Missouri Tallgrass Prairie Fine Art for 2015

Missouri Tallgrass Prairie Sunset by Tiim LaytonI spend a lot of my professional and personal time experiencing and learning about the prairie.  My work at Missouri Naturalist is primarily focused on publication and documenting the prairie ecosystem with the use of modern DSLR equipment.  I needed a way to slow down and convey my love, appreciation, and experiences while on the prairie.  My way of slowing down is with the use of large format camera systems and sheet film.  Choosing large format was a conscience choice because it is a very slow and methodical way to photograph any subject and this is exactly the contemplative approach that I need to express my experiences of Missouri’s fleeting tallgrass prairie.  You will be able to follow my journey by searching for the hashtag #PrairieFineArt on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Tim Layton with Large Format CamerasWith total control over the focal plane, distribution of light, and all creative aspects of my traditional analog process, I am able to express and share my experiences on the prairie with others in a way that comes close to what I see and feel while I am there.  I will be creating one of a kind large black and white and color hand made gallery prints suitable for collectors and those that appreciate fine art.  The gallery prints are ideal to display in public buildings and corporate venues to help promote awareness of Missouri’s natural resource challenges.  At this point, I expect to be using my 4×5, 8×10, and 11×14 large format systems to create the gallery prints.  I will know more and keep everyone updated as I make progress in the field.

Once I formalize the opening gallery event, I will post an update on this website with the information.   You can view the print as they are made along with my other fine art prints on my website at www.timlaytonfineart.com.  I will be working with Frank Dries, my assistant and large format photographer in training to create these images of Missouri’s tallgrass prairie before they are lost forever.  We will keep everyone informed as we are in the field and working in the darkroom.

Although the fragments that we see today of Missouri’s once lush and engulfing prairie ecosystem is very small, the beauty and significance of them remain unparalleled.  The tallgrass prairie is an ecosystem is native to central North America, and in particular to Missouri.  The tallgrass prairie is part of Missouri’s natural history and has been an important part of the last 10,000 years.

Prior to widespread utilization of the steel plow, which enabled conversion to agricultural land use, tallgrass prairies expanded throughout Missouri from the transitional ecotones out of eastern North American forests, west to a climatic threshold based on precipitation and soils, to the southern reaches of the Flint Hills in Oklahoma, to a transition into forest in Manitoba.

Retreating glaciers deposited the parent material for soil in the form of till, i.e. unsorted sediment about 10,000 years ago. Wind dropped loess and organic matter accumulated resulting in the deepest level of topsoil recorded anywhere. Animals like buffalo,elk, deer and rabbits added nitrogen to the soil through urine and feces. Prairie dogs, a ground squirrel-like rodent considered a keystone species, dug tunnels that “aerated the soil and channeled water several feet below the surface”.

During 5000 to 8000 years, more than 240 million acres of prairie grasslands were a major feature of the landscape. Between 1800 and 1930 the vast majority were destroyed. Settlers transformed what they named “The Great American Desert”, or “The Inland Sea” into farmland. Major reasons for the prairie’s demise were the confined grazing pattern of European cattle versus bison, the near extermination of prairie dogs, and finally the plowing and cultivation of the land, which breached the root systems and interrupted the reproduction of the tall grasses. Furthermore, extensive tile drainage has changed the soil’s water content and hydrodynamics, and ongoing soil erosion results in its increasing loss.

If you would like to support me in this project, please consider making a one time donation or a regular subscription option is also available.

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Tim Layton
Analog Film Photography Blog
www.blackandwhitefineart.net

All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014

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Find Your Passion – Find Your Purpose – Improve Your Life

Missouri Prairies by Tim LaytonI was sharing some of my personal thoughts with a friend about where I am in my journey with photography and realized it may be helpful to share some of the highlights with my readers.

My Humble Beginnings

My journey with photography started when I was 12 years old.  By the time I was 14, I had built my own darkroom in the basement of my parents home.  With my dad watching over me and doing the electrical wiring, I started developing and printing my own work. I learned everything I needed to know from checking out books at my local library.  My kids have no idea that local libraries even exist.  The darkroom is still there and when I go to visit, a rush of emotions come over me.  I think about how far I have come, and also, how much farther I want to go.

