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.
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.
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.
The rest of the day was spent scouting for sunset and a Milky Way attempt at Bodie Lighthouse. I succumbed to the pull to climb to the top and try my hand at some spiral staircase shots that produced nothing new (no tripods allowed – not good in a dimly lit interior). On a tip from a photographer friend, I checked out the Salvo area and felt it to be a strong candidate for the night’s sunset after finding a few gnarled snags bending into the sound for a foreground subject. Then to Hatteras Light to see what possibilities lie there. In addition to the lighthouse itself, there is a large area of standing snags along the road to the campground. But after a short walk along a path into the area, I didn’t find anything suitable for night sky subjects.
So I grabbed a slice of pizza in Buxton and headed back to Salvo for sunset. As the sun got really low in the sky, I used the many curves of the side-lit Pamlico Sound shoreline there to create added depth to the scene looking south, leading to a few wispy clouds.
Then on over to the gnarled trees with the setting sun peeking through the branches. I did some bracketing for possible HDR in hopes of getting some detail in the foreground grasses and sand for a more natural look instead of letting it simply going black. All this time I kept an eye on those few wispy clouds thinking they may gather the color just after sunset and, with the mirror-like water, make a good reflection. Well as luck would have it, they did turn a beautiful pink and as an added bonus, just then a brilliant yellow kayak floated gently past me, made a circle and then past me again before landing on the shore. A few moments later, the clouds were at their most intense and by then I had clicked off quite a few frames having never moved the tripod.
Because of that, I was able to choose the image with the sharpest kayakers in the best position within the frame, and then blend them into the image with the most intense color!! I couldn’t have asked for more even if I had hired them as models for a shoot. Although I would have preferred a red kayak, yellow was just fine.
When I thought my luck couldn’t get any better, it did when I ran into Jay Wickens (http://www.jaywickens.com/), another photographer, at Bodie Lighthouse shooting the Milky Way. He pushed me to get the most out of my shots and for that I am grateful. I spent almost three hours there trying variations: shots with the light on, just partially on, different angles and panoramas of the marsh and Milky Way. It was fun…especially having another photographer there to bounce off some ideas. After a few hours of uncomfortable sleep sitting in the car (I can’t stretch out in my car as I do in SUV’s I rent on trips out west), amazingly I overslept and was too late for first light, but did go across the road from the lighthouse for the sunrise. I had planned to go back to Pea Island, but there was no time for that.
To my good fortune, the dunes across the way were taller and had great views down the coast toward Oregon Inlet and I was happy with the shots I got there. There was even a thin line of clouds along the horizon to add another layer to the distance within the frame. I had finally gotten an image with that “look back in time”.