Author Archives: David Blevins

2013 Bald Head Island Photography Workshop Results

 

Some great images were created during the photography workshop on Bald Head Island last month. Bald Head Island is a wonderful location for nature photography, and each participant brought their own perspective to the subjects we covered.

DAY 1:

I like to begin photography workshops with difficult subjects where the image ideas are not immediately obvious. The lessons learned in the struggle to make an image in these situations help later when trying to find a unique approach to more obvious subjects. Also, observing the struggles of participants and talking with them about it helps me get a sense of how I can best help them with their photography.

I started the workshop by challenging the participants to photograph palmetto leaves. The sabal palmetto tree is rare in North Carolina and reaches the northern limit of its range just north of Bald Head Island. To me, the striking visual design of a palmetto leaf is an iconic symbol of Bald Head Island. We all struggled with this subject for over an hour. After a while I made an image to demonstrate how I approach a subject like this. 

Focusing a composition on one simple idea, such as the radiating lines of a palmetto leaf, make it easy for the viewer to understand and appreciate the image. Direct sunlight shining through a leaf gives it a spectacular glow and highlights the internal structure. Finding a leaf where you can see its simple visual design without distracting elements in interesting light is the first step. Once you find an interesting leaf in good light, making a good image is much easier. - David Blevins

Focusing a composition on one simple idea, such as the radiating lines of a palmetto leaf, make it easy for the viewer to understand and appreciate the image. Direct sunlight shining through a leaf gives it a spectacular glow and highlights the internal structure. Finding a leaf where you can see its simple visual design without distracting elements in interesting light is the first step. Once you find an interesting leaf in good light, making a good image is much easier.
- David Blevins

I mentioned that I was going to look for animals on the palmetto leaves because I thought it would be great to use the light shining through a leaf to create a silhouette of the animal, giving an additional element of interest to the composition. I did not find one, but Kim did!

David made this suggestion in one of our discussions of an image he was hoping to find. A few minutes later, there it was, an insect silhouetted against a leaf. Lesson learned: sometimes the obvious photo opportunity is not obvious even though it is right there in front of us.
- Kim Hawks

I noticed one of the participants was not making images so I asked her what she was thinking about. She said she was not very excited about leaves and was having trouble with this subject. I asked her what she was excited about photographing and she said, “the ocean.” I thought about it for a moment and suggested she could try to see an ocean wave in the shapes and patterns of a palmetto leaf. I made this image to demonstrate the idea.

Sabal Palmetto

An ocean wave in a palmetto leaf. Learning to see objects without their labels is an important skill to develop to free you from the prison of a left-brained and verbal way of seeing.
- David Blevins

After struggling with palmetto leaves, we headed to Cape Fear Point to work in the rapidly improving afternoon light. We spent a lot of time talking about how to take manual control of exposure to achieve effects like motion blur from a long shutter speed. As the sun set and the light faded, we were able to make some interesting images using long exposures of the moving surf.

I’d taken the obvious shots I had in my head and decided to shoot the waves in slow motion. Lesson learned: Slow motion waves really show motion/movement well! Lesson learned again: When you’ve made all the photographs you can imagine, there are still images to be imagined, seen and created.   - Kim Hawks

I’d taken the obvious shots I had in my head and decided to shoot the waves in slow motion. Lesson learned: Slow motion waves really show motion/movement well! Lesson learned again: When you’ve made all the photographs you can imagine, there are still images to be imagined, seen and created.   – Kim Hawks

While most of us were focused on the ocean, Maggie worked on the view in the opposite direction, where the sun was setting and the sky was most colorful. 

Sea oats at sunset.   - Maggie Zwilling

Sea oats at sunset.   – Maggie Zwilling

We worked well into dusk experimenting with long exposures. After dark, as we were hiking back up the beach, I noticed the light from the full moon reflected in the surf as it curved toward the horizon. Kim was walking beside me, and I knew she was interested in trying some photography at night, so I pointed out the opportunity to her, and she did a great job.

We were on our way back to the house; it was getting late. We were all marveling at the magic of the full moon. David told me to turn around and look. Lesson learned: when you think you’re done, there’s always another angle to consider.    – Kim Hawks

DAY 2:

Nights are short this time of year so no one had time for a full night’s sleep before we met at 5:30am for the sunrise shoot. I told everyone the night before that I was hoping for something special this morning. My friends at the Bald Head Island Conservancy agreed to let me know if the nightly sea turtle patrol found any sea turtle tracks on the beach. Right at 5:30am I received a text with great news; there were tracks on East Beach, not far from an access point. We sped off and made it to the location while the predawn light was still soft. 

