to us to not make this an entirely somber and depressing occasion and thus decided we would make several stops along the way. That road trip is the focus of this week’s blog. Since it has been awhile since I’ve posted and this week’s entry is lengthy, I’ve broken it up into two parts. Tonight’s blog will be followed up with Part 2 next week. So let’s start this journey…
We left South Florida on Friday morning October 10, 2014. Our first stop was in Savannah, Ga. and after checking in to our hotel on Friday night we literally threw our bags on the bed and got back on the road for the 45 minute drive to cross the South Carolina state line to visit the Old Sheldon Church ruins…a place I had researched prior to the trip. I figured it would make a fantastic light painting project and I was not disappointed. We drove to the location and ended up on a narrow country road which took us deeper and deeper into a wooded area. We found the site and got there just before dark. Seeing a photo of the place was nothing compared to actually being there. Beautiful greek style columns stood guard at the entrance to the ruins. The interior, it’s roof now missing, was now an open air chapel with a single altar at the front of what was once an enclosed space. This place dates back to the 1700’s and it’s mind boggling to think of how much history this church has witnessed.
Once I had decided on my location and setup I began taking pictures as the sky gradually darkened. Then the lights came on. We hadn’t noticed that there were two lights, one in each of two stately live oak trees that were programmed to come on once it was dark enough. I thought “there goes my light painting”. I knew I could still work with it but was quite disappointed. The lights flickered on and off…first one went out and came back on, then the other. I remember thinking that it would be fucking great if both lights went out. Then something amazing happened. We were suddenly in complete and utter darkness (much to the dismay of my friend, yet much to my delight). Both lights were out! “Oh no!” said my friend “Oh, yes!” said I. Maybe it was my mother watching over me or maybe it was just motion activated lights but either way, it was time to get to work. I raced back and forth and quickly light painted the entire scene fearing that any moment the lights would come back on. If they were motion triggered they didn’t respond to my movements and they stayed out. I then did the inside of the church with the open sky and stars serving as the ceiling for the now roofless church. Then we were done. I then looked up and saw….the Milky Way. “We have to take another set of photos” I said. Set up the tripod again and quickly took another set of light painted exposures and then finally one last one for the Milky Way and NOW we were done. The resulting photo is the one you see above. We packed up, crossed the street and walked a few hundred feet into the clearing in the woods where you’re supposed to park. I looked back into the darkness of the woods where I could barely make out the shape of the church across the street. That was when the lights came back on. I don’t think those lights were motion activated…
The next morning we met up with a mutual friend and headed to our first stop in Savannah…the famous Bonaventure Cemetery. Huge live oaks with spanish moss draped over every branch make this place an amazing and awe inspiring sight. Many notables are buried there including Johnny Mercer, composer and songwriter for some of the most famous songs of the century including “Come Rain or Come Shine”, “Moon River”, “That Old Black Magic”, “The Days of Wine and Roses”, and many more. It was a beautiful and peaceful place.
Later in the afternoon we went through downtown Savannah which is one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities I’ve ever seen. Savannah reminded me very much of New Orleans with it’s emphasis on it’s rich history, it’s strong art and cultural presence, trolley cars driving by on almost every street, another old cemetery in the downtown district, as well as promoting it’s reputation as one of the most haunted cities in America. One of the things Savannah is known for is it’s “Ghost Tours” where you can visit some of it’s famous haunted sites. Later that night we visited the River Street area which was alive with it’s cobblestone streets, quaint shops and galleries, bars, restaurants, street performers, and artists selling their art right there on the street. I felt like I had stepped into an alternate universe version of Harry Potter. Would I live there? Well, it’s definitely on the radar let’s put it that way…that’s how much I loved it.
The next morning we were back on the road again heading for Arlington, Va. and the reason for this trip. We checked into our hotel in Arlington after a seven hour drive and since my mother’s service wasn’t until Tuesday morning, we decided to spend Monday in Washington D.C. The first stop was the Smithsonian which houses some of the most iconic memorabilia of our history. Julia Child’s kitchen, Archie Bunker’s chair from the classic sitcom “All in the Family”, Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz”, several First Lady’s dresses, costumes from classic movies, and on and on. It’s humbling, entertaining, and inspiring all at the same time.
We exited the Smithsonian and then toured Washington D.C. by foot and saw the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Vietnam Memorial in addition to exploring some of the city streets. However, it was now getting late in the day and I was starting to lose my enjoyment since tomorrow morning was drawing near. This would be the final goodbye to my mother and I was getting depressed and sad. Thankfully my friend saw this and decided it was time to go back to the hotel and maybe grab some dinner in Arlington and relax for the rest of the evening. We took the train and bus back to Arlington and had dinner at a really cool neighborhood pizza place and then went back to our hotel room. But we had one more thing to do.
I knew my friend was a big fan of “The Exorcist” film and the stairs used in the climatic ending were just across the bridge in Georgetown. I didn’t feel like going at this point but I made the excuse that we could also map out our route to Arlington the next morning. We had to be at the Administration Building by 9:30 and I figured it was best to know the route to save time in the morning. We googled mapped the location of the stairs (which is actually notated on Google maps) and saw it would only take us 15 minutes to get there. We crossed the bridge to Georgetown and I was immediately impressed by it’s shops and rows of stone townhouses on every street. We found the stairs which are VERY steep and very spooky. Several groups of revelers from local pubs and bars went up and down the stairs while we were there so we had to wait until it was clear. I took some photos and video (Sean wanted me to film him falling down the stairs..much like the movie) and I was actually surprised to see at least two groups of people there to photograph the stairs. It’s amazing that after so many years this film is still part of our pop culture and a popular stop for photographers and tourists alike even to this day. I got my shot and then my heart sank. There was now nothing standing between me and tomorrow…
Continued next week…
September 30, 2014
Hey guys…sorry for the delay in posting, been a busy few weeks around here. I’ve been doing quite a bit of landscape photography lately so these past two weeks I decided to get back to photographing wildlife. Headed out to the Everglades and had a visit from my favorite gator…Big George. I don’t often see him at night so it was a real treat to see him hanging out in the evening for a change. For the above photo I used a flash with an orange gel combined with my dimmable LED light on the cool setting. I really love the result which you can see in the photo above. Probably my favorite photograph of him to date.
I also discovered a new alligator nest with mama keeping a close eye on it. Unfortunately, it’s looking like this nest is a dud and probably not fertile which occasionally happens. It’s getting very late in the season and she isn’t spending as much time near the nest these last few days. I’m not complaining, I was lucky enough to film three nests hatching these last couple of years and I’m grateful for what I have. Amazing to witness even once let alone three times.
If you head on over to the official website for the Pirate Republic Bar & Grill you’ll see a familiar photo. They’re using my picture of their bar on their website which is pretty cool! This was from a few months ago when I ventured out to downtown Ft. Lauderdale to get some night shots. I thought the restaurant looked pretty cool with the reflections so I took a few pictures and didn’t think much of it until they used it.
In celestial news there’s another total lunar eclipse heading our way soon! Also known as a Blood Moon, this eclipse will occur in the early morning hours of October 8. My original plan was a bit ambitious…I had planned on heading out to the abandoned dome homes off Cape Romano near Marco Island, FL. After doing some research though, the cost and logistics of getting someone to take me out there at that hour just wasn’t worth it. My current plan is to head on over to the West Coast of Florida and get some shots from the beach as the moon glows red above the Gulf of Mexico. The eclipse will occur close to moonset so the moon will appear bigger and will probably look pretty amazing as it gets close to the horizon…if the weather cooperates.
