Topsail Island: Part 3

· Reading Time: 19 minutes

Part 1: Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Part 2: Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Part 3: Thursday, July 18, 2019

It has really been a long weekend of processing images and getting them ready for the gallery.  I am so excited to finally be finished with all of the processing and all of the images are up and ready to go.  To catch everyone up, Toni and I took our daughter Sierra and some teenager we found wandering around (actually her best friend Hannah) to Topsail Island for the week.  We got there on Monday afternoon and I started shooting images that night.  However, I completely goofed with how I wanted the image to look and picked a totally wrong shutter speed for the subject.  All of those images from the first day were trashed which is why I have started the actual blog entries on the second day that we were there.  The images from the first day were all about colors and minimalism and I had a great time in both the morning and in the evening shooting images that worked surprisingly well.  The next day, Toni and I went up to the Jolly Roger Pier and did a morning shoot there which was all about drama with the waves and capturing what color I could at sunrise.  Links to both of these days can be found at the top of this entry, as with all of the other entries from this trip.

This entry is all about the last full day on the island, and the last day that I brought the camera out.  It was a full day, with kind of odd conditions.  The morning was supposed to be clear for the most part so I went out in search of more minimalist images first thing.  The evening was supposed to be favorable for a good sunset, so the plan was to either go back to the Jolly Roger Pier, or to shoot the Surf City Bridge heading off of the island.  I had some images in mind for this, but wasn’t sure how exactly it would go since I don’t do many bridges.  I just kept thinking that these treks were all about moving out of my comfort zone to try some different compositions and different types of images from the coast.  So far, I was doing pretty well with that concept.

I slept in a little bit in the morning since I wasn’t planning on going far, only to the other side of the island, three short blocks away.  The alarm rang at 4:20 and I got up and got ready at a relaxed pace.  I left Toni in the bed since we had just seen the movie Crawl, and I was pretty sure that she would want nothing to do with the darkness by the water.  It wasn’t a guess, she was actually quite adamant that she was not going out with me in the morning.  It was just me and my bug bites.  By this point, it was looking like I had some sort of infected rash, and it itched like crazy every time I walked in the breeze.  I knew that I was going right back into their den this morning on the inlet side of the island.  That wasn’t a fun thought by any stretch, but I had to go out since it was my last full day here.

The walk over was quick, and the temperature was not bad at all.  In fact, it was almost comfortable.  I was pretty sure I was just getting acclimated to the warm beach air since I don’t really care to be in warm climates.  I started looking for some subjects to capture.  I had been from the Motel to the South, so this time, I went up to the North for something a bit different.  I had scoped it out on Google Maps and had found a couple of places worth checking out.  The first couple didn’t meet my needs, but I finally landed on a scene that was similar to the first day with the pilings, but this was just a cluster in the middle of the water.  It would work out well for what I wanted to capture thinking that there would be no clouds.

I found the place that I wanted to shoot from, and set my Manfrotto Tripod up on the wall of the dock, right at the water to get the angle that I needed.  Placement was very important here since I was needing to get two of the pilings to overlap to simplify the scene.  Since there was just a cluster of them, I opted to shoot this composition vertically to really draw the attention to the main element of the image.  I wasn’t quite sure how the presentation was going to end up since I didn’t know what the sky was going to look like.  I just had to sit and wait.  I was committed to this subject, and composition as well.  There was nothing else to shoot here, and no other composition would work as well.  While I waited for the sun to come up a little bit, I decided to shoot a video about how I was setting the image up.  Of course, while I was filming, I could see that the sunrise was actually starting to look decent on the other side of the island, but there was no time to get a subject and a composition for that.  Like I said, I was committed to this location.

I talked about using the white balance in the camera to get some different results.  While this won’t affect the RAW image, it will give you a starting point in your editing.  I wasn’t liking the colors that I was seeing, so I played around with cooling the image with the white balance settings which looked fine in the camera in the dim light, but when I started to process them, I didn’t care for the effect.  Since the color was causing me so much grief, I decided to change my approach to the image and went with a monochrome presentation.  This made all the difference in the world and I was happy that I gave it a try.  Even the best color image was muddy and just didn’t have the life that the similar composition had from the first day.  By removing the color, I was able to render this image as a high key minimalist composition that I think really suites the subject.

