Carolina Beach Sunrise

· Reading Time: 8 minutes

Friday, March 1, 2019

Early Rewards“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Daryl Benson, 2-stop Rev ND Grad

Well, the opportunity came up for a long weekend away for Toni and me.  We tossed around several different possibilities including some locations in the mountains, and going to the beach.  Since we are still technically in Winter, you might be asking why in the world would the beach be a potential destination.  Well…the beach is much nicer without all the crowds.  We really wanted to return to Topsail Island, but with the hurricane damage still being addressed it was proving hard to find a place to stay on the South end of the island.  We decided to look at Carolina Beach where we have gone many times before.  It was decided to try a new hotel there, so we stayed at the Hampton Inn right on the beach which was a wonderful place as it turned out.

Leading up to the trip, I was doing the normal looking at the weather to see how things might progress photographically.  Initially, I wasn’t all that excited about the prospects through the long weekend.  It was looking like cloudy and rainy for most of the time.  This was not really beach weather, but I wasn’t all that concerned.  The plan was not for a lot of time with the camera, but if I could get a couple of mornings out I would be happy.  The closer we got to the weekend, the better the weather reports were looking for a bit of photography so that was pretty exciting.  There was still rain and clouds, but the chances were dropping and there were some chances for a bit of sun.  With that knowledge, I started to work out some ideas for pictures that I could do in bad weather…just to be safe.

When we arrived at the hotel on Thursday evening, we were met with a pretty interesting sky and some colors right around sunset.  I wasn’t able to really take advantage of it because of all the clutter to the West like power lines and buildings.  Toni and I just enjoyed what we watched as we walked to dinner.  It did get me hopeful for the following morning though.  The forecast was looking similar with a good amount of high clouds right at sunrise.  After dinner we walked along the boardwalk to try to find some different places that I could capture the colors if they were to appear.  There were actually several places that I found that were quite promising.  When we went to sleep, I set my clock for 5:30 so I could be out on the beach for first light.  My fingers were crossed.

Eye in the Sky“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Daryl Benson 3-Stop Rev ND Grad

When morning arrived, I checked the weather and it was showing pretty much the same as I had seen before bed.  I got out as quick as I could and started to find that right place to set up.  I quickly noticed two things that dampened my spirit quite a bit.  First, the wind was howling!  It was easily 15mph with faster gusts.  This was going to cause problems with sand flying as well as motion in the grass.  The second issue I was having was very few clouds in the sky except right at the horizon where the sun was needing to get through.  I was starting to have my doubts about this morning, but I had already come out and had my gear ready to roll.  I figured that I would give it my best shot…pardon the pun.

I found the first vantage point I wanted to shoot from which was at the end of the boardwalk.  I looked at how things were working out and I could see the potential for a bit of color in the sky as there were some high clouds.  This meant that I was going to want to shoot a bit wide so I could get the sky in the frame.  I fitted my 24-70mm lens along with my Lee Filter Holder for some 4×6″ filters.  I set the tripod up and started to frame a composition that included the dune and the tall grass.  When I was happy with the composition, I started to look at the exposure.  The sky was going to be blown out if I were to expose the ground as I wanted it.  I needed an ND Grad, and for this I opted for a Singh-Ray Daryl Benson Reverse Grad in the 2-Stop variety.  I slid the filter in and found that the exposure evened out quite well with that.

I shot this view for a while until the color started to fade away and I wanted to see if there was anything else that I could get.  I just picked up the whole tripod and started back down the boardwalk.  After a  few more access points back I found another place that Toni and I had spotted the night before. There was just a simple path snaking through the dunes that I figured would make an excellent leading line out to the ocean.  I set the camera up between the dunes and started to work out compositions.  This was going to prove a bit more difficult though as the sun was already above the horizon, but still behind the clouds.  The exposure had a good deal more contrast in place and needed a bit more control.  I swapped out the 2-Stop Reverse Grad with a 3-Stop version before making the exposures.

Gathering on the Beach“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Daryl Benson 3-Stop Rev ND Grad

The nice thing about the brighter light was I was able to speed up the shutter enough to stop the grasses.  I had boosted the ISO to 320 for the first set of image but there was still just a hint of movement left in the grass to give that indication of the breeze that I was dealing with.  Now that the sun was coming up, I could drop that back down to my preferred ISO 100 and still had just a bare hint of movement in the grass.  Sometimes I want no movement at all, and other times I like showing that part of the environment.  The trick is limiting the motion blur so that the form of the object is still readily apparent.  I think I was able to achieve that goal with my shutter speeds.

Waves of Clouds“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Daryl Benson 2-Stop Rev ND Grad

Something that I have grown accustomed to at the beach is the presence of the seagulls that fly around and gather on the beach. For some reason, this morning there seemed to be quite a few of them around, and for the most part, they liked to land right where I was taking the shot.  I embraced them with the compositions at the path since they were right at the end of the path, and there were enough of them that they carried the right amount of visual weight to be important to the image.  I’ll be quite honest here, I ended up capturing a seagull in flight while shooting this series of shots at just the right point in the frame.  I was trying to capture one in flight, but I could not have planned it better had I had time to map it out in my head prior to releasing the shutter.  The gull somehow managed to be frozen right at the edge of the sun, flying into the orb.  It was remarkable how I managed to get the wings outstretched and everything.

Seagull Spotlight“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Daryl Benson 3-Stop Rev ND Grad

This was one of the last sunrise photos that I shot as the sun was getting too high up in the sky.  Lens flare was starting to be an issue, so I moved on to shooting the warm light on the dunes from out on the beach.  The problem that I had though was that the clouds were pretty much nonexistent looking to the West.  I found some interesting compositions, but without the detail in the sky I wasn’t happy with any of these at all.  The one that I thought had the most promise ended up having three different contrails through the sky.  I had originally planned to just clone them out in Photoshop, but when I started to look at it in detail I didn’t want to alter that much of the image. I felt that it was no longer true to the scene.

I even spent some time up on the boardwalk seeing if there was anything to shoot up there.  I shot a few frames, but in the end there was just too much clutter involved which I didn’t really care for.  I just couldn’t find a composition that really made sense to me.  In the end, I decided to call it a morning and head back to the room.  I had a camera to clean up after the windy and humid morning.  The camera had been coated with a salty film from the spray of the ocean and that needed to be removed before packing everything away for the day.  That is one thing that I can say about beach trips, my camera always comes back much cleaner than it got there.