Tag Archives: North Carolina

Going Coastal

As a landscape and nature photographer, there are few experiences that compare to walking out on the beach in the dawn’s faint light, examining the sky, the clouds, the mood of the surf, and anticipating what the next hour might bring.

What is it, exactly, that unceasingly beckons the photographer back to the edge of terra firma time after time? Is it some visceral, primal urge to “go back from whence we came,” as John F. Kennedy once speculated about the kinship of human beings and the sea? Or is the seemingly boundless ocean a visual metaphor for the infinite photo possibilities offered the photographer? How about the local seaside tiki bar that serves up a kaleidoscopic array of boat drinks with miniature umbrellas during the idle light of midday?

Whatever the reason or excuse, coastal landscapes are a favorite subject for many nature photographers, including myself. So with spring soon turning to summer and the unofficial start of beach season, here are a few tips for better coastal landscape photography in any season.

Find a Point of Interest

Beaches are often nondescript, featureless expanses of sand and endless water without any apparent focal point. With no obvious visual fixture, the scene might leave a photographer confused and viewer of the image bored. Locating a conspicuous geological feature, rock, tree, tidal creek, piece of driftwood, or serendipitous conch shell in the foreground can provide a visual anchor that makes for a more compelling image.

Small iceberg on teh black sand beach at Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Experiment with Shutter Speeds

The ocean is a dynamic body of water, heaving and churning with the ebb and flow of each and every wave. Photography is an interpretative art form, so the shutter speed you choose will greatly vary both the look and feel of the scene to potential viewers.

For example, a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second or faster can freeze the water’s motion, projecting a feeling of power or urgency. Any shutter speed of one second or slower can tame even the most furious ocean swells and ascribe a certain grace or fragility to the sea. A range of 1/20 to ½ of a second with an advancing or receding wave or foam is a good compromise, giving water the illusion of motion yet retaining important detail as well.

The focal length, physical distance, and water’s velocity will all vary the visual effect of the wave’s movement for each shutter speed, so the examples cited above are merely rough guidelines. I think it’s important to experiment with a variety of speeds before ultimately deciding on what you prefer for each situation.

Sunset at Hunters Beach Cove, Acadia National Park, Maine USA

Look For Reflections

As mentioned earlier, beaches can seem featureless with little “working material” to assist in assembling a composition. Reflections in wet sand and tidal pools, however, can add some interest and depth to an otherwise ordinary scene.

Tidal pools and puddles can reflect the sky or clouds like a mirror if there’s little or no wind and the thin film of water left on the sand by a receding wave produces reflections that are impressionistic and expressive.

Look for Patterns and Textures

Wind and water can conceive captivating dunes, mini dunes, ripples, ridges, and basins in the sand. These features can be used as a component of a larger, expansive scene or they can become the primary subject themselves. Look for conditions created by low-angled, directional lighting where the verge of light and shadow add yet more compositional elements with which to work.

These conditions can be difficult to visualize under flat or direct midday light. But as the angle of the sun becomes more oblique, textures, patterns, and lines will soon reveal themselves. Work quickly, as the light and shadows will be fleeting.

Tree stump reflected in tidal pool at sunrise, Hunting Island, South Carolina

 Arrive Early – Stay Late

This advice should be mandatory for any landscape photographer – coastal or otherwise. But does the world really need yet another photograph of the sun setting or rising over the ocean? My short answer would be, “Sure, why not?”

I prefer to bracket and blend exposures in post-processing for sunrise or sunset scenes that need usable detail in both the sky and foreground, but the level, unobstructed horizons are ideal graduated neutral density filters as well.

But if beauty for beauty’s sake is too banal for your tastes, you still have the twilight wedge, dawn or dusk’s glow, and low-angled, warm sunlight during the golden hours to compliment the landscape. Snobbery is no excuse for sleeping in.

Protect Your Gear

The best advice I can offer with regard to keeping your gear looking and working like new: Take someone else’s camera to the beach.

