Tag Archives: landscapes

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.

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.

Southern Environmental Law Center Installation

Yesterday, I installed eight huge canvas prints in the offices of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. These are all images from my new book, Wild North Carolina. I am honored that these images were selected for permanent display by such an important organization. So many of the images I have created over the last few years would not have been possible without their successful conservation efforts.

These are the largest prints I have ever made. Each print is a 5 foot tall by 3 foot wide gallery wrapped canvas. The three prints behind the reception desk form a 10 foot wide panorama of a beech forest from Umstead State Park.

These three prints were made out of a stitched composite of three vertically composed photographs. This technique gives me the resolution I need to make huge prints but that is not the reason I use this technique. I stitch multiple photographs together to break the relationship between angle of view and perspective. To capture this entire scene in one photograph would require a wide angle lens, but a wide angle lens also has the effect of visually pushing distant objects farther away. In the forest that means distant trees become tiny, thin, and unsubstantial. A telephoto lens has the opposite effect on perspective; it makes distant objects appear closer, giving the distant trees more mass and presence. Capturing a scene like this with multiple telephoto images allows me to combine the distance compression of a telephoto lens with the wide angle of view of a much shorter focal length.

The hallway has an even larger 14 foot wide panorama made out of four vertical prints. This one shows a tidal cypress and tupelo swamp along the Chowan River.

I often try to make the individual photographs of a composite image interesting and distinct compositions on their own. I started doing this long ago because I thought it made more interesting panoramas, but now I really appreciate how well this can work when displayed this way. Each print is very different yet they work together to give yet another compositional idea.

Here is another view of the hallway prints looking down the hall in the other direction.

In the distance you can see the final image, a composite of three horizontal photographs made in the grove of old-growth tulip poplar in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in the southern mountains of North Carolina.

Before I hung this print a group of people sat down around it and started botanizing, just like you would do if you were there. The print is so large it is almost like being there and all the plants, even the tiniest wildflowers, are recognizable.

I want to thank JW Photo Labs in Raleigh for doing such a wonderful job with these prints. They do great work and can handle canvas prints even larger than these. Although I don’t think I will be able to print any larger just because I will not be able to fit them in my car!

There were lots of ooohs and aaahs as I was hanging these prints but my favorite comment came just as I was finishing with the hallway and was starting to feel proud of myself. Ann, the office manager, walked up and said, “This definitely looks better than the blank walls.” I laughed hard and said, “That’s quite an endorsement, can I quote you on that!”

Florida Birds

I recently returned from a bird photography trip to the east coast of Florida. I spent most of the time at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge just north of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. This is a huge undeveloped area teaming with wildlife.

Salt Marsh and Palm Hammock

Salt Marsh and Palm Hammock

 Well, you can’t see any animals in that picture but trust me, they are in there!

My friend Lee invited me to join him on his trip to the Space Coast Birding Festival. I used to work with Lee in forestry at NCSU before he retired. Lee has more money than most people I know, yet uses coupons to save ¢50 on a hamburger. This works out well since I have less money than most people I know, and I could not afford to hang out with him if he lived closer to his means. On the drive down he suggested we split a $5 foot long subway sandwich. Lunch for $2.50, even I can afford that!

Each day Lee went on one of the festivals birding tours, and he let me borrow his Saab. The weather was perfect, and I had good luck finding and photographing animals.

I had a great time photographing the large wading birds. Each species has a different personality, resulting in behavior that I find visually inspiring. I can really identify with the little blue heron. They hunt just like I make wildlife photographs. They wait patiently, methodically, hardly moving until the time is right.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

You get a sense of the bird’s patient stillness in this photograph. I had to wait for it to move a little to create the circular ripples in the water.

The reddish egret looks similar to the little blue heron but has a completely different hunting style. This bird chases fish by running at full speed through shallow water, sometimes flapping its wings and spinning around. This reminds some people of drunken staggering, but I think it looks more like unbridled enthusiasm.

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

You can get a sense of how fast this bird is running from the forward leaning posture and the wake it is leaving in the water.

The green heron is a much smaller bird and likes to hunt from a branch over the water, especially when the water is too deep to stand in.

Green Heron

Green Heron

You can’t see its long neck in this photograph because it is coiled up preparing to strike. Just seconds after I made this photograph, it caught the fish it was watching and flew away.

I also had an interesting interaction with an anhinga. These birds swim under the water and spear fish with their sharp bill. They often swim with just their head and neck visible, the rest of their body submerged. This behavior gave them one of their common names, “snake bird”. I was surprised to see this one swimming toward me. It made for a very elegant composition to illustrate this type of swimming behavior.

Anhinga

Anhinga

After I made the photograph it just kept swimming toward me until it climbed up on the bank just a few feet from where I was sitting. I could not figure out why he was being so friendly until I noticed what was swimming right behind him.

American alligator

American alligator

I guess the anhinga felt safer on the shore with me than in the water with the alligator. After the alligator swam away, the anhinga started drying his wings.

Anhinga Drying its Wings

Anhinga Drying its Wings

A woman was nearby explaining to her daughter how these birds are not very well adapted to their environment because they have to dry their wings after swimming. I am always glad to see parents teaching their children about nature but it irks me when they just make stuff up. These birds are perfectly adapted to their environment! By absorbing water they become less buoyant and can stay under water without effort. Most birds that dive trap air under their waterproof feathers and have to constantly expend energy to stay under. As soon as they stop swimming they pop up to the surface like a cork. The anhinga can stay under without effort as it chases fish; the only downside is it can’t fly until it dries out a bit.

On the last day of the trip Lee and I planned to spend a few hours at dawn in the wildlife refuge before driving back to North Carolina. We were late getting out to the refuge because Lee discovered the hotel had slightly overcharged him. By the time he got that straightened out the sun was already up. This turned out to be a good thing. For the past three days I had driven past a marsh with palm hammocks on my way to the refuge. This is the same place pictured in sunset light in the first photograph. The light before dawn at this location was not interesting the previous three days. But this time the sun was up as we drove by the marsh and the light shining through the early morning fog was spectacular.

Sunrise over a Palm Hammock

Sunrise over a Palm Hammock

We spent a few more hours in the refuge and then headed back to North Carolina; on the way we shared another $5 foot long subway sandwich.

The beach is very different at night

I was reminded how different my experience is from most of the visitors to wild places while waiting for the passenger ferry to take me to Hammocks Beach State Park. Several families were also waiting for the ferry. I could tell from the coolers, lawn chairs, and swimming clothes that they were going over for the day to frolic on the beach. They could tell from my backpack, tripod, wide-brimmed hat, long sleeved shirt, long pants, and hiking boots that I was not. One man asked me if I was going camping. I said “yes.” Then he asked his young son if he would like to go camping sometime. The son said, without hesitation, “no!” The father asked, “why not?” The son said, “There are spooky things at night!”

I had forgotten about that feeling of being afraid to go into wild places at night. I love wild places, and the night can sometimes be most impressive. When the sun is high at the beach, I struggle. The sun takes a lot out of you, especially when you have fair skin. My favorite time at the beach is when the sun is near the horizon or at night.

When the sun is near the horizon, it highlights the patterns formed by the wind on the sand. I have always been fascinated by these patterns. The same shape line will repeat over and over again but with slight variations.

Sand Pattern #1

Sand Pattern

The beach is very different at night. It becomes a soft and gentle place. Soft starlight is bright enough to see by when it is clear, and if you are far enough from city lights, the stars can be spectacular.

Beach by Starlight

Beach by Starlight