Tuesday, March 30, 2021
Welcome back, we are going to be embarking on a journey here covering the previous week. There have been several hundred images captured during that week at the Outer Banks and I just can’t see myself putting them all together in a single blog entry. Not only would that be a lot to read through and absorb, it would be a lot to write…not to mention the process of editing all of the images in one go. Instead, I figure that I will break this up into the actual treks that I went on while at the Outer Banks. I think that we will see a total of five entries by the time I am done and I have no idea how many images will appear here. I’ve just finished the first morning’s shoot and that is all I know about up to this point.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, and I think that I need to back track just a bit to get everyone up to speed. It has been some time since Toni and I have been to the beach. I believe that it was the Summer of 2019 when we went to Topsail Island with our daughter and her friend. Since that time we have not really taken any trips or vacations. Now that we are all settled into the new house and things are starting to calm down we have been looking at taking a little getaway trip and spending some time together and just being somewhere that we usually aren’t. With the weather getting warmer we started to think about the beach to to go somewhere that we haven’t been before. We started looking around the end of March knowing that we needed to get things moving pretty quick because Toni was going to be going back to school in Mid April and would be starting a new career path later in the Summer. Needing to work quickly, we started discussing possible destinations. Having been to the Outer Banks only one other time, we were leaning towards that part of the coast.
We started looking around Nags Head where we had been last time, but couldn’t really find anything that jumped out at us as being the right place to go. We ended up reaching out to a friend who was currently staying at the Outer Banks and found out that she highly recommended Hatteras Island on the Southern end of the barrier islands. This recommendation even came with a suggestion on where to stay. We started to look into that area and the motel that was recommended. They didn’t have a room that would work for the amount of time that we were planning on being there, so we started to expand our search from there. We ended up with a reasonable motel in the area and We started to look at the weather for the week that we would be there. It was looking like it was going to be cloudy and rainy for the most part which wasn’t a bad thing. Neither of us wanted to lay out on the beach in the sun, and our purposes were much less beachy than you might expect. We just like being at the ocean at certain times of the year. Of course, I was looking at the photographic possibilities for the week as well and the clouds didn’t really bother me. I actually get tired of seeing the customary blue sky images that always seem to pop up from the beach, and the average sunrise images are a little bland for me these days as well. With the hotel set and the weather looking decent we finalized our plans for going just a few days from the decision to go. It is fun being spontaneous at times.
We left for the coast on Monday and made the 6.5 hour drive out to Hatteras Island where we arrived under clear blue skies well before sunset. We got a bite to eat and started out walking the beach as the sun set. I didn’t bring my camera since I wasn’t fully in the mood to capture coastal images just yet and just wanted to walk with Toni for a bit. As we walked, the sun was setting over the dunes to the left leaving a beautiful twilight wedge in the sky to the East. The colors over the ocean were remarkable and I was wishing that I had my camera with me, but wasn’t sure what I would capture if I did. It did get the wheels turning and set the stage for the rest of the week when it came to photographs.
We stayed out till the sun was completely down before going back to the room. I started to plan out the morning’s destination which was a little difficult because I really hadn’t seen anything that would make a good image along the beach to the North.. I referred to my handy dandy satellite images from the area and started to look for features that I could use close by for a sunrise. What I found was only about a mile or so down the beach near where the Hatteras Lighthouse used to sit before being moved. There looked to be the remnants of a pier or some type of platform reaching out into the ocean. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like from the beach, but I felt like I needed to give this area a try. Since the clouds were going to be pretty much non-existent that morning, I was looking at the chance to shoot the lighthouse in its new position with the sun lighting it up and hopefully a bit of the twilight wedge behind it.
It was going to take me about 30 minutes to get out to the location and I wanted to be there well before sunrise to scope things out so I set the clock to wake me up at 5am. This would have me out the door by around 5:30 and on location by 6am or so. I managed to get up and out without any problems and found that the passage on the beach was going to be difficult. I had seen that the neighboring structure was sitting on top of sandbags as the beach had all washed away. I figured that I could just go around that and enter from the neighboring property. Well, I tried three different access points and found that they all went from a steep dune to sandbags at the water. It was too dark for me to try and navigate a bunch of sandbags, so I started to walk through the streets to get to the public beach access point which I hoped would still be there. It was, and I found myself close to the area that I wanted to be. When I got out on the beach, I found the smaller of the two features in the water that I was interested in, but the water was too high for me to do anything with it, and the lighting was terrible on it at this point in the day.