Workshop participants photographing sea turtle tracks at dawn.   - David Blevins

Workshop participants photographing sea turtle tracks at dawn.   – David Blevins

The light was spectacular. We had everything from soft pastel light while the sun was still below the horizon, to soft and warm light while the sun was behind clouds, to hard warm light when the sun peaked out from the clouds. 

Kim photographing sea turtle tracks in the soft pastel light before dawn.   - David Blevins

Kim photographing sea turtle tracks in the soft pastel light before dawn.   – David Blevins

Kim made this image of the sea turtle tracks in the soft and warm light while the sun was behind a cloud. She used a long shutter speed to render the surf in a soft painterly way.

Sea turtle tracks.   - Kim Hawks

Sea turtle tracks.   – Kim Hawks

Janet photographed the sea turtle tracks in cooler light with a long telephoto lens to compress distance. 

Sea Turtle Tracks.   - Janet Hilton

Sea Turtle Tracks.   – Janet Hilton

Sydney made this image of the tracks using the warm hard light after the sun came out from behind the clouds to give the tracks more contrast. 

Sea Turtle Tracks - Sydney Cass

Sea Turtle Tracks.   – Sydney Cass

As the sun rose higher, the quality of the light began to change. Sydney made this lovely seascape that shows a rain shower on the horizon as the sun began to peak out of the clouds.

Morning rain.   - Sydney Cass

Morning rain.   – Sydney Cass

If you look carefully at the waves in Sydney’s shot above you can see what I was noticing at this moment; the sunlight was shining through the crashing waves, giving them a wonderful glow. I switched to a long telephoto lens and captured one of these glowing waves.

Sunlight shining through a crashing wave.   - David Blevins

Sunlight shining through a crashing wave.   – David Blevins

While I was using a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the waves, Kim was using the slow shutter speed techniques we covered the previous evening to create some interesting effects with the crashing waves. 

The sun was high & bright and not the best for landscape shots.  A few of us sat down with  David and began zooming in on the waves right in front of us.  Lesson learned: When the light is lousy, there is still something to photograph.   - Kim Hawks

The sun was high and bright and not the best for landscape shots. A few of us sat down with David and began zooming in on the waves right in front of us. Lesson learned: When the light is lousy, there is still something to photograph.   – Kim Hawks

One of my favorite images from the workshop was made by Janet while most of us were focused on turtle tracks. It just goes to show how important it is to not become so fixated on what you are working on that you miss the unexpected. 

Clouds.   - Janet Hilton

Clouds.   – Janet Hilton

When Janet showed us all her image I said, “it looks like when you die and go to heaven.” Sydney’s wry response was, “how do you know what that looks like?” I laughed and thought about it for a moment, “Hollywood” was all I could say.

2013 White Pines Photography Workshop Results

We had a great photography workshop at White Pines Nature Preserve a few weeks ago, and I thought I would share some of the results. I took the group to four locations in the preserve, each chosen because it presented different challenges. Most beginner photographers hike with their camera and wait until they see something that inspires them before making an image. I wanted the group to learn how patience and careful observation can help them find inspiration where they would have never found it before. This is an important skill, and once you learn it you will find that you no longer need to wait for inspiration, but instead can cultivate the creative process wherever and whenever you need it. 

I wanted to take a pic that truly expresses the feelings I have in the middle of a forest. The challenge, for me, was seeing through the complexity and busyness of a forest, to identify a non-cluttered view that expressed my emotions and feelings of peace, quiet, beauty, & magic.
- Kim Hawks

This photo was taken in the soft light of dusk with a long lens using a low light setting on my camera which actually takes four photos and stacks them together to reduce the noise caused by high ISO.   - Dan Harvey

This photo was taken in the soft light of dusk with a long lens using a low light setting on my camera which actually takes four photos and stacks them together to reduce the noise caused by high ISO.
- Dan Harvey

We spent some time working with the largest white pine in the preserve. Everyone had their own take on how to photograph this tree. Kim and I shot with a wide angle lens; Sue used a more telephoto perspective.

