Window, Stairs and Landing — Bodie Light, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC © jj raia
During this latest trip to the Outer Banks, I found myself utilizing quite a few tools before tripping the shutter that have been added since the conversion to all digital, and thinking ahead to what was to be done with an image later in post processing. One of the things I added when I switched over from film was split neutral density filters, both hard and soft gradients of 2-stops. The main reason was to better balance the light values between the sky and what was below, either water or land, and a 2-stop because water reflections are usually about 2-stops darker than what’s above. Being a firm believer of getting the most information from the scene in the camera, I utilize these filters quite often. One note here about these filters: some of the less expensive brands tend to leave a color cast on the image.
First Light — Pea Island NWR, NC © jj raia
Whenever I photograph a lake or the ocean at first light, since the horizon is clean and straight, I always use a hard gradient split ND filter as in the image above. In addition, when recording these scenes, it helps to reduce the exposure by about one-stop of the meter reading in order to keep the image as dark as the scene really is. Otherwise, the light at the horizon may be overexposed resulting in a loss of color density.
In the previous post, there was an image of kayakers in the mirrored reflection of clouds above. A hard gradient was placed above the horizon to balance the sky and reflections, but since I was facing south just as the sun went below the horizon, the right side of the frame was a bit bright, leaving the image unevenly lit.
Without Second Graduated Filter © jj raia
With Second Graduated Filter © jj raia
In these images made before the kayakers arrived, by adding the soft gradient held across the frame with the darker side toward the bright sky, the light values were more even throughout the frame. The idea is to eliminate any areas that may contain blown out highlights since trying to correct them later becomes problematic. The image on the left was taken without the second filter and is brighter on the right side, corrected by adding the second filter in the image on the right.
Bodie Light and Milky Way — Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC © jj raia
When living in New Jersey and heading for the shore for the day, we always opted for Island Beach State Park. We chose this barrier island because we wanted to stay away from the crowds, boardwalks and tourist trap shops to be in a place as close to pristine as was possible in a state as highly industrialized and populated as it is. The other day I began a spur of the moment first trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks in search of the same pristine beaches and what I found was nothing short of a raw, almost primeval landscape. Of course there was evidence of civilization, but you could also find miles of unpopulated barrier island along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. From Nags Head south to Hatteras Light, with the exception of a few small towns, you can easily find solitude and imagine yourself being there as it was a thousand years ago!! When I visit this type of place, that’s the feeling I try to get across in my photographs: being witness to a day before the encroachment of man, an instant along the incomprehensible continuum of earth’s history.
Sunset — Roanoke Sound, NC © jj raia
The first afternoon was spent scouting locations for sunset on the sound side, but it ended up in disappointment, as each location just never exemplified that feeling. I was ready to blur the choppy water caused by a strong breeze with a ten-stop neutral density filter, but the cloudless sky proved uninteresting. In hindsight, I should have done it anyway, using a small dock I found in the parking lot of a restaurant, and blended in the sky of a short exposure of the sun which would have been a blur with a long exposure. It’s not a good idea to do long exposures that include a bright sun as it may do damage to a sensor, but the sun was partially obscured by haze just before it touched the horizon. However, the thought never occurred to me at the time, but it’s filed away for the next time.
Surf at Dawn — Pea Island NWR, NC © jj raia
Dunes at Sunrise — Pea Island NWR, NC © jj raia
The next morning I left the motel (unusual for me) while it was still dark and headed to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge near Oregon Inlet. Luckily, I brought some bug spray to fend off the marauding mosquitos when I got out of the car, and caught some first light images of the ocean, but again without any clouds. Then as the sun broke the horizon, I headed into the dunes to capture the swirling shapes and ripples in the sand among the grasses and sea oats. The dunes easily show evidence of the constant change along a barrier island, but trying to incorporate that into an image can be difficult, especially with the great expanse of light values. But it is among the dunes that the real beauty of a barrier island lies.
Final Flight — Pea Island NWR, NC © jj raia