When I was a child we had a small farm, about 50 acres, so as you may be able to guess, my subjects were flowers, trees, insects, wildlife, etc.  Over three and a half decades later, I am more passionate about nature and wildlife then I was as a young boy.  I realized after mastering the technical aspects, that I had a long way to go in order to create more compelling images.  I share this realization because I wish someone had helped me get to the creative side faster, as opposed to mastering the technical aspects so thoroughly. There is a delicate balance a photographer must strike between being technically proficient and exploring the creative.

A Higher Level

The next phase in my evolution was to use my photographic skills for a higher purpose.  I started as a young boy reading everything Ansel Adams had written about photography and built my own darkroom as noted above. His classic trilogy: The Camera, The Negative, The Print, are the defacto set of books that every photographer should read and understand.  I didn’t realize for many years the impact that Ansel had on wildlife conservation and our national park system.  I was too young to probably even appreciate his monumental efforts, and I was so focused on the technical aspects of photography, I would have likely overlooked it anyway.  I share this because I am hopeful other photographers can find and utilize their photography for a higher purpose, whatever that may be for them.  Get through the technical phase and move on to higher grounds is my advice.

My Higher Purpose

I wish I could tell a “made for movie” story about my journey to a higher purpose, but it is very normal and took a lot longer than it needed to.  Hopefully by me sharing my path, this can help someone else arrive a little faster than I did!  I have always been drawn to photographing flowers for as long as I can remember.  I can’t really express why via words, it is simply a deep appreciation that I have always had since childhood.  I have likely created thousands of photographs of flowers over the last 35 years, but I could probably distill my best work down to 10 to 20 images at most.  This background is important because I didn’t fully realize and embrace my higher purpose until about 5 years ago.  I started down a path of really focusing on creating floral photographs that were “beautiful” and created an emotional response within me.  My purpose, so I thought, was to create beautiful images.  I was beginning to operate at a higher level by the time I was 40 years old, and I think my work had significantly improved on a technical level.  However–there was still something amiss.

Higher Level Phase II 

I had many sleepless nights as I struggled and tried to figure out how to market my photographs.  The first problem that I now realize–I was “thinking” way too much.  I wasn’t far enough along in my journey and enlightenment to realize that I was aspiring to do things for myself, and not a higher purpose.  I created beautiful images, so I am told, but something felt wrong to me and I didn’t know what it was.  How could this be? I spent many years mastering the technical aspects of analog photography and explored many creative methods to express my feelings and emotions in my work.  I still had a ways to go and many more sleepless nights, little did I know.

A New Awakening – Phase III

I came full circle one evening in a flash.  I woke up from sleeping and realized what I needed to do.  I awakened in that moment, knowing the best gift I could ever offer is my time and my focus without trying to quantify the return on investment for me.  Giving yourself away takes a lot of courage and apparently a couple decades of thought.  I must be a slow learner apparently!  My current story has circled back to the same place where I started over three decades ago.  Ansel Adams, who I respected so deeply for his technical mastery of photography, had the answer all along.  I wasn’t ready to understand the full scope of what he had to offer.  He of course was a master photographer, but more importantly, he gave his time and life to helping protect nature and wildlife.  His impact on our national park system will forever be important.  When I think of Ansel today, I see a man that made a huge difference in life by raising people’s awareness and conservation of America’s natural resources.  Ansel was a very talented photographer that had a grip on his purpose in life from the time he was a young man.  This is more important than his mastery of photography.

Current Operating Model

In my new enlightened state, I focus all of my time on raising awareness of Missouri’s most pressing natural challenges.  I created a company “Missouri Naturalist” where I publish nature-related books and informational booklets, lead interpretive hikes and photo workshops to help encourage people to explore and enjoy Missouri’s natural resources.  I do this because I fundamentally believe that people protect what they care about.  By starting with my peers in photography, I believe I can serve as a positive role model and possibly inspire others to invest their time in the protection and conservation of natural resources in their respective communities.