I made this photo of Kim while she was making her photo below. I shot it with a 14mm lens that has an almost 90 degree field of view. I wanted to capture both the photographer and what the photographer was working on in one image.   - David Blevins

I made this photo of Kim while she was making her photo below. I shot it with a 14mm lens that has an almost 90 degree field of view. I wanted to capture both the photographer and what the photographer was working on in one image.
- David Blevins

 

I learned during the workshop why a certain lens is better for a particular shot, based on what the photographer is trying to achieve. The Mother White Pine was shot with my wide angle lens which I learned makes distant subjects seem smaller and farther away.   - Kim Hawks

I learned during the workshop why a certain lens is better for a particular shot, based on what the photographer is trying to achieve. The Mother White Pine was shot with my wide angle lens which I learned makes distant subjects seem smaller and farther away.
- Kim Hawks

 

I liked the way the White Pine was framed nicely by the surrounding foliage.   - Sue Harvey

I liked the way the White Pine was framed nicely by the surrounding foliage.
- Sue Harvey

The most challenging subject I gave the group was a close-up of white pine foliage. This is the sort of subject most people would walk right past and take no notice of. We spent an hour looking in detail at white pine foliage, manipulating the light with reflectors and diffusers, and trying to find interesting compositions. Each person came up with completely different ideas. Sue moved in close to the new growth on the tip of a branch, Kim saw the patterns of one branch mirrored in another, and Maggie found a strong composition with radiating lines that draw your eye into the center of the frame.

This close-up of white pine needles required a tripod since the shutter speed was only 1/20th of a second.   - Sue Harvey

This close-up of white pine needles required a tripod since the shutter speed was only 1/20th of a second.
- Sue Harvey

 

There are lots of things we see every day, that we take for granted and do not see anything special about it.  David asked us to focus on photographing white pine needles.  It was an interesting process, I explored many thoughts that surfaced based on what I was seeing.  This one reminds me of a couple dancing.  It feels happy to me.   - Kim Hawks

There are lots of things we see every day that we take for granted and do not see anything special about it. David asked us to focus on photographing white pine needles. It was an interesting process, I explored many thoughts that surfaced based on what I was seeing. This one reminds me of a couple dancing. It feels happy to me.
- Kim Hawks

 

I tried to capture the delicacy and elegance of the white pine foliage.   - Maggie Zwilling

I tried to capture the delicacy and elegance of the white pine foliage.
- Maggie Zwilling

About half way through the workshop I found a white pine branch that had been blown down from the top of the forest canopy by a storm the night before. Unlike the white pine foliage we had been working on earlier, this branch had pollen cones that were bursting with bright yellow pollen. It is a rare opportunity to see and photograph a subject normally only found high out of sight in the forest canopy. We attached the branch to a tripod so I could use it to demonstrate a method of using flash to darken the background. Yes, that’s what I said, I use flash to darken. :-)

 

This image shows the white pine pollen cones with no flash, just using the available light. The problem with this image for me is the background is so much brighter than the foreground.   - David Blevins

This image shows the white pine pollen cones with no flash, just using the available light. The problem with this image for me is the background is so much brighter than the foreground.
- David Blevins

 

To darken the background I used an off camera flash from the same direction as the sun, sent through a diffusion screen to make it soft, and balanced the flash exposure with the ambient light. The key is to balance the flash output so it is a little brighter than the ambient light on the background. This allowed me to use a slightly faster shutter speed to render the background darker, while the flash provided plenty of light on the subject. It might sound complicated but the most difficult part is holding three things (the diffusion screen, flash, and shutter release cord) with only two hands.   -David Blevins

To darken the background I used an off camera flash sent through a diffusion screen and balanced with the ambient light. The flash was positioned to provide light from the same direction as the sun, and the diffusion screen made the light soft. The key was to balance the flash output so it was a little brighter than the ambient light on the background. This allowed me to use a slightly faster shutter speed to render the background darker, while the flash provided plenty of light on the subject. It might sound complicated but the most difficult part was holding three things (the diffusion screen, flash, and shutter release cord) with only two hands.
- David Blevins

 

This photo was made by Kim as I demonstrated my technique for firing an off camera flash through a diffusion screen to create soft natural looking light. I am holding the diffusion screen and shutter release cord in my left hand, the flash in my right hand, and the camera is on a tripod. One often overlooked benefit of a tripod is it really helps when you run out of hands.   -David Blevins

