Terrible Conditions, Great Photos!

· Reading Time: 11 minutes

Saturday, March 2, 2019

After a fairly successful morning on Friday, I was looking forward to another sunrise shoot on the beach.  The weather, however, had other plans for me.  There was going to be a bunch of clouds in the sky and even a bit of rain in the forecast.  There was just no chance of seeing any color the way it was developing.  I still set the clock for 5:30….juuuuuust in case something changed.  Well, when it went off there was no change at all.  I peeked outside and could tell that that the clouds were completely obscuring the sky and couldn’t even see a horizon line.  I crawled back into bed for a bit longer.  I was thinking that this was going to be time to to try out an idea that I had been toying with for this trip.  I had thought about contingencies in the event that the weather turned out like this.  I was going to go for some very artistic long exposures with my 10-Stop ND filter!  The location was going to be one of the two piers that were close to the hotel.  The one in Kure was around 2.5 miles away while the one in Carolina Beach was only 1.7 miles away.  I could handle a 30 minute walk on the beach quite well.

Into the Emptiness“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Mor Slo 10-Stop ND Filter, Converted in Lightroom

I set out shortly after sunrise when I could see that the clouds were rather featureless.  Normally, I would avoid including a sky like this in an image, but for my idea, I needed the featureless look of the sky as I was going to create something with a lot of negative space focusing on a single object.  I was excited as the conditions were precisely what I was needing for this type of image.  I set off for my short walk on the beach, but quickly found an obstacle that I wasn’t expecting.  The lights that I had seen the morning before were not actually lights on the pier as I had thought.  It tuned out that this was a construction area on the beach, so after about a half mile walking, I found that the beach was closed while they were operating heavy machinery rebuilding the beach.  With no way to get through the construction, I had to turn around and find an access point that would get me back out to the road.

I happened to speak with a volunteer that was out picking up litter on the beach and she advised that I would be able to access the pier beyond the construction, but I might have difficulties getting down to the beach as it was a pretty drastic drop from the road level.  I wasn’t sure what she was actually talking about with that, but I figured I would manage some how if I could get to the pier.  About a 1000 feet back down the beach I was able to pick up an access point to get me back to the roadway.  I then started my way back North once again, only this time I was on the pavement and not the sand.  The progress was much faster this way, but the scenery wasn’t nearly as nice unfortunately.

Crescendo“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Mor Slo 10-Stop ND filter, Converted in Lightroom

After another half mile or so, I could hear that the construction was behind me slightly and I started to look for access points back onto the beach.  Each one that I passed was closed due to the construction.  This might have been what the volunteer was talking about.  I might have to get really creative on getting back to the beach.  I did see a family coming off one of the boardwalks and I asked if the beach was accessible.  They said that it wasn’t here, but a bit further down it should be.  The construction was moving down the length of Carolina Beach and into Kure Beach to the South.  They had just changed up the base of operations as they were making progress down the beach, but hadn’t opened up the access points yet.  I continued on my journey North until I finally found a public access point to the beach which I promptly took.  It put me right on the sand beyond the North boundary of the construction.  I was still about a quarter of a mile from the pier, but I had a clear shot to it.

I finished working my way to the pier and finally made it.  Unfortunately, the hurricane had shortened the pier a good bit, but there was still enough that I thought I could make my images work.  This was what I had been planning for, so I knew what I was going to be working with.  I got the camera out and set up.  I started with my 16-35mm lens to get a dramatic perspective and to have the end of the pier trail off in the distance.  I got my composition set up the way I wanted it to look and set the exposure. I had it set to f/18 and 1/5 of a second.  I looked to see what the exposure would be with my 15-Stop filter and that turned out to be almost two hours.  I didn’t need that much exposure, so I backed down to my 10-Stop which was 3:20.  That was perfect!  I slid the 10-Stop into the Lee Filter Holder and switched over to Bulb mode.  I was able to get the live view to show the composition which is what I really love about live view and the 10-Stop filter.  I was even able to focus through the really dense glass.

I fired off my first exposure and it was dead on the money.  I started to look for other compositions and decided that I was wanting to get a little tighter than the wide angle lens would allow.  I swapped the lens out to my 24-70mm and transferred over the 10-Stop filter.  I got everything set and started to compose a different perspective.  It was similar but I really thought that it was significantly different with the amount of negative space that was included.  They said two different things, and even when it came time to cull my images, I just couldn’t decide which I liked the best.  The lighting was changing a bit so I ended up changing my exposure to 2:40 seconds to keep from blowing out the sky.  The trick was to keep it very high key, but I didn’t want to over extend the exposure latitude and cause undue color fringing on the pier itself.