That’s it for today’s blog, I’m going to try and stay on a regular posting schedule but it all depends on how much I get done since I’m working on the house to get it ready to sell next year. I’m also taking a road trip next week up to Arlington, Virginia and the D.C. area so maybe I’ll have cool photos from the trip to post! Not to mention the eclipse but as we all know, that depends on mother nature 😉
See you soon,
August 17, 2014
If you’re a photographer you can probably relate to this, whenever I can’t get out with my camera for anything longer than a few days I get restless. Life comes with responsibilities and things that have to be done and it isn’t always possible to go out on “safari” and spend days on end happily snapping away. So what to do? I want to talk to you today about the things you can find in your own backyard, both literally and figuratively. With the exception of the super moon picture above every photo posted in today’s blog was photographed in my backyard.
Since I was a child I’ve always been well aware of the world that exists right under our noses…and our feet. When I was very small I was fascinated with anthills and ant colonies and would literally spend hours sitting next to them and studying them. As the sun went down and the ants went deep into their tunnels I wonderedwhat they were doing. Did they have little beds all lined up in large cavelike rooms? Did the queen sleep with her crown on or off? Where was the dining room? As a small child of 13 I couldn’t help but wonder….;)
When I was old to enough to read a few years later I picked up every book I could find on ants and insects and delved into their magical world. I even had an ant farm at one point by using a large mason jar to lure in the queens during the summers when they would fly around and mate and then land to start new colonies. I never covered the jars…they were always free to leave whenever they wanted. I saw them build their tunnels and I loved watching them go about their lives. Then tornadoes caught my fancy and I was off reading and studying about them until the next obsession took over. But I never really lost my fascination with the insect world and even today I’ll stoop down and study an anthill or watch a spider build her web and marvel at it’s perfection and beauty.
Now you don’t have to be some weird kid with his nose stuck in an anthill to appreciate the beauty all around you. But the next time you’re stuck at home take a walk outside and take a few minutes to actually look and see the world around you. I love technology and all it’s given us but it’s also taken away our attention. There are too many distractions in this world and one of the things I love about what I do is that it keeps me connected to nature and animals. So that is my challenge to you this week…spend a morning in your backyard or if you live in an apartment complex explore the grounds. You might be surprised at how alive it really is!
That’s all for now, hope you all have a great week and get out there and explore!
-Mark Andrew Thomas
July 28, 2014
This past weekend I had another opportunity to head out to Colorado, this time for some camping in the mountains! Although I enjoyed my visit last December, I didn’t get a chance to photograph as many things as I would have liked since I was mainly there to visit friends. This time I had an entire weekend of camping in the mountains with an abundance of beautiful landscapes to photograph.
When we arrived at the campsite and saw the creek flowing right next to our campsite I knew exactly the shots I wanted to get. In case you haven’t noticed I’ve been doing quite a bit of night shots lately and this was perfect for some long exposure night photography with some light painting to enhance the trees and water. The above photo was created using a long exposure (25 seconds) for the sky and about 10 floodlight painted shorter exposures blended together to illuminate the water and the trees. I love the effect it creates and I also love the fact that it’s not the result of a lot of filters in photoshop, just blending the layers creates this unique look which is then enhanced with some slight color and contrast adjustments.
The place where we camped was in Pike National Forest right next to Geneva Creek in a fantastic wooded area offering lots of shade during the hot days. It did get down to the 40’s at night and that was fine by me! One of the first things I wanted to do was photograph the Milky Way which is something I hadn’t done before. Where I live there’s just too much light pollution to see it…even in Loxahatchee it doesn’t get dark enough for good viewing (I’m still planning on a visit to Big Cypress National Preserve where the Milky Way is supposed to be visible on clear nights). As soon as it got dark enough I walked out to a clearing and there it was….clearly visible to the naked eye as a faint glow across the sky. The Milky Way! I have to confess that it didn’t take much effort to get a fantastic shot of the Milky Way, just a few test shots until I figured out the best settings and I was good to go. I did do a panorama of the Milky Way the next night which was a bit more of a challenge but well worth it. I love doing things for the first time…there’s nothing quite like it!
Of course when one of our friends told us about an abandoned and broken down bridge not too far from our campsite I knew I had to get out there photograph that as well! There’s just something about old and abandoned structures that fascinate me and I love using the light painting technique to bring these things back to life again.
If you haven’t tried star trails yet you don’t know what you’re missing. I’ll be posting a tutorial in a few weeks to show you how to get them and guess what? It’s super easy! The hardest part about shooting star trails is the time investment and waiting while your camera clicks away for the 45-90 minutes it takes to get them. There are a few things you’ll need but it really is easier than it looks so if you’re interested I’ll have tutorial up within the next month or so. If you don’t want to wait there are plenty of tutorials out there already as well as several videos on Youtube that show you how to do it.
That’s it for this week’s blog, during the next week I’ll be posting the rest of my Colorado images to my portfolio on Fine Art America which you can check out here. For the photos I’ve posted on today’s blog, just click on the images to view them on Flickr in a larger format. I’m also working on a time-lapse of the star trails which I should have ready for Friday’s blog. One of the things I realized again while on this trip is that we really do live on an amazing planet in an amazing universe. If you have the chance to explore some (or all) of it….do it!! Even if you stay local I can guarantee you that there are things you haven’t explored or experienced yet. So turn off that TV and get out there! See you Friday…
June 25, 2014
What did you do this past weekend? I stepped into a scene from a horror movie…well not really, but if I ever make a horror film the place I visited this past weekend is near the top of the list. In the small rural community of Island Grove located in North Florida there sits an old abandoned Methodist Church falling into ruin. The town of Island Grove was established in the late 1800’s and the church was built around that time as well. Very few buildings now remain in Island Grove and only a few occupied buildings and old homes remain. Island Grove is, for all intents and purposes…a ghost town. It literally has one stop sign. By the railroad tracks. No joke.
One of the reasons Island Grove would even come up in conversation these days is that fact that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of “The Yearling” and the autobiographical “Cross Creek” is buried in the local cemetery. One of the things I love about the Northern part of the state is it’s rich history, traveling down the country roads of North Florida you feel like you’re in another time and place and it’s hard to believe you’re in the same state known for it’s sunny beaches and vibrant nightlife.
When I parked my car on the side of the deserted road I switched off the engine and turned off the headlights, first making sure to turn the car around and face the way out in case I needed to make a quick exit…you never know. It was pitch black and only the shadow of the structure could be seen as a silhouette against the dark sky as heat lightning illuminated the clouds in the distance. I saw more stars in the sky than I’ve ever seen in my life. It was beautiful….and spooky. I half expected to see some ancient shadowy thing come shambling across the field towards me, or some dead thing reanimated from a pet cemetery slowly slither up the dark road. You get the idea.
I turned my floodlight on the old building and it took my breath away. There it was, appearing out of the darkness like a ghost from a time long gone and it was everything I hoped it would be. The black and white photo above really captures the look and feel of the place as it really is and I’d be hard pressed to choose that or the final work as my favorite. I love them both for different reasons.