This photo was made by Kim as I demonstrated my technique for firing an off camera flash through a diffusion screen to create soft natural looking light. I am holding the diffusion screen and shutter release cord in my left hand, the flash in my right hand, and the camera is on a tripod. One often overlooked benefit of a tripod is it really helps when you run out of hands.
- David Blevins

 

A Meeting with a Painted Bunting

I had a meeting last week with a painted bunting. I came down from Raleigh; the bunting came up from somewhere in Cuba or Central America, and we met on Bald Head Island. I decided last year that the book I am currently working on about North Carolina’s barrier islands needed a photograph of a painted bunting. They can be quite common on the southern barrier islands of North Carolina, among the maritime forests, hammocks, or shrub thickets. Most people never see them, which is a shame because they are so outrageously spectacular. Some say the males look as if they have just leapt off the page of a children’s coloring book, I presume because young children aren’t encumbered by logic or previous experience when choosing which colors to use.

Since I had never worked with painted buntings before, I had no idea what to expect. I have been very lucky so far with this book, and I have learned that just putting myself in a position to succeed is often the most important thing. So many things are beyond my control that when I do succeed I just have to look to the sky and thank the universe for the gift when everything does come together.

This story began last fall when a workshop participant on Bald Head Island mentioned her friend had painted buntings coming to her feeder the previous summer. I was not interested in photographing birds on feeders, but at least I now knew a place where they would occasionally come down from the tree tops. What was even better about the location was the back porch allowed me to be up at the height the birds were perching, rather than looking up at them from the ground. The owners of the home graciously gave me permission to spend time on their property once the buntings retuned in the spring.

Fast forward to the predawn hours of last week, April 25th. The painted bunting had just arrived a week or so before to establish his three acres of territory for the breeding season. I arrived the night before so I could be on site before dawn. Although I had not worked with painted buntings before, I have worked with enough birds to know they love to sing at dawn, and the image I really wanted was a close-up of a male singing. I followed a boardwalk out to the edge of a maritime hammock and looked out into the salt marsh as the dawn light slowly started to spread across the sky.

Boardwalk to Bald Head Creek

Boardwalk to Bald Head Creek

While I watched the sunrise and waited for the birds to wake up I familiarized myself with the song of the painted bunting using a recording on my phone. You can listen to some recordings of the sweet warble of the painted bunting at the all about birds website.

As soon as light started to fill the sky, the birds started singing; northern cardinals, yellow-rumped warblers, Carolina wrens, house finches, and one painted bunting. I could hear him but I could not see him. I moved to the porch to get a better view over the vegetation. Before long the painted bunting perched in the cedar tree right by the porch and the feeder. I thought photographing singing behavior was going to be difficult, but he was singing in the first photograph I made of him.

Painted Bunting Silhouette

Painted Bunting Silhouette

This image made me laugh because the low sun completely silhouetted the bird against the dawn sky and a silhouette of a painted bunting really seems to be missing the point to me. But it was a good sign that this was going to eventually work. As the morning wore on he was singing constantly. He would perch on top of a tree and sing, move to another tree top and sing, and slowly move around his territory. About once every hour he would end up back in the area of the feeder. He would perch on the live oak near the feeder and sing, fly down to the feeder and sing, eat a few seeds and sing, fly to the nearby cedar tree and sing, and then fly off to patrol his territory and sing some more.

Painted Bunting Singing in the tree tops

Painted bunting singing in the tree tops

While this photograph shows him singing, it is just not good enough for the book; you can’t look into his eye and feel, just for this moment, that you know him.

While I waited the hour for him to come back, I had plenty of time to watch all the other activity in the area.

Green Anole

Green Anole

This anole was proudly displaying his dewlap on the same cedar tree the painted bunting liked to use. I really like the out of focus palmetto leaves in the background.

While watching the anole I noticed a second painted bunting. I could still hear the first one singing behind me so I knew this was a second bird. Unlike the first painted bunting, this one came in low, amongst the shrubs, and quiet, not making a peep. He went straight to the feeder, ate some seeds, and quietly flew off in the direction he came. It was obvious that this feeder was inside the territory of the male I had been photographing, and this second bird knew it.

