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Manatee Village Historical Park, Bradenton, Florida

August 12, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

This week I visited the Manatee Village Historical Park located in Brandenton, Florida.  It was a rainy day, but I thought it would keep most people away and I could duck into the buildings while it was raining.  My plan worked well and I enjoyed visiting the various buildings at this location.  I visited the train first as I figured it was about to rain and not yet raining - known as "Old Cabbage Head".  Interesting old steam engine, a quick snap photo, with the thunder rolling in the background!  Old Cabbage Head was built in 1913 by Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The engine was originally built for the Taylor County Lumber Company in North Florida and used to haul timber.

My next stop was at the Stephens House.  A nice cracker gothic style home built in 1912 by Will Stephens family from pine trees on the family homestead, established in 1894 in what was Manatee County, but has since become Hardee County.  This particular house I did not get exterior photographs as it was raining.  The room to the immediate right has an organ among the furnishings.  As for the little cow on the organ, I forgot to ask what the story is behind this because they appear to be in every building - just a matter of finding them.

The rain let up, I headed over to the old court house building quickly before the next rain set in.  This building is Manatee County's first Courthouse, built in 1860.  It is the oldest building in the park and the oldest remaining building built as a courthouse in the entire state of Florida!

As I entered the small courthouse, I realize that is is not a large building - the benches are just inside the doorway and behind the judge's desk is a room on the left and another one on the right. The interior of the courthouse (taken with a wide angle lens to try and get most of the interior in the photograph).  The doorway on the right appears to be a 'law room' as it has several books.  The room on the left has desk/table and chair.

This courthouse was built for $700.  In today's world, I am wondering if we could get a small shed built for that price?  I spent a good amount of time in the courthouse as it was raining very hard along with thunder and lighting.  Eventually, it let up and I ran over to the old school house building which was closest to the courthouse.

This school house, the Bunker Hill School, was built in 1908.  Bunker Hill is located in northeast Manatee County.  Children attended school from first through eighth grades.  At the time this school was built, school days were from 8am to 4:30pm and the school year was from August through December.  Eventually, the school year increased to ten months.  The interior of the school house.

As I watched the rain fall, I looked out through the windows and the doorway to determine where I wanted to dash to next.  There were several buildings nearby, but none appeared to have shelter where I could get indoors (I didn't get to visit any of those).  My next stop was the church also known as the "old Meeting House".  This is a view of the church from the doorway of the school house.

A view of the church from the doorway of the court house.  You can see that everything is wet, and at this point I think I was the only visitor at the park.  Eventually a few families did come to visit as they are open 2 Saturday's a month (2nd and 4th Saturdays).

The interior of the church is simple, yet functional.  The church is available for weddings if you're interested!  The grounds of this park are beautiful with all the large old oak trees and brick walkways.

This concludes my tour of this historical park.  Another trip sometime in the future will potentially allow for visiting the other buildings as well as the old cemetery I eyed through the rain. The old cemetery appears to be the "1850 Manatee Burying Ground" and is associated with the village.  If you want to explore it, you must ask for the key at the gift shop or the park office located on the second floor of the Wiggins Store - so it is locked and secured.

A donation is asked to help support this historical park, but no fee is required.  The historical park is pet friendly, but with the impending bad weather and no animals in the buildings themselves, I left all my furry friends at home in the air conditioning.

Pet Photography - Theme 'Wide Open'

August 10, 2018  •  2 Comments

This week's theme for pet photography is 'Wide Open'.  At first you may wonder what exactly this means.  In the world of photography, this means that the camera is set up to have a shallow depth of field, a larger aperture (or f-stop).  The easiest way for me to remember when explaining whether an aperture is small (f/22) or large (f/2) is to think about the aperture as a fraction.  For example if you are given 1/2 of a pie - wouldn't that slice of pie be much larger than if you got 1/22 of a pie? The widest aperture is dependent on the lens used on the camera.  For these photographs, a Nikon 70-200, f/4 lens was utilized - with f/4 being the widest aperture.