Gothic Remains“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Mor-Slo 5-Stop ND Filter

I took some liberties with this one since I was going for a fine art look with it.  The heavy vignette was something that I saw really helping this image out by corralling the bright tones of the sky and the water.  Again, it helped your eyes to focus right on the pilings which was the whole point of this image.  The high contrast look of it makes it dramatic even though the feel of the scene is very serene with the long exposure smoothing out the water.  In the video, I had no filters on the camera, but by the time that this one rolled around, I was using a 5-Stop ND filter to reduce the light coming into the lens.  It is not my favorite image, but I did want to have some monochrome images from the week since I was going for a lot more minimalist type of image than normal.  I like this effect with simple images and it definitely saved the day here since I had no real color to work with at all.  This single image represented about an hour and a half of standing in the same place with the same composition.  Remember, photography is an exciting way to spend the day!!  I can hear Toni laughing at me right now after getting tired of watching me shoot the pier the previous morning.

The sunrise to the East was looking pretty good and I kind of regretted my decision to come on this side of the island, but I had to go with the information that I had at the time.  Sometimes I just miss out, and this was one of those times.  I wasn’t going to sit here any longer though since the light was gone and I had nothing else to work with here.  I decided to walk down to the tip of Serenity Point and work on some of the pilings that I had seen there a couple of days ago.  The last time, I had shot them backlit from the pre-dawn light.  This time, I was figuring I would take advantage of the warm light from the low sun, and get them bathed in an amber glow.  The problem I was facing was the sky was rather boring in that direction and already quite hazy.  Oh well, I had to find something else and try to get an image I was happier with than what I had just shot.

Sun Kissed Piling“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, 2X Teleconverter, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer and 10-Stop Mor-Slo ND Filter

I could see potential here with the sun hitting the pilings, it was just a matter of getting a composition that made sense to me and worked with the bland sky.  Normally, I don’t even bother shooting in conditions like this, but I figured that going with the minimal approach, I could get away with it.  I started out with my long 70-200mm lens, but that wasn’t quite long enough to cover the distance to the pilings.  I had to add my 2X teleconverter so that I could have a 380mm focal length to perfectly frame the subject as a 1:1 crop.  To make the sky really work, I was going to need to slow the shutter down to blur the water to compliment the empty sky.  I tried my 5-Stop here, but that wasn’t enough to get the effect I was after.  By using the 10-Stop instead, I was able to get nearly 30 seconds.  In order to get the water to have a little depth to it, I added my Color Combo Polarizer which deepened the tones ever so slightly.  This got me down to 30 seconds of shutter speed at f/14 which is what I was after.  The colors here were really nice even though the sky was not all that exciting.

I was considering shooting this as a black and white also to remove the hazy look in the sky and make it flow a little bit better.  For that shot, I was wanting a bit more subject in the frame, so I recomposed the image and decided to go back to a normal landscape mode of shooting.  I liked the exposure, so I kept the filters attached to the same lens.  In fact, I really changed nothing with the camera except for the crop and a slight adjustment to the composition.  the settings were exactly the same as with the square crop.  I just wanted to have some alternatives in case I didn’t like the square version.

Barnacle Bay“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, 2X Teleconverter Mk3, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer and 10-Stop Mor Slo ND Filter

As it turned out, I liked both images equally as well.  This second one has a bit more breathing room, but the sky isn’t as big of a hurdle since I could tone it in gray tones easier than I could keeping the blue realistic.  It becomes all about tonality and light in the monochrome image, and with the light striking the pilings as it did, I had a lot of great contrast to set the image off.  I worked with these for a while as the light would change, but when the clouds covered the sun, I decided that it was probably time to call it a day here.  I knew that wen the sun came back out on top of the clouds that the wonderful warm light would be gone.  After about 20 minutes, I had a good many images to choose from of these section of pilings.  I was just hoping that I was going to get something out of the two locations that I had shot.  I remember not being quite as excited about these as I had been with the other days.