I am focused on the protection of Missouri’s vanishing native prairies and grasslands because the problem is so big and the conditions are changing so rapidly, that every minute and small win counts.  Prairies are often intertwined with and close to other natural communities such as savanna’s and woodlands.  Little did I know that my love and appreciation of flowers as a young photographer would lead me to photographing native wildflowers and plants on Missouri’s prairies for a higher purpose.  The biodiversity on the prairie and the relationship between the natural world and humanity is a fascinating story that is at risk of vanishing right before our eyes.

I believe Missouri’s vanishing prairies is a huge alarm going off that is letting everyone know our world is out of balance.  Other alarms being sounded by the Monarch’s are very strong indicators of this too.  Using my skills and knowledge of photography in tandem with being a naturalist is the reason I was born and my purpose in life.  Working for others and being connected to causes greater than myself is the ultimate life experience.

In this 7 minute video, you learn about the benefits of prairies and the challenges facing Missourian’s to protect its remaining vanishing fragments.  If you want to get involved and learn more, visit the Missouri Prairie Foundation website as a first step.  By preserving the remaining fragmented prairies and grasslands, we are ensuring our future existence.

If you find the information I produce useful or helpful, consider making a one time donation or regular subscription.

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You can also make a one time donation of any value to help support me in this journey and commitment to photography and nature.

 

Tim Layton
Analog Film Photography Blog
www.blackandwhitefineart.net

All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014

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Why Large Format Photography in 2014?

Tim Layton 8x10 Large Format in the FieldWhy not use large format photography in 2014?  I am often asked about why I would go to all the trouble of lugging around “that huge camera” when digital has taken over the world?  My response: really?  I wasn’t aware of that takeover…

All games aside, large format photography is as relevant today as it was at the turn of the 20th century.  There are a host of reasons that I can think of off the top of my head of why I still use a large format process.

I will create a list below, in no particular order of why I still prefer large format photography in contemporary times.

12 Reasons Why I Use Large Format Photography in 2014

  • The slower and contemplative workflow is perfect for my style and approach to photography.
  • I prefer an approach that culminates with an exposure vs. starting and ending with pressing the shutter.
  • Film produces an image that simply looks different than one created on a digital sensor.  It fits my style and vision for a lot of my photographs.
  • A lot of what I like to photograph involves high contrast scenes (sunrises, sunsets, etc.).  Color negative and black and white film handles these types of scenes with ease and in my opinion produces superior results.
  • Looking at your scene/subject on the ground glass of a large format camera is a wonderful way to create a photograph.
  • The movements available on large format cameras make the creation of images very easy and with high quality results not possible on small format systems.
  • I like the mystery of waiting to develop my films.  I am not distracted with looking at an LCD screen after each exposure.
  • I enjoy the technical knowledge and skill required to work with large format systems and processes.  After one has mastered the technical aspects, a lifetime of pursuing the artistic aspects is a wonderful journey.
  • I believe my ability to communicate the special nature and aspects of a scene and/or subject is best accomplished with large format photography.
  • I deeply enjoy working in my custom designed and built darkroom creating prints that are made with the raw materials of photography (paper, chemicals, and light).
  • Once you acquire the bits and pieces needed for large format photography, they last a lifetime, and no upgrades are required.
  • The ability to work with one sheet of film at a time is a huge benefit to me technically and also mentally.  It allows me to focus all of my energy into each exposure.

Film, large format, and the darkroom will forever hold a special place in my heart.  It is deeply in my soul.  I am not sure how it got there, it just is.  While I do have to use modern digital equipment and workflows for professional projects, I always long to get back to my large format endeavors.

If you find the information I produce useful or helpful, consider making a one time donation or regular subscription.

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You can also make a one time donation of any value to help support me in this journey and commitment to photography and nature.

 

Tim Layton
Analog Film Photography Blog
www.blackandwhitefineart.net

All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014

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Scouting for Missouri Landscapes – Diary of an Analog Large Format Photographer – Session 2 08/18/14

In my second outing, I visited the lone Missouri Cottonwood tree and continued in the journey of learning more about this tree and location.  It was the middle of the day, horrible lighting from a photographers perspective, but a perfect time to continue building my knowledge of the tree and surrounding landscape.

