Topsail Island: Part 4

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Rosy Outlook
When we last left our band of vacationers Toni was sick, and the girls were waterlogged, and well rested from multiple mornings sleeping in.  My camera was left outside like it had done something bad inside, and the forecast was set for a decent sunrise.  I had found my beach groove sometime during the day on Wednesday and I was ready to get out and have a great morning as the sun was rising.

I got up at 4:45 so that I could be out plenty early just in case the camera decided to fog over again.  I started to look for a good location to set up as I took stock of the sky.  To my pleasure, there were clouds in the sky today, and it appeared as though there was only a thin strip at the horizon.  This meant that there was a good chance at some good color in the sky.  I had played out the tide pools already and was not wanting to go that route again so soon.  I was still looking for some beach grass on the dunes to put under a great sky, and found some just North of the motel.

Now for those of you who are worried that I am trampling all over the dunes to get my shots, I assure you that I am only using access points for the boardwalks from the other houses which are cut into the dunes.  I know how delicate they are and have no want to disturb them.  I do really enjoy photographing them though, and that was just what I did on Thursday morning.

With my location chosen, I needed to choose a composition.  I wasn't needing to go too wide here, so I chose my workhorse 24-70mm lens and decided that I would leave the polarizer off.  It is of limited use shooting into, or directly away from the sun anyway.  I got into position and found my composition and waited.  The sky was starting to show some color, but not nearly as much as I was hoping for.  I continued to shoot and eventually saw that the sun was coming over the clouds so I moved slightly to put the sun between blades of grass.  I liked the idea, but the shot lacked balance, so I recomposed and moved the sun over to the negative space to the right.  Right after I did that the sky erupted in color!  This was the situation I had been waiting for all week long.  No longer did I need to try so hard to get the color to show up, I just had to point and shoot.

Top Of the Morning
As I was shooting the rising sun, I saw above me that the sky was blue.  Now when shooting sunrises and sunsets it is always beneficial to get sections of blue sky for contrast an color balance.  I had my opportunity here, so I flipped the camera on its side and recomposed once again.  I actually really loved this shot, and could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins as I shot a few frames while the colors faded away.  I had no issue that it was a short lives sunrise, this was the best one I had seen at the beach in some time, and I was happy with it.

I walked around a little bit looking for other photographs to shoot, but with the increasing clouds I could tell that I was done.  That is the thing about beach photography...completely cloudy days are not my friend at the coast.  I need drama in the sky, and I just wasn't going to get that this morning, but I had a handful of really great pictures that I was excited to see processed.

When I got back to the room, Toni was still in bed, Hannah was still asleep, and Sierra jumped out of the bed and said she was ready to go to the Sea Turtle Rescue Hospital.  This was at 7ish in the morning, so I will give her credit.  Old Farts: 1, Curtain Climbers: 1.  It was a dead tie for the day.  When I informed her that they didn't open until noon, she looked quizzically at me and crawled right back into bed fully dressed to go out.  I'm still giving her credit for the early rise though.

I sat down at the table and got my cleaning supplies out.  It was time to do the daily wipe down of the camera and equipment that I had used.  I was getting rather proficient with this part of the morning.  I packed everything back up and figured that it would probably be there till tomorrow morning.  I knew that there was the possibility of storms this evening and that usually means some good clouds.  However, I was committed to take the girls to the Rescue Hospital and take them for min golf.  There was going to be a dinner in there as well, so I wasn't really expecting to be back in time to do anything near sunset.

Well, things don't always go as planned, and sometimes that is a good thing.  The Sea Turtle tour only took about an hour as opposed to the several that I was thinking it would take.  With the heat of the day, Thelma and Louise only wanted to play one round of golf which was great by me.  I've learned that I have no patience when it comes to getting a little ball in a hole.  I'm still holding my position on golf.  After you hit it as hard as you can, if you find it, you win.  Simple rules, and still has a level of difficulty to make it interesting...but I digress.

It was too early for dinner at this point, and the Bobsie Twins had eaten donuts for lunch.  It was vacation, so sue me!  I'll make Sierra eat extra green beans this week.  We went ahead and headed back to the room.  They were wanting to go down to the beach and swim.  I stayed on the deck to watch them and so I could be close to Toni who was still pretty much bed ridden at this point.  When they returned to the room it was decided that dinner would be sandwiches that were bought for lunches so I didn't have to make the 20 minute drive into town for food.  That opened things up for the possibility of a hike down to the Southern tip of the island.

Southern Tip of Topsail
This was the area that Toni had run to a few days before, and the girls had walked down there the next day.  It was my turn now, and I set out around 6:45 so that I could get there in plenty of time for golden hour and ultimately sunset.  One thing that I noticed as I made my way South was that the wind was getting more and more powerful as there was less and less land to block it.  It was very similar to the first evening on the island and I was a little hesitant to pull the camera out of the bag for fear of the sand getting into every nook and cranny.  But, this was going to be my last chance to shoot a sunset over the dunes, so I continued on.

I found another tide pool that was showing at low tide, and above it was a gorgeous cloud formation.  This was as good a reason as any to get the camera out and start working on some compositions.  I chose to go with my 24-70mm due to its versatility and a close second reason was a little more protective lens hood over my wider angle lenses.  I worked around trying to find a composition that worked that didn't include my shadow (the sun was at my back for a change).  I started to find my groove with daytime beach photography and the frames started adding up.

