Outer Banks: Part 5

· Reading Time: 24 minutes

Thursday, April 1, 2021


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Welcome back for the next and final installment from the trek that Toni and I made to the Outer Banks.  We were there from Monday evening until Friday morning and you can read about all of my previous ventures with the camera by clicking the links above.  It was a great trip and we both had a lot of fun during our days there.  When we were planning the trip, it was just a couple of days before we would be leaving for the motel so I was pretty sure that the weather was fairly accurate.  We were expecting rain and storms through every day of the week which would have provided some very interesting skies for me and since neither one of us cares to do the typical beachy things that wasn’t going to bother us at all.  The weather changed up by the time we were on our way though and we were looking at mostly sunny conditions with the exception of Thursday when it was supposed to rain.  Again, that was no big deal at all, and would give us more flexibility to get out and do things.

Well, as you have read thus far in the series, the first part of the week was rather tame with some clouds here and there for excitement, but nothing really inclement at all.  Towards the end of Wednesday though, we were seeing a big change in the weather with storms predicted for the night and into Thursday.  The winds from this storm were expected to be 30mph with 50+mph gusts.  Those winds were supposed to continue through Friday when we were leaving the island to come back home.  As we left my last entry, I wasn’t sure if there would be any more pictures from the trip because that was where my mind was when we were done at Bodie Island.  The wind was already picking up and the clouds had rolled in.  I had made my peace with the fact that the weather might prevent any more photos being made.  It wasn’t all that bad actually, as I had shot everything that I really wanted to so if I were to go out again, I would be purely reactive to what I found along the way.

Well, there was one more location that I wanted to shoot, but still hadn’t figured out exactly how I wanted to do it.  If you will remember in the first part of this series, I spoke about the sand bags that had been placed along the coastline by the motels in Buxton.  They had prevented me from making a direct walk on the beach to the Southern end of the island, and they were also stacked right underneath the little house next door to the motel that we were staying at.  I had told Toni when we first got there that I loved the way that the house looked on the stilts since it was sitting fully over the ocean at high tide.  It was that interest that made me want to get a photograph of it, but everything that I could think of would make it look like a snapshot, or vacation picture.  I wanted it to have emotion and a mood which supported the scene I was looking at.  I had considered that if we had some stormy weather I could possibly shoot it from the balcony at the motel in front of our room.  It wasn’t ideal, but if it was raining it might work out.  That was really the only thing that I had left to consider shooting, and if I didn’t get that it wasn’t the end of the world for me.

Throughout the night the wind was going crazy and there was rain falling that kept Toni awake.  I slept through it because apparently once I go to sleep I’m going to stay that way for the rest of the night.  I didn’t set any alarm because the chances of getting out for sunrise were slim to none and I was really looking forward to sleeping in a bit for a change.  When we did wake up, it was dark outside from the clouds, but the rain had stopped.  There were diminishing chances for rain for the rest of the day, but it looked like the winds were going to stick around until maybe the afternoon when they dropped to 20mph.  Still too high to really want to get out with the camera.  We got ready to walk across the street to get some breakfast and when we got out to the road we started asking ourselves why the wind was hurting our faces.  It was the sand that was blowing around that was pelting our faces and felt like sleet.  This is why I don’t like to have the camera out in high winds in a sandy environment.  Just too much chance that it can be damaged.

We ate breakfast and caught a tailwind back to the room where we settled in to watch television and look at the ocean as it churned under the force of the weather patterns.  It was a nice and relaxing day, but I was still wanting to get out and take advantage of the beautiful clouds that were moving across the sky.  I kept looking at the weather to see what the winds were doing.  It looked like they were going to start calming down during the mid afternoon to the teens.  That was tolerable, so I started to scout places that I might want to photograph.  I pulled out Google Maps and started to look.  I wasn’t finding anything that jumped out at me so I did what any professional photographer would do.  I entered a Google search term of “Photographic locations around Hatteras Island.”  Hey, Google is a tool, might as well use it.  I got the typical locations which didn’t really interest me, but I did find an entry for the Frisco Pier which caught my attention.  It was a pier that was damaged at some point and there were three sections of it still standing.  That fit my want for decay subjects for sure and I was hooked.  I made a quick check of the satellite image to see what it was looking like and I was ready to get rolling.  Once I looked outside and saw that the wind was dying down a bit I grabbed my gear and off I went.  I left Toni in the room this time because she didn’t want to join me for this walk on the beach.