My goal today was simple: continue to invest time at the location and simply see if anything really stood out to me today.  Notice I purposely use the word “invest”.  How can I expect to get a return on my investment (meaningful photograph) without having made the proper investment?

I focused on the form of the tree today and I found two perspectives that jumped out at me.  Both were anthropomorphic, meaning they took on human form.  The first looked like a tall and strong man flexing his biceps (left photo) and the second looked like a man standing tall with an erection (right photo).  Sorry if that is offensive, I just call it like I see it.  Below are two snapshots from my phone that I took on site today.

Cottonwood-1 Cottonwood-2

I also took some wider photos of the tree with my phone to study the form and shape in relationship to its environment.  I am purposely not drawing any conclusions or trying to “solve” anything today.  Just experiencing the tree and environment and remaining open and aware.  I plan on returning very soon at sunrise and sunset to get more of a feel for how the light impacts the tree, the landscape, and my experience.  I started to scout for obvious foreground and layers today and nothing revealed itself to me at this time.

You can view my brief video journal entry from my visit today and be sure and return as this story and my experience unfolds.

If you find the information I produce useful or helpful, consider making a one time donation or regular subscription.

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You can also make a one time donation of any value to help support me in this journey and commitment to photography and nature.

 

Tim Layton
Analog Film Photography Blog
www.blackandwhitefineart.net

All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014

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Scouting for Missouri Landscapes – Diary of an Analog Large Format Photographer – Session 1 08/16/14

I have been wanting to further explore the landscapes of St. Albans Missouri and today was the first day in this new adventure.  One of the most interesting things about the St. Albans area to me is the geographical diversity.  On the road to the bottomland flats one would think they were driving in the Smoky Mountains.  The Engelmann Woods Natural Area is about a mile away from the bottomland area and is extremely rugged terrain.  The Engelmann Woods area is a treasure because it is a mature and old-growth dry-mesic and mesic upland forests dominated by northern red and white oaks, white ash, shagbark, mockernut, and bitternut hickories; and sugar maple. Some of the larger trees are three feet in diameter and over 100 feet tall. Trees nearly 200 years old are scattered through the area too. These rugged Missouri River hills provide good growing conditions for trees, ferns, and many spring wildflowers.  Then after a quick decent to the valley, you are in the middle of the bottomland flats and you may think you are in Kansas.

St. Alban Missouri Bottomland FlatsI started a new adventure this evening to explore the St. Albans landscapes.  I am writing this article and future articles to share the steps in my process in hopes that aspiring landscape photographers may uncover something from my process that is helpful for them.

My initial scouting process is fairly simple and devoid of all technology except my GPS and mobile phone.  I collected a map of the area, printed off the topographical information/map of where I was exploring and I put a few sheets of copy paper in my clipboard and put a number 2 pencil in the top for notes and sketches in the field.  I also bring my composition tool that is cut to the aspect ratio of my large format cameras (4×5 and 8×10) to aide me in the field when thinking about compositions.  I simply cut the proper size rectangle in an old piece of mat board.

This evening was about exploring and GPS tagging areas of interest.  I found 3 lone trees, with two of them being brand new for me.  One of my favorite Sycamore trees is the first place I stopped and where I recorded the field video on my iPhone.  The other two trees were very large ash and elm trees.  The exciting part about this landscape is that I am able to photograph the trees at sunrise and/or at sunset because of the open area making the subjects very versatile and appealing to me.

I am happy with the two new discoveries.  I will begin the process of visiting the trees at sunrise and at sunset to get a feel for the mood and light as it transforms these trees on this landscape.  During the phase I take the time to get to know more subjects and this allows me to make a connection that ultimately creates an emotion and set of feelings that I want to share with my viewers.  Conveying a message via my photograph is my most important task.  If I don’t have anything to say, I don’t waste film.

I will be seeking what makes this subject and location special.  I look for connections to serenity and peace in my landscape images, so I will be spending time at these locations to see if I can get there with those feelings or not. I describe this as “Living in the Light”.

