Topsail Island: Part 2

· Reading Time: 16 minutes

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Thursday, July 18, 2019

When we last left our hero on this photographic adventure (overly dramatic I know, but that is where I am right now), he had been rather disappointed with the early images from the week long trip to Topsail Island.  In fact, due to a serious goof in logic by him on Monday night, there were no images at all to show for the 30 minutes spent out on the deck.  This was followed up with a very slow start to the day at Serenity Point on Tuesday with some more moon attempts.  As I was editing the images there was just nothing there that I really was able to get excited over.  I was trashing every shot that I took until I started to get into my pre-dawn images that turned my attitude around.  The rest of the day went phenomenally well with lots of vivid color and interesting subjects.  I went to bed around 2am after finishing up with the computer work and was up a little after 7am this morning to get Toni’s car cleaned up after the salt and sand it accumulated from the week.  When I got done with that, I cranked up Lightroom once again and started to go through Wednesday’s images.

This was when Toni came in and wanted to see the moon pictures.  I only had one that I was comfortable sharing with her (read as not totally embarrassed by).  She immediately liked the image and pushed me to add it into the collection.  I have grown to trust her judgement in these matters so I have gone back and added it to the end of the previous entry if you are interested in seeing a marginal moon image at the beach.  I still don’t see anything special about it, but Toni likes it, and what she likes, she gets.

Anyway, lets move on to how Wednesday went.  The forecast was showing a promising sunrise with some high clouds, but not many at all.  My plan had been to walk down to the pier at the Jolly Roger for both a sunrise and a sunset.  It was still early in the week, but days were running out.  With the hopes of some color in the sky, I decided to make that my destination.  The hike down there was about 1.5 miles which I would be able to cover in about 30 minutes.  I was excited about this because Toni said that I could wake her up and she would go with me.  It is always nice having her with me, even if she was watching out for attacking alligators.

The Photographer and his Photo Wench

The morning came very early, after a night of not much sleep at all.  Remember Lucy and Ethel that came with us on this trip?  Well, they are both very used to sleeping alone, and apparently have no issues along that line.  However, when you put them both together, it becomes a modern version of “Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots” as they push and kick each other through the night.  Mind you, they never wake up, but there is all sorts of noise going on.  Add to that, Hannah talks in her sleep.  Yeah, the nights were fun trying to figure out who was dreaming what.  The alarm rang very early  at 4am and Toni and I got up and were ready to head out the door shortly after 4:30.  Old farts 2, Pillow Droolers 0!

We got started with our walk to the North and it was already warm and very humid.  I was happy that I had left the camera out on the deck all night so it could be acclimated to the conditions and I wouldn’t have to worry about dew and fog.  The Lowepro Whistler did a great job at protecting the gear inside with the all weather cover put on.  I never had to worry about anything hurting the camera when it was in this bag.  What didn’t make me as happy were all the bug bites on my legs that were now welts that itched very much.  I hadn’t really noticed them until I got outside and the blood started to flow in my legs with the warm air on them.  I was now absolutely miserable and just wanted to scratch my legs.  I pressed on since I was out and I was hoping that when I started shooting pictures I would forget about my legs.  I was also hoping that there were not nearly as many flies on that side of the beach as I didn’t think I had enough blood to share with them just yet.

We arrived at the Jolly Roger Pier around 5am while it was still completely dark outside.  I like to get places early, but this was a little earlier than typical.  It did give me the ability to look at different compositions and start previsualizing my images.  I had never been to this pier before so I wasn’t sure exactly how it was looking in person.  I was impressed with it, as it hit most of the elements that I was looking for in a pier.  I could see compositions from both sides depending on where the light was in the sky, and I was really hoping that there was going to be a lot of color happening.  I could see clouds in the distance, but nothing up close just yet.  There was still an hour for the clouds to move in where I needed them.

While I was getting my mind right, Toni was out running laps on the beach and trying not to step on the sand crabs as they were rushing around.  As the sun started to light the sky up, she came back to hang out with me for a bit.  We started to look at the sky to see where the interest would be.  As luck would have it, the best interest was straight up the beach.  Toni wanted me to shoot a section of the pier looking toward the sky, which I did.  I didn’t really like the composition much since I was perpendicular to the pier, it became just a barrier for the eyes to get through.  It didn’t really add much to the composition.  I did move to the other side and found a nice composition with the sweeping line from the incoming surf.