Not wanting to waste time I gathered up my gear and walked a few feet towards the church and found a place to set up the tripod and frame the shot. I decided to get a few shots of the sky and stars first and took a few exposures at different settings as the crickets chirped and the sounds of…other things…penetrated the darkness. I was hoping for a shooting star or a lighting bolt in one of the exposures but it didn’t happen, but the camera did pick up some of the heat lightning in the distance so that was pretty cool.
About an hour later as I was ready to wrap it up I had the idea to jump the fence and go up to the church to shine my floodlight inside the and light up the windows and foyer from inside. I was nervous but I jumped the fence and ran (literally) up to the church and lit up the inside from any opening I could find. Did I just hear an evil sounding barely audible growl above the crickets? My imagination? The wind picking up before the storm? I ran back to the car. I heard noises in the darkness of the overgrowth just behind me on the other side of the small road. That was NOT my imagination. I turned on the flashlight and realized it was just the wind rustling the leaves as thunder sounded in the distance. My cue to leave. I took one last look around and said a quick “thank you” which is something I always do when photographing abandoned and forgotten structures, paying my respects I guess, and then drove away. I looked in the rearview mirror one last time and distinctly saw something cross the road but it was way too dark to tell what it was. Maybe that was for the best…
Read last week’s blog below for more on the light painting technique. See you next week! -Mark
June 20, 2014
This past weekend I visited a place that I hadn’t yet photographed…the Deerfield Beach Pier. While it might seem like an obvious choice for a photographer I resisted the idea for a long time since almost every photographer I know has the obligatory pier shots in their portfolio. But I’m realizing that even though something may be a common subject, bringing your own unique vision and technique can create something well…unique.
As promised a few weeks ago, today we’ll be looking at the light painting technique. Be warned, this is a lengthy blog but if you’re interested in this kind of photography it can bring an extra dimension to your photographs. At the end of the blog I’ll refer to the book I used to learn this technique which explains it MUCH better than I could and written by a guy who has mastered the technique over many years. I’m not even close to being able to achieve what he does but it has at least started me on the journey. Let’s get started…
I’ve touched a little on this technique before with the old abandoned Everglades Gatorland attraction but I’ll talk a little more about it today. The best thing about this technique is that it requires very little investment if you already own a DSLR. The only real investment is time, light painting can be a very time consuming process but you can also get it done in two or three exposures depending on the scope of your project. Personally I prefer the hard path, the more time and exposures the better and more detailed the photo tends to be.
Once I know where I want to shoot the first thing I do before heading out is to first take a trip to the site to scope out the area. If it’s more than a two hour drive I’ll do as much research on the area as possible, even going on google maps and checking it out at street level if it’s available can help you plan your shot. Even if it’s far I still get there early because there’s no substitute for scoping out the site in person for your shoot later that day. One important thing to remember is that there’s no place you can stand on that isn’t owned by someone or something. Make sure you are not trespassing and if it’s a structure that has a fence around it…don’t. Take the extra step and get a location release from the owner, you’ll find that most people are more than willing to accommodate you especially if you offer them a print of the final photo. It won’t always be yes, but most of the time it will.
As far as what lights to use that is something I’m still experimenting with but I’ve had the most success with a 2 million lumen hand held spotlight from Home Depot which is good for distances and large areas, a medium sized maglite, a small maglite for detailing smaller objects, and a good old fashioned flashlight. If you’re buying a floodlight check the package and make sure it’s rechargeable from an outlet as many of them are only rechargeable from a cigarette lighter adapter. Speaking of charging…ALWAYS check to make sure your batteries are charged!
Once you’ve figured out what you want to shoot and have done some pre-planning it’s time to make some magic! I don’t think it’s necessary to mention that a tripod is a must. ANY movement of the camera during the process can ruin your shot and waste all the precious time you spent up until that point or at the very least create extra time in photoshop trying to line up your images (which doesn’t always work). Make sure you have a sturdy tripod and that the tripod head is tightened so that it won’t move. Another tool is a remote timer so that you can release the shutter without touching the shutter release button. While not absolutely necessary (you can also use the built in timer on your camera), it will make your job easier and reduce the chance of motion blur. You may also want to use the mirror lock up function if you’re using a DSLR, this helps to reduce vibration when you release the shutter.
Once you’re set up and ready and have composed your shot it’s time to get to work. I recommend starting about an hour before sunset so you can identify any potential problems beforehand and be ready to start as the sky darkens. White balance should be taken off automatic so you can try different white balance settings on the sky to give you a variety of backgrounds to choose from. I prefer to use the tungsten and daylight settings but that’s a personal preference and it also depends on what light I’m using. I may also change it during a shoot for specific areas being VERY careful not to move the camera. Experiment and see what works best for you. Depending on your camera you can also dial in specific different color temperature values for different effects. Also use manual focus, it’s a bit more work but you want to zoom in on each area in live view and focus manually. You’ll be in the dark for the majority of the shoot but you’ll have plenty of lights with you to help in focusing.
Before you do anything and before it gets dark it’s a good idea to take a well exposed shot of your entire scene. This will be a backup reference in case you miss an area with your lighting and need to fill in a spot. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than having nothing. When the sun starts to set and the sky begins to glow that is when I start shooting. Remember that you’ll be recombining the shots later so you want to have a nice selection of skies to choose from. When I’m finished I also take a few shots of the night sky and stars in case I want to use that instead. Don’t be shy…take several exposures as the sky changes and gradually gets darker, the more you have to work with the better.
Once it’s dark enough it’s time to start light painting! The exposure times I use vary, I average about 8 seconds for each light stroke but this can (and usually does) vary depending on how large or small an area you’re painting. This is something you’ll have to experiment with on your own but it’s fairly easy and usually only takes a couple of shots to figure out where you need to be. Use smooth even strokes back and forth over each area, you don’t want to linger too long on any one section or you’ll end up with hot spots. This is a mistake I’ve made a few times (including the Gatorland photo) but it just takes practice. Try to keep track of each area you’ve done so as to avoid missing a critical area. One trick I’ve used is to download a photo of the structure if possible and print it out to bring with me. As I work, I use a marker to color each area I’ve finished and it’s helped immensely. If this sounds like a lot of work keep in mind that the more effort you put into something the greater the reward. Another good thing to do is to light each area from different angles, light from the sides, stand on something and light from above, light from behind, try to get as many different angles as you can if you have the time. Just like the sky earlier, it will give more lighting options to choose from when building your shot during the editing process.
Once you’ve finished your light painting take a couple of extra sky shots and one thing I do is take one long exposure (about 30 seconds) and go over the whole area with my strongest floodlight. Similar to taking a backup shot earlier, it’s just extra insurance in case you missed a spot. I also take a wildly underexposed shot so I have a dark exposure to use as my base layer. Now it’s time for the real magic to begin…editing. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the editing process, I’ll assume you have enough knowledge of photoshop to figure out layers and masks but I’ll go into it briefly.
Once I have all my shots loaded into the computer I start with my underexposed shot as my base layer, I save the sky shots for last. I place the first light painted exposure on top of the base layer and choose the “lighten” layer mode to reveal the entire scene. I then erase the parts of the top layer I don’t need leaving only the section of the exposure that I want to use for that layer. Then I add the next exposure on top of that and repeat the process. I do this with each layer until I’ve finished. This is a VERY condensed version of the process, I’m not a photoshop guru yet and talking about the editing process would be three times as long as this blog already. I’ll refer you to the book I used to learn this technique which explains the process in it’s entirety, from planning and shooting all the way through to the editing process. The book is called “Painting with Light” and it’s written by Eric Curry. What I’ve written is preschool stuff compared to the detail and skill he brings to this technique. It did start me on an exciting journey though and that’s half the fun, right? I’m a Leo and have to be the best at everything (seriously, it keeps me up nights) but I’m mellowing a little with age and learning that the journey is it’s own reward.
