Tuesday, March 30, 2021
Long time no see! It wasn’t that long ago that I had introduced the first three images from a week long adventure to the Outer Banks with Toni. Just because of the number of pictures to go through I’ve decided to do this bit by bit and divide up the entries into how I shot the scenes. You have hopefully already read about my morning out at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse where I talked about finding some points of interest along the coastline. I was very happy to have gotten three image from that morning that I feel are pretty strong photos. This usually doesn’t happen when I go to the beach because it takes me a while to get in the mindset of doing coastal images. However, I had been looking for some water scenes where I could do some long exposure work for a while now so I guess I was already thinking along the lines of this type of image. After I located what looked like the remains of possibly two piers just off the beach from where the lighthouse once stood, I was excited to find two very unique structures that I can only speculate were from the original lighthouse foundation.
When I started to work the scenes that morning, I realized that the smaller of the two features wasn’t well lit and I wasn’t going to be able to get a good picture of it that morning. However, I had the plan to return to this location for an evening shoot to see what difference the sun would make when it was to my back. I was pondering the scenes through most of the day and trying to come up with a working idea of how to capture them. The evening forecast was much like the morning one with very little cloud cover expected which was actually a good thing. I was wanting to get the split colors in the sky as I had done with the lighthouse that morning. I waited until about an hour before sunset before I struck out on my way to the south end of the island once again. It was about a mile or so away so it took me about a half hour to get there. It was much easier this time since I had daylight and could see what I was doing. I also knew the way to get to the beach and bypass all of the sand bags along the way.
When I got to the area, I started to look at the smaller of the two features once again. It was interesting, but there wasn’t much to it. I kept trying to figure out how best to capture it. I knew that the light on it was really good as the low sun was bathing it in warm light while the water still reflected the blue sky above. I loved the colors and the interesting shape of the structural remains were easily interesting enough to carry the composition. The sky wasn’t really doing much for me, and it was a little too far away from the subject I was really interested in anyway. In order to make sure that the eyes fell where I wanted them to, I decided to make a very simplistic image without any sky in the frame at all. My focus would be the strange object coming from beneath the waves. I would concentrate on it, and eliminate the sky as well as any sources of scale. In order to do that, I wanted to use my long lens once again. To that, I fitted my Color Combo Polarizer to add a little bit of contrast to the scene and make the object stand out a bit better.
I took a little while and figured out a composition that I liked which gave the object a little personality. I was thinking that this was going to be a black and white image for the reason of simplicity, but there was no doubt that I was liking the colors that were present in the frame. With a twist of the filter I had just the right amount of contrast in the scene and was ready to start making images. My first few shots were fractions of a second which froze the waves and provided a bit too much visual information about the scene. What I did learn from watching the scene was that waves would roll over the top of the object and pour off of the front. That was the motion that I really liked about this scene and started trying to figure out how to best capture it. I wanted to slow the shutter speed a bit, but not so much as to lose all of the detail of the scene.
I did some mental calculations and decided that adding a 5-stop ND filter would slow the shutter just enough. I shot probably 20 images of this object with varying shutter speeds as well as with different timings with the waves. I had some where you could barely see the object, and others where it was abundantly clear. Looking in the LCD, I was pretty sure that I was going to like the mostly obscured ones the best for the abstract value. However, when I got these home and started to look at them on a large screen, I decided that the one where I had made a four second exposure right after the wave cleared it was my favorite.
What this image had going for it was the best pouring of water off of the back side of any of the shots. it was also the one that showed off the textures and patina of the aged metal. The curvature of the belt was also readily visible which I loved. The water was blurred enough to leave detail, but remove the scale of the scene. It was obviously the best one for what I was trying to convey so it was easy to cull these images down to one that I really liked. The processing was another part of the puzzle that went much easier than I had thought it would.
Remember how I had wanted this to be a black and white image? Well, I started to look at it in monochrome and decided that it was just not quite as effective in black and white. The colors were too good and helped give a valuable clue that I didn’t want to miss out on. However, I didn’t go full in and keep the colors saturated. I chose a color profile that was quite muted in colors and then worked the image within those parameters while focusing on the overall color tones keeping it rather cool in appearance. The more I worked it the more I liked it. It was just what I had in mind and said all the right things. It is a completely inanimate object, but it comes alive in this section of the ocean in this lighting. If nothing else happened right from this location, I was thrilled with this image and happy that I had decided to return here for an evening shoot.
