Larry Treadwell  

Madonna of the Everglades by Larry Treadwell

November 2021 - Madonna of the Everglades

About the Image(s)

Nikon D850, 80-200 f2.8 lens, at 86mm, f16, shutter .08 seconds, ISO 100. Camera on tripod and tripod standing in waist deep black water. Circular polarizer, lens hood, cable release, mirror lock up.

I have always felt that roaming the dark places of the everglades places me in the midst of mystical and sacred place. The silence (more quiet than any forest) the eerie feeling of the thick blankets of Spanish moss and the intense darkness of night only serve to intensify the feeling. One moves through these dark places with caution and all of ones senses on high alert. Thus while wading almost waist deep in the black waters I was stunned when I brushed through some Spanish moss and entered a clearing. Standing alone, about 35 feet away and illuminated by a shaft of filtered light, stood the Madonna and her child, flanked and guarded by two solemn shepherds. To me the vision was startlingly clear. It was with a sense of reverence that I tried to capture this feeling. I selected my 80-200 f2.8 lens to use the compression properties of the mid range telephoto lens and added a polarizer filter to reduce and glare produced by the light on the light areas of the trees. (focal length was 86mm) The camera was mounted on my tripod to get the lowest possible angle so as to create a feeling of intimacy with the subjects. (the camera was only about 10 inches above the surface of the very still water). I used a manual focus stack of 4 frames, one on Madonna, one on each tree and one purposely thrown out of focus on the background. I really wanted the three subjects to be sharp, but the background to retain some definition, but a lack of sharpness. Since the trees were thick I used f16 because I wanted them sharp and wanted to avoid the issue of “acceptable sharpness” that arises when using a hyperfocal approach. (This may have been overkill, but I didn’t want to take any chances.) I exposed for Madonna (she was naturally the brightest part of the frame) to avoid any blown out areas. I also used a lens hood because light tends to bounce around inside a cypress dome and I was afraid that a stray reflection might strike the lens. My ISO was 100 and shutter speed was .08 seconds. I used a cable release and mirror lockup (I have no immediate plans to switch to a mirrorless camera.)

Post work was done in Lightroom and PS. I first processed the color for clarity, and exposure to e get rid of dust spots and eliminate any over exposed areas. I used LR color range system to separate the tones of the various leaves in a manner that pleased me. I used the red, green and blue channels to further adjust the tones of the foliage. This included further darkening the background. I carefully worked the background so that detail remained in the dark areas and they would not become black holes. (Some of this detail seems to have been lost when the image was resized for posting). I then dodged and burned areas where my eye suggested I should. On my third processing session I decided to slightly brighten Madonna (so she would visually be the brightest part of the scene) and also ever so slightly lightened the area she stands on. Processing took about 4.5 hours over 3 sittings

My biggest regret is that I now wish I had moved more to camera right so as to obtain complete separation of Madonna from the tree on the right and its reflection. I worked my position to get the tree leaves as I wanted and did move Madonna some to the left, but now I feel this was not enough

This round’s discussion is now closed!
19 comments posted

Michael Jack   Michael Jack
You are one brave soul.... I think your regret is a nit for this image. The dark area around the Madonna does separate her from the tree behind which to my eye works well. I also like the composition. A couple of suggestions - the tree on the left is a bit brighter than the Madonna so I would consider making the Madonna the brightest subject in the image. I would also consider subtly darkening the trees at the top to keep the eye from moving out of the image. You can bet on one else will be brave enough to get this shot.   Posted: 11/02/2021 13:32:00
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Thanks for your thoughts. First---it is NOT gator mating season so they are quite calm. Your image comments are quite welcome. I made some adjustments taking into consideration your thoughts. You may be right about Madonna's position as well. I may be a bit harsh in my assessment of the image but I see the separation you mention. Thanks.   Posted: 11/02/2021 16:25:57
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Bill Peake   Bill Peake
This is a really interesting image. When I first looked at the thumbnail, I saw Gandalf holding his hat, perhaps in Mirkwood. After reading your description I do see where it could also be the Madonna holding her child. I agree with Michael about the Modonna's position, it does not significantly impact the image. One thing you might want to try is reducing the brightness of the trees even more, perhaps as much as 1/2 the current level, to really accentuate the Madonna. Just a though, I'm not sure it would work. Overall this is a really great image.   Posted: 11/04/2021 17:33:31
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Thanks Bill
I did not see Ganbdalf until you mentioned him. But yes, it could be him. I darkened the trees in my reply to Michael. ado you think they should be even more darkened?   Posted: 11/07/2021 16:01:37

Barbara Gore   Barbara Gore
Well Larry, I wouldn't be hiking with you in waist deep alligator territory, mating season or not! At first I wasn't sure but I think the square crop works with this image. The left tree is a tad brighter but I don't mind it as the Madonna stands out nicely. Great vision!   Posted: 11/06/2021 15:21:01
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Thanks for your thoughts. I made the trees darker in my reply to Michael. Do you think they still need to be even darker? I just don't know how far to go with out having them blend into the background. They are part of the story I'm trying to tell and I don't want to lose them. So how far is too far? I just don't know.