When I got back to the room, I was greeted by something that really made me wonder.  Toni was nowhere to be found in the room.  I logically figured that she had gotten up and gone for a run.  The really odd thing was the fact that the girls had split up and were taking both of the beds now.  They were still asleep of course, and I am pretty sure I saw a trail of drool following Sierra’s path over to my pillow.  Hmmm, I’m not sure about this.  I investigated a little bit more and found Toni out on the deck watching one of her shows on her phone.  She let me know that Frick and Frack had been sleep fighting each other and keeping each other awake.  By splitting them up they were able to get their much needed sleep.  It was all making sense to me now, but the score was an apparent one for the morning.  Grandma and Grandpa Blue Hair 2, and the night time sparring partners….a big whopping ZERO!  It was nice knowing that with age comes the ability to get up and do things early in the day.

Toni and I sat together out on the deck for a while and let Betty and Wilma sleep through the morning.  It was a relaxing morning for sure.  This was actually how I prefer to enjoy the beach.  Under the cover of a roof, but yet feeling the breeze and hearing the surf.  What a nice morning in fact!  The kids did eventually wake up, but only in motion.  The speaking program hadn’t downloaded yet, which we were all very accustomed to with teens.  It was decided that they would go back down to the beach and get in the water since this was our last day here.  They were out there for a couple of hours allowing Toni and I to enjoy the beach from the room and the deck keeping an eye on them.  Neither of us wanted to go to England to pick up either of them if they floated away.

As the day went on, we decided that it was time to go and get some dinner.  We headed back out to go inland for some grub and I grabbed my camera just in case something were to catch my eye.  I was still thinking that if there was a good sunset I wanted to either work the Surf City Pier, or the Surf City Bridge.  They were both at the access point to the island which we would be passing twice.  Dinner was really good, and I got my first Shrimp Po Boy Sandwich and really enjoyed it.  Well, I had finished one of Toni’s the night before, but wanted to have the whole sandwich which was why we went back to the same restaurant again.

The sunset that I had been hoping for was not looking good at all.  When we left the restaurant the bottom had fallen out of the clouds and the rain was pouring down.  We stopped to get gas and continued back to the North going through different squalls and showers all the way.  As we crossed back over to Topsail, We decided to do the typical tourist thing and go into the Wings to see what trinkets we needed.  While we were in there, the rain stopped and the sky started to clear a little bit.  Toni was pushing me to go out and work the bridge that was right there behind the store.  This was not an attempt to get me to create art, it was an attempt to buy me a shirt that I was trying to keep her from doing.  At any rate, she won out as the sky was getting interesting.  I grabbed the Lowepro bag from her car and headed out to the bridge.

Having driven over this bridge a number of times, I had an idea of how I wanted to capture it, but wasn’t sure where the best vantage point would be.  I started out walking on the bridge to the first major curve which was what I thought would be the best image.  When I got there, I was having a hard time deciding on a composition that would make use of the geometry.  Deciding on the lens choice was another issue I was having.  I just don’t do that much bridge photography so this takes a little longer to decide what I like.  I ultimately decided on using my 24-70mm lens which would allow me some flexibility in compositions.  Since the sun was to my left, I added in a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer as well to add some punch to the sky.  All that was left was deciding on the composition.

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

I was able to get a nice sweeping view of the bridge by shooting just over the railing which gave it a dramatic turn into the image before following it out of the frame to the right.  I was liking the composition, but I really wanted the bridge a little higher than the horizon than I was able to get from this vantage point.  I started to look around to see where else I might be able to shoot from.  I was seeing that there was some potential down on the nature trail through the park.  This meant more biting bugs for sure, but I really wanted to give this a shot.  I packed everything back up and walked back over to the island and then accessed the trail.  I walked out to the park and to the parking lot that you can see in the image above to the right.  I had the altitude that I wanted, but I completely lost the curve of the bridge and the drama that I was trying to capture.  I was also being torn apart by the bugs, so I decided to try something else.  My last idea was to go to the origin point of the bridge and get as low as possible.  I was happy to leave the stagnant water and crowds so I was not minding all of the walking that I was doing to find a place to shoot this bridge.

