Sunday, August 26, 2012

Outer Banks Vacation Photo Tips

Here are four simple tips for taking better beach vacation photos.

Get up early. The Outer Banks summer sun rises very early. You must too. Be in position to capture the scene before the sun breaks the horizon. To capture the sunrise over Currituck Beach Lighthouse, you must be out of bed by 5 a.m. To memorialize a flock of pelicans skimming the surf at Hatteras, you must be out of bed by 5 a.m. To record the human flotsam and jetsam of a midnight clambake on Ocracoke, well you get the picture.

Use the setting sun. The midday sun is an unflattering light source. Landscapes appear flat. The lack of shadows eliminates detail. Portraits are worse, unless you like wrinkles and squinty eyes. Though the early morning sun can be effective for lighting outdoor portraits, the evening sun is warmer and lends a nice glow to the human face. Plus, if your family is like mine, you do not see the teenage faces until lunchtime anyway, so plan on an early evening beach portrait session.

Take a chance. I took one of my favorite vacation photos at the end of a marathon three lighthouse daytrip. We began our trek at noon, making a brief stop at Hatteras Lighthouse on our way to the Ocracoke ferry.
This ride affords many opportunities to photograph sea gulls in flight. While Blackbeard never saw the Ocracoke Lighthouse, you should. (The lighthouse was built in 1823, Blackbeard was killed in 1718 just west of Ocracoke.) It is impossible to get a bad photo from the boardwalk that leads to the lighthouse.

Nine hours after our journey began, I spotted the double flash of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Braving the wrath of my tired, hungry and thirsty clan, I veered off Highway 12. Leaping out of the van into a cloud of mosquitoes, I set up my camera and tripod. I composed the shot with care, making sure that the blinking lights of a nearby water tower were hidden. When I had the film developed I saw that I not only captured the flash of the beacon, but the hidden water tower lights cast an eerie red glow on the low hanging clouds.

But know what risk you are taking. In the early 1990s, my three year old daughter Erin and I were in the keeper’s quarters of Hatteras Lighthouse. Looking out a window, I noticed that it had a perfect view of the lighthouse, without the electric lines that had marred earlier photographic attempts. I did see the sign asking folks not to mess with the windows, but did not believe it applied to those in the pursuit of “art”.

The window was different than I was used to. The sashes were very heavy and difficult to move. Resting on the sill were two short pegs. Glancing over my shoulder to make sure the coast was clear; I heaved the bottom sash up until it stuck in place. Erin came over to look out. Her chin just reached over the sill as her fingers curled around the frame. I began composing my shot, and WHAM! The sash slammed down on Erin’s fingers. Erin’s screams and the sound of the window brought several tourists and a park ranger to our aid. The window had slammed down so tightly that it took both me and the ranger to lift it.

The rest of the afternoon was a sweaty blur. The Outer Banks urgent care facilities were few and far between back then. We drove for what seemed hours before we found a doctor. Fortunately she has no permanent damage. Her fingers were small and only her finger tips were in the frame, so that they were squeezed on the inside of the frame rather than smashed underneath. While it was a terrifying experience, every Outer Banks cloud is silver lined. Three good things resulted – we have an interesting story to tell, Erin received an official National Parks Service Junior Ranger patch, and I learned that the little pegs are to hold the window open.

So remember, get up early, stay up late, and take a chance to get that special shot - but obey all warning signs!

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