If you’re interested in this technique I hope you try it out. It’s way cool and learning new things is always fun. Recapturing the wonder of being a child is something we should all strive for. By that I mean we should remember the magic of learning something new every single day. There is nothing more thrilling to me than discovering new ways to create, to see the world in a different way, and to share that vision with others. I believe we all have a desire to create, whether you’re a photographer, filmmaker, painter, sculptor, potter, actor, singer, landscape designer, web designer, architect, and the list goes on and on. It all requires some degree of hard work but the reward is well worth the time investment. If we spent more time creating instead of destroying, this world would be a better place.
I still have to be the best though
June 2, 2014
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who called, emailed, and sent condolences this past week after the passing of my mother. Needless to say it’s been a tough week but the sooner I get back to work the better. I’ll try and have a full update for you on Friday but in the meantime I’ve decided to reopen the Screening Room page. I always liked it and even though I know very few (if any) people watch it, I always enjoy finding new films to showcase. Check it out if you have a few minutes. Anyway, I’ll be back on Friday with a new update so check back and see you soon!
May 26, 2014
Mom passed away on Saturday May 24, 2014. Words cannot express how much I will miss her but I know she is free now. I love you and thank you for always being there for me no matter what. A beautiful woman, a beautiful soul, and the strongest woman I’ve ever known.
May 19, 2014
Darkness. Solitude. Lack of sleep. Gusty winds and the sound of crashing surf. Driving sheets of salt spray illuminated only by my flashlight. Where am I and what am I doing here? A cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee still hot in my hand, I staggered up the beach and finally find the perfect location to do what needs to be done….
Okay, so maybe is wasn’t as dramatic as all that but heading up to Coral Cove Park at 4:00 a.m. this past Sunday was a little surreal. Being the only person on a deserted beach at night really puts things into perspective and really makes you think. Ironically, that first thought was “where am I going to pee?” but that’s another story. I’ll say this, it was very windy and I’ll never do that again. I’ve said this before but one of the things I love about photography is that it can be anything you want it to be. Capturing wildlife is unpredictable and fun, you never know what you’ll get and some of our most unforgettable photos come from the wild. Landscape photography is also fun as you can plan (to a point) your shot and bring that vision from your mind into reality. Combining landscape photography with light painting and using the multiple exposure approach is emerging as my favorite form of photography. Instead of just being an observer and documenting what you see, you’re creating something that is uniquely your vision and nobody else’s. Nature provides the canvas and it’s yours to paint! Literally.
I’ve touched on the light painting technique very briefly when I did the abandoned Everglades Gatorland attraction a few weeks back and I’m working on a tutorial for those interested in how these shots are created. I’ll also include a link to the book I used as a reference which explains it WAY better than I could and written by someone who is a master at the technique. It’s not a new technique by any means, many pro photographers use light painting to varying degrees in their work, but building an entire scene with light is not something that many do. I believe in sharing what you know, not that I’m an expert yet, but if it weren’t for people helping me out along the way I’d still be using my video camera to take pictures and editing with freeware apps…not that there’s anything wrong with that, you gotta use what you have. In two years I’ll probably be scoffing at my current setup. Anyway, sharing this technique gives people a new tool to work with. Soon, everyone will creating beautiful light painting works of art. Hey, wait a minute…
We get a lot of tourists here in Florida but it isn’t every day that a Great White shark comes to visit! “Katherine”, a 14 foot Great White originally tagged in Cape Cod was tracked by satellite in waters off the east coast of Florida. How cool is that? She’s traveled over 3,500 miles since she was tagged last year in Massachusetts. As of Friday she was off the coast of Fort Lauderdale and the latest report as of today has her due east of Key Largo. You can track her latest movements here. When I was out watching the moon come up over the ocean the other night I couldn’t help but think, she’s out there somewhere…
In celestial news (yes, I’m all over the place) we have a brand new meteor shower this week. The May Camelopardalids. Yeah. Say it. This meteor shower comes from the Comet 209P/LINEAR (and I’m sure you were chomping at the bit for that piece of info) which was first observed in 2004. The best night for viewing will be in the Northern sky on May 23-24 between 2 and 4 a.m. EDT. The exciting thing is that this has the potential to be a very strong meteor shower if predictions are accurate and the weather cooperates. To read more about it and see the article go here. Go here, go there, go everywhere…I’m link happy today.
That’s it for this late edition Friday blog posted on Monday! As I mentioned earlier I’ve been working on a brief tutorial on the light painting technique and I’ll try and have it up for you on Friday. It’s a new technique for me and I’m not an expert on it yet but I’ll share a few tips I’ve picked up along the way including what lights I like best and location scouting. Hope you all have a great week and happy stargazing!
May 3, 2014
Last Friday night I ventured out to explore the city streets of my hometown, Ft. Lauderdale to see the sights and photograph it up close and personal. I’ve said this before but I think it’s important to expand your horizons and try different things. I had the idea to do a black and white series and with camera in hand I drove to downtown Ft. Lauderdale. I grew up in Ft. Lauderdale and have spent a great deal of time there but it had been awhile since I really explored the Riverwalk area. Years ago I used to rollerblade down the boardwalk before any of the development was there including the River House high rise.
One of the first things I noticed upon approaching the area was a homeless man sleeping on the ground in a small park area. I found it ironic that he was sleeping in the shadow of the River House, one of the most exclusive residences in Ft. Lauderdale. The photo above is actually a three shot panorama accomplished with a tilt-shift lens. I love how it came out and it also tells a story…a very important element when it comes to photography IMHO.
The next shot is the view from the Broward Center for the Performing Arts looking east towards the Riverwalk area. This is actually a blend of three different exposures, one long exposure for the water, another for the skyline, and another for the sky. Blending them together creates a dynamic range that is nearly impossible with a single exposure. This technique is very effective but a tripod must be used to ensure the field of view doesn’t change.
It was very interesting to see the city after hours and I would love to get out there again since I didn’t have time to venture down Las Olas. Even though I don’t like the weather here in South Florida, I must admit that Ft. Lauderdale has a certain vibe to it that I don’t feel in any other city. Perhaps it’s the waterways, with the water taxis and yachts cruising down the restaurants along the New River, maybe it’s the vibrant nightlife or the world famous Las Olas Blvd with it’s many shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Whatever it is I know that wherever I move to Ft. Lauderdale will always have a place in my heart.
If any of you got the chance to check out “Florida Untamed: Gator Country” on NatGeo Wild last Sunday night I can tell you which footage of mine they used. Most of the gator vs. turtle footage was mine (including the final shot of the gator crunching down on the turtle as seen above), a few shots of the big gator at Wakodahatchee Wetlands, the grasshopper on top of the alligators head, a shot of a gator lunging for a Great Blue Heron was used, and George made national television yet again as he lunged at another gator from under the water and a few more bits here and there were used as well. It was really cool to see my work on NatGeo Wild and hopefully this will generate some more interest as “Birth of a Predator” moves forward.
