OBX 2020 — Day’s End

Bald Cypress — Duck, NC © jj raia

During the trip, there were two instances where the skies looked promising for a good sunset, and each time my son and I went out in hopes that promise actually materialized. Each time there were a lot of clouds, but there was a thin strip along the horizon that appeared to be clear that would allow for the light after sunset to streak through and light up the darker clouds above. And each time, that light never showed up. We went to a different location each evening, and for one that was located on a dock facing the bay (reminds me of a song), most of the clouds disappeared altogether. For the other location, seen above and below, we went to a solitary bald cypress tree, definitely within the general distance from the car, as the saying goes, beyond which, “nothing is photogenic”, and instead of the clouds disappearing, as the sun touched the horizon, it’s light was snuffed out by a sliver of clouds! Those beautiful dark clouds never lit up as we had hoped, but they did provide a great background for the tree while the sun was still above the horizon.

Compositionally, I didn’t want the sun behind any of the branches or trunk for fear that they would be blown out, so I positioned it just to the left so there would be some of its reflection on the calm waters of the bay, with a clear view of the dramatic clouds surrounding the sun. Three frames were blended together to get the sun in the frame without being blown out and the tree itself in silhouette. Another frame or two were taken overexposed to get some information in the file for the water and duckweed on the surface, and while taking those frames, a finger was placed in front of the lens to block the sun to reduce or eliminate any internal reflections that might show up.

In both photos, since the tree itself would be a silhouette, there was no problem using a hard edge split ND filter to even out the light values of the sky and reflections on the water. There wouldn’t be any of the odd darkening of the tree branches above the horizon since the entire tree would render as black. Often, shots like these would present that problem, and the only way around that would be HDR, since blending would probably have that odd darkening as well.

Bald Cypress at Dusk — Duck, NC © jj raia

Even though the two images are of basically the same subject (the tree), the vertical image at the top shows all the drama of the sunset with the deep gray clouds illustrating the story of this solitary tree fighting for its existence day after day under the harsh conditions it finds itself. The image above has a much quieter and serene story to tell of the peaceful end of the day.

On a different day, at the other location on the end of the dock, there were a few other folks there relaxing on the benches memorializing the sunset with a bottle of champagne and some hors d’oeuvres. One of them took a picture of the two of us doing our thing to memorialize the sunset. We were happy that she shared it with us since this is the only picture of us out together shooting! So we are thankful to her. Unfortunately, all those clouds in the background never lit up as the sun set because of a thin band of clouds right along the horizon, and their continued drift northward, leaving almost none to the west. So the sunset itself turned out to be a complete bust. But, to get those shots of great light, you do have to actually be there when it does happen, and accept it when it doesn’t.

All and all, a very good trip for photography if not for lounging in the sunshine. But those clouds provided the much needed atmospherics that are imperative for landscape images with long views. It seemed afterward that the same conditions prevailed during last year’s trip as well; plenty of clouds to help with the photography, but not enough to call it a washout!!

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