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