It’s finally done! I’ve successfully turned my decade-long adventures discovering and exploring Florida’s freshwater springs into a photo book for friends, family and memories.
As far back as I can remember, my family took the occasional trips into the Ocala National Forest to visit the springs. Sometimes just for the day (we were always there at 7:45am sharp to be the first ones in), sometimes for a weekend of pop-up camping. They were little microcosms of vacation, parks nestled in an expanse of forest without cell phones or news. Only swimming, snorkeling, biking, hiking, a Game Boy, and the occasional game of Clue or Skip-Bo. Alexander Springs, Salt Springs, Silver Glen Springs, and rarely Juniper Springs: the springs of Florida. Right?
Not quite. Fast forward to early college when, as I started to think about what I wanted to do with my life, I discovered that (actually) there are over 100 springs in Florida, all over the state. Residing in all forms: national parks, state parks, county parks, private parks and clubs, backyards, government research facilities, even undeveloped public land. A quick trip around the net opened my eyes to the possibilities of exploration and discovery and I was instantly bought in. Coupled with a background in high-school photography and the purchase of a used Nikon D50 (thanks Chris!), I set out to see and capture every spring I could.
I devoted a good chunk of my PTO in the last few years of the 2010s to springs travel, taking friends and renting lenses. Some favorite, choice moments from those travels (in chronological order):
- Jumping into the Rock Springs run with my glasses on and coming back to find them resting on the sandy bottom hours later (with John)
- Literally driving over a fence in a Jeep to find some obscure springs (and an alligator!) in the Seminole State Forest (with Ren)
- Reading The Dionaea House before a trip to the springs around I-10 and I-75 and scaring myself so much I was anxious for the rest of the trip (with Rob)
- Kayaking into Three Sisters Springs across Kings Bay (with my brother)
- Diving through the limestone tunnels at the Chassahowitzka River springs (while someone was making a fire on the shore) (with Rob)
- Swimming with a random wild manatee at the end of the year at Wakulla Springs
- Taking a JetSki on the Suwannee River to find several land-inaccessible springs (with Ty)
- Having the perfect, magical spring day the first time I visited Morrison Springs. Sunny, wide open spring pool, ice cold water, and one of the most accessible springs for all depths
- Canoeing down the Econfina Creek to visit the unquestionably-beautiful Gainer Springs, only to encounter patience-trying downed trees for the next several hours (with Vic)
- Swimming with more manatees almost exactly a year later at Weeki Wachee Springs (with Rob and Rosco)
- Staying in a cabin at Lafayette Blue Springs and going down to the water in the middle of a thunderstorm (with Vic)
- Dislocating my shoulder in a prank gone wrong at the Hart Springs Park House (with Brian)
- The Wendy’s Smoakhouse Ranch and their deadly groundskeeper cat (with Erik)
- The perfect birthday weekend for Rob with the crew at Hart Springs
- Canoeing to and swimming in Cypress Springs many many years after thinking it was inaccessible (with Rob, who almost drowned)
The Springs Photo Book
In addition to the journey and the media I’ve produced since, I’ve always had this nagging feeling to do something with all this amazing and unique photography I’d amassed over the years. After years of putting it off, I settled on a sensible memento: a photo book of an even split between “my best photos” and “a survey of Florida springs.”
Leveraging my Adobe CC academic license (thanks UCF!), I fired up Lightroom Classic and imported a dump of all of my previously-curated Flickr springs content. Using this catalog (and Lightroom’s partner printer, Blurb), I:
- Rated each photo from 1-5 stars
- Picked my top 10 favorite springs (based on the aggregate ratings)
- Arranged those 10 across a general target of a 100-page book roughly 10 pages apart
- Filled in the gaps organically, prioritizing the highest-rated photos and surrounding them with related content
- Nipped and tucked at the layouts, photo choices, and general format for weeks, obsessing over the little details that no one will ever notice
- Tried my best to talk myself out of being a perfectionist for a book that was only for memories
- Designed a cover spread with a title, subtitle, and back-cover bio text
- Shared PDF proofs with a couple friends and got feedback on photo arrangement
- Added an index, an “other springs” two-page spread, and a “special thanks” page
- Uploaded it to Blurb and ordered a single copy of the 13”x11” book
- Waited an eternity before it arrived last week
It took some patience to photograph the book before ripping the packaging off. There’s nothing quite like holding a book of your own design, filled with the best photos of your adventures. Some of the underwater majority green/blue shots are a bit muddier than on a monitor, but the vast majority of the pages are excellent.
On a 3.5-hour ride to Jekyll Island last weekend, I retooled the book down to a 10×8” for future prints. I had to completely re-create the cover and custom page layouts, but I knocked it out in a single drive and ordered another 4 copies (for friends and family). Blurb gives a 30% bulk order discount starting at 4 copies, and while I doubt this will generate much interest, I’d be happy to order more in groups of 4.
It’s a bit anticlimactic to slot it on the shelf, but it’s a good end to this stage of the adventure. If you ever want to visit any of these springs, let me know! I know a thing or two about them.