In site news I’ve finally found a decent gallery plugin to link with my photo stream on Flickr. You can now view my photos in one place by visiting the gallery page. There is one bug with the feature though, when you click on an image to view a larger size and select the “back” button on your browser you will be directed to the last page you visited even if it’s the last website you came from. To go back to the gallery page from the image you’re viewing you must refresh it to return to the main gallery page. Very annoying and I’ve emailed the developer so hopefully that will be fixed soon. In the meantime it’s better than nothing so there you go.
That’s it for this week…the weather is not cooperating today so guess I’ll catch up on some editing and other stuff. But wherever you are I hope you’re having a great weekend and check back soon! Also check out my new Facebook page The Alligator Outpost and also my main Facebook page Mark Andrew Thomas Photography . Check ’em both out and like if you do and feedback is always welcome…would love to hear from you!
April 18, 2014
Monday night I ventured out to the end of Loxahatchee Road and set up my tripod. Complete solitude with nothing but the sound of crickets and watching the glowing eyes of alligators as they swam up and down the water. It was an amazing sight to look up and see the moon in red shadow. It was also amazing in a not as great way too see thousands of mosquitos flying around each time I lit up my flashlight. Despite using Off! I still got over a hundred bites through my shirt on my back, the one place I couldn’t spray. Assuming I don’t contract the West Nile virus or Viral Encephalitis it was worth it.
The red color which gives this celestial event it’s name “Blood Moon” is actually the reflection of all the sunsets and sunrises reflecting from earth. To share it with ancient creatures that have been around since the dawn of time was almost mystical. I found myself wishing for a full frame camera to capture more light but you make do with what you have until you’re ready to move to the next piece of equipment.
If you missed this eclipse don’t fret, there will be three more total lunar eclipses over the next 18 months according to NASA. The next Blood Moon will be on October 8 of this year, then again on April 4, 2015, and another one on September 28, 2015. Four Blood Moons in such a short timespan is an amazingly rare occurrence. Better get up early for the one in October as it will start at 6:25 a.m. And let’s not forget the ultimate celestial event in August of 2017, a total eclipse of the sun which will finally be visible closer to home in North America with totality occurring in a band from Oregon to the Carolinas!
Some really exciting news (for me at least, nobody else probably gives a shit LOL) is the air date for Florida Untamed: Gator Country which will be airing next Sunday April 27 on NatGeo Wild. Check out the preview using some of my gator vs. turtle footage:
The promo page for the show is now up here.
They’ve informed me that they’re using about 1:30 of my footage which will be intercut with footage from their cameras throughout the show. Over a minute is actually more than I expected because you never know what will end up on the cutting room floor. Really looking forward to seeing what they’ve done with it!
In Birth of a Predator news I’m still looking for anyone who can do a brief CGI sequence for the film. If you or anyone you know can do this please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Going through my footage is bringing back some great memories but it’s time to start moving forward with the post production phase of this film. Documentaries can take a long time but I really want to get this film out there as I think it’s something very special with a lot of entertainment and educational value. I’ll be setting up an Indiegogo page next month to start raising funds for post production.
That’s it for this week’s blog, next week I’ll be talking more about “Florida Untamed Gator Country” and my experience working with NatGeo. Great experience and it got me motivated! See you all next week and hope you have a great weekend! Happy Easter to all who celebrate the holiday!
March 23, 2014
Located off U.S. Highway 27 in Florida sits the ruins of the old Everglades Gatorland, an old roadside attraction and tourist destination. Opened in 1959 by J.C. Bowen and his wife Mary Lou, it started as a gas station and then expanded to include a souvenir shop, food, and live alligators and other wildlife native to the area (and some that weren’t). Tourists would come by the busload to see the advertised live alligators and other animals. The first nail in the coffin was the enforcement of stricter regulations in 1967 regarding the care and maintenance of animals which in turn forced many of the small mom and pop roadside zoos out of the picture. The attraction stayed strong through the 1980’s until the theme parks and other Florida attractions became the must-see places to visit in Florida. By the 1990’s, with the alligators gone the Bowens, now in their seventies were looking to sell the establishment as business had dwindled to the occasional tourist stopping by…probably more interested in directions or using the restroom than buying souvenirs. Ten years later the Everglades Gatorland had fallen into ruins and still stands to this day although the land is now for sale. Sadly, this means that this piece of Florida history is probably on borrowed time and will end up being demolished like so many other historic sites that are becoming increasingly hard to find.
The first time I saw this place was three years ago on the way up to Gatorama to film some scenes for Birth of a Predator. I was immediately intrigued but filed it away in the back of my mind as an interesting place for a future photoshoot. I wasn’t sure how, when, or what form it would take. A few months ago I started getting interested in painting with light which involves taking several long exposures at night, painting a different section of a structure with a flashlight during each exposure, and then combining them together in photoshop. Everglades Gatorland popped back into my head as a perfect place to photograph using this technique. I decided to make the hour long trip to South Bay this weekend and my first concern was that it wouldn’t be there anymore as it was already a crumbling ruin when I first saw it a few years ago. My concern was well founded. When I got there I saw that the land had been partially cleared and a big “for sale sign” stood at the center of the property advertising commercially zoned property available. The building luckily, was still there.
Painting with light is a long, time consuming process which wasn’t made any easier by the mosquitos that inevitably showed up during this shoot. As you can see from the above photo taken in the 1960’s, what remains of the attraction is the section of the building that was the gift shop, and the large opening was the main entrance which had windows and glass doors. After taking a back-up shot in case I missed anything important during the shoot, I waited another hour until it got dark and started my work. One hour and 76 exposures later I was almost finished. One more extremely long exposure for the stars and the sky and I was done!
I love old, historic sites like this and I’ll be sad when it finally does come down. Knowing I made this place shine one last time makes me feel a little better, but I wish people would think twice before knocking down pieces of Florida’s history. I understand that many can’t be saved and are actually unsafe but many can be restored and preserved instead of knocking them down. Guess that’s progress though…
As a side note, nothing in this photograph was added in photoshop. The stars, sky, trees, and every last light stroke was shot live on location. Brightness and contrast adjustments, 2 1/2 total hours on the site (including time spent waiting for it to get dark), combining 76 exposures, and logging in the hours created this That’s all for this week…see you soon!
March 14, 2014
Well, there you are! It’s been a few weeks since I updated here and I apologize for the delay. I can’t promise that there won’t be gaps in the blog occasionally and I may not have time to post every single week, but going forward I will most definitely let you know if there is something going on in my life that needs my attention and how long it might be. The good news is that being absent for so many weeks has given me lots to talk about and many photos to share. From county fairs and beach sunrises to painting with light…it’s all heading your way in the coming weeks so please stay tuned. So let’s get started with today’s blog!
Last month a carnival came into town and since I haven’t yet had the opportunity to photograph that I figured I’d head on down and see what I could come up with. At first…not much. But following my own advice (that I’ve given here before) I decided to move around and change my perspective. Viola! (isn’t that a musical instrument?) The carnival was set up across a canal and I could see all the rides reflected beautifully in the calm water so I walked around to the other side and set up. What I wanted and ended up getting was a shot of all the rides in motion at the same time during a long exposure…easier said than done! When one ride would start another would slow down. This went on for about an hour and a half until finally the moment arrived and everything was moving at once resulting in the above shot. Patience always pays dividends! When patience doesn’t work there’s always photoshop. Kidding! Actually that is something I want to talk about in a future blog…since there seems to be quite a bit of debate about altered photos recently. Me? I never do it…ever.