During the next phases I will be consciously keeping an open mind, although I have seen many lone trees before at sunrise and sunset.  I am purposely fighting the inner desire to bring closure to this scene and press the cable release.  I must wait until I have something worthy of communicating to my viewers.

As I continue to visit these three trees and landscape in the coming days, weeks, and months,  I will share those experiences and the next steps in my journey with you.

If you find the information I produce useful or helpful, consider making a one time donation or regular subscription.

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You can also make a one time donation of any value to help support me in this journey and commitment to photography and nature.

 

Tim Layton
Analog Film Photography Blog
www.blackandwhitefineart.net

All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014

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Insights & Tips for DSLR Landscape Photographers from a Large Format Film Perspective

McBaine Bur OakOne advantage of using the latest DSLR equipment for projects as well as continuing to use large format sheet film, I get to see the best of both worlds and their differences.  I thought about this article when I was out scouting for some new landscape locations for a workshop and thought some of this may be helpful for DSLR photographers.

You can view the video below as I talk through each of the tips and then read the points below for some additional insights and information.

If you benefit from the information I am sharing or would like to support the visual arts and the photographing of our natural world, consider making a donation or subscribe to the blog today.

Tip 1 – Forget about the internal meter

The very first thing that I think happens to new or old DSLR landscape photographers is they unknowingly rely on the jpeg image that is created by the camera and displayed after each exposure.  This is a really bad habit to get into and it is not representative of the actual exposure information that the RAW file holds.  I think of it as more of a compositional tool, much like when we use Polaroid backs on large or medium format. Arguably the histogram is a decent feedback system for exposure, but there again, I don’t think most DSLR photographers even use that properly.  Keep in mind my thoughts on metering are related to landscape photography.  The meter in my very expensive Canon 1DX is not suited for landscape photography based on my standards and desired method of working.  It is a wonderful tool, and I can create beautiful landscapes with it, but I prefer to use the external meter.  It does a great job when matrix metering is an advantage most of the time, however it is not the right tool for the job when it comes to landscape photography.

The goal from a DSLR RAW perspective is to capture the most amount of detail possible, and then allow the post processing software to bring out the areas of interest.  I promise, a properly exposed landscape scene will not look like a “winner” most of the time on a modern DSLR.  This is where things get tricky for digital photogs. My tip is this: buy a 1 degree spot meter and learn how to use it with your camera.  Really learn how to use it. This will create optimally exposed RAW files and ensure the highlights are not blown out and your shadows receive enough exposure.  I use a Sekonic L-758DR which I really like.  I am sure there are other good meters available as well.  The Sekonic is a good choice for DSLR users because it has an exposure target and software that allows it to be calibrated specifically to your camera.  I have gone through a similar but different process for all my large format sheet films.  It also has every feature and function that any photographer, regardless of genre and style, could ever want.  The use of ND grad and hard edge filters is a must for film or digital, and will help you also control and protect the highlights. This is particularly useful with digital sensors and for slide films.  I wrote an article after I returned from my family Smoky Mountain’s trip where I discussed the advantages of color negative and black and white films over DSLR technology.  DSLR photographers, get a spot meter, calibrate it to your cameras dynamic range, and learn how to use it. Enough said. Oh, and consider taking the plunge and exploring large format film photography.  You won’t regret it.

Tip 2 – Leave the camera at home

Landscape photography is about expressing a feeling, your feelings specifically, that viewers connect with. This is where your personal style comes into play.  For example, one may notice that I photograph a lot of lone trees on open landscapes.  I intend to share the meaning of peace, strength, and serenity in my images.  Too often DSLR photographers always have their camera at the ready to “take”, and I do mean take an exposure, versus creating an exposure with lasting value.  My tip is for DSLR photographer’s to leave their camera at home, scout and visit their location several times before beginning the final step of photographing and expressing your connection and feelings about the landscape.  Would you want to show up at a wedding ceremony without ever having seen and spent quality time with the bride?  I don’t think so.  So, leave that camera at home in your scouting phase.  In later stages when working on composition, use a small hand-held camera to confirm your composition possibly.  Then take your top three favorite compositions and print them on regular copy paper.  Now draw lines for energy and flow over the image and stand back and study your compositions.  Patterns should start to emerge that you can leverage in your work.  Enjoy.

