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I really feel that not all lighthouses are created equally in terms of photography. So much of this depends upon the surrounding landscape and what you can do creatively to compose a unique shot of the lighthouse. Some stand in what amounts to be more or less open fields, others are perched upon the precipices of cliffs, and some are completely enshrouded in trees with little more than their tops sticking up above the canopy.
The Hatteras Lighthouse, which this is a photograph of, used to be the most photogenic lighthouse south of Massachusetts. Built upon one of the most dynamic barrier islands in the world, in just about 60 years from completion, the ocean had already risen high enough here to close the quarter mile gap between the lighthouse and the sea level of the 1870s. By 1933, waves lapped at the base of the tower.
From 1933 to 1999, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service fought hell and high water to stabilize the beach in front of the lighthouse and hold back the inevitability of the rising ocean. This time period from the perspective of a photographer was the glory days of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It was at this time when the light stood out on the beach, waves crashing near its base and some of the most beautiful photographs of the Outer Banks landscape could be made.
In 1999 however, it was decided to move the lighthouse back to its original 1,500 from the beach distance. This was without a doubt one of the most monumental achievements of that decade. Over the course of nearly a month, the lighthouse was literally picked up and driven back to its new location. News outlets from all over the world invaded the little town of Buxton to document the event.
In its current location, this lighthouse just doesn’t carry the opportunities for grand and dramatic landscape photographs any longer. Though the light can still be photographed from the beach and other locations, these all pale in comparison to its original location on a point that thrust out into the tumultuous seas of the Outer Banks.
Sitting in an open clearing with amongst the maritime forest now, my preferred approach to photographing this light is now at night. And why not? This is, technically speaking with the lighthouse had its most use. The nighttime allows you to capture the brilliance and magnificence of a lighthouse in all the ways that it was originally meant to be seen. It tells a story. It helps to capture the “essence” of the lighthouse.
This past week I conducted my Mastering Creative Outdoor Photography out on the Outer Banks. Naturally a little night photography factored heavily into the equation as we worked the different lighthosues along these barrier islands.
D800 | Nikon 16-35 | f/8 | 30 seconds | ISO 3000 (ish)
OK folks, so here it is – one of the most encompassing skills intensive wildlife photography workshops out there. I have thrown around the idea of offering something like this for a while now and finally decided on putting this together coinciding with the start of a book collaboration between me and Doug Gardner on the nuts and bolts of getting down and dirty with wildlife. The idea is to show you what it takes to confidently move beyond, and I mean WAY beyond, your basic run of the mill road side photography – both in wildlife hot spots as well back home. Check it out: Wildlife Photographer’s Boot Camp
I have removed the Google Checkout payment option from the online store as Google require that you sign up for an account before you can use this service. The two options now available are for direct payment of check / money order and PayPal which accepts all major credit cards and does not require that you have an account with them to use that service.
Ok folks, here they are. . . the 2011 Outer Bank Wild Calendars. I am accepting pre-orders at the moment on these things now. They should be ready to ship within a weeks time. Below you will find an image with the calendar photos. Calendars can be ordered from through my Store Front
Christmas cards – Outer Banks Style – are in! Get yours while supplies last.
Single Cards $5
6 pack $20
Buy 4 packs get the fifth one FREE!
As many of you know, I have been working as a guide and environmental educator for nearly a decade now along side of being a wildlife photographer. I have finally come to the point where I have decided to start a comprehensive guiding service – Outer Banks Expeditions. In the side bar you will see the log and link to that site. Outer Banks Expeditions will offer not only wildlife expeditions both in the Outer Banks region as on a national level, but will also offer photo tours and workshops as well. I differentiate between tours and workshops in that the tours will be offered as informal half day photography tours on the Outer Banks – focusing on wild horses, lighthouses, and landscapes depending upon the tour. Workshops on the other hand are the photographic intensives and are offered in a variety of locations across the country.
In addition to Outer Banks Expedition, I have also created a Naturalist Notebook as a companion site. The Naturalist Notebook is a journal of all things WILD and is updated regularly. The Notebook is designed to be a two way street of information. By creating this I am hoping to also create a conversation. Comments are encouraged, as well as questions and topic ideas.
So I think some apologies are definitely in order here. I have been pretty slack over the last few months on updating this journal and getting the JWP out to subscribers. I bit off a bit more than I could chew with some projects this summer – but all that really is, is just an excuse for procrastination! Time to get back on track.