Ghost Walk“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk 2, Singh-Ray 10-Stop Mor Slo ND filter, Converted in Lightroom

Seeing where the sky was blowing out, I thought that it might be a good idea to go to the other side so that I could get the section of the sky that was a bit less bright in the center.  This also turned out to be a more interesting composition thanks to a few different elements.  The light poles were on this side of the pier which gave more subject matter to the image.  You could also see where the end of the pier had been broken of as well as some of the broken supports.  There was a lot going for this side, and in the end, this was my favorite view of the pier.  When I was shooting this one, with 3:20 worth of exposure, I thought of the title which rarely happens.  Since the idea behind these images was to have a endless void, and you could see where the pier had been broken off, it seemed like a ghostly image to me.  Having a spirit continue walking where the pier once was came to mind and there was the title!

I was having a lot of fun shooting these images and waiting several minutes before I could see what I had captured.  It was a lot like light painting when I just don’t know what I might get at the end of the exposure.  Each time the LCD came on with the image review I was more excited than the last time.  I was imagining how these were going to turn out once I converted them to monochrome and really worked the image to convey the feeling that I had been envisioning for so long.  I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to proceed with the conversion, but I was confident that I was onto something great with this pier.

Journey’s End“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Mor Slo 10-Stop ND filter, Converted in Lightroom

As I was shooting on the opposite side, I started to see little droplets of water appearing on the top of the camera.  There was a slight chance of rain, and here it was showing up.  It was at this particular moment that I realized that I had forgotten my ball cap which I would have used to shield the lens from the rain.  I checked the flat filter and saw that it was dry and that the rain was blowing from the rear of the camera.  That was good enough that I didn’t need to get the umbrella out of the bag.  You see, most of the time, I would have a lens hood on and this wouldn’t bother me, but with the Lee Filter Holder, there was no way to use a lens hood so I had to leave it exposed.  That is the trade-off with the slide in filters which are much more flexible.

As I was coming to a close on my pier shots, I had been eyeballing a row of pilings leading out into the water from the sand.  I could see a lot of potential here as well.  With the rain easing up, I decided to switch things up a little bit and go long.  I swapped out my lens for the 70-200mm for that added reach and transferred the 10-Stop filter.  I moved over to the side and started to frame up compositions.  I tried the standard diagonal line going out into the distance, but didn’t really like how that looked.  It was just too plain I thought and tried something different.  I got an angle that allowed me to get them pretty much broadside showing off the different heights between them.  I liked how it started low and increased in height for that grand finish.  As I was processing this particular image, all that came to mind was the musical buildup to the loud crescendo of the symbols.  Hey wait, that would make a pretty good name for the image!

I was feeling pretty good about this morning adventure but something told me I wasn’t done just yet.  I was pretty happy with the long exposure shots and didn’t see much need in continuing with those. However, there were some other pilings on the shore that were right at the water’s edge that had been catching my attention.  Despite thinking exclusively in black and white for the past hour or so, I was loving the colors of the sand, the ocean water that had pooled up and the water in the background.  There was a shot here, I just had to find it.  To make it easy on myself, I kept the long lens which is fantastic for compressing a scene, but shed the ND filter.  Instead, I pulled out the much neglected Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which had been sitting idle for way more shots than it was used to.

Group Therapy“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Getting the composition right was the chore.  I needed to find a way to get five different elements to work together.  That is much more difficult than you could imagine.  I wanted to avoid haphazard compositions and tried for something that really made a lot of sense.  I ended up finding a pleasing composition where the one oddball piling was isolated to the right, while the other ones appeared to be stair-stepped in height grouped to the left.  The next part of this equation was finding that right crop.  The sky was still very cloudy and had no real interest.  I wanted to avoid using a noticeable amount of the sky, but I needed a sliver of it to ground the image.  I got the composition the way I wanted it, and then played the waiting game as the waves came in to the rear.  I struggled to capture a wave inbound while there was another one receding from the pilings.  This happened a grand total of once, and you see that image right here.

This image wasn’t one that I had planned on, or even previsualized prior to setting up the shot.  However, it has turned into probably my favorite image of the weekend.  Sierra even shared my love for this image, as did Toni.  I’m hoping that others see the magic here.  It is just one of those fun subject studies that can be done at the beach.  I love the textures that represented here with the sand, wood, plankton, and the surf.  There is so much going on for this to be such a simple image.

At the end of this shoot, I had a total of 92 images from the weekend.  I was really hoping that some of them would turn out decent.  I felt very confident in the pier set after looking at them in the camera.  In fact, I told Toni that when it came to photography, if I didn’t get a single additional image from the weekend, I would be happy with what I had here.  Looking back, that might have jinxed me for the rest of the weekend.  The weather never really did do anything else that I could work with and these turned out to be the last images from the weekend.  I was expecting about six images to result from the exposures I had, so you can imagine how happy I was to have a total of ten that I really liked and wanted to keep.  Ironically enough, I ended up the day with five images from each day.  More importantly, I did something completely different with my photography and learned a new trick or two along the way.  That is the best success story there is!