Outer Banks Getaway

February 19-21

It has been about six years since I've been to the beach.  I'm not exactly what you would call a beach person, and neither is Toni.  However, I do enjoy photographing some different scenery from time to time.  The opportunity came up to be able to go for a quick little weekend getaway, and instead of our normal mountain excursion, we decided to head to the coast.  Just to change things up, we decided to go to the Outer Banks instead of Carolina Beach where we would typically go.  The weather was looking pretty decent with moderate temperatures and roughly 40-70% cloud cover for the entire weekend.  That would mean very favorable conditions for photography.

Since we had to leave after I got off from work on Friday, we got to the beach much too late to do anything except for settle into the room and get ready for the next morning.  The weather was still looking promising, if not a little cold in the morning.  I decided that I would get up about an hour and a half before sunrise, so that I could be out on the beach in plenty of time to find some workable compositions.  This is part of the dedication of a photographer, I would have much rather slept in, and enjoyed the sounds of the crashing waves as I woke up.  Instead, I had an alarm blaring in my ear.

Holding Back the Sun
I bundled up best I could with the clothes that I had and headed out for first light.  I have always enjoyed working with the fences at the beach, and this particular Nags Head coastline had plenty to work with.  I hunkered down in the sand and framed a shot that took advantage of the pickets and waited.  Using my 24-70mm lens with a 3-Stop Reverse ND grad filter, I was able to capture the first hints of light from the sun which was still well below the horizon.  I was really hoping for an amazing sunrise since there was a hole in the clouds right where the sun would be peeking out, with thick clouds overhead.  I crossed my fingers, but worked with the existing conditions as best I could.

As the light started to change, I decided to switch to a better location that was no longer back lit from street lights.  I moved over to the right about 100 feet, and set up with a slightly different composition.  With the wind gusting to 20mph, I decided it was better not to bother switching lenses, so I kept my original setup on the camera and framed a different composition.  I was still using the ever available fences for foreground interest, but the landscape had changed.

Outer Banks Reflections
As the sun continued its trip to the edge of the water, the clouds started to come alive with color.  This was going to be it!  I don't do a lot of sunrises, and I was starting to think that I was going to get very lucky on this one.  Just in case things changed though, I continued to work the conditions as they changed.  As it turns out, Outer Banks Reflections is my favorite from this morning, and quite possibly from the entire weekend.  It really did come together very nicely, and while the sun wasn't working its magic on the dense clouds above, the reflections in the water make up for it I think.

Morning Surf
As the sun climbed higher and higher, the clouds never did change color, and they eventually started getting darker.  With the sun at the base of the clouds, I realized that I wasn't going to get the sunrise I was hoping for. However, I was getting some great reflections in the water, and the waves were working out nicely for me as well.  I don't do sunrises often, but I do enjoy capturing the moments when I can.

With the sun's direct involvement in my photographs done, I started to look around for other possibilities that might present themselves.  Looking out over the water was no longer all that interesting, so I looked behind me.  As it turned out, the thick clouds above me, were actually starting to get rather interesting with the back light from the sun.  Fortunately, there were a few really interesting beach houses that caught my eye, and gave me a composition beneath the clouds to work with.

OBX Cottages
As you can see, I really do like my fences!  They provide great leading lines, as well as repeating graphical elements.  I was able to incorporate them in this composition that highlighted a sand colored house.  While the yellow typically would just blend in with the sandy surroundings, I felt with the blue tones in the clouds above, and the blue house to the side, I could achieve a very balanced color pallet.  To add to the serenity, I had the repeating patters of the fences leading to a bookend that was a wooden walkway to the left.  This composition just felt right, and was a natural shot.

A Commanding View
The clouds were still rather remarkable, so I continued to find beach houses to place beneath them.  On the other side of the hotel, I found this unique house that seemed to really stick out from the crowd.  With the help of a wide angle composition, I was able to really emphasize that visual weight.  The fences again helped me establish where the viewer's eyes should be going.  The clouds even decided to make leading lines to the house I was focusing on.  Yeah, this one actually composed itself it would seem.

I was having fun with the houses, but I wanted to work some with the dunes as well, so I moved off of the beach and found a nice vantage point for a dune.  I'm sure this won't come as a shock, but I found a nice fence to go with the dune when I was looking. I had actually spotted this the night before from the balcony of the hotel.  I wasn't sure how it would work as a picture, but I saw potential in it.

The Dunes
As I was working on the composition for the dune, I realized that I would do better working this from an abstract angle more than a straight up landscape frame of mind.  I looked for shapes and textures more that simply subject matter here.  The hard lines of the fence played well with the cottony feel of the sky above.  The fence also mimicked the grass atop the dune.  The fence dropped where the dune actually rose above, and then the fence balanced itself out on the other side of the frame.  For a simple picture, there is just so much going on with it!  The funny thing about this is I shot it from the parking lot of the hotel, while talking to one of the guests who was visiting OBX from Virginia.