Wow, what a week it has been for me. From the Outer Banks to Wilmington, St. Augustine, Orlando, back to St. Augustine, St. Marys, and back to the Banks. Its Spring time and love is in the air for the birds. That means I had to make my annual pilgrimage down south to Florida. Most of my time was spent at the Alligator Farm and Gatorland photographing the egret rookeries there – for which I will be doing a detailed analysis and comparison of the two locations in the next issue of the Journal of Wildlife Photography (JWP).
While in St. Augustine I found out through some local friends about a great horned owl nest at Washington Oaks State Park. Having by this point spent the last 4 days working the rookery there I decided I would make my way down to the park about 30 minutes south of the St. Augustine. I had been to this park before and knew I wouldn’t come away empty handed no matter what. However, when it comes to reports on nests, unfortunately they are often times of little good for photography. This happened to be one of the exceptions however.
Located about 25 feet up on the branch of a 200 year old live oak tree overlooking the water, this little owlet had it made. Only problem was, the lighting which had been overcast all morning in town, was now down at the state park, bright, harsh, and midday. AKA, not conducive for photographing an owl up in a tree. Well situations like this is why its so critically important to understand flash in regards to wildlife photography. A typical speed light (flash) will not cut it when it comes to reaching out far enough to illuminate animals like this however. Thus the creation of the Better Beamer flash extender.
The Better Beamer is essentially a Fresnel lens, which was what the old lighthouses used in order to cast the lights far out to sea. Well just like a lighthouse, the Better Beamer does the same thing with your flash when photographing wildlife. With the flash extender in place, it was then simply a matter of positioning myself so as to take advantage of the densest background of leaves that I could find. A patchy background would have detracted considerably from the photograph due to the bright hot spots that would have mottled the background. Situations in wildlife photography are rarely perfect however and therefore not only did I still have a couple hot spots to contend with, but the best location was facing into the sun. No sweat though. I simply cranked up the output of the flash and fired away.
One thing you need to keep in mind when using these things on wildlife and especially birds is that if used directly on camera, than you will quite often have to contend with eye shine. Now this eye shine is not simply the sparkle of light we all seed out in the eyes of our subjects. Eye shine is like the deers eyes in the headlights, or when you shine a flashlight by your dog. Glowing eyes. Owls in particular have a really cool red shine to their eyes, though when it comes to photographing them, you want to avoid this at all costs. To overcome this you can easily attach your flash to a cord and hand hold, or much more effective, you can attach a flash bracket which will hold the flash above the lens. This both takes the flash off the same plane as your lens thereby eliminating eye shine but it also keeps the flash in the same place while you have the freedom to rotate your lens from horizontal to vertical compositions.
If your interested in buying one of these Better Beamers, they are pretty darn cheap and you can find them for sale here. For flash brackets on the other hand I recommend the use of Wimberly’s brackets which can be found here.
Hands down, the Crystal Coast of North Carolina is one of my favorite places to kayak. Even though I live up on the Outer Banks just to the north, my home islands just do not have the same diversity of bird and sea life that this place has to offer. Actually, that’s not true. What I find when I am kayaking down around Beaufort, Cape Lookout, and Shackleford Banks can be found on the Outer Banks as well – even the wild horses – however, the concentration of such diversity in a very small area is the real draw.
In the late winter / early spring, my interest here are the oystercatchers. Some 300 of them winter in what is known as Back Sound making this place the densest concentration of these birds in the state. Now, once spring hits and the world begins to green up again you will find me here photographing horses on Shackleford Banks or Carrot Island. This time of the year though, its all about the birds and some sun.
As I have written about on this journal several times before, the potential for kayaks when it comes to photography just cannot be overstated. I mean come on, that is why these boats were made in the first place – to aproach animals for hunting that would otherwise never let you get that close. Well thousands of years later, its the same story. The low profile, the slow approach . . . it all combines to put these animals at ease. Don’t get me wrong, some individuals are just spooky no matter what. For the most part though, these boats will allow you to access places and animals you never would have been able to on foot or by motor boat, and from a low perspective that just can’t be beat.
When it comes to photographing oystercatchers in an estuarine environment, that is to say, not on the beach, tides and food play a big role in success rate. When its low tide, countless miles of mud and sand flats become exposed and these birds will range far and wide. However, at high tide when the flats become inundated, the birds will then concentrate onto oyster bars near their favorite haunts. Its not uncommon to count 40 or more of these birds all clustered together on one oyster bed or tiny marsh island that sits above the waterline while they rest and wait for their next buffet.