The Golden Shore“, Canon 5D mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

This was a very straightforward image that captured the colors in the sky for the brief time that they were there.  The sand became the foreground which I wasn’t really wild about, but like I mentioned in my previous entry, there were no more dunes on the beach so foregrounds were very hard to come across.  I was kind of happy that there was a person walking down the beach which gave a visual anchor to the image and a sense of scale to the scene.  This morning walker was right in the apex of the water which was perfect for the image.  There were no filters used for this since the sun was still well below the horizon causing a very even exposure throughout the scene.  I only shot one of these before going back to trying to find something that I liked with the pier in the image.

There was really nothing that I found that worked well enough to capture the pier and the sky which was my main goal for the morning.  The light was fading and it was looking like I was going to be stuck with doing some black and what shots of the pier instead.  While that wasn’t terrible, that was not my intention for the morning and I just wasn’t satisfied with monochrome.  I started to find something that would work while minimizing the sky.  The waves were in good form, so that became the focus of my photography at this point.  The pier was there to fill the sky with interest as best it could.

Ocean Dreams“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

I started shooting many many images of the same composition trying to get the waves to fit in just right.  There were some clouds in the distance that I was able to pick up, but very little excitement in the sky.  There was still a faint rosy hue above as the sun was rising to the left of the pier.  I wasn’t sure any of these would work out, but I kept timing the images as best I could.  I was using the remote shutter release to allow me to get an instant exposure rather than waiting the 2 seconds for the self timer to work.  This was important so that I didn’t get any camera shake as the shutter released.  I was shooting these images at around 1 second exposure so that I could blur the wave enough to show the drama, but still maintaining the form of the wave.  It was looking like it was working fantastically in the LCD, but that sky was still bothering me.  I was really hoping that I would be able to get some of the color to show up in the final image.

As a side note, this was one of those times when I had to use split toning in Lightroom in order to pull the rosy hues out of the sky.  It worked well, and created an image that my mind saw when capturing the series of images.  It is not exactly what was there, but it was how I saw it.  For more on my ideas of post processing, feel free to check out this Behind the Camera entry.  This image was all about local adjustments, and one of my favorite aspects of it was the brush work that I did with the waves in the foreground to bring the whites out even though they were rather dim from the lack of sunlight on them.  The sun still wasn’t up at this point, and I was working with pre-dawn colors the best that I could.

Photo by Toni Kiser

Knowing that the sun was going to be up shortly, I moved to the other side of the pier in an attempt to capture the warm light as it hit the wood.  I started to work with my compositions and found one that I was pretty happy with.  I started shooting my 1 second exposures one after another in order to get the waves just like I wanted.  The sky was even worse on this side, and I was really thinking that I was either going to get nothing from this side, or I would be converting it to monochrome which I really didn’t want to do at all.  I just waited and waited for the sun to hit just right.  By this point, Toni was starting to get a little tired of watching me take frame after frame and decided to go back to the room.  I seriously considered going back with her, but the sun wasn’t even up at this point and I didn’t want to accept defeat that easily.  Instead, I started looking critically at the situation that I had.  The sun would eventually come up and it would light the pier.  The clouds would either be there to help or not.  I was doubting that there would be any color in the sky, but the waves were looking pretty good.

I decided to screw on my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to try and eek out any detail that I could in the clouds.  It should also add a little pop to the wood should it get warm lighting on it.  I started the waiting game again and shot the occasional image as the waves started to look good.  I even went ahead and shot a video of what I was attempting to capture.  Funny thing was, I had no idea if the image was going to materialize or not, but it gave me something to do while I waited for the light to hit.

I mentioned the depth of field in this video and it sounded a little confusing.  I knew what I meant, but my mind was thinking about several things at once.  With the distance I was focusing at, I wasn’t all that concerned with depth of field, but I did need a fairly wide one hence stopping the lens down a good bit.  The aperture I selected was more due to the fact that I wanted a full second on the shutter speed, and that was where I ended up.  I could have gotten away with f/11 without a problem, but that would have not allowed me to get that all important shutter speed.  Now that I have that cleared up, the sun did come above the clouds which had snuffed out all the morning color.  It was now hitting the pier and I was able to do some work with it.

Salt Air“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

As you can see, this image has a completely different look from my normal image.  I struggled with this one during post processing since the sky was really rather bland.  I didn’t like it to begin with, but started to apply different color profiles to the image and found this one that seemed to fit the mood better than a richly saturated image.  It allowed the greens to pop, and the warm light on the pier to really come through. The sky was left with a slightly magenta hue from the low sun, but the clouds refused to pick up any color.  I actually processed this image several different ways and absolutely hated the sky in each and every one of them.  This one was the least offensive and allowed the water to take on the drama element of the image that the sky refused to do.  Looking back on this, I really like how it feels and it has a much different presentation than most of my images.  Since this beach trip was more or less about doing things differently, I embraced the unique qualities of this image and after getting the seal of approval from Toni, I was happy to add it into my collection.