I made the 12ish mile drive down the island and followed the directions to the pier.  After I turned off the main road and was headed to the pier parking lot I was slightly confused as the road just ended and was roped off.  According to the satellite image, there should have been a parking lot just beyond the ropes.  I guess they didn’t need that since the pier wasn’t usable any more.  I got turned around and started to look for a place to park.  I found a public parking lot about a half mile or so further South.  it was the Frisco Beach Access and it was in a perfect position for what I was needing.  I grabbed my gear and set off on a quick walk down the beach.  The wind was still there, and it was a stiff breeze, but I felt good about using the camera in the conditions.

It took about 15 minutes or so to get out to the location of the pier, but I wasn’t seeing it yet.  I pulled out the map again and looked to see what my position was.  I wasn’t quite there, but I should be seeing it by this point.  I kept walking until the GPS coordinates had me standing right at the start of the pier.  It was gone.  I mean nothing left….GONE.  I was not really surprised, but I was disappointed.  I was figuring that it was going to be there since it was obviously a documented destination point on the island.  Oh well, it felt good to get out and walk on the beach so I wasn’t out anything.  It was still breezy so better to leave the camera in the bag.  That was what I told myself as I was looking at the incredible clouds overhead and wishing I could find something to put under them.

Cloud Gazing“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

As luck would have it, there was a beach access point with an overlook between the pier’s location and the parking area.  I had noticed it before and it had caught my eye because of the shapes that it possessed and the new and old wood.  I wasn’t sure about a picture there, but it was visually interesting and fit with a compositional formula that I have used for years.  Since I didn’t get my pier and I knew that I would be itching to photograph something I made the decision to pull out the camera and give this one a try.  I was very careful about what direction I opened the bag, and made sure to use my body as a block for the wind.  I got the 24-70mm lens mounted quickly and opted for no filters since there wasn’t really any need for them.  As I started to frame up the image, I noticed that there was a bleach bottle wedged under the first step of the walkway.  I had a bit of a dilemma here as it was not in a position I could clone out, and it really ruined the image.  However, if I were to go up and remove it, I would have some really large foot prints leading up to the stairs that I didn’t want.  I mean, tactical boots are not typical beachwear and I didn’t want to leave my stamp on the image like that.

What I decided to do was to carefully walk up and remove the bottle knowing that I would clone out my footprints after the fact.  The prints that were already there didn’t bother me as they told the story of the location and were accurate for its use..  I tried to get all of the elements lined up with good separation, and where I couldn’t separate portions I tried to get additional shapes that made sense to the composition.  There were a lot of lines that I had to organize in this shot, and I wanted to give an angle that was inviting to the viewer so that they could visually walk up the stairs to the overlook that awaited them.  This was going to be a photograph that was less about the platform and more about looking at the clouds and imagining what the ocean looked like from atop the platform.  Trust me, your imagination is providing a better view of the ocean than a photograph would provide here.  My photo is just there for you to engage your own imagination.

Tidal Remains“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

After I had shot a handful of images from the platform, I packed up the camera happy that I managed to salvage this trek with an image after an entire pier got ghost on me.  As I continued to walk, my eyes were fully engaged and picking out other compositions.  Nothing was really panning out, but the sky was really great and it kept my creative juices flowing.  What I found next had nothing to do with the sky though.  It was just a section of the dunes where the sand had some interesting patterns.  Something that I have wanted to do has been to go out to the desert and photograph the dunes there as they are untouched and catch the light in special ways.  What I was seeing was not that scenario, but the theory behind it was similar.  I was looking at light and shadow with random patterns that formed shapes and gave flow.  It was worth a try to see what I could do so I got the camera back out again and loaded up my 70-200mm lens so I could really isolate the scene and form an abstract image based on lines and textures.

I spent the next 10 minutes or so finding pleasing compositions within the patterns and getting my images. I think I shot six frames here, so not that many.  They were each different compositions because the exposure was so simple I could have done it without a histogram or a light meter.  One of the first ones that I liked was this gentle curve made up by repeating patterns as they moved through the scene.  It had a rhythm to it that I found very appealing.  I knew that it was going to be a black and white image because otherwise it was just going to be a sea of beige sand.  Without a blue sky to balance that, it would be too much of that color.