Typically, this long haired orange tabby has long fur.  The owner gives her a 'lion fur cut' during the summer months as she seems to prefer having a lighter fur coat during the hot summer days (even though she is an indoor kitty).  The focal point is on the eye closest to the camera - always the best place to focus if the subject has eyes.  The background and body of the cat goes into a soft blur.  For the photography people out there, the focal length was set to 160mm on the 70-200 lens. f/4.

The next photograph, taken at 200mm, f/4 using the same lens. Natural light used for the photograph with a large window source coming from the left of the photo (the cat's right side).

For more pet photographers sharing their take on this theme, head over to visit   Elaine Tweedy, I Got the Shot Pet Photography, serving Northeastern PA and surrounding areas and then head around the rest of the blog circle.

If you would like to book a custom pet portrait session, send an email to vpshoots@gmail.com or give us a call/text at 813-610-2671 in the Tampa Bay area (Florida).

Wild Wonders at Citrus Park Mall

August 05, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The Wild Wonders exhibit featured several different animals created with plants (not real). The animals are quite large sitting in the mall just outside of Macy's.  Children enjoyed seeing the animals as well as the petting zoo that was there the day we visited.

I personally was looking for a more 'Wild' wonder, but then again, I need to remember we are in a mall.

Have a great week!


Pet Photography - Theme 'Negative Space'

August 03, 2018  •  5 Comments

As we begin the month of August, our weekly blog for pets is 'Negative Space'.  I will have to say, this is not a concept that it natural for my photographs.  I have spent so many years making sure that I "Fill the Frame" that I don't typically leave a lot of negative space.  I want you, as the viewer, to focus on my subject and ensure that my subject is big enough in the photograph such that there is no question of what the photograph is about. 

In addition to Pet Photography, I do other types of photography including stock photography.  In my work as a stock photographer, I have learned that I don't always need to fill the frame - leaving negative space within the photograph can be great if they are planning to add some text or other things to the photograph.

So what exactly is negative space?  This is space around your subject in your photograph.  Negative space provides 'breathing room' around your subject giving your eyes somewhere to 'rest' and also helps to prevent your image from being cluttered with stuff that isn't your intended subject.

Here's a very simple example. A small frog floating in a swimming pool (and a few little spots of dirt).  All negative space around this little frog - he was taking a break from swimming at the moment this photo was taken.

This week I wanted to feature our foster puppy, Rue.  However, Rue is pretty much a velcro dog to me, so it's hard for me to get great photographs of her because she is almost always touching me when she is not out playing or walking.  I'm still working on that, but after a few attempts to get some good photographs (I was willing to settle for good, not great) - I decided Ollie (her sister) might be my better model.

Unlike Rue, who has been the outgoing, "I am going to do what I want to do" from the moment we met her in September 2017 at the age of about 8 weeks - Ollie, is a pretty good model!  She did what we wanted when she was only 8 weeks old and she has always been much easier to get photographs.

I brought Ollie out to our front yard because the grass is growing such a beautiful green with the almost daily rain that we are having.  At first, I kept her leash on just to make sure she wasn't planning any escapes to run around the neighbors yards.  If you look closely, you can see a dark spot in the window behind Ollie - where she is looking.  That's Rue, she has parted the blinds and is busy barking away because she isn't out and her sister is!

After a little while, Ollie figured out what I wanted her to do - although, I can say that I am not sure I like having dog photographs with a lot of negative space.  First, let's sit facing this way.....

Now, let's lay down showing my other side....

Ok - I'll turn my head a little bit more towards you.

And by the time I managed to click off about 50 photographs, Ollie says she is done and decides to wonder off.  Such is the life of a pet photographer - when your subject is done, so are you.

The next day, we loaded up the family (now that there are two large dogs, and two little dogs, the car is pretty full) and went to a close by park for another potential photography session.  First, I took Abby, our sweet hound mix that has some issues, but she is a great model.  The only problem is the contrast was pretty high for a black dog on this sunny morning - here's Abby in a black and white photograph which works really well since she is black and white - allowing the sky to blow out provided for a simple white background of negative space along with a little scenery.  This photograph is very high contrast, a little more so that I typically use in my photos.