I had one chance every hour to make the image I was after, but each time the painted bunting came near he was either too far away or obscured by branches. Finally, the sixth time, after about six hours, he perched right in front of me in the nearby live oak. The light was soft except for a shaft of hard light striking the green feathers on his back and his blue face.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

I was only able to make two images before he started singing. It turns out photographing him not singing was the difficult thing. He lifted his head to the sky and let out his sweet warbling song. When he lifted his head he moved it out of the shaft of hard light that was striking his face, rendering more feather detail and more saturated color. His posture seemed to mirror the way I give thanks to the universe in moments like this, when months of planning, serendipitous conversations, and 6 hours of constant vigilance all come together to make an image. You will have to wait for the book to see the image of him singing, but this last image gives a sense of the intimate connection I was trying to capture.

2013 North Carolina Botanical Garden Photography Workshop Results

A few weeks ago I led a photography workshop at the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill. We had a great time and plenty of soft light, perfect for spring wildflowers. I asked the participants to send me their favorite images from the day and share something they learned during the workshop. Below are some highlights from the responses I received.

KarenCarelli_DSCF1420blog

“Thank you for showing me that good photography requires me to slow down and pay attention.” – Karen Carelli

DavidHelm_IMG_7875blog

“I did not see the beauty and calm of this image until I brought the image closer which filtered out most of the background. The remaining branches in the background give a 3 D feeling to the picture. The two red berries became the focal point. The photo gives me the feeling of the quiet and serenity of a Japanese garden.” -David Helm

PhyllisDemko_4-12-13_012blog

“The most important lesson for me: in creative work, don’t discard a piece until you understand why it was bad – understand your mistakes! To me, this learning point applies to all creative work and explains why some people succeed and others don’t.” – Phyllis Demko

Green Anole

Green Anole

This is the only image I shot that day. I spent most of the time helping participants make their own images with their cameras so I didn’t even take my camera out of the bag until the moment this image happened. I created this image toward the end of the day as I was sitting in the garden with one of the participants, just chatting about photography in general, not working on an image. I noticed a green anole peeping out of the vegetation as a shaft of sunlight just caught his face. I am sure I did not complete the sentence I was in the middle of as I grabbed my camera and slowly moved into position to make this image. Often the best photo opportunities happen when you are just sitting and watching.

Species Novum

A new species of wildflower has been formally described this week in the latest issue of Phytoneuron. You might expect new botanical discoveries to be from an unexplored tropical jungle, but this wildflower is found in the Piedmont of North Carolina. You might also expect that living for so long in such a populated area without being formally described would mean this plant could only be appreciated by a botanist with a hand lens, but that is not the case. This new wildflower is a strikingly beautiful species of Barbara’s-buttons.

A goldenrod crab spider hunts for prey on the newly described Oak Barrens Barbara’s-buttons.

You might also be surprised to learn this is not that unusual, and there are other plants in North Carolina, just as spectacular, that have only been recently described.

One summer evening in 2007, after a thunderstorm, I was standing on the porch of an historic house in Beaufort, North Carolina with Misty Buchanan, a botanist with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program. We were there with a group who gather twice a year to help with field work for the Carolina Vegetation Survey. My time in the field with this group helped me learn to see the North Carolina landscape through the eyes of botanists and ecologists so I could make the images for Wild North Carolina. But this group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable people inspired me in many other ways as well. While standing on the porch, Misty told me,

“few people realize that new species of plants are still being discovered in North Carolina. About 13 new species have been discovered but haven’t been formally described because there is no funding to cover the fieldwork, herbarium research, and molecular analysis that will be necessary to understand these species well enough to formally describe them. Until these species are formally described, no regulatory agency will be allowed to take action to protect them. Some of our rarest species remain completely unprotected because we can’t get the funding to describe them.”

That conversation inspired me to create a collection of photographs of some of the newly described plants in North Carolina as well as some plants that are being studied to determine if they warrant their own name. Finding these plants was not easy. First, most of these plants have gone so long without being described because they are very rare, some only occurring at one location. Second, only a few people know when to expect these plants to be at their most showy. I could not have made these images without the help of some of the State’s best botanists, advising me where and when to look for these plants and how to recognize them.

Dr. Alan Weakley of the UNC Herbarium was particularly helpful in either advising me or directing me to the appropriate expert. You can look up all these plants in his new Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States, available as a free pdf download from The University of North Carolina Herbarium website.