A couple of weeks later the South Florida Fair came to West Palm and a friend and I drove up to check it out. A beautiful crescent moon was in the sky and made for a great night out and I had a great time without riding a single ride. I always love photographing new things and I think it’s important to broaden your horizons and get out there and do something different…especially if you’re like me and tend to favor one kind of photography which in my case is wildlife and landscapes.
Photographing new things presents new challenges and that is what makes you grow as an artist. The photos from the fair now rank as some of my favorite works in my portfolio and I even had some of them printed. Aaah..printing. Now THAT is a learning experience on it’s own and will be discussed in next week’s blog. I’ve learned a few tips (the hard way) and it’s one of the reasons I’ve been absent from this blog. What you see on the computer screen isn’t always what you’re going to get for a number of reasons so check back next week for some tips on printing.
I heard back from the production company that is producing a show for National Geographic and I’m really excited that they’re using some of my footage! The show is called Florida Untamed: Gator Country and has a tentative air date in April. As soon as I know for sure I’ll pass it along. I don’t know for sure which clips they’re using yet but can tell you that the footage from the first 10 seconds of the above video will be used. Aside from that I’ll just have to wait like everyone else and be surprised!
The new and improved poster for Birth of a Predator is almost done and sometime in the next couple of months I’ll be starting an Indiegogo fundraiser to start raising funds for the post production of this film. Right now I’m working on incentives and am also planning on using the Gallery Store to raise funds as well. This way people can donate to the film but also get something tangible in return by purchasing a print, framed print, or canvas. Once the page is live I’ll post it here and even if you can’t donate or purchase a print, I hope you’ll at least share the link as getting this in front of as many people as possible is crucial to the film’s success.
Let’s see..what else? Oh yeah, I’m thinking of updating more than once a week in smaller “bites” instead of the big updates on Fridays. Attention spans are short these days which is understandable given the amount of media and information that is thrown at us every minute. More frequent, shorter updates will be more entertaining and make it more appealing for you guys instead of having to read several paragraphs at once. Ain’t nobody got time for that…
So instead of saying “see you next week” I’ll say see you soon and if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook I’ll post an update whenever I post new stuff here. Cool? Good. Like you have a choice 😉 See you soon!
January 24, 2014
Well you know what they say, the best laid plans of mice and men. I’d like to take a moment to consider what mice would actually be planning but there isn’t enough hours in the day. I’m referring to last week’s “online art show” which never happened due to car trouble but will happen this Sunday evening on Twitter from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. My apologies and for details on what it’s all about see last week’s blog below.
I’ve noticed an interesting phenomena when it comes to wildlife and nature photography…at least when it comes to my experience. While I do like to travel, I often find myself visiting the same wetlands areas several times a week. Because of time constraints and work it’s just convenient and I can’t resist the temptation…especially with all the great weather we’ve been experiencing here in South Florida this past week or so. Anyway, whenever I get what I feel is a great shot I’m never able to repeat it. Going to the same places I always see interesting things and sometimes an almost identical moment to one I’ve already captured will present itself. Problem is if I captured it once and got a great shot I can never seem to recapture the “magic” of the first photo. A perfect example of this is the photos I got of my favorite alligator “George” a few months ago. They were beautiful and what I consider to be the definitive portraits of him for my portfolio and some of the best photos I took of him in six years of visiting the Loxahatchee Refuge. A few weeks back he was in the same location, same lighting, same time of day. The photos were okay but didn’t come close to the ones I was able to get last year. It’s almost as if the universe is saying to me “you got your pictures already now move on” LOL.
A couple of weeks ago I promised to reprint and post my article that was published in the November issue of Wildlife Photographic magazine. In writing today’s blog I copied and pasted the text along with the pictures here and I decided that while it looks good, the limitations of wordpress didn’t come close to the presentation of the iPad format which is gorgeous. You can get a one month free subscription so follow the link above to read the article. While a guide to photographing alligators won’t be shooting to the top of the best seller lists anytime soon, it’s what they wanted and something I can feel comfortable talking about. Most of the photo tips I give in the article can be applied to any type of wildlife so even if alligators aren’t your thing you should check it out. Even if you don’t get that particular issue, the magazine itself is pretty cool and worth a look. If I can figure out a way to reprint my article here in a format that does it justice then you’ll be the first to know!
I’m really excited to announce a new feature for this website which will give other photographers and artists a chance to showcase their own portfolios, services, and websites. One of the things I love about the people I’ve met through photography is the network of support and camaraderie (get it?) I’ve encountered along the way. Starting next month I’ll be opening an “Artist of the Month” page which will feature other artist’s work for an entire month along with their services (if applicable), body of work, website, and contact info. The only requirement is that you have a website or at least some kind of a presence on the internet so that others can view your creations. And guess what? You don’t have to be a photographer to participate as “artist” means just that, it can be anything…photography, painting, pottery, jewelry, writings, etc. Anything that you created will be showcased so if you’re interested contact me at email@example.com.
Gotta keep it short today (hah), lots to do this weekend and I’m not sure I’ll even get a chance to snap a photo but I’m sure gonna try! One of the things I have on my schedule is the South Beach Dachshund Winterfest on Saurday. This year’s Winterfest will take place from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on the grassy side of Ocean Drive between 11th and 12th Streets. A lot of fun and it’s a great cause too! I haven’t decided if I’ll be bringing mine as they can be a little rambunctious. That’s it, have a great weekend and if the weather is nice where you live then get outside and do something! Enjoy the weekend and see you next week!
January 17, 2014
Hi…hope you all had a great week and a great big Happy Friday to everybody! Last week I changed the theme of the website and blog and after some feedback from friends I’ve reverted to the original theme. Now that I’m looking at it I have to say I agree…I do like this theme and the music can always be turned off using the player on the sidebar. If you didn’t visit last week you won’t have seen any changes so disregard this paragraph and we’ll determine your punishment for not visiting my blog at some later date…but you do get to see my nifty new watermark and logo on the images here on the blog.
The first thing I want to talk about today is one of the very first things I learned as a photographer which also made a big difference in how my photos looked and gave me a new perspective on well…perspective. I want you to take a look at the two photos below:
Both of these photos are of same two ducks (thank you spellcheck for catching THAT one) photographed at the same time and in the same place. Want to know what the difference is? Aside from the fact that I zoomed in a little more on one than the other (we’re just looking at the backgrounds) the difference is about about three feet…literally. By shifting my position slightly I was able to incorporate a different background into the image and create an entirely new color scheme to showcase the ducks. I do have my favorite among the two but both are usable images and from there it’s just personal preference. Shows what a difference a few inches can make (and get your mind out of the gutter). Give yourself some options when you’re in the field and you’ll have more to choose from when you’re editing your photos at home. I talk about this in my article in Wildlife Photographic and I practice this all the time. It’s really cool to see what a difference changing your position can make in your photos. Now let’s look at the hummingbird shots below:
What I want to demonstrate in these photos is my second tip of the day which is the difference a little patience can make. Again both of these photos were taken at the same time, of the same hummingbird, and in the same place. The photo on the left is ok but rather drab and you can see the concrete walkway which is not something I want in my photo. It doesn’t pop and it lacks any interesting colors or background. For the photo on the right I noticed that the setting sun looked like it was about to emerge from behind the clouds and I waited to see what would happen. It took five minutes (and the photographer next to me gave up and moved on) but when the sun finally did come out it created a splash of light on the foliage behind the hummingbird and created a soft light on the hummingbird as well. I changed my position slightly as that other background still wasn’t doing it for me and positioned myself so I had the sunlit foliage in the background. HUGE difference. The photo now has a very colorful, glowing background which really makes this image standout for me as opposed to the other image. Whenever your about to take a photo take a few seconds and look at your surroundings, move around a bit and look for interesting colors and backgrounds and experiment to see the difference it makes each time you change your perspective. Also keep an eye out for those changing conditions and if you have a few extra minutes wait and see what happens. You’ll be amazed, I promise.