Once you have located the birds, your best to make a slow and somewhat indirect approach to these birds. Of course there will be a comfort zone usually that these birds will not let you within however it will be plenty close to make photographs of them as long as you don’t flush them with your approach. Its best to do this where you have several oystercatchers hanging out together as they tend to be lest skittish when in the company of their peers it would seem. Confidence maybe?
With the flight shots that I am posting here, I had found a bar with around 20 0ystercatchers huddled up just a few inches above the waters edge. With the sun and the wind to my back I made a slow approach to these birds, stopping for a couple of minutes and making sure that they were calm, and etched forward. Over the course of about 20 minutes I managed to get within 15 yards of them. I grounded myself on a shoal and then simply waited. By this point I had been photographing portraits all afternoon and so I was looking for flight shots – hence the sun and wind at my back. Remember, birds take off into the wind if they have the choice to do so.
From my vantage point whenever a bird took flight, and they would leave and return either solo or in pairs, they would fly right past me. The Nikon d300 with the 200-400 vr combo is perfect for this situation in my opinion. Its a heavier lens, but not as bad as say the 500 and with proper light, hand holding technique, and the vibration reduction technology, this is a great lens to shooting out of a kayak – especially birds in flight. Some folks prefer to carry a 300 mm f/4 which is much lighter and easier to whip around. For me however, the versatility of the 200-400, which with my Dx sensor is the equivalent of a 300-600 and with a 1.4 tc attached is a 420 – 840 mm lens, this is just cant be beat.
For portraits I prefer to portray these birds on oyster beds – I mean, that is where they get their name. For me, the photographs of an oystercatcher on the beach in the sand just doesn’t cut it for me. Sure, this is where they nest, but what makes them unique is their adaptation to feeding on oysters. In the sand, it might as well be any other little shore bird. The oyster beds help to tell a story – which if you want to sell your work to magazines, is something you must be able to do.
A little over a year ago I was down in St. Augustine to photograph wading birds at the Alligator Farm. Friend’s of mine live down that way and so while I was down I spent several days off with them as well exploring the Old City and its coast. Sitting here at my desk yesterday trying to get this issue of the JWP wrapped up and planning a trip back down to St. Augustine for April, I decided to pull up some of those old RAW files I never finished working on from the last trip. Though they are something of the B side photographs, I decided to post a few of them up here anyways.
At the time of this past trip I had yet to experiment with HDR photography. Sure, I had heard about it but for the most part the stuff I had seen by then was rather cartoonish looking in nature. Over the summer while photographing in Jackson Hole Wyoming, I decided to give it a whirl. Sure, many situations still produce a cartoonish look depending upon the program you are using, however with Photomatix you can dial back the strength of the blend and tweak pretty much every aspect of how the program handles the photograph. This allows you to create a much more realistic looking photo. Being that digital sensors still only record between 5 to 7 stops of light, HDR allows you to bring in as much as 20 stops of light. At least that is what some folks claim. Either way, the results inevitably are going to be a photograph that just feels different than a traditional photograph.
Photographing within a forest always provides a number of obstacles and challenges that you must overcome – namely the contrasty or dappled lighting. Sometimes this can be used to your advantage, i.e: shafts of light beaming through the forest canopy, a spotlighted bird on a branch, etc. . . Often times however you are not able to overcome this contrast for landscape photography and instead the tradition was to wait for an overcast day to photograph the scene. Well HDR changes all of this. Since combining multiple exposures allows you to express the full spectrum of light in the photograph, even on sunny days you can photograph into the canopy of trees.
My personal preference in this regards is to use as few exposures as needed to make the photograph. Folks are still very much accustomed to looking at a photograph in the same way they were 20 years ago. They expect certain limitations in the amount of detail and stops of light captured in the photograph and anything beyond that gets labeled “photoshoped.” For this reason I only used two exposures for the live oak photograph. Even then however, I still went back in with curves and levels to tone down the HDR feel and pull out some heavier shadows in the tree to bring it back into the realm of what we expect from a photograph. Some might argue that we should be pushing the bar of photography and art higher than this and embracing the seemingly limitless possibilities that digital has offered us. I agree with this.