Once I had a bucket full of images from the small object, it was time to return to the larger structure that I had worked earlier in the day. I now had the benefit of knowing the subject a bit more and understanding what worked for it as far as a composition went. With the tide a bit further out, I decided to get in closer and use a wider angle lens this time so I swapped out my lens for the 24-70mm and kept the same two filters in place. There was plenty of light and I was easily able to compose the image even with the 5-stop ND Filter in place. The only problem that I had with the composition was that the tide was coming in and it seemed that everywhere I tried to set up saw a wave come in overtake my tripod position. I wasn’t able to handle that since once the sand got wet, the tripod leg would quickly sink changing my horizon line. I kept having to back up and recompose the shot. As I was doing that, I decided to flip the camera to a vertical orientation and try to get a bit more of the structure while making sure that I kept the actual beach covered in water to further simplify the image.
My concept here was to have the focus fully on the rusty metal as it moved through the frame. I was going to crop it shorter by a little bit, but framed it in case I wanted to crop it square to avoid the sky completely. There were clouds, but they were small and really insignificant in the composition. In short, the sky wasn’t that interesting and if there was no color to be had in it, there was no need to include it. The longer I shot though, the more color started to enter the sky. It wasn’t quite that same dramatic twilight wedge that had appeared behind the lighthouse earlier in the day, but there was a faint rose color that I really liked. It was that touch of color in the sky that prompted the 5:7 crop of the image to include the sky and it sealed the deal to leave the image in color which helped to highlight the rusty iron. I paid a lot of attention to the color palette here and went with a very desaturated image which I felt calmed the scene even further than it already was.
I only shot a handful of the vertical images as I wasn’t sure that they were going to work. Now that I am looking at them all, it was the vertical images that stole the show for the long exposure shots. They happened in the middle of the series and represented well less than 1/5 of the images shot with the ND Filter. I wasn’t that excited about them in the LCD image review, but I liked the concept. It wasn’t until I got home and saw them on the computer that the impact of the image revealed itself to me.
As the light started to drop and my times got longer than 30 seconds, I decided to change things up a little bit to give myself some options. I had a lot of long exposures here, but not too many that showed the power of the waves. The soft lighting was giving the scene plenty of detail and interest around the rusty structure so I figured that the scene could support the added details from the waves coming in. I pulled off the ND Filter and changed up the shutter speed. Because the light was getting dim, I had to boost the ISO to 200 in order to get my goal shutter speed of a single second. That was the shutter speed that would show the movement of the water as well as the details of the waves as they came into the scene.
The lighting didn’t last long as the sun was dipping further behind the dunes to my rear. I only had a few minutes of the right light and in that time I was shooting multiple exposures trying to time the waves just right. I wanted to show the waves in the background while still having ones in the foreground making contact with the different sections of the structure. In the end, it was this one that won out. It had the best combination of color in the sky as well as wave placement. The composition worked very well I thought, and the lighting was so soft that it almost looked ethereal to me. It was a huge change from my normal contrasty scenes at this time of day. It just turned out so much better than I had imagined. It might not be the iconic beach scene, but I had come to terms with the fact that there are just too many iconic sunrise and sunset shots of the beach. I wanted to do it differently this time and I was pretty sure that I achieved that goal here.
I had been out at this location for a second time in a single day and had only shot two subjects each time. The first time out I got 38 exposures. This second time I came back with 87 additional frames. This is what happens when the good light lasts a long time and you have a composition that includes changing elements like the waves and the colors in the sky. I just kept pressing the button as things were changing until the light finished and it was time to pack up and go back to the room.
The day had been quite successful, and I think that it is easily my most successful first day on the beach. I don’t really know why it happened that way, but I have a sneaking suspicion is was because I went out there with no preconceived notions about epic sunrises or sunsets. Nope, I was out there for the compositions and specific subjects. The soft lighting while the sun was beneath the horizon was my goal and that works better than having the sun above the horizon when it becomes very hard to tame.
I hope that you enjoyed this portion of the week long adventure. I’ll be back with more entries soon, but in the meantime, if you are connecting with any of these new images, please let me know so I can help you get hooked up with your very own print. Also, don’t forget to sign up for blog notifications by subscribing via email on my home page. You will get an email notification for each new blog entry which usually involves new images to look at. It is the easiest way to get notified of the new posts.
Thank you for joining me, and I hope to see you again soon with what happened on Wednesday.
Until Next time….