If you live in the state of Florida or are planning a visit, this coming week should offer some excellent photo opportunities no matter where you are in the state. The weather will be colder for at least a week and with mostly clear skies in the forecast it’s a great time to get out there and see all Florida has to offer. Since it’s a long weekend due to the holiday, now is a great time to get out and explore! If you can get away from from city lights it might also be a good time to do some night photography. Cold fronts usually clear the air so to speak resulting in better visibility of the night skies. The moon is still pretty bright, however, so you may want to check the moonrise times and plan accordingly.
If you follow me on Twitter I’ll be doing a live event on Sunday from 8:00-10:00 p.m. I hate advertising and marketing online, I really do. I don’t want to become one of “those” people whose only updates on Twitter or Facebook is to try and sell you something. But it is a necessary evil to get by in this world and I think I’ve found an interesting and entertaining way to do it. Every Sunday I’ll be showcasing 10 works from my portfolio on Fine Art America in an “online art show” so to speak. Each week will have a unique theme and will present those images that fit that particular theme. In between I’ll be talking about the stories behind the photos (I remember every photo I’ve taken) and since I frequently have a video camera with me, I’ll be posting videos that were filmed at the same time as the photos bringing them to life in full HD. I also welcome any artists who would like their work featured on Sundays to join in as well. It doesn’t matter what the medium, photography, paint, arts and crafts, pottery, you name it. As long as you created it I’ll post a link directly to your art during the show and also give you an opportunity to talk about it if you choose. So that’s my answer to the marketing issue, I think I’ve found a way to make it interesting and fun and it’s only once a week so it’s a win-win. For the premiere event this Sunday I’ve chosen the theme “From the Dawn of Time” which will feature (naturally) our living dinosaur the American Alligator! Hope to see you there…
That’s it for this week’s blog, I hope you have a great holiday weekend and make sure to get out there and do something fun! Until next week…
January 10, 2014
Hey everyone! Happy New Year to you all and I hope you had a great holiday season and got to spend it with family and friends and the people you love. You may have noticed the site has a brand new look, been streamlined a tad (what the hell does that REALLY mean anyway?), and some pages have disappeared. I felt it was time for a change and wanted to the focus of this page to be on the photos and text without the distraction of music playing constantly which is also a problem when you’re trying to watch a video. I love the way the photos look in this new theme…they really come to life in the larger format. As far as the music I did love it and it’s not gone for good, it will return on the gallery page I’m working on which will be up in a day or two. The music actually works much better there and is way more suited for viewing photos or a slideshow instead of trying to read a blog. So I hope you like the update and feel free to send me some feedback. So let’s get started! Today we’re taking a break from the wetlands and heading out west to Colorado so instead of wetlands and sawgrass we’ll see some mountains and snow!
First off let me just say that while I love Florida and all it has to offer, there is something about seeing mountains rise up ahead of you that can’t be put into words. One of the unique things I learned about Colorado during this visit is that they can have snowfall on one day and then be in short sleeve shirts the next with the snow still on the ground. I’ve only seen snow once in my adult life so it was a thrill to not only see snow but see a snowfall the night before I left. This Florida boy actually handled the cold quite well and it actually feels colder here in Florida when we get the occasional cold front like the one moving in tonight (which will bring us into the 40’s). After this trip Colorado is definitely on the radar as a potential place to live one day although one of the downsides is that it’s expensive. Guess you’re paying for all those beautiful mountain views…
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much wildlife while I was out there as this was primarily a social visit with friends and I didn’t want to be rude. Most of the photos I was able to get were during our visit to Red Rocks and then a few shots of the Denver skyline thrown in for good measure. It’s all good though and there’s always next time. It’s good to see friends and sometimes you have to put the camera down and realize what’s important in life. I did get a few shots of geese (which I never see in Florida) and some other small birds but didn’t get a beautiful hawk that flew right past me my first morning there while I was outside having my coffee. Oh well…
I finally had a chance to delve into Bill Gozansky’s FIELD GUIDE during some downtime on my trip and on the plane and have to say it’s a really cool app. Bill has partnered with Images For Conservation Fund in developing this app and it really shines. You can use it out in the field with no internet connection and also upload your own photos to the gallery section of the app. Looking through Bill’s images he explains each shot and what technique was used to achieve the desired effect. Easy to navigate and understand I highly recommend it no matter what your experience level. Check out the above link to learn more about the app.
The other thing I got to try out on this trip was my gift from “Santa” which is the Canon 10-22mm wide angle lens. I can’t think of a better place than Colorado to experiment with this one! It lived up to my expectations and some of the photos on today’s blog were taken with that lens. It brings a new dimension to landscapes and I may even use it for filming the last few scenes of Birth of a Predator. Images are sharp and while there is some distortion when using it at 10mm, that’s to be expected and I actually like the effect. And dammit I just realized I forgot to do a panorama…
That’s about all for this week, check back here next week for another blog and maybe some travel news. New Orleans and possibly Costa Rica may be happening in the coming months and I’m really excited about the possibilities of traveling to both places! I’ve been to New Orleans before but never Costa Rica. I’ve made it a goal to travel more often this year and explore different parts of the country and the world as finances allow. Traveling is also education and gives you an opportunity to not only meet new people, but also to learn more about the world, it’s geography, and it’s people and customs. Our world is there for us to explore so do it! I’ll also be posting my article that was featured in Wildlife Photographic in it’s entirety next week in a brand new section of the website. See you soon and thanks for visiting!
Video Clip of the week:
P.S. For those of you who have registered on this site please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can figure out which registrations are bots and which are “real” people. Sometimes it’s obvious but sometimes not so this will help me sort them out so I can send out the newsletter which is coming soon. Thanks!
December 20, 2013
Well the holidays are here and another year has almost gone by…where did the time go? It’s been a hectic few weeks and my blog posts have not been as frequent but there’s some exciting things on the horizon! First, while I love the look of my website I’m considering some changes for the upcoming year. The website will be streamlined and less cluttered as I eliminate some pages that aren’t necessary and focus more on photography (no pun intended) rather than video. I haven’t forgotten about film and video…it will always be a part of my life and when I make my production company Gator Creek Films official, it will have it’s own website. This will be especially important as Birth of a Predator gets nearer in order to give the film the attention it deserves rather than getting lost in the content of this website.
Another exciting development is my trip to Colorado at the end of next week. I’ve never been out west before and as much as I love Florida and all it has to offer, I’m really looking forward to a change of scenery (and weather!) and the opportunity to photograph things I never have before. A big update will be posted when I get back with some of the photos from that trip and I hope to have enough to create a gallery just for those images.