The important work of the UNC Herbarium, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program, and others is essential to assure that the full wonder of our State’s flora is realized and its conservation accomplished.

Oak Barrens Barbara’s-buttons (Marshallia legrandii). This plant had been known since the 1950s from a single specimen collected from a site where it is no longer found. In the 1980s, Harry Legrand, with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, discovered a small population of these plants growing on a site in Granville County North Carolina with an unusual basic soil. This plant is most similar to Spoonshape Barbara’s-buttons (Marshallia obovata) but blooms about a month later. Today these plants are known from only 3 sites, 2 in Granville County North Carolina and 1 in Halifax County Virginia.

 

Sandhills Bog Lily (Lilium pyrophilum). This “fire-loving” lily is one of the rarest species in North Carolina. Only 250 individual plants have been found, all in small populations. These plants were first noted in the 1940s, but for years were assumed to be just a variation of Carolina Lily (Lilium michauxii). Later, this species was thought to be the same species as a rare lily from the Gulf coast of Florida. Dr. Mark Skinner, a National Plant Data Center botanist, and Bruce Sorrie, a Southern Pines botanist and UNC-Chapel Hill Herbarium associate, were the first to formally describe the plant in 2002. Unlike similar lilies, the Sandhills Bog Lily grows in bogs, blooms later, and has smaller flowers and leaves.

 

Rhiannon’s Aster (Symphyotrichum rhiannon). This very rare plant is known from only one site in the southern mountains of North Carolina with unusual soils derived from a rock type known as serpentine. Although the site is on National Forest land, the plant was threatened by mining interests until it was discovered and protected. It was first noted as something different in 1980 by Laura Mansberg (now Laura Cotterman of the North Carolina Botanical Garden). Rhiannon’s Aster was formally described in 2004 by Guy Nesom, Gary Kauffman, Tom Govus, Alan Weakley and Laura Mansberg and is named after Alan Weakley’s daughter. You can read the story of how this plant was named on the Endeavors web site.

 

Hill Cane (Arundinaria appalachiana). This rare native bamboo was described as a variety of Giant Cane (Arundinaria gigantea var. decidua) almost 90 years ago. Botanists began to question that identification because, unlike Giant Cane that grows tall along rivers, this short plant was found on hillsides. It also drops its leaves in the fall after they turn a bright yellow while the other two native bamboo species are evergreen. Hill Cane was formally described as a distinct species in 2006 by Jimmy Triplett, Alan Weakley and Lynn Clark.

 

Yadkin River Goldenrod (Solidago plumosa). J.K. Small discovered this species in 1894 growing on river-scoured rocks along the Yadkin River. This rare goldenrod was believed lost when it’s only known habitat was flooded by the construction of two dams in 1917 and 1919. In 1994, almost 100 years to the day after it was first (and last) seen, Dr. Alan Weakley searched for and found these plants growing along a small rocky stretch of the Yadkin River that had escaped the flooding. The only known site for this species is currently unprotected.

 

Savanna Onion (Allium sp. nov.). This rare plant was originally collected by Steve Leonard, former curator of the UNC Herbarium, in the early 1980s. It is only known to grow on a rare type of longleaf pine savanna underlain by limestone. The unusually high pH of these soils support many rare species. This plant is similar to nodding onion (Allium cernuum) which is only found in the Piedmont of North Carolina and west, while savanna onion is found in the outer coastal plain. This plant also flowers at a different time, and the leaves are a different shape. Dr. Alan Weakley and Richard LeBlond are currently working to formally describe this plant. This plant is protected on only one site in Pender County managed by The Nature Conservancy.

 

Batson’s Lobelia (Lobelia sp. nov.). This species found in wet streamheads and seepage slopes in the Sandhills of North and South Carolina is under study by Dr. Bert Pittman, a botanist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Heritage Trust Program. It will be named Lobelia batsonii in honor of Dr. Wade T. Batson, former curator of the A. C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina.

 

Down the Wild Cape Fear

One of my photographs will appear on the cover of a new book by Philip Gerard about the Cape Fear River. The book will not be available until March, but you can check out the description and reviews and pre-order a copy on the UNC Press web site.

Down The Wild Cape Fear

The cover photograph was made from the Lee County side of the Avents Ferry Bridge over the Cape Fear River. I wanted to make a wild landscape without any signs of human development. I also wanted to shoot from a bridge rather than the bank or a boat for a high vantage point to help the river appear to recede into the distance. Rather than spending a day driving to all the bridge crossings to scout locations, I used street view in Google Earth. In just a few minutes I was able to scout all the bridge crossings and identify the best location to make the image.