With the conversation over, the picture completed, and Toni back from her morning run, it was time for me to pack it in and go eat breakfast.  It was about 8am at this point, and I was getting hungry.  After breakfast, Toni and I prepared for our day which would include going out exploring to see what we could see.  The clouds that had been so promising in the forecast had decided to become a featureless overcast, so I wasn't thinking too much about photography at this point, but we were going on a road trip anyway.

Bodie Island Lighthouse
One of the stops that we made was to the Bodie Island Lighthouse.  This was one of the primary reasons for the trip to OBX.  Toni hasn't seen any of the NC lighthouses and she wanted to rectify that situation.  Nags Head was within easy driving range of two different lighthouses.  Bodie Island was one, and there was another located in Manteo.  On our first pass on each I didn't even get the camera out, we just walked around looked at the landmarks.  However, as the day moved along, the sky started to change a bit, and I decided to head back to Bodie Island once again.  We got there, and I got the camera put together very quickly, using my 16-35mm lens for the perspective that I wanted.  I quickly found a composition using a pair of trees to the left for scale and balance in the frame.  The sky was mostly washed out, but there was still some detail left in the clouds, which I exposed for.  After two initial shots, I moved to some better compositions, but the clouds had changed up, and the detail was all but lost.  The temperature was dropping, and I wasn't seeing much promise in the sky, so we decided to head on back to the room and start thinking about dinner.  By the way, NOTHING is open on the Outer Banks in the off season, but that is another story, for another time.

The day was done photographically.  I wasn't sure what I had gotten, or if I had gotten anything at all.  Looking back in the camera's LCD wasn't really telling me much since I shoot in a low contrast, low saturation format.  Everything just looked blah and washed out.  I was hoping that for nearly 70 frames shot, I would have something usable.

The next morning started out much the same as Saturday did.  I woke up about 5:15 and checked the weather.  The hourly forecast was calling for 45% cloud cover, which would be ideal for my purposes.  However, looking out of the window of the hotel room, I found very little clouds in the sky.  In fact, I saw not a single cloud.  I wasn't going to miss out on my last day of coastal photography, so I went out anyway.  Knowing that I wouldn't be able to include much of the sky...if any, I chose to fit my 70-200mm lens which would only pick out a small portion of the horizon which would have some color to it.

Lighting the Sky
Pulling a trick out of my book from years ago, I really focused in on the fences this time.  The idea was to have a strong visual interest in the foreground, and the compressed horizon in the distance would provide intense color in the background even though there was only a sliver of actual color to be seen.  Ah, the magic of focal length!  I again used various ND grad filters to control the contrast in the scene and keep the sky from blowing out.  These filters have been invaluable over the years for so many of my photographs.  Short of the polarizer, the ND grads are the most important accessory I carry in my camera bag.

Unable to Continue
The nice thing about such a long lens is that I can pick out just about anything in the landscape and make that my focal point.  I shifted just a few feet to the right for this second picture, but it changed the entire feel and focus of the image.  I'm not sure which I like better, but they sure do illustrate how compositions can change dramatically with just a few steps.  The fallen fence is present in both pictures, but its role is completely different.

Once the sun was up, the little bit of color was gone.  I looked above me, and found that there were very little clouds to be found.  This was disappointing to say the least.  I wasn't ready to call it a day just yet.  I hunted around in an attempt to find some different compositions.

The Pier
One thing that I had found interesting the day before was the pier to the North of the hotel.  The lighting had not been right on it with the cloud cover, but with the sun bathing everything in a warm morning light today, I found a much different character of the pier.  Sadly, there were no clouds behind it, but the tracks from various vehicles made some nice leading lines to the main building, and the pier itself provided a nice color balance through the water.  While not exactly an amazing picture, I do like the overall feel of this image.

With the sun rising ever faster in the sky, I had to work quickly because in no time at all, the sun would be too harsh to be able to do much with.  I worked some more with the fences, but never really found much of interest.  I did notice that there were a few light clouds moving into the area, and I worked quickly to find a composition to fit below the clouds.  The problem was, they were so faint that I wasn't sure I would be able to get them.  My mind went into monochrome mode, and I started shooting some frames thinking about using color filters in the conversion to add a little contrast to the sky.  I wasn't sure if it would work or not, but I gave it a try.

Coastal Neighbors
Beyond the Fence
As it turned out, my idea worked out relatively well.  I found the missing definition in the sky with the red filter, and was able to get a couple of pretty interesting monochrome images to finish out the day.

I had now shot 117 frames over two days.  I wasn't sure exactly what I had, or if any of them would be usable.  I had to fight with conditions that were far from what I was hoping for, or planning for.  Fortunately though, I still have enough tricks up my sleeve to work alternative plans on the fly.  I would have liked to have shot a lot more, but considering the weather, this was a very successful Trek to the coast!

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