Let it Wash Over Me
I was really hoping for some more foreground interest out here, but the beach was pretty clean and unmolested.  I opted to use the water as a foreground which is a little risky with the sand being pulled out from under the tripod legs at times.  It is entirely possible that a camera could be knocked over, or pulled over from the current.  That meant I had to be really careful with how things were progressing.  The clouds were great and I was all alone in the world at what seemed like the edge of that world.  It was a really nice experience, and I reveled in it.

Atlantic Caress
I got progressively more and more brave about shooting in the water.  Eventually I was standing in the surf and had found out just how much pressure to apply to keep the tripod grounded in the surf.  This allowed me to be able to get further in the water, which was feeling pretty good on my feet.  I was watching the clouds and was realizing that there was the potential for a pretty good sunset over the dunes.  I decided it was time to abandon shooting the clouds over the water and start to concentrate on the dunes which were looking pretty spectacular already.

Topsail's Coastline
As I started to figure out the best way to capture the dunes, I realized that the sun was still much too high up in the sky to be effectively photographed.  I once again turned my attention North where the clouds were quite impressive.  They were starting to take on the warm colors from the sun already.  I found a patch of greenery on a small dune and worked out a few shots from there.  I was still getting excited about the possibility of a phenomenal sunset and was rather preoccupied with that through much of this series of photographs.

Evening at the Dunes
The time that I had been waiting for was finally here. The sun was low enough in the sky that I could start making exposures.  While I would have liked to have used one of my Singh-Ray ND Grads here, I wasn't willing to expose them to the sand that was blowing so fiercely.  I was counting on the lens hood to protect the front element with the polarizer attached.  While setting up my first of the sunset dune pictures I gave the polarizer a twist to see just how advantageous it would be shooting directly into the sun.  In a surprise twist, it did actually add some color to the sky, so I left it on.

The real trick here was to expose for the highlights which are impossible to recover after the fact.  The plan was to eek out the details with Lightroom in lieu of using the filters. With the first exposure over the dunes I could see that I had enough information on the histogram that I should be able to recover the shadow details without any problem.  I was getting excited about the light show that was about to begin.  It is rare for me to shoot a sunset, yet they are quite easy to read since they start with a lit sky.  Sunrises are all about guess work until  first light hits.

Driftwood Ripples
I continued to work around the dunes as the sun was dropping.  When I found a composition that didn't include the sun I would take the shot.  There were lots of odds and ends that made for interesting foregrounds when shooting into the dunes.  With the wind howling about, the sand was getting some nice waves and patterns developing.  I used those as leading lines. and repeating patterns to lead eyes into a photo.  The bits of driftwood added to the scene in many cases as well.  My focus was on the sky though, and I was seeing some pretty amazing stuff developing in the heavens.

Coastal Mohawk
There are just some days you are living right and good things happen.  This was apparently one of those days because I had several great opportunities to shoot some wonderful dunes, and the sky was getting really interesting above.  I was starting to see a bunch of colors developing which indicated things were going to get interesting quickly.  While I was waiting on one scene to develop, I moved my position ever so slightly and shot this interesting dune with a tuft of grass down the middle.  It turned out so well that I flipped the camera and tried it again as a portrait shot.

Wind in Your Hair
By this point the lighting was getting dim and the wind was still a problem.  When shooting something like tall grass in the wind with dim light, motion blur becomes a tremendous issue.  I knew I wasn't going to get tack sharp blades of grass in this wind, but I wanted to minimize the motion.  I had already upped the ISO on the camera to 400, and was now bumping it up to 800 in order to get a relatively quick shutter.  It seemed to work and allowed me to render the tall grass as slightly blurred to indicate the wind, but sharp enough to not be distracting.  It was a fine balancing act for sure.  The sun was steadily dropping and I was seeing my chance for the shot I had set up originally.  I got the camera back in position and was still using this one mound of sand, but shooting in a different direction.

End of Days
The histogram was showing me that I was getting all of the information that I was needing at this point.  The sky was looking amazing with areas of blue, gold, and even red and orange.  There was so much visual interest in the clouds that I could barely contain myself.  I shot several frames with the hope of getting the grass to stand still since the wind was actually starting to die down.  This was the way to end a day with a camera!

I was satisfied at this point.  This had been a tremendous day for both sunrises and sunsets.  I had been out and captured both of them successfully, which is all I can ask.  Now, it was time to make the mile walk back to the room.  Man, that was a long walk!

When I arrived, I found the room dark except for the television.  Toni and the girls were all in bed with the lights out.  Old Farts: 1, Eye Rollers: 0.  I had redeemed myself from this morning!  I turned on a small desk lamp and started the process of cleaning the camera for the second time in the same day.  The tripod was in bad shape from where I had dropped it to the ground to get low a few times.  The lever locks were all gritty with sand and I needed to get that out.  That meant a trip to the tub to rinse all of the joints out to ensure smooth operation. 

I got everything packed up and ready for the next morning.  The freshly cleaned camera went straight outside once again to stay the night.  The morning was looking less than ideal for a sunrise, but I had been out every day so far and there was no reason to skip a day.

Thursday <--- You are here


  1. In.Love! These are exactly what I see when walking at Serenity Point.

    1. Thank you Sharon! Sorry for the delay, I just now saw the comment. I want to go back there soon and do more photos. Amazing place!