Next I took Ollie up the little hill for a potential photograph.  She was very alert to the small airport across the waterway that had a number of small planes coming in for landings in the 15 minutes we were photographing (she kept looking over her shoulder). For this photograph, I used the small flash on my camera to help provide some fill light on her.  To leary to take off her harness, this is what a dog considers to be 'beautiful run free - maybe "born free" space'.

Since Ollie is low to the ground, she can be a bit difficult to catch when she runs off - and as soon as I picked up her leash to put it back on, she ran off - over to her sister and then we started the 'come' command but these two little girls were over whelmed with the potential opportunity to run and play!  After a minute or two, they came to us - life with young dogs!

For more pet photographers sharing their take on this theme, head over to visit  Kim with BARKography based in Charlotte NC and then head around the rest of the blog circle.

If you would like to book a custom pet portrait session, send an email to vpshoots@gmail.com or give us a call/text at 813-610-2671 in the Tampa Bay area (Florida).



Getaway from it all....

July 29, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

I've got to say that things have definitely changed over the years. I remember when I used to go to small out of the way places just to make sure I didn't have cell phone service.  A few decades ago, we started going to the Suwannee River - first it was a friend's place with no amenities - just a place along the river to pitch your tent.  Then to another friend's place where he actually built an outhouse, showers, etc for all the friends that came up to camp out.  Now, we go to another place along the Suwannee with family - and it's just a wonderful place to get away from it all.  

We had the opportunity to run up there for a brief visit recently - for Jimbo it was a return to a place he hadn't been to in a couple of years.  For Abby, Ollie and Rue - it was their first visit.  Jimbo remembered it - I found him snoozing on the bed in the room we used to sleep in.  Our dog family has gotten a little big for that room now - but for Jimbo, it was a place to 'get away from the girls'.

Here's the view from our balcony just after sunrise.  Course, it's summer, so everything is green.  It's a nice time to relax and remember all the good times we have had over the last couple of decades - most often I am the first one up, this morning was no exception - only I was out numbered by the dogs.  When I first came here it was Dolly and I getting up early.  Then Jimbo and I going out for the early walk. And now well, it's Jimbo, Abby, Ollie and Rue!  I'll have to capture some photographs of the girls up here on the next visit, it was pretty busy during the 24 hours we were there and I didn't make that happen this trip.

A previous visit shortly after the sunrise.....

And in the winter (January), their is often fog on the river banks....

For as long as I can remember, this white gazebo with a green roof has been the landmark to find their place when on the water.  This place is now up for sale, a beautiful piece of property with a good number of acres for those with some cash.

If I reach back in time, our first dog, Dolly, loved going up to the river because it was a great dog place - no leashes while on the property and plenty of space to run and have fun.  Course, we were always careful because there are gators and other critters out - so definitely be mindful!

And Dolly having fun (I'm not sure if any of our dogs we have now would do this, but the dune buggy has long since been retired and is now gone) catching a ride with Jim.

So much for memories, I hope that you too have a great place to get away from it all.  Cell phone service is pretty good here now - but you can ignore it if you want to.  You're still a good distance from any store and definitely on your own once you go to the remote areas where the Suwannee River flows...


Pet Photography - Theme 'Big Sky'

July 27, 2018  •  2 Comments

Big Sky - well, to me this means something really nice in the sky whether that is a great sunrise, sunset or just a pretty nice set of clouds.  However, this is just not the week that it will be easy to get anything like that - it's raining, gray, overcast most of this week.  Worse yet, it's sunny and then within five minutes it's raining!  Sometimes in the middle of our walks - but as long as it is just rain with no thunder, we just keep walking as it is a welcome break from the hot summers here in Florida.

I'm amazed that Florida is the sunshine state - as I've paid more attention to what the sky looks like because I am looking for specific types of lighting for my photography I have come to realize that we actually have a LOT of gray, overcast days.  Don't get me wrong, I like overcast skies for a lot of my photography - but just where does the 'sunshine' part come in?

This is what our 'big sky' looks like right now - gray, clouds and about to rain.

Here's a photo of Abby watching a sunset on a better 'sun' evening but still wasn't our best as the weather is not cooperating.