Shifting Sands“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

One of the next scenes that I found was a bit more complex, but the patterns and textures seemed to frame negative space which appealed to me.  There was no sense of scale here, so you could be looking at a quarry from a distance, or even a planet’s surface from space.  In actuality, we are looking at about 16 inches of dune, but the look was really interesting to me.  Oddly enough, I didn’t keep this quite as shot though.  The flow of the image was better with it rotated a full 180 degrees to allow it to read a little better.  I tried different orientations until I settled on this one which made the most sense.  That is the beauty of abstracts.  They can be framed and then presented in any direction since there are no visual clues as to which way is up.  I’m betting you are looking at this one right now and turning it upside down in your head to see what it actually looked like.  If you are, you are probably saying to yourself that it just doesn’t make any sense at all in that position.

Well, after I shot that small series of images on the dune, I packed the camera back up and headed back to the truck.  I stopped off at the showers to rinse the tripod off because I was pretty sure that I was done with photography at this point.  I started heading back and remembered that Toni wanted to go to a restaurant that was about a mile from the motel.  Normally we would have walked, but it was still a little windy so I called and suggested that we just ride there since the truck was warmed up.  She agreed and I went by to pick her up.  We had our dinner and we hopped back in the truck to go back to the motel.  I’m not a fan of driving for less than five miles so I took the opportunity to just drive North for a little while and enjoy the show that the sky was putting on.  The sun had found a hole in the clouds to the West of the island and that caught my eye.  I thought it was rather beautiful with the rays shining through.  I really wasn’t thinking about doing this as a photograph, but I just wanted to look at it happening.

My plans changed when I got to a section about a mile North from the Hotel.  At this skinny section of the island, you can see the water on both sides and I had looked here earlier in the week for a sunset potential.  I hadn’t really liked it because there was really no interest along the horizon to pull off a good composition.  However, that hole in the clouds was right over the water and the little small strip of land that was just off the shoreline.  It was really interesting to look at so when I found a place to turn around I did so and came back.  I pulled off the road and could feel the truck starting to sink into the wet ground so I slid it into 4WD just so I didn’t get stuck.  I looked at the scene and it captivated me.  I didn’t see a photograph just yet, but I wanted to capture it.  With Toni’s blessing, I hopped out and grabbed my camera.

I knew that I wasn’t going to be shooting wide as the area of interest was actually pretty narrow in the grand scheme of things.  With that in mind I opted for my long 70-200mm lens which I mounted with no filters.  I walked out closer to the water and started to find compositions.  The tall grass was getting in the way and I didn’t like it as a compositional element so I kept moving closer to the water.  At this point Toni was getting worried that I was going to be eaten by alligators, but I was pretty sure that I was going to be safe.  I kept framing up different compositions, but they never really captured what it was about the scene that I liked.  I was making Oreo Cookie compositions which were equally divided up in thirds with the main point of interest right in the middle of two less than interesting parts.  What was worse was I wasn’t getting the beams of light through the clouds that I was really looking for.  It was that one element that was drawing me to the scene and I wasn’t able to get an image that captured that part.  I could have gone with a wider lens and captured more of the scene but I would have lost the beams as that part would become so small it would be insignificant.

Heavens Shining Down“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk 2, 9 image pano in Lightroom

Then it hit me.  Since my point of interest was a narrow strip along the horizon and the composition was feeling like it needed extra breathing room on either side…it was a natural subject for a panoramic image.  I was in the right place, so I just leveled the tripod legs and made sure that the camera would rotate across the scene straight and I flipped the camera on its side.  I made a quick run through the scene to check on the exposure which was still set from the previous attempts.  I focused on the strip of land and made a nine image series from left to right.  Each image by themselves looked about as boring as the single images that I had been shooting, but the hope was that I would be able to stitch them all together and create something that was so much better than the sum of the parts.  Since the exposure was rather simple, I didn’t shoot a second pano here.  I had left the truck running because I knew I wasn’t going to be here long and I was satisfied that I had what I needed.

The concern that I had here was the size of the file that would be created.  I’m still working on a computer that was bought in 2016 and it is getting slower and slower.  To make matters worse, I am now using a 50mp camera and I had just shot nine frames of 50mp images which I was going to ask the computer to stitch together and then process.  As I was putting the camera away I was telling Toni that I was excited about the panorama that I had shot and just hoped that it wasn’t going to kill the computer.  I didn’t kill it, but I about pulled out my hair trying to get it stitch together.  The process took an hour for the computer to do, 50 minutes of that was spent in the actual building of the pano which is all automated after I make my stitching selections.  The computer locked up for 20 minutes as it struggled to process the image and then Adobe notified me of an error detected in their own software which had to be corrected.  I was thinking that I had just waisted an hour and that the image was going to be lost, but it eventually loaded in and it looked really good.

