Blue Spring is a name given to many a Florida spring, but to me, Gilchrist Blue is the jewel of them all. And within the (Blue Springs) Park, there is another, much smaller and more intimate spring called Naked. This was the spring on which John Moran and I set our focus for our latest collaborative nightscape, creating a surreal image that swirls around Polaris, the North Star. You will find this "master piece" at the end of this blog, but don't cheat yourself out of the photos that precede it. This is a place of rare beauty.
A Night at the Main Vent
The Rainbow of Blue Spring Run
Having heard so much about these springs and the wonderful "mom & pop" family-run park and campground that envelops them, Crystal had been wanting to behold the crystalline waters and river floodplain for herself. So I've included some photos from our recent camping trip at Blue to help fill out the bigger picture of this Florida jewel-of-a-park.
Minimalist camp. But we have the essentials!
Watery Garden Way
Crystal and I arrived mid-week during off-season -- our favorite time to camp anywhere -- and practically had the place to ourselves... the big Blue Spring on whose beach we kept our kayaks, the boardwalk along the run to the Santa Fe River, a woodsy isolated campsite near Naked, the wonderful nature trail, and the star-filled night sky. My photos show only the natural part of the picture here. In season, Blue Spring Park is a popular swimming hole and camping getaway... the main spring teeming with "kids" of all ages having fun.
In the Races. Snorkeling down the run all the way to the river is exhilarating as you dodge logs and whip past turtles and fish.
Delta's Dawn. Early morn at the end of the spring run, where clear water meets the tannic waters of the Santa Fe.
Paddling the Santa Fe
We paddled in search of a nearby spot - Jonathan Spring - where I made the above photo years ago on my first trip to Blue with John, but Crystal and I never found it, or anyone who'd even heard of it. (I've since re-learned where it is.) Our paddling did take us to a number of other springs along the river... but none nicer than Blue.
A stone's throw from our camp, the clear waters of Naked Spring bubble up into a veritable Garden of Eden. That night, inspired by this flowery scene, Crystal and I took turns lighting the trees and waters while the other ran the camera's shutter for the duplicate long exposures. Below is the result: Nightfall in Eden.
Nightfall in Eden
One morning we took the meandering nature trail through the floodplains and past other springs. It is a beautiful walk overlooked by too many visitors.
Aric the Giant, a champion tree
Johnson Spring Run
Trail to the Sun
Below is another oldie I made one night from the dive platform, using the eerie stray light from a nearby sodium vapor security lamp, a waterproof flashlight John dangled on a line, and freediver, Lesley Gamble, holding VERY still. (It was a fairly long exposure.)
Nocturnal Spring Light
And now for the finale, Naked Under the Stars (below). When first visiting Blue Springs Park 5 years ago, I fell in love with Naked Spring (and wanted to make a portfolio shot of it. My recent Nightfall in Eden, above, qualifies). After our last collaboration, Eye of the Aquifer, John suggested we light-paint big Blue. I agreed, but proposed we do a two-fer, and make a starry shot of Naked as well. John, a long admirer the old cypress snag by Naked, went to scout it out, and came back on fire. Yes! A project to be far more complex than Nightfall... or any of our previous projects.
Like our many collaborations over the years, John and I spent a full evening lighting up the spring and its surroundings (with canoe-control assistance from Anthony Ackrill and George Tortorelli). The challenging addition here is the star-trailed sky. Neither of us had much experience with star trail photography, but John duly noted that our angle was due North, toward Polaris, and we had a patch of clear sky in the composition... it only made sense to take advantage of the stars.
I spent many hours online researching star trail shooting and post-processing. During that time, I made multiple trial efforts (some of which "failed" in teachable errors). Finely ready, I made a checklist of steps and settings for both the shoot and the processing. So when we finished our light painting, we began the series of 120 long exposures, each of which captured a small movement of the stars circling around Polaris. When all those frames are stacked together (like a double-exposure but with 120 shots), the stars appear to streak across the sky. (Actually, the Earth's rotation accounts for the movement, not the stars.) Late into the night, the shoot was complete. (Well, almost... we left the camera set up all night so that we could rise early in the morning to see if we could get some shots of mist rising from the spring. There was indeed nice "polar smoke", adding some magic to our compilation.)
Over the past month, John (in Gainesville) and I (in Crawfordville) spent countless hours on the computer, phone, email, text, and sending prints via FedEx to finetune this image. Getting a composite nightscape to look great on a screen is far easier than getting it to look great as a fine art print. We tweaked and dinked until we felt it was there - the final (?) version just a few days ago. (Note: only my watermark signature is on this thumbnail, as will John's signature appear solo on the prints he sells at the art festival April 1-2 and beyond. But, like Eye of the Aquifer, this piece is a joint collaboration, and when feasible, we share joint credit.)
What do you think?
Naked Under the Stars
That wraps up Naked Under the Stars (and more) at Blue Springs Park on the Santa Fe River in Gilchrist County, Florida. Hope you enjoyed the tour. As always, I greatly value your comments left here at the blog. Please let me know what you think of Naked and the other shots. Share my blog wide and free. And happy (nature) trails!
Naked Under the Stars -- POSTSCRIPT
On June 12, 2017, just a few months after this photo was made, the old cypress snag central to this photo fell into the spring. What a grievous loss. And yet another reminder from the great circle of life. Here is an excerpt from a posting made by my dear friend John Moran yesterday:
Yes, it’s a picture of a beautiful spring, and there’s our awe-inspiring galaxy spinning through the night. But from the inception of our vision for the picture, we considered this bare cypress to be the photographic linchpin joining water to the sky. Accordingly, we honored the tree with a veritable golden shower of light. Talk about living life large, even in the afterlife. For many years, this fine old snag was as a stately conductor in the dark. Appearing nightly even as we slept, conjuring visions of Springs Eternal and Cosmos Everlasting.
This photo was made at Naked Springs by the owner of Blue Springs shortly after the fall.