Still a Thrill

Clearing Storm and Surf No.1 — Corolla Beach, NC © jj raia

Ever since 1980, I’ve admired the photography and photographers who had their photos included within the Sierra Club calendars. In fact, way back then when there were no cell phones to carry around your calendars, we actually bought the