I was able to start my processing on it at that point which started with cropping the image to what I was wanting and then doing some very minimal adjustments to the scene.  The lighting was just so good already that it didn’t take much in the way of editing.  That was good, because the process was very slow as the computer had to think about every instruction I gave before it acted on it.  Yeah, these large panos are not fun to work with anymore.  They were fine with the old camera, but with the extra resolution here, I’m really seeing the age of the computer coming out.  Regardless, once it was done, I knew that this was the image I wanted. I didn’t even look at the other 20 or so frames that I had shot while I was there.  I knew that they were not the right way to capture this scene and that pano was the way to go.

Toni was happy that I wasn’t eaten by alligators and we headed back to the motel.  I was officially done for the day as the sun was down now.  We went up to the room and I happened to look at the tide which was easy to do considering that house on stilts next door was a great indicator of where the tide was.  Looking down the beach at that house I was stunned by the clouds and how beautiful they looked.  The moon was sitting behind them it looked like because there was a brighter area to the clouds over the house.  The sweeping water over the beach was the final piece to that puzzle.  This was the moment that I was supposed to capture this house.  It had been stuck in my head since Monday when we arrived, and here were were looking at the photograph on Thursday evening.

We got into the room and I immediately started to pull the camera out. It was windy and I didn’t want to do it outside at this point and I knew what I was going to need for the image.  I mounted my 24-70mm lens and left all of the filters off.  I was going to need all of the light that I could get in order to make this image work.  The 5DS R has lousy low light performance and I was about to ask a lot from this camera because I wasn’t going to be able to rely on a long exposure at low ISO here.  I was going to need to keep the shutter pretty fast in order to capture the scene the way I thought it should be.

With the camera mounted to the tripod I was on my way back down the stairs.  I had abandoned the thought of shooting it from the balcony because I wasn’t going to be able to get the right perspective that I wanted.  I needed to be down on the beach…or what was left of it.  When I got there, I set up right at the tide line hoping that the water wasn’t going to come in any further while I was shooting.  I framed up the image and started to make exposures.  At ISO 100, and f/11 I was well over 30 seconds of exposure and that wasn’t going to work out at all.  I needed something closer to 1 second of exposure but that was seeming to be impossible with the low light.  I wasn’t going to give up on this one though.  I boosted my ISO as high as I dared to 400 which still didn’t give me what I was after.  I had to open the lens up to f/8 which would give me sufficient depth of field at this focal length and that gave me an exposure time of 2 seconds which I felt would work well enough.

By this time though, the tide was coming in and I was looking at the real possibility that the tripod leg was going to start sinking in the sand.  I picked everything up and moved to the right a bit more.  I had to recompose the image which now included a lamp in the front window.  I was happy with the light from it, but I was trying to avoid the lamp as it was very bright and was blown out in the image.  I was hoping that it wouldn’t be too distracting to the image so I kept rolling with my exposures.

Precarious Position“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters

The trick with the timing here was to get a wave that was coming over most of the sand that allowed for some good textures to be seen leading out to the ocean.  Ideally there would be other waves breaking up the deep tones of the water.  The sky was continuing to be fantastic and the light seemed to be holding steady for the most part considering the sun had gone down about 20 minutes prior.  I just kept pressing the button as the waves started to recede back into the ocean hoping that one of them would strike the best visual balance.  I didn’t have time to look in the LCD except on occasion to make sure that the exposure was still correct.  I had no idea what I was capturing, but knew that unless I messed something up I was going to have a winner with this image.  It was capturing all of the parts of this structure that caught my eye that first day along with this great mood which was added thanks to the storm clouds that were still hovering overhead.

I probably worked the scene for 20 minutes, maybe a bit more.  I only went in when the exposure times were getting in the area of 10 seconds and I was losing any bit of detail in the water which I wanted to keep.  I finally called it a day and went back to the room to show Toni what I had been working on.  I noticed that I had shot 66 frames starting with the afternoon trip to Frisco.  That was pretty impressive considering I had resigned myself to the fact that the weather wasn’t going to let me get any photography in, and then I found out that I was too late for the one subject that I had in mind for the day.  It was a day of being responsive to the conditions and just keeping an open mind to what was available to put in front of the camera.