Seriously, the saltwater, sand, and wind can run roughshod on your camera gear. Even if the camera is not dropped in the drink, saltwater spray and mist from the pounding surf can do damage over time. I always wipe down my camera and lenses with a damp, freshwater towel and let dry.

Tripods can become corroded and completely inoperable if the legs are submerged in saltwater. Since I cannot resist getting into the water, I carry an old, backup tripod on my coastal excursions and go for it. It’s still a good idea to rinse off the sand and saltwater off the tripod legs when you are finished shooting to extend its life as much as possible.

Dunes with Snow Dusting, Hatteras Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

Get Wet

Despite the previous point of advice, it often helps to get your feet and tripod wet in order get an interesting perspective. Wading into the water and getting a low angle to onrushing waves can provide a unique viewpoint while vicariously injecting the viewer into the scene.

Waves can move the sand and tripod during long exposures, resulting in soft images. For this reason, I push the tripod legs as deep into the sand as possible before an incoming wave arrives. This usually stabilizes the tripod and camera sufficiently.

Research Tide Information

Your favorite coastal photo locale has many different faces and characteristics, which all depend upon the height of the tide. Knowing when high and low tides occur and how they correspond to sunrise and sunset is vital to both your approach and your planning for a future photography trip.

Tidal information can be found online. For the United States, http://www.saltwatertides.com/pickpred.html is a good place to start. A quick Google search for “tidal chart” and your area will produce several results.

An excellent iPhone application is Tide Graph, which gives tidal information for hundreds of coastal locations, which can then be quickly accessed and deciphered.

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The Great Smoky Mountains: Behind the Lens, Second Edition

I’ve just finished writing and assembling my newest ebook project, a second edition of my Great Smoky Mountains: Behind the Lens. So how is this version different from the first?

– More content (80 pages versus 42)

– Optimized for mobile devices and retina screens (hi-res, horizontal format, sized to fit the iPad)

– New locations, new essays, and more images

– Map of the Great Smoky Mountains with marked locations

– Same low price of $7.95. Wait, that’s not different.

For more information and how to buy your own, follow this link.

Just like the first edition, this ebook chronicles many of my favorite images from the Great Smoky Mountains. With each image there is a personal essay that gives some insight with regard to the photographic process I used, my personal experience when the image was created, or information and history about the location. You’ll learn more about landscape and wildlife photography, you’ll have a better understanding of the Smoky Mountains, you might cry, you might laugh, you might accidentally spit coffee all over keyboard.

Below is a sample of the book’s 80 pages. It’s really really hard to read so you might want to buy and download a full-sized copy for yourself. Enjoy!

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Loose Ends and Random Thoughts

“Haunted By Waters” Spruce Flats Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The image above was taken in April of this year in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. This is an excellent example of what I try to teach my students when photographing waterfalls: We are not taking a portrait here. We are creating a landscape image with a waterfall as one of the elements. Walking up on the rocks and filling the frame with the waterfall would have been an easy thing to do but the end result would have been boring and banal. This composition includes the waterfall as a crucial element – as well as the primary focal point – but the image has an elegant visual design that goes beyond being just a portrait or documentary photo. Primarily, the flow of the stream and the placement of the rocks below the falls gets the eye moving back and forth through the frame giving it a dynamic quality that a static portrait would lack.

“Haunted by Waters” is a new addition to my Smoky Mountains Galley and depending on the conditions, is a location we will be visiting on the Smoky Mountains Autumn Workshop in October.

WORKSHOPS

Speaking of workshops, there are two new workshops listed for the first quarter of 2014. For the 4th straight year, Ian Plant and I are leading another tour to Patagonia on March 10 – 19.

For the very first time, I am offering a Winter in Yellowstone photo tour and workshop in February that will combine the very best winter landscapes with wildlife photography. Jackson Hole professional wildlife photographer, Jared Lloyd will be my partner on this trip.