Google Earth Street View

This is the same location viewed in Google Earth Street View in midday light.

I posted another image on the web site from the same morning back in September. The low bank of fog and calm water picked up the pink pastel color in the predawn sky.

Cape Fear River. Click to see a larger version.

2012 Bald Head Island Photography Workshop Results

I thought I would share some of the images I made during the Bald Head Island photography workshop last week. When we arrived at Cape Fear Point just after 4pm the sun was too high to make dramatic landscape light but it was making interesting shadows with the sand fences.

Sand Fence

I’m not happy with this image but it is the best I was able to do under the circumstances. I would have preferred to find a perspective without any grass so I could make a more abstract image of just the fence and the shadows on the sand.

As the sun moved closer to the horizon it started to light the sand in interesting ways, especially near the point where the tide had sculpted repeating patterns in the shore. Eyes are naturally drawn to the sun as it sets but it is important to look around you at what the light is doing.

Tide Sculpted Sand Patterns

I made this image to demonstrate how the setting sun was causing the sand to glow and to show the colorful effects of mixing the warm light of the sun with the cool light of the shadows lit only by the blue sky.

Tide Sculpted Sand Patterns

The moment the sun dropped below the horizon I swung the camera around and started shooting in the opposite direction of the sunset. Here the sky is often lit by a range of pastel colors. Water and wet sand easily pick up this color.

Some participants did not have tripods and as the sun dropped below the horizon it became more difficult for them to hold their camera steady enough in the fading light. Rather than fight the slow shutter speeds I suggested they use it to their advantage and make intentionally blurred images.

Abstract Seashore

I made this image to demonstrate for the workshop participants the effect of panning the camera horizontally with a slow shutter speed to create an abstract painterly effect.

The next morning we returned to Cape Fear Point before dawn to photograph the sunrise. There were a lot more pelicans, terns, and gulls to photograph during the morning session.

Three of the participants at the Bald Head Island photography workshop photographing the sunrise from Cape Fear Point.

Sunrise over Cape Fear Point

I liked the curve of the shore and the sun reflected in the wet sand but not quite enough to make an image. When the pelicans flew through the scene it added some additional interest.

One of the participants photographing birds in flight.

Brown Pelicans

Brown pelicans and terns over Frying Pan Shoals.

But the coolest images I made were at night. I invited all the workshop participants to join me at Cape Fear Point for a bonus free session to photograph the peak of the Orionid meteor shower from 3 to 6 am. No one took me up on that offer so I had the beach to myself, except for a fox that hung out with me for a while. Somehow, in the light of the milky way, I noticed the silhouette of a fox trotting down the beach. I watched it trot to within about 30 feet of me where it sat down as if this was the exact spot it had been determined to reach. We sat there together for about 5 minutes, looking south toward the milky way, but the fox evidently had a busy night and could not stay long.

Orionid Meteor Shower

The Peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower from Cape Fear Point. This is a composite image of 34 minutes of exposure time resulting in 29 captured meteors. Some of the more faint meteors are not visible in this low resolution jpeg.

After making the meteor image I noticed the planet Venus rising within the almost vertical band of zodiacal light. It is difficult to describe the feeling of standing on the edge of the sea, bathed in starlight, with the universe wheeling overhead, but I think this last image captures something of that feeling.

Venus Rising in Zodiacal Light

Venus rising in zodiacal light. Click the image to see a larger version.

Bald Head Island Nature Photography Lecture and Workshop

Join me on October 20 and 21 on Bald Head Island for a nature photography lecture and workshop hosted by the BHI Conservancy. Learn how to improve your nature photography by creating images that tell stories. The theme will be becoming a better photographer by using your camera to help people. Participants will be able to submit their images for publication in the 2013 BHI Conservancy Wall Calendar! We will meet at the new Barrier Island Study Center media room on the BHI Conservancy campus.

 

Lecture* on how to improve your photography, Saturday afternoon, 2-4pm, October 20th, $20

1st field session, Saturday from 4:00pm-7:00pm, October 20th , $50 (Limit 6 people)

2nd field session, Sunday from 7:00am-10:00am, October 21th , $50 (Limit 6 people)

Image editing and post processing, Sunday from 10:00am-1:00pm $50 (Limit 6 people)

* Lecture is free to anyone signing up for all sessions!