When I got to the origin of the bridge, I saw the composition develop that I had previsualized and I was really excited.  Looking at the clouds, there was a possibility that the sunset might just work.  The light was all wrong currently though, so I wasn’t all that interested in capturing an image just yet, but I needed to work out the composition.  I wanted to really capture the bridge, and that was going to mean using  a wide angle lens, but that would include too much of the sky for the amount of interest that it held.  My other option was to shoot a panorama of the whole dang thing, and that was just what I ended up doing.

I used my 70-200mm lens, set vertically at 85mm.  I leveled the tripod and Acratech Ballhead to make sure that I could sweep the entire bridge without getting anything funky happening with the images.  I knew that I was going to have to act quickly since the light would be changing quicker than normal right at sunset, so I plugged in the remote shutter release to eliminate the 2 second delay when releasing the shutter.  I worked out the composition start and end point, setting the focus at approximately a third of the way into the scene.  I decided to capture an image every 5 degrees of panning so it was easy to get the individual images composed in rhythm.

After I had the image set up, Toni came by with Ice Cream Consumption Specialists and let me know that she was going to take them back to the room and would come back and get me after sunset.  I couldn’t argue with her since I had already been out here for an hour and still hadn’t gotten the image that I was after.  Sunset was still an hour away too, so there was every chance that I would be here for a while.  She headed on with them and left me all by myself in a strange land.  Ok, that might have been a little overly dramatic, but I was about seven miles from the room at this point, and walking back would be a long endeavor if that were to happen.

I started to take images as the sun dropped behind the clouds.  My shutter count was climbing quickly with seven images being shot for every series.  I was starting to see potential again in the sky and didn’t want to miss the best light, so I just kept shooting the series over and over again.  My poor camera must be getting tired by this point.  It has been rolling for days now, and I don’t usually have this much activity with it for this kind of time frame.  But it was holding its own and doing a great job for me, as it always has.

Surf City Bridge“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-Stop Soft ND Grad, 7 Images stitched together in Lighroom

The color was slow to develop and when it did, it was pretty faint.  I made the best of the situation figuring that I could dial in a bit of warmth in the color balance to bring out the color that I was seeing.  The clouds were starting to break up above the bridge which was a really nice surprise as it added some more drama and visual interest to balance out the bridge below.  The water that was flowing beneath the bridge reflected the light very well and really completed the composition I thought.  It wasn’t long before Toni was back to pick me up.  She arrived as the light was fading and I was shooting a few more series while she was there, but there was only the one here that grabbed that right moment of color in the sky.  I had been working this bridge for two solid hours and had shot over 100 frames of it (mostly due to the pano series shots) only to get these two images.  I like them both for the different things that they convey.  Either one does showcase the sweeping nature of the bridge that I have loved since I saw them building it last year when we were here.

This shot represented the last images that I shot while on the island.  My intention was to get up the next morning and shoot the sunrise, but the forecast was dismal for any color and I was dog tired by this point.  I opted to turn the alarm off and sleep in a bit.  In a strange twist though, I looked out the window right at sunrise and saw some really great color over the water.  It just goes to show that you will miss 100% of the shots that you aren’t there to take.  I didn’t let it bother me though as I was very tired and really didn’t have any more creativity left in my brain.  I was done.

Toni and I got up before the Wonder Twins which cemented us as the victors for the week when it came to getting up early.  We got things packed and ready to go home before waking them up.  Then it was off to breakfast and then to the highway.  It didn’t take long before we had a full replay of the trip out to the beach.

Yep, that noise we kept hearing wasn’t the engine of the car.  It was dueling snores from the rear of the car.  It was official, both of the Bobbsey Twins are carcoleptic and can’t take road trips without falling asleep.  The fact that they are set to get their learner’s permits is rather scary to me.  This is not the picture of two drivers I want to see.

It was a very fun trip and Toni wasn’t sick at all which meant that she was finally able to enjoy Topsail Island after having spent a total of two different weeks there.  We shall be returning here next summer for some more excitement and more photography.  For now, I think I am ready for some mountains again.  I am definitely ready for my legs to stop itching and to get rid of the heat of summer.  Thank you for joining us for our week at the coast!

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