For as long as I can remember, the ocean has always been a part of my life. One of my earliest memories was of going to the beach in New Hampshire (yes, NH does have a small coastline) when we lived just over the border in Maine and again in Southern California, blistering after getting a severe sunburn. Later as a youngster, I recall frequent trips to the Jersey shore where I spent the entire day in the water and on the way home afterward, being unable to breathe deeply because I’d taken in so much ocean water. As I got older, friends and I would rent a house for the summer and party all day on the beach while “working” on our tan, always on the lookout for college girls who had the same “job”. During one of those summers, I met my wife, and interestingly enough, one of my best friends met his wife at the same spot a year later!! Good Times. Life at the beach continued with my own kids, with frequent day trips and an annual week at a favorite spot in Wildwood, NJ. So it was strange to me that after moving to North Carolina over 5 years ago, I hadn’t really spent any time at the ocean in spite of the fact that North Carolina has some of the finest beaches in the country.
A little over a week ago, I finally made my first photographic trip to the coast enjoying some pretty cold temperatures and some uncooperative skies. Leaving very early in order to get to Fort Fisher before first light, the day dawned with absolutely no clouds except for a few right along the horizon to perfectly block the sun as it rose above the ocean. Loads of sea foam floated on the waves and built up in bubblebath clumps at the water’s edge. After much previous research, I was able to easily find the Coquina Rocks, the only spot along the entire North Carolina coast that has anything but sand, and the tide seemed just right for some waves to flow through them. I managed to squeeze out a few decent shots and tried some horizontally panned motion blurs, but basically froze and enjoyed the ocean once again after such a long absence. And yes, I did end up with one soaked foot that stayed that way throughout the day!
I then made my way over to Oak Island where, during this time of year, you are actually able to watch the sun set over the ocean, a rarity on the east coast. But a bald sky and a very calm ocean were not conducive to great photographs. The only plus was a piece of driftwood that I shot during the “blue hour” well after the sun had set, and of course I attempted some motion blurs when the color seemed to intensify as the sun dropped below the horizon.
Although I stayed overnight in Oak Island, I decided to head back to Wrightsville Beach for the sunrise, so again I woke early for the trip there. The sky in the morning was the exact opposite of the previous evening, loads of clouds, although they were interesting. I met another photographer there from Virginia and although we went in opposite directions from the famous pier, we ended up chatting a bit later on. Seeing my split neutral density filter, he showed me a technique that was pretty impressive. To get the waves to have the silky, long-exposure look when it is just too bright for the longer shutter speeds, he took 10 frames in rapid succession for a multiple exposure, using a short shutter speed, which are then combined in camera and voila, silky smooth waves!! So I thank him for that bit of information and for adding another useful tool to my toolbox. I have always found other photographers more than willing to share their knowledge with others; whether it’s techniques or advising on the best locations, I have yet to meet one that will not share.
Although there never was any beautiful color in the clouds, the sky was interesting enough to make many attempts at blurring waves, horizontal motion blurs and I even took a stab at the creation of a panorama using two frames stitched together and quite a bit of blending and “construction”. Since the water is constantly in motion, it is nearly impossible to make that happen by simply using software to merge the frames.
So, I have finally broken the drought and rekindled my love for the shore and I’m sure I will be returning again many times since there is so much to explore along the coast. However, I suppose now each end of the state will be tugging at me every time I have an opportunity for a short photographic trip because the mountains also have an affinity for drawing me to them as well.