You may make reservations by calling 910-457-0089 ext 10 or by sending an email to  jane@bhic.org.

All proceeds support the BHI Conservancy’s mission of fostering community-based barrier island conservation, preservation & education to live in harmony with nature.

Chatham County Photography Exhibit

Join me and the photographers who participated in my recent Chatham County photography workshop for the opening night reception of our exhibit at the NC Arts Incubator Gallery in Siler City. The exhibit features 60 prints created during the two month workshop by 23 photographers of all skill levels. The reception starts at 6pm on Friday the 17th and is part of the Third Friday Artwalk in Siler City. If you are new to the Artwalk in Siler City check out this episode of North Carolina Weekend from earlier this year.

The workshop and exhibit were sponsored by the Chatham Conservation Partnership as a way to raise awareness and appreciation for conservation efforts and the value of nature in Chatham County. The exhibit celebrates the diverse ways of seeing and appreciating the natural wonders and rural character of Chatham County. In creating this workshop, I wanted to give the participants not only an opportunity to learn new photography skills, but also give them the opportunity to use those skills to help their community. They invested so much time and effort into this project and have generously donated the use of their images to the Chatham Conservation Partnership. The exhibit will be on display in Siler City until September 14th, then it will travel to various locations around Chatham County. After the last exhibit we plan to donate the prints to a Triangle Land Conservancy fund raising auction.

This workshop and exhibit would not have been possible without the dedicated tireless efforts of Gretchen Smith, a volunteer with the Chatham Conservation Partnership. It is a joy to work with someone who gives of herself so freely and is so effective. She not only helped me plan and execute the workshop but she also found co-sponsors to provide funding so we could offer the workshop free of charge, found all the venues for the exhibits, and arranged field trips with experts for the participants to learn more about the area. A few days ago I helped Gretchen and her volunteers install the exhibit. I really enjoy this part of the process, when ideas have finally become real physical objects.

Gretchen Smith

Gretchen Smith and volunteers installing the CCP 2012 Photography Exhibit at the NC Arts Incubator in Siler City, North Carolina

Another thing I enjoyed about this workshop is it gave me an excuse to spend some time making images in Chatham County. A selection of the images I made during this workshop can be seen in the Recent Images Gallery. They include images of the Haw and Rocky Rivers, a storm over Jordan Lake, and the subject for my contribution to the exhibit, images of the Devil’s Stomping Ground Scenic Byway.

Chatham County Photography Workshop

What are the most loved natural wonders of Chatham County, North Carolina? What do people find beautiful, compelling, or touching about nature here? Let’s find out together, make some images, and share them in a group exhibition!

I will lead a free photography workshop sponsored by the Chatham Conservation Partnership beginning on April 21st. The goal of this workshop is to produce an exhibit to help raise awareness about nature and conservation in Chatham County, and in the process help to strengthen the photographic skills of the participants. The workshop is open to photographers of all skill levels. You don’t need a fancy camera, any camera will be fine. What is more important is that you bring your love of nature, your desire to improve your photography skills, and your passion to serve your community.

I feel people become better photographers when the technical aspects of photography are placed in service of something important to them. Frans Lanting, one of my favorite nature photographers says, “the best way to create more interesting images is to aim your camera at something you are passionate about. Find a project close to home and commit to it until you have a body of work that has some meaning.” That is the idea of this workshop. Together we will create an exhibit of photographs that will help raise awareness of and appreciation for nature in Chatham County.

Participants will have eight weeks to complete the project. We will meet to introduce everyone to the project the afternoon of April 21st. We will have two follow-up meetings to discuss progress and share results and ideas on May 5th and 19th. The deadline for submitting your results will be June 16th. Our final get-together will be at the opening night reception for the exhibit at the Third Friday Artwalk, August 17th, at the NC Arts Incubator Gallery in Siler City.

The workshop is free but pre-registration is required. Pre-register for the workshop by calling 919-545-8044 at the Central Carolina Community College Continuing Education department. Download the workshop and exhibit flyer for more information or Contact Gretchen Smith at gretchen_smith@bellsouth.net.

It will be a fun and fulfilling experience and I look forward to seeing your results!