It did get me interested in going out again Friday morning before we left to get one more composition that I had been thinking about.  Toni and I had seen a great piece of driftwood about a mile North on the beach and I had been wanting to capture it at sunset or possibly sunrise.  The conditions hadn’t been favorable for it yet and with only a single day left, I figured I would just give it a try.   However, looking at the weather, the winds were going to be back up to 30mph around sunrise and that wasn’t going to be good at all.

Did the picture happen?

Well, I woke up at 5:15 which would give me enough time to get to the location on foot and get set up.  I wanted to check the weather to see if the winds were actually that bad.  When I checked, the hourly said that the winds were about 20mph which wasn’t terrible.  It didn’t sound bad at all either.  I opened the door to the room and didn’t see any real evidence of wind so I got ready and grabbed my gear.  the second I rounded the corner of the building to go down the steps the wind caught me.  It was blowing pretty hard, but not as bad as it had been.  I was up and out, might as well see if I can make this work.  The further I hiked up the beach the harder the wind hit me.  I was actually having a hard time walking.  I should have turned around and gone back to the room, but I’m stubborn and wanted to see if there was any picture to be had of the driftwood.  It took me about 30 minutes to get to the location and it remained pitch black outside.  The clouds were still thick and there was little to no chance of color, but I could still work with the conditions if the wind would let me, and if the driftwood still looked good.

When I found the wood, it was just about fully covered by drifting sand thanks to the wind.  With it being just a couple of hours after low tide, the water was much too far away from the wood to make it work anyway.  In short, there was just nothing at all worth photographing here.  I turned around and started walking back to the room. This time I had a tail wind at least.  With the light getting a little brighter, I could see the sand skirting along the smooth surface of the beach.  Using a flashlight I was seeing that the sand was up around knee level and seemed to be getting worse.  I was happy that the driftwood hadn’t worked out because I was pretty sure if I had tried to pull the camera out I would have damaged something in short order.

After being gone for an hour, I returned to the room without having taken the camera out at all.  Toni was still in bed so I climbed in with her and dozed for a little while before getting ready to check out.  It had been a great week and we were both a little sad to leave.  I had no idea how many images I was going to have that were worth keeping, but I knew I had nearly 400 frames captured.  Without really knowing how they would all turn out, I decided to process the pictures and do the blogs broken up by trekking sessions.  It was the easiest way to keep them organized for me and would make for easier reading for you as well.  In the end, I had a total of 21 images that I wanted to hold onto.  That is about the average that I come back with from these week long beach trips, but the difference is about half of those images are just average in the grand scheme of things.  I will have multiple images of the same sunrise and then some secondary images afterwards.  This time, I feel that the images are much more powerful as a whole, and there are only two of them that I am not really sure of.  both of those appear in this blog and are the monochrome abstracts from the dunes.  I like the concept, and I still like the pictures, but I don’t think that they represent my best efforts.  I’ll keep the concept in my mind and one of these days I will get that sandy desert shot that I am after.  I just don’t think that it happened this time.

While I don’t really consider those images as a success, I am happy to say that I feel that some of my strongest coastal images have come from this trek.  It stands to reason that is the case since I have a couple of more years experience behind me since the last time we were at the beach.  The impressive part is that I had less than ideal conditions compared with previous trips so I was actually able to do more with less this time.  One of those things that I have been saying for some time now is that by working on photography close to home as often as you can, you are preparing yourself for those times when you travel and you are at the mercy of a weather pattern that you have no control over and can’t wait for optimal conditions.  By shooting close to home, you can recognize those hero images when you travel because you are more aware of what you are capable of pulling off.

Thank you for joining me on this long trek, and I do hope that you enjoyed yourself along the way.  I’m very proud of these new images and will be finally adding them into my Coastal Gallery Room now that the blogs are all finished up.  I encourage you to hop over there and check out the new additions as well as some of my older examples.  It is not a room that sees a lot of change since we usually get out to the beach only once a year so it is really exciting to see some new work in there.

If any of these images strikes your fancy, be sure to let me know so I can help get you hooked up with a print of your very own.  If you are wanting a 13×19″ print or smaller, you can order them directly from my gallery store here.

It is time to take a vacation from this vacation.  I need some rest.  So, until next time….