Light Chaser

Photographer Trace Ingham is drawn to interplay of beams and water bodies
Cypress Tree Split Shot Cc
Morrison Springs near Ponce de Leon in Walton County. Photos by Trace Ingham

Trace gave chase.

In so doing, he violated one of the rules of nature photography — let the subjects come to you — but, in this case, it worked out.

Photographer Trace Ingham of Fort Walton Beach was wading in waist-deep water off Okaloosa Island when a friend alerted him to the presence of a squadron of playful manta rays, juveniles as it turned out.

“They were riding the waves into shore, then circling back out and doing it again,” said Ingham, who sloshed after them and captured images of several in flight above a white sand bottom with a certain dramatic slant of light streaming into the Gulf.

Light — and the ways in which it reacts with and in water — is a key element in Ingham’s work. In the manta ray shots, it is what first captures the viewer’s eye.

“I wake up in the morning and determine what I am going to shoot based
on how the sky looks,” Ingham said. “Except when we have waves, I go no matter what the light is like.”

Even when a subject is inanimate, light remains animate.

Ingham once photographed near Destin Harbor a dilapidated dock looking like a piano that had lost its keys.

“I waited and waited and waited for the perfect clouds,” he said, and when the light was right, he opted for a long-exposure shot that reflected movement in the bruised sky and resulted in a diffused illumination of the water.        

As a shooter, Ingham is self-taught. He first started playing around with a camera while attending a technical school near Pittsburgh, where he photographed lots of dilapidated barns and shuttered factories and learned to make the most of what an area gives you.

“One of my mom’s favorite photos looks to her like a jungle stream in South America,” Ingham said, “but it’s actually a drainage ditch behind a wastewater treatment plant. You can find art almost anywhere.”

His favorite human subject, no doubt, is his girlfriend Ashleigh Baird, a talented photographer herself and a competitive free diver who works for an architectural firm.

She and Ingham met near High Springs, Florida, at a meet-up for free divers — she is of the 75-meter class whereas Ingham bottoms out at about 40 feet — and both have been distressed by the accelerating deterioration of North Florida springs in recent years.

Bottled water companies are pulling too much water out of the springs and paying just $200 for the privilege, they say. Water flows are dramatically reduced. Eelgrass has given way to clouds of brown, fuzzy algae. Agricultural and septic system runoff is a problem. And springs are drawing capacity crowds of visitors.

“Instagram has had a rough effect on springs,” Baird said. “Images get posted and I hear from friends, even from other countries, who message me and say they have to see them.”

Ingham has learned to get early to places like Cypress Spring off Holmes Creek near Vernon, before the crowds arrive.

He is a Canon guy. In the few years in which he has devoted all of his free time to photography, he has graduated from a 5D Mark II to a 5D Mark IV, and he may be ready to take another step up. He can be tough on equipment. The Mark II died a death by corrosion and the Mark IV, at this writing, is in the shop. Ingham, pursuing Milky Way shots into the deep, dark night, ran into his tripod, knocked the lens off the camera and filled the body with sand.

He is content to sell images seen on his website and entertains no thoughts of a studio for now. He is no candidate to become a wedding photographer.

“I have seen so many people lose their passion for photography once they started to do the things you have to do to make money at it,” said Ingham, who works weekdays for his parents’ flooring business in Fort Walton and weekends for a vacation gear rental business in Santa Rosa Beach.

His passion, meanwhile, is very much intact.

Categories: Nature, Photography