Since it’s that time of year I’ve allowed myself a couple of gifts from me to me. One of the things I’m can’t wait to try out is my new Canon 10-22 wide angle lens which just arrived today. I’ve been playing around with it all day and will get a chance to really use it this weekend in North Florida and again in Colorado next week. The other gift to myself is Bill Gozansky’s Field Guide available on the app store here. I have the pleasure of knowing Bill personally and he is always generous with his information and knowledge and happy to answer any questions I’ve had…and believe me there have been many. I also know from talking to Bill that a lot of time and effort went into this app and I’m confident it will be a great resource. Unfortunately with all the holiday craziness it’s been a challenge to sit down with it but I’m really looking forward to it.
If you haven’t read my article in WIldlife Photographic Magazine then check out the November issue here. You can get a promo code for a free issue but if you don’t have an iPad I’ll be posting the full article here on my website next month!
On a personal note I’d like to encourage everyone to make a resolution to adopt healthier habits in the coming year. It might sound like a cliche’ but it’s a perfect time to make positive changes in your life. Four years ago I was in fantastic shape with six pack abs and feeling great. A knee injury from running sidelined me for awhile and one thing led to another and I got out of shape. I started working with a trainer this past week and can already feel the the changes. Looking good was great but feeling good was even better. I won’t need the trainer very long since I remember what to do but it’s a great way to kickstart a fitness routine and I highly recommend it. Exercise is important and the health benefits are more than worth the small investment of time it takes out of your schedule. This becomes even more important as we get older.
I encourage each and every one of you to take up some form of exercise and do it regularly. It doesn’t have to be extreme and it doesn’t have to be in a gym either (although I tend to work harder in a gym setting). What works for me may not work for you. The important thing is that you do something you like..walking, running, biking, etc. If it’s an activity you enjoy you’ll be much more likely to stick with it and make it a part of your daily routine. Eat healthy, eat often, and give yourself a cheat day to indulge in your favorite foods and you’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes in your life. I’ll keep posting my progress as I go along since my trainer has given me a challenge of 16 weeks to get back to where I was. Being a Leo, a challenge motivates me and makes me work twice as hard 😉
That’s it for now, I hope all of you have a safe and happy holiday and I’ll see you two weeks from today. Happy Holidays!!
-Mark Andrew Thomas
November 30, 2013
Okay guys, I’m back! Had a few busy weeks and had to take care of some things so apologize for the lack of updates. While I can’t promise there won’t be a hiatus every now and then I can promise I’ll let you know when it will happen from here on out. The holidays are a busy time and these last few weeks have been crazy! So without further ado let’s get started…
First off I have some very exciting news to share. Wildlife Photographic magazine is featuring my work in the November issue which is available in the app store here. You can can get a one month free subscription to view the current issue and check out some of my gator shots as well as an article I wrote on my adventures photographing alligators. Way cool to be featured and it’s nice to know I’m on the right path.
While you’re browsing in the App Store check out my friend Bill Gozansky’s Field Guide now available on the app store. I may just purchase a copy this weekend as I Bill is a friend of mine and I value his tips and insight on various photography techniques and equipment. Somebody owes me a lunch if I do. Seriously though it’s a great app and one of the features that I really like is that you don’t need to be connected to the internet to use it if you’re out in the field making it a true field guide and very handy to have on your iPad.
Although I didn’t get a chance to film or photograph any gator nests hatching this year there have been several opportunities to photograph some hatchlings. The photo above is now one of my all time favorites and I didn’t even know I had the wasp in the frame until I saw it on the computer. There was a nest of wasps around the little guy/gal and it was constantly trying to catch one so I snapped a few frames hoping for the best and I got it!
I’d like to take a quick moment and mention a fundraising piece I’m donating. The photograph above is called ‘Rue’s Rainbow’ and is available in my gallery at Fine Art America. This is a fundraiser and 100% of all profits go to Dachshund Rescue South Florida. This is an organization close to my heart as my three doxies were adopted from DRSF and are all rescues. ‘Rue’s Rainbow’ is available in several sizes as a print, framed print, canvas wrap, metal print, or as greeting cards.
Experimenting with different types of photography brought me back to the Hillsboro Lighthouse for another full moon rising above the ocean. This time I decided to trek up the beach and get closer to the lighthouse to see and photograph it from a different perspective. One of these days I’ll take the tour they offer one Saturday each month.
I also had the opportunity to photograph my friends Brian and Diana at sunrise on the beach a few weeks back. Diana is a dancer and is one of the nicest people I know. While I’m still getting my feet wet with lifestyle and “people” photography, I’m enjoying learning new techniques. Every time you step out of your comfort zone is another opportunity to learn. Knowledge is power and I try to learn and do new things as often as I can.
Birth of a Predator continues chugging along as I’m now in the long process of cataloging and organizing two years worth of video. Lesson learned…next time I do it as I go along! I’ll be filming in North Florida and maybe Louisiana in the coming weeks and then a couple of time lapse shots and I’m done. Then it’s off to the editor in the U.K. and hopefully the film will be ready next fall. An Indiegogo fundraising page is coming soon and I’ll keep you posted on that. Visit the Birth of a Predator page here and make sure you share share share! If you haven’t already check out the video clips on the page for a sneak peek at the film.
That’s about all for now, I hope you all are enjoying your holiday weekend and I’ll be back next Friday with a brand new blog. Wednesday’s travel blog will return after the first of the year with lots of great travel ideas and amazing destinations!
The Bucket List Travel Blog – October 8, 2013
- when traveling with a companion, pack some of each others items in opposite luggage; that way if one gets lost, you have a back up
- if traveling internationally, enroll with the state department your destination and timeframe; http://travel.state.gov; this way they can contact you if emergency situations arise while in that location
- leave a copy of the itinerary and passport with friends and/or family back home; any travel documents that could get lost should be copied and left at home and also carry extra copy with you in your purse or luggage
- when exchanging cash, use the ATM; leave the travelers cheques at home(pay to buy/pay to use); you get the best exchange rate through the banks ATM and the fees are nominal
- leave the real jewelry at home; if you must wear it, bring the fake stuff
- check with your cell phone carrier about roaming, text and calls from the country being travelled to; there are many apps that use WIFI to make free calls back to the US; i.e. Magic Jack, Viber
- pack a small first aid kit with you that includes band aids, ibuprofen, decongestant, tummy help and hydrocortisone just to name a few
- if in a dicey area, where a money belt, time your site visits to avoid crowds and lines and never leave your drinks unattended
- tip hotel housekeeping staff every day; about $2.00 USD per day
- learn a couple of phrases in the local language; thank you, please, I’m sorry, where is…, how much…
- call credit card company before traveling to alert them to your travel and that the card will be used while away; keep international number available
- check on overseas medical coverage
- check weather
- download helpful travel apps; i.e. Packing Pro, Trip It, Weather Channel, Tip Calculator, Currency, Translator
The Bucket List Travel Blog – October 1, 2013
Photo credit: www.rollins.edu
Photo Credit: costaricapages.com
Photo credit: www.wunderground.com
Photo Credit: under30ceo.com
The Bucket List Travel Blog, September 17, 2013
Let’s Discover the Amazon River!
Image from http://www.iahrmedialibrary.net
Image from http://tuckergirl2013-biome.blogspot.com
Image from stuffpoint.com
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