Just for the record---I don't just jump into the dark waters. :-)   Posted: 11/07/2021 16:04:21
Barbara Gore   Barbara Gore
No need to go darker. I think you removed just enough of the brightness.
  Posted: 11/07/2021 17:40:25

Richard White   Richard White
Larry, I learn more just reading how you processed your photograh. This is a nicely thought out process, and taking a forth photo that was slightly out of focus really added to the image. I tend to agree with Bill that reducing the brightness of the trees even more to make the "Madonna" standout. PS Forget about me being with you in the evergades daytime or nighttime, especailly night time.   Posted: 11/06/2021 18:00:14
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Thanks Richard

I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how I want the image to look when it is finished. Then I try to shoot so as to get the results I'm looking for. Focus stacking has added a whole new meaning to the term DOF as I can gain so much more control. Just more to think about

I don't always end up wading in the everglades. I have taken folks on guided trips and everyone has returned and they come back dry. I never try to get them into the water.   Posted: 11/07/2021 16:09:45

Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
OK Everyone the attached photo is the 80 year old wonder and father of the everglades Clyde Butcher. Clyde has spent his life photographig the everglades I have been onat least 5 swamp walks with Clyde where he takes photographers out to walk the swaps. He teaches his students how to walk the swamps. Nothing is without risk but Clyde has done this hundreds of times. There that signs to look for weather to avoid, times of year to avoid but if you are careful there are great photos to capture.   Posted: 11/06/2021 20:02:43
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Michael Jack   Michael Jack
Clyde was honored by PSA in the Spokane festival (convention). His work is amazing.   Posted: 11/07/2021 16:56:12
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
I'm so impressed how he can make something out of the nothing that is the Florida Everglades. He is an inspiration. I've learned a great deal from him   Posted: 11/19/2021 19:52:22
Barbara Gore   Barbara Gore
His work is amazing. Kudos to him and you for bravely moving through the swamps. I will admire it from a distance!   Posted: 11/07/2021 17:36:00

Arne Skinlo   Arne Skinlo
An interesting image, Larry. The biggest achievement here, is to spot such a detail and then go out and capture it. I agree with Barbara that wading in alligator waters is not for me.

I don't know if it was possible, but I would liked a lower camera point in order to make Madonna taller and stand out more to the surroundings. Moreover, the tree and the branch to the left could be darkened slightly.   Posted: 11/07/2021 03:25:14
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Thanks for the ideas Arne. The only way to get the camera lower would have been to submerge the ball head on the tripod. That is going too far even for me. While the water is quite still and flat, even a bird landing a short distance away will add ripples and i want a dry camera. I keep the camera in a lenscoat raincoat for shots like this---but that will not save it from a wave when it is that close to the surface.
I try making the trees even darker.
Perhaps if I had used a 14mm lens it would make Madonna larger as I could have gotten closer.
I'm learning to look for abstract images like this and it does open new worlds   Posted: 11/07/2021 16:16:42

LuAnn Thatcher   LuAnn Thatcher
(Groups 3 & 62)
Hello Larry,

You are one brave photographer and animal tamer to keep the gators at bay for this photo. I am impressed with your determination!

I like the story in this image, and the stillness of the water with only small ripples around the Madonna tell me quickly where to find the subject. I agree with the discussion on the brightness of the two trees and branches. I looked at your edit in LR and, on my computer, it still looks a bit bright. I've attached a revision for your consideration.

I have a question that no one else seems to have addressed, perhaps because it is not a problem. The two trees appear to me to be tilting to the right. I have corrected this in my edited photo; what do you think? Necessary or unnecessary?

Best regards,
LuAnn Thatcher   Posted: 11/15/2021 11:11:38
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Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Thanks for commenting LuAnn. I leveled this image based on the waterline. With the hurricanes that hit Florida many of our trees do not grow straight up. I do like your version---I think you may have gotten the shading right. I sure didn't.

  Posted: 11/19/2021 19:55:54

Nan Jiang   Nan Jiang
What an eye-catcher. I like the high contrast and mood. The contrast of light and shade is proper. The shape of the root appeared at golden point is so amazing, which
brought much imagination to me. If it were me, maybe I would try to extend the zoom lens to 200mm to focus on the root. I would find out what it feels without the trees on background. Maybe the feel of lonely is ideal for the tone and atmosphere.   Posted: 11/17/2021 05:53:24
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
This is something I've worked on a great deal. I used to capture the grand scene--trying to get everything into the frame. I've learned that the devil is in the details and to look for little bits of interest rather than just the big scene. It takes practice to find these details but you can find some interesting images.

I did take a single shot of just the root. But I didn't think the image of just the root told the full story and for religious purposes I wanted to include the shepherds in the story. Still your idea works also. Thanks for commenting.   Posted: 11/19/2021 20:00:22