I’m sorry to announce that Arches and Canyonlands, Utah in November is now full, as is Acadia in October. Joe Rossbach and I still have a few openings for the Tetons in September so let me know if any of you have questions about this trip.

Photographer Christina Donadi has written a detailed review of my Smokies workshop from this past spring. Check out the rest of her blog for more excellent photography!

TRUE MODESTY

Last week I was listed as one of the top 100 travel photographers in the world for 2013 by ChiliSauce, a travel blog in the United Kingdom.  When I made the announcement on Facebook and Twitter, as a courtesy to the the owner of the blog, I made the announcement with a controversial preface: the words, “For whatever it’s worth…..” This was met by more than a few emails and private messages by annoyed fans and followers. Most began with a mocking, “For whatever it’s worth….” and eventually got around to making the point that I was not being grateful or gracious about the “honor.” For whatever it’s worth, you’re acting like an ass.

Look, this is not merely false modesty on my part. I do appreciate being listed with at least 99 other very accomplished photographers. But the list is just one person’s opinion and there are some very conspicuous names missing as well as some people I’ve never even heard of. So that’s what it is, one person’s opinion and that’s about what it’s worth. Sorry to offend.

So now I’m off to Africa for two weeks. I’ll try my best to post some crappy phone images here as well as a report or two on how I’m doing. Be sure to Subscribe to Earth and Light to keep up with my  latest travels realtime.

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Great Smoky Mountains Creative Photography Workshop

Only three more spots open for the Great Smoky Mountains Creative Photo Workshop this coming April 14-17. There are more details here and you are free to contact me directly for more information or to ask any questions you might have. See you in April!

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Creative Slumps

It is going to happen to you. The uninterrupted flow of new, original work and ideas is going to dry up. And when it does, it’s going to hurt – mostly your ego, but it will hurt nonetheless especially if you make your living creating.

The good news is that these episodes are only temporary, even if they don’t seem temporary at the time. The bad news is that you don’t know when they are going to end. Tomorrow? Next week? Next Year? Waiting for new ideas and inspiration to return is agonizing. Trying to force something to happen is fruitless. It’s a frustrating, lonely place to be for a creative professional.

This has happened to me a few times during my photography career, with some episodes more severe than others. Either I was inexplicably no longer inspired by the driving force of my work – nature, wilderness, wild places and the wild creature that inhabit them – or the inspiration was still there, but I couldn’t find any new or original way to express it. Since emotion and establishing emotional bonds to my subject are critical, the former concern is much more debilitating than the latter.

I’ve found that the best way to combat these creative slumps is to try something completely new and different. The key is to do something – create something. The very act of creating is often what primes the pump and gets the flow of new ideas and concepts moving again.

“Gorilla”
Green River Gorge, North Carolina
Canon 40D, Canon 70-200 f/2.8, 1/800 second @ f2.8, ISO 800

So what if photographing people or whitewater sports is not “what I do.” The above image is the product of a hike I made down North Carolina’s Green River Gorge in the winter of 2007. I almost didn’t bring my camera on this trip. I was, after all, a nature and landscape photographer and the light was bad, there was no snow on the ground, the trees were bare, with the landscape a mosaic of uninspiring browns and grays. I was also in the middle of one of those creative slumps and didn’t feel very productive or creative anyway.

But as I watched and photographed the kayakers barrel down Gorilla, an infamous set of “rapids” that punctuates this treacherous stretch of whitewater, I was creating. I was having fun and problem solving too. For example, it was relatively dark in the shaded areas of the river, yet I needed fast shutter speeds to freeze the action. I experimented with high ISOs, slower shutter speeds and panning, slower shutter speeds without panning, etc. Nothing serious, nothing expected of me, no pressure to create or to do anything. I was just having fun and experimenting with my camera, not unlike my formative years when I was first learning photography.

Consequently, this experience got me excited about trying this new stuff on my nature and landscape images as well. Without even thinking about it, the slump was over and it ushered in one of the most productive and creative periods of my professional life. All it took was trying something new and starting to create once again. Just create.

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