For the most part, the Outer Banks is known for its beaches, and rightfully so. It is a string of barrier islands about 200 miles long stretching from the Virginia border along most of North Carolina, many miles of which, like the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, remain uninhabited and much as it has for millennia. In addition to the obvious lure of ocean sunrises for landscape photographers, the Outer Banks offers several historic lighthouses, the Atlantic Coast’s largest living sand dunes in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, and a prime example of a maritime forest at Currituck Banks Reserve. The Wright Brothers Memorial is also located there and is well worth the visit to see where man’s first powered flights occurred.
One of the rather pristine areas I’ve visited a few times is Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, on the south end of Oregon Inlet. Arriving early one morning in the dark and being the only car in the parking area, I began putting on some waders before taking the short hike through some dunes to the ocean. Then two or three SUV’s pulled in, parked right next to me and out poured a photo workshop!! Their arrival was encouraging to validate it being a good spot to photograph, but also in a way disappointing, realizing I would be sharing the location with so many others, and having to be concerned about intruding into anyone’s photo. They gathered up their gear and were off to the races even before I could get my second wader on! But I caught up to them at the shoreline, and in near complete darkness, they began shooting the hint of horizon light on this very cloudy morning. Long exposures needed for the dim light blurred the fast-moving clouds and the water making for a messy image. I liked the movement in the clouds though and ran over to a distant line of dunes to try something different (top photo). Looking west instead of east, I took long (25-second) exposures to blur the clouds as previously, and used my headlamp to illuminate the dunes themselves. In addition, I attempted to “spotlight” a small bush on the dune as a kind of focal point. Luckily, my headlamp has both a spotlight and a softer setting, and I made use of each in painting the dunes. Taking those photos in the several attempts to get the lighting right, was a race against time before the clouds were too bright to allow a single exposure long enough to sidelight all the dunes from both sides of the camera. So there was a lot of running around in the sand after each time I tripped the shutter.