Just beyond that was the larger section and I found it was there just as the satellite image had indicated. I started to look at the lay of things and determined that I was going to have fun with this. It was going to be backlit after the sun came up, but the lighting was nice for a pre dawn image or two. I just had to figure out right way of shooting it to make it work. I studied the scene and figured that my long lens would be the best option as I wasn’t really interested in the beach itself, only the water and the iron and wooden structure that can only be related to when the lighthouse was in its original position. The waves were crashing into it and causing the rusted steel to slam against. the other parts which made for a very interesting sunrise melody in the background.
I started out with a very simple composition with about a three minute exposure. It went well and looked good in the image review, but I needed to bring the sky back a little in order to properly expose the main subject of the shot. I decided to add a 3-stop reverse grad to the lens in order to allow for a much better exposure to the railings that I was shooting. I continued with this series of long exposures until the sun started to give a good bit of color to the sky right at the horizon. I had the proper lens on to make full advantage of the slim swatch of color in the sky so I recomposed a little bit and started with a slightly different composition. The exposure times were dropping and I was now at 30 seconds which was starting to get a little detail in the ocean. I wasn’t quite sure how much detail I wanted to have here because I wanted to make sure that the moving water didn’t overcomplicate the scene and that it matched with the clouds in the sky for a bit of uniformity. I kept shooting image after image as the waves hit in different patterns with the hopes that one of them would be timed correctly.
The image above was one that I felt was timed correctly with a 30 second exposure. There was a bit of detail in the ocean but it was soft and subtle. It matched well with the clouds in the background, but what I loved about this image most of all was the fact that the sky above was already turning blue. It was that blue that was reflected in the ocean and I knew that it would match up with the color of the sky quite well in the vision that I had for the image. It was that image that I found the most appealing from the series and did a full edit on it. The colors are very much what was present at the time of the shot, but I do admit that they look a bit otherworldly. I actually toned down the saturation quite a bit in both the water and the sky to soften the image a bit more. While the color was very important here, my main focus was on the textures and look of the railings going out to the ocean. That was where my interest were and I wanted the rest of the image to play a secondary role to that feature. I think that this image does a great job at achieving my goals for the aesthetics and presentation here. I love that there are so many questions about what we are looking at with how this image came together. I hope that it is as engaging for you as it is for me.
As I was continuing to capture the changing light, I was also adjusting the composition as the tide was moving around. I had about 20 images from this one scene by the time that I was finished. With the increasing light, I was getting down to just a couple of seconds worth of exposure. In the case of this one here, I had an exposure of 2.5 seconds which was showing a good deal of motion in the waves and much more detail than what I had been getting. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at the time because my goal was to simplify the scene as much as possible to really draw the attention to the decaying subject in front of my lens. I could have added an ND filter and slowed the shutter back down, but I was wanting to have a variety of images to choose from and I felt that having a bit more detail might not be a bad thing. Speaking of filters, since the lighting had improved on my foreground, I changed out my reverse grad to a 2-stop from the 3-stop I had started with.
This image was one of the ones that made the initial cut of my images and I really liked the angle of the composition and the intimacy of it. The sky had lost the color at this point, and with the 2.5 seconds worth of exposure the ocean was starting to pull a lot more attention from the main subject. I just really liked the composition, so I tried to work it a little bit. In a few minutes I had lost faith in this image and moved onto the first one to actually edit through. When Toni came down to look at what I had I showed her this partially edited image and she really liked it. She said that it had been her favorite when I showed it to her on the back of the camera when I got back to the room. I told her I would continue working on it to see if I could get it to where I liked it. She mentioned that she wanted to see it in black and white which was a good suggestion. Since I had a color image that I was happy with and the color wasn’t all that impressive here with the rising sun, I decided to take it back to the drawing board as a monochrome image.
I started to do some rough work with the color profiles and found one that had a bit better shadow detail to it and a little reduced contrast to start with. I then started to work through adding contrast locally while keeping the visibility on the darker parts of the structure that I was so in love with. I still don’t know exactly what it is I’m looking at, but I really found it interesting. The more I worked it, the more I liked it, but the composition was starting to look like it could be improved. Knowing that we read left to right, there was a visual blockade on the left side of the frame with how it was composed. I still loved the lines, but needed to get a little more inviting when it came to the composition. I simply flipped it horizontally and used the structure as a leading line into the image. This worked very well, and did just what I was hoping that it would.