For more pet photographers sharing their take on this theme, head over to visit Elaine Tweedy, I Got The Shot Photography, Northeastern PA Pet Photographer and then head around the rest of the blog circle.

If you would like to book a custom pet portrait session, send an email to vpshoots@gmail.com or give us a call/text at 813-610-2671 in the Tampa Bay area (Florida).


Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, Ellenton, Florida

July 22, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

This week I traveled down to Ellenton and visited the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park.  The Gamble Plantation is located on U.S. 301 just west of Interstate 75 in Ellenton, Florida.  This is the same exit as the Ellenton Outlet Mall (just turn right instead of left if you're headed southbound on I-75).  I've driven past this old stately home for many years and have always wanted to stop and check it out - so on this hot, muggy morning - I finally had the opportunity.  I am glad that I headed down early as the visitor center has a sign that says the mansion is not climate controlled and temperatures can rise to the 90s.  

If you like history, then this is well worth a stop to see the historic mansion.  This is the site of the oldest building in Manatee County, Florida.  It is close to the Manatee River which played a role in Robert Gamble stopping here to claim the land after the Second Seminole War ended in 1842.  The park ranger providing us with a guided tour indicated that this land was chosen because Robert and others on the boat got stuck and thus decided this was far enough and should be where they stay.

The view in the photo above shows the front and east sides of the mansion.  "The two story (93 x 43 feet) mansion has ten rooms. The outer walls are nearly two feet thick. Eighteen columns support the roof and upper verandas, which extend around three sides of the building." per information from the state park brochure.

The west wall has benches to sit and relax.  The windows in the house are primarily on the east and west sides to catch the breeze.  Since the walls are almost two feet thick with tabby brick (made from shells local to the area), a photograph railing was created around the top of all the walls to allow for hanging of photographs.  A hook was placed at the top of the railing and string was used to allow the photo to hang down to the location desired.

All of the furnishings in this house are from the time period that Robert Gamble lived in the home, however none of the furniture is actually his.  As the park ranger, Robert, tells us the story of Robert Gamble, I learned that he had some bad luck along the way.  His plantation was growing sugar cane and when the first crop was ready for harvest, a hurricane came through and flooded the crop.  Robert continued to grow sugar cane, and when the second crop was ready for harvest, a hurricane came through and flooded the crop.  I personally think perhaps I would begin to think "Maybe I am not suppose to grow sugar cane".  Eventually, Robert Gamble was forced to sell the property to pay off debt and he moved all his belongings up to Tallahassee, Florida where his father, John Gratton Gamble and all of Robert's family lived (Robert himself was a bachelor).  Unfortunately for Robert, the storage building that contained all his belongings caught fire and all was lost.  Hence, Robert had no belongings left to be placed in the home he built in Ellenton, Florida.

The next bedroom had a four poster bed with rope ties.  Robert, the park ranger, explains that every several days, the ropes had to be tightened in order to keep the bed from sagging.  The old saying "sleep tight" came from these old beds that had to be tightened up back in the 1800s.

This bedroom containing this bed, had a bathroom!

Yep, that's it.  A little porta potty on wheels.  No indoor plumbing in this house.

The hallway on the left side of the mansion is a long hallway with windows and very large window sills that can be used for seating.  Remember, the walls are two feet thick, that makes for a fairly nice place to sit and relax.

The next room we entered had a very unique clock on the mantel.  Look closely and you'll see that the hands on the clock have a "T" for the hour and an "S" for the minute.  

The Gamble mansion was built in three phases.  The photograph below is from the first phase of the house.  It has the original flooring which has a stone look but is most likely the same material the house is made of (this I am not certain, as I was focusing on taking photographs and missed some of the commentary as Robert told us about the house and family that lived there).

The east side of the house.

"The land and house was sold to Major George Patten for $3000 in 1872.  In 1895, the Pattens abandoned the mansion to avoid the high cost of maintaining the aging and decaying house." per information at the visitors center for this state park.