Tip 3 – Only create two exposures

Another phenomenon for DSLR photographers is to “take” way too many exposures vs. creating a couple high quality and lasting exposures.  More is not better in this scenario and I think it has become a hinderance to some DSLR photographer’s.  By putting more time, thought, and energy into the entire process (scouting, composition, pairing the light with the right subject, focusing on creating the right composition, etc.) there is no need to make so many exposures.  Be more thoughtful about the entire process.  Slow down, it isn’t a race.  Even the best full time professionals create less than 10 or so lasting images per year. After finding the right landscape that resonates with you and your vision, pull up a chair and watch the light transform your scene, both sunrises and sunsets, many times before pressing the shutter button.  My advise is to limit yourself to just a couple exposures, because this is all you should need if you have done your job right.

All of the tips above hail from my experience as a large format landscape and nature photographer.  I am only aware of these differences because I have made the same mistakes with digital gear and hopefully my tips will save you some valuable time and energy.

If you find the information I produce useful or helpful, consider making a one time donation or regular subscription.

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You can also make a one time donation of any value to help support me in this journey and commitment to photography and nature.

 

Tim Layton
Analog Film Photography Blog
www.blackandwhitefineart.net

All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014

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Starting the Next Chapter: Living in the Light

Lime-Kiln-Trail-080914I have been blogging for years on this site, mostly about the technical aspects of analog photography.  I have slowed down on that content because I feel like I have written the most useful information for the majority of people.  In this next phase, which I have branded as “Living in the Light”, I will be sharing the creative, emotional, and experiential aspects of photography with my readers.  It is sort of a behind the scenes sharing of my personal journey.  My evolution is likely very similar to others, and hopefully by sharing the non-technical aspects of my journey, it will help other photographers continue to develop and evolve as well.  I am always willing and happy to answer any technical questions, so don’t hesitate to continue to email me with questions.

One of my goals with this new direction is to share and underpin how important the creative and experiential aspects are in the development of a photographer.   Another goal is to get photographers more deeply involved with nature for themselves and for others around them.  The more you know about your subject, the better chance you have communicating something compelling and unique.  After a photographer has mastered the technical aspects, it is time to move to a deeper level.

I believe one side effect of contemporary digital photography is the expectation of instant gratification — just click away until your battery is dead and/or fix it later in Photoshop.  I don’t believe this is the case for all DSLR photographers, but unfortunately I see it in the workshops I teach.  I am hopeful that my new articles and videos will inspire photographers to slow down and experience their environment more.  The goal is to create a photograph through the eyes of the photographer that is anchored in their experiences, as opposed to creating a “pretty picture”.  Photography is about humanity, not about light.  A good example of this is I went on a hike this morning with a friend and fellow photographer, Frank Dries.  We purposely did not bring any equipment other than our mobile phones and a GoPro to document the hike for others.  We spent three hours under the forest canopy being directly connected to our environment.  We were like small children noticing the beauty of our natural surroundings.  We wondered what it must have been like for the first settlers to the area.  The terrain is rugged and difficult to navigate on foot.  How did they utilize these resources to their advantage and how did they flourish?  We found a couple places to return to at a later time for a deeper experience.  By being still and slowing down without external distractions, we watched the light change and transform our surroundings.  There was a light rain while we were hiking that saturated the colors and transformed the forest into a three-dimensional visual playground.  I taught Frank about several trees and the ecological aspects as we hiked.  We found several ants along the trip and even found a colony of Lasius neoniger at the end of the trail.  This type of experience is what I am hopeful others will have and allow it to shape the next phase of their photography.

I will be publishing a couple of new articles and videos in the next week about my adventure at Shaw Nature Reserve yesterday and the Lime Kiln hike at Rockwoods Forest this morning.  Stay tuned and let me know about your experiences too.

If you find the information I produce useful or helpful, consider making a one time donation or regular subscription.

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You can also make a one time donation of any value to help support me in this journey and commitment to photography and nature.

 

Tim Layton
Analog Film Photography Blog
www.blackandwhitefineart.net

All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014

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