The composition was strong here, and the textures in the waves didn’t compete as much as they would have in color. The focus was still on the rusted steel, but there was a new sense of excitement with this image. It was the same subject as the previous picture, but it says a lot of different things to me and the atmosphere is completely different between the two. Because of this, I feel that they both need to have their own voices as images which is why I kept them both.
As the sun was making its appearance known in the sky, I turned my attention to the lighthouse. My plan was to walk over to it and work some images of it in the warm morning light, but right now I could see the pink light in the sky dropping down to the lighthouse. I noticed that the light was still lit which was a very good thing in my book. I started to look for a composition since I wasn’t going to have time to get any closer to it without losing the light in the sky. What I found was a very simple composition that included a section of the dune as the foreground. I decided to pick an area where there was a natural divot in the dunes and placed the lighthouse right there.
I was still using my long lens because I wanted to keep the scaling of the lighthouse as large as I could so I needed that scene compression. I framed things up as pleasing as I could and paid attention to the height of the tripod so that I could keep the visual balance correct through the image. I started to get multiple images with slight changes in the composition as the wedge moved down. I would wait for the light to come around so that the lighthouse appeared to be alive in the image. I was worried about the focus here because the lighthouse was about 1200 feet behind the dunes and I was about 50-75 feet from the dunes. I was worried about getting everything in focus so I did a few images in quick succession with different focus points. They all looked good in the LCD, but I knew that it could be a little soft either in the foreground or the background.
When I started to edit through the images I didn’t have a single one where everything was tack sharp front to back. I ended up with several different compositions with different focal points that none of them really worked right. That was a real shame because I had the best light on the lighthouse that could have imagined. I felt that the foreground was the most important part to be in focus so I found an image where the foreground looked good. Of course the lighthouse was a bit too soft for me in that image, but I started to play around with it to see how the colors were going to look. The more I worked it, the more I liked what I was seeing. I liked it so much I looked through my other captures to see if I had the same composition where the lighthouse was in focus. As it turned out, I had one two frames later and the composition was exactly the same. I duplicated my edits over to that image and then imported them into Photoshop so that I could do a focus stack on them. It went well, and I managed to get the lighthouse from the latter picture masked onto the previous picture so that it was all sharp. This has turned out to be a handy little technique that I have in my toolbox and I’m glad that I have learned how to do it.
I continued to work different compositions of the lighthouse which I was liking in the image review and it culminated with a fairly clear shot of it through a field. I actually did a dedicated focus stacked series here because I knew that it wasn’t going to be in focus as I would want as a single shot. That all turned out to be a waste though because the composition wasn’t nearly as strong as the initial one from the dunes. That was fine by me because by this time, the light had turned off and a very important part of the composition was no longer a part of the image.
I packed up my gear and started to walk over to the new location of the lighthouse. I could tell that the light was no longer good, but I wanted to scope it out for another attempt at a close in composition of the structure. The walk didn’t take me but a few minutes and when I got there I was really happy that the light wasn’t good. I had read that they were doing work on the inside of the lighthouse, but I had no idea that they were making such a mess of the outside. There was a worker’s fence surrounding the base of the tower and a blue Porta-John was situated right by the door. There were workers moving around the base as it appeared they were building scaffolding for the renovations. No matter what angle I could get, there was going to be clutter in the image that didn’t support the story that I was wanting to tell here. After about 20 minutes of looking and hunting for compositions I gave up and started my walk back to the room.
I was really happy with the morning as my first mornings at the beach are usually not that productive as I am getting into the mindset of coastal photography. That isn’t as easy as you might suspect for this mountain boy. I can do all sorts of things in the mountain regions of the state, but it takes me a bit of doing to figure out the coast with its completely different personality. As I was walking back to the room, I was wondering what the scenes I had just shot would look like in the light of sunset. I just kept thinking back to that walk Toni and I had taken the night before. If we had those same colors again, I was pretty sure that this would be the place to be. I started to make plans to come back out here once again when the day was over.
I’ll be back with an entry about that adventure after I get the images culled and edited. I’m hoping that they turn out, so be sure to subscribe to the blog on the home page so you will get notifications on new entries. I’ll also come back and update each entry with a list of links for the different parts. In the meantime, if you see an image here that you like, I would love to match you up with a print, so just let me know which one and what size you are after.
Until next time….