The grounds and picnic areas are open each day from 8:00am until sunset.  The mansion is open Thursday through Monday for scheduled tours at various times.   Note that Robert is the park ranger at this state park.  When Robert is giving tours of the Gamble mansion, the visitor center is closed (something to keep in mind).  The visitor center is air conditioned.  You are allowed to take all the photographs you want, but if you're taking a tour of the mansion, you need to stay with the group so as not to annoy the others on the tour.  Check their website as these may change over time as well as the nominal fee.  The address is 3708 Patten Avenue, Ellenton, Florida - enjoy a trip back into the past!




Pet Photography - Theme 'Doorway'

July 20, 2018  •  2 Comments

This week's pet photography theme is "Doorway".  It's been so hot here (and I am hearing it is elsewhere in the United States too) that I am being very careful when I take my dogs outside for their walk and play time.  As such, we aren't doing as much exploring as we do when the weather is a 'feels like 99 degrees' with high humidity and muggy before the sun comes up.

I'm sure all of you remember when you went to places as a child with your parents, you were often posed in front of whatever it was you were visiting - whether that was a "I was here" sign or just some scene at the place you were visiting.  Well, since I don't have children, I make one of the dogs do this in a lot of the places we visit.

Here's Jimbo sitting at the doorway of an building in the Ninety Six National Historic site in Ninety Six, South Carolina.

This particular area is probably not well known, but I do a lot of family history research and along that path, I kept running into "Ninety Six" district and "Abbeville" District within South Carolina.  As a result, I wanted to visit and see what exactly this particular part of South Carolina was.  This park is dog friendly (except for going into the buildings) so it was ideal for us travelling with Jimbo.

My second doorway photograph is more of a fun photograph - Abby was a good model, but she is alive and healthy (in case you are concerned).  This photograph is a take on 'Stairway to Heaven'.

For more pet photographers sharing their take on this theme, head over to visit Sandra McCarthy Photography serving NH and then head around the rest of the blog circle.

If you would like to book a custom pet portrait session, send an email to vpshoots@gmail.com or give us a call/text at 813-610-2671 in the Tampa Bay area (Florida).

Canoeing the Little Manatee River with Canoe Outpost

July 15, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

This past week a girlfriend and I along with her two children (one teenager, one middle schooler) took a canoeing trip down the Little Manatee River.  Yes, canoeing (not kayaking) after a little bit of debate as to whether this was really a good idea.  Anyway, the teenager took a single person kayak and the rest of us went in the canoe.  Let's put this into perspective - I cannot steer a canoe - I can paddle.  The middle schooler, a young girl, is afraid of spiders.....and well, let's just say we had an exciting adventure on this trip.

Brian gave us the information we needed for what we would be travelling.  Now, having done this not to far in the past, I know you need to pay attention.  And not only that, it helps to take notes!

As you can see, I took a couple of photos of the photos that Brian was showing us.  Who will remember all this? (not me).  Then the map.

So, do you know what all the little circles mean?  That's when I said, "Can you label that?".  I do know that the last time I did this trip it was dark from stormy clouds, then it started thundering, lighting and well, we got wet and we didn't fall into the river.  We also took a detour and it wasn't intentional so I knew I needed to pay more attention this time! We elected to go with the 2:30 pickup time because it was now 10 and we weren't sure if we could make the 1:15.

It started out fine, we didn't fall into the water - which was dark, flowing high and fast.  Since I can't steer, I loaded into the front of the canoe.  After we all got loaded, this was the view.

The water is high, there is a current and I think you could probably float down a good portion of this without doing much except steering.  Remember, I said I can't steer!  Brian said the first part of this trip, actually the first half of this trip was going to be challenging.  Hmmm, I didn't know what that meant - but I do now.

We started coming up to things that looked like this.

There was a tree across a good portion of the river.  The water is flowing pretty good, you can see that going around the tree branches in the river.  In order to get around this, you have to get over to the right side of the river and pass through an area that in this case was probably about 6 feet wide - maybe a little more.  And the adventure begins.  I didn't get the opportunity to take photographs along the way before I was to busy trying to get out of the branches that I was going through, get around the next tree, branch, whatever that was blocking half the passage way - you name it, there just wasn't time to keep putting the paddle down.