Moving on from this composition, I decided to go directly under the pier for the second time this morning.  I had spent a few minutes under there earlier and really hadn’t liked the images.  The light wasn’t right, and I hadn’t figured out the composition just yet.  Now, the light was great, and I had the composition down.  I was still happy using the same 24-70mm lens that I had been using all morning long and I left the Color Combo Polarizer attached as it was picking out some nice detail in the water.  I got in close to the water and hoped that the incoming waves wouldn’t hit the feet on my Manfrotto tripod causing it to shift during the exposures, but I needed to get in close to the waves for a great foreground.  While I had shot this vertical before, I opted for a more relaxed horizontal approach which I liked much better.  It was all just a matter of waiting for the waves to hit just right for the image to be created.

Caging Light“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Funny thing about this image was I wasn’t happy with how the underneath of the pier looked with the supports running down the center.  I was looking for one that had an opening down the middle so that the background could be seen easier.  Toni had told me that she liked the way this one looked better because of the added interest.  I balked at that hoping for a great sunrise and figuring that the pilings would actually block the view of the colors.  Well, as luck would have it, the sky wasn’t all that great so it turned out to be a blessing to have the wooden posts to form the focal point under the pier.  They did an excellent job at dividing the sky and minimizing its importance to the image.  It became all about how the light was hitting the different surfaces under the pier and the way the sky was warmer to the left and cooler to the right.  The transitions make this image, and it wouldn’t have been as obvious if you could see the length of the pier to the background.  This actually became one of my favorite images of the day for the way the light played out.  I also managed to keep my gear nice an dry while shooting this series.

The light was pretty much done by this point, and it was time to head back to the room.  I packed up my gear and started the walk back to the room.  I opted to go up to the road instead of walking the beach as Toni had done.  I knew that I wasn’t going to get anything else to shoot on the beach as the light was getting a bit harsh there.  I had recalled seeing a few things that might look good in the morning sunlight along the street though, and that was what I set out to find.  Not too far from the pier I found one of the things that had caught my eye on the way out this morning.  It was an old beach cruiser bicycle laying on its side in a front yard.  To anyone else, this would not have been worth a mention, but it fell right into several aspects of my life and held a deep importance to me.

BeachedCanon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

So why did this innocuous subject catch my attention so much?  Well, I have a love of decay photography and this fit that with the rust on the bars and the running gear.  It obviously has a lot of age on it and it has been well used.  That would have been enough to capture my eye, but it also hit home because I used to be a cyclist years ago and I have spent a lot of time riding and maintaining bikes.  It also just screamed Topsail Island to me since so many of the locals ride these bikes to get where they are going.  It was something that had to be shot.  The question was how was I going to do it.  It was right beside the road, there was a little fence next to it as well as an old planter.  Those elements made sense to the composition.  The neighboring house really didn’t.  I got the camera out with the 24-70mm lens and the Color Combo Polarizer and started looking for a composition before mounting it to my tripod.  I found one positioned up high and shooting down on the bike.  It gave a full view of the bike with the fence and the rocks providing a framework for the image.  The diagonal orientation added just the right amount of drama to the image as well.  The light blues, yellows and greens worked well together, and helped me to create a very pleasing image that will certainly resonate with beach folk.

After I was done with this bike, I decided it was time to go back to the room.  I really wanted to get a shower and try to get my legs to stop itching so much.  I was also really tired by this point.  The remaining mile went by quickly and when I got back to the room, Toni was there in the chair relaxing a bit while Laverne and Shirley were still in the bed mostly asleep.  The score stands from this morning.  The rest of the day was kind of low key since the girls were both sunburned and didn’t want to go to the beach.  We opted to go into Wilmington to watch a movie instead.  Toni and I watched Crawl which was about Alligators attacking folks during a hurricane.  Needless to say, Toni didn’t step foot outside with me the rest of the week unless it was broad daylight.  Laverne and Shirley opted to bypass the scary movie and watched Toy Story 4.  I think ours was better!  From there, we went to dinner and really enjoyed it.

That pretty much wraps up the day.  I didn’t go back out that evening as I just didn’t have the motivation to do any more photography just yet.  I was starting to plan out how Thursday morning was going to go.  The forecast was calling for very little clouds in the morning, and really no chance of a good sunrise.  I was going to have to come up with something else to photograph it would seem.  I still had some hours to figure it out at least.

We will pick the story back up soon, so see you in a little while.

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