Halfway through, we stopped at the pavilion and had our lunch purchased at Publix.  That sandwich tasted really good - not sure if it was all the paddling or what - but it was nice to stop and have a little relaxing lunch.  Just about the time we finished, we found out whose belongings were in the pavilion with us - here came a few adults and at least 30 young children all wearing matching tie dye shirts - we finished up and headed back to our trip on the river.

We made it and we scrambled out of the watercraft. We retrieved our cell phones - guess what time it was? I kid you not, it was 1:15, the first pickup time that we didn't think we could make it was exactly 1:15.  We all noticed the sign about alligators - we didn't see any, we did see a good number of turtles and the rest of the time we saw a lot of leaves, branches, etc (we actually had a good layer of debris in the bottom of our canoe when we reached the halfway point).  Oh, did I mention - we had spiders....lots of spiders...remember I mentioned at the beginning of the blog post that the young middle schooler didn't like spiders?  She was right up there with Ronald Weasley from Harry Potter on her fear and sharing it with us.  She kept wanting to quit - like, did you want to swim back?  Sorry kiddo, you're stuck in this little canoe for a few more hours, start killing them!

Well, that was our adventure and it was fun, just got a bit annoying that we kept seeing all the branches up so close.

Kayak next time!!!



Pet Photography - Theme "Head Tilt"

July 13, 2018  •  9 Comments

This week's pet photography theme is the 'head tilt' - you know when your pet gives you that curious? questioning? and in many cases just downright adorable look! As a pet photographer, I have learned over the last few years that often times this is the most adorable head portrait I can capture of a rescue dog.  Not all dogs will do the head tilt, but for those that do - it can be such a cool photograph.  Almost two weeks ago, I met Danny.  Danny is a sweet, quiet, rescue dog - a sharpei mix - and almost immediately he did the head tilt.  Course, I've also learned to make a few rather interesting noises that often seems to provide the dogs into that totally 'What are you doing?' (at least I hope it's that as opposed to 'This human has an issue, what's wrong with her?')

As a pet photographer, and even more as a rescue dog photographer, I've learned quite a bit in the last couple of years.  First, there are lots of dogs out there looking for homes - they all have different personalities and most are not scared of the camera (a couple have been).  What do I look for when I am doing a photography session for a rescue dog?  There are several things, but I spend a few minutes to see how the dog is acting before jumping into photographs.  Sometimes the dog doesn't get a lot of attention and that's all they want from you - so it's important to give that attention - they need it and you'll enjoy it!

The next thing I almost always try to capture is at least one good head portrait - I love it when they will look directly at the camera, but not all dogs do - so a nice portrait either way is always something I will patiently wait for (sometimes up to an hour and over 100 photos later).  The other things are at least one full body photograph - whether that is sitting, standing, running, laying down - it's all depending on the dog - but if it's a rescue dog, they want to see what the entire dog looks like - not just their faces.

So, what do I do when the dog is camera shy? Well, the first thing I do is put the camera down.  Then spend more time with the dog, just talking or walking them, petting, you know - dog things.  After a little while, this can be 10 minutes or 30 minutes, I will pick up my camera again.  If they are still not comfortable, then I will set the camera down and see if they will sniff it.  If they don't, I put a small treat on the lens hood - yes, on the lens hood, on the camera.  I've never had one eat or attack the camera, they just want the treat - and sometimes they want it badly and are quick to take it - but other times they are slow as they are still scared. 

I know there are other people out there in this big world capturing photographs of pets, what tricks do you do to get great photographs of your pet?

Here's a few more head tilt photographs for you to enjoy!

Amore - male adoptedAmore - male adopted

Amore (above) adopted very soon after this great photography session!


This cute dog was adopted shortly after he posed for the camera - the head tilt does make a difference!


And this little one was adopted too - so if you're dog (I haven't really tried this with cats) does a head tilt - make sure you capture that adorable moment in time!

For more pet photographers sharing their take on this theme, head over to visit The Hoof & Hound Photographer, covering the Lancaster UK area and then head around the rest of the blog circle.

If you would like to book a custom pet portrait session, send an email to vpshoots@gmail.com or give us a call/text at 813-610-2671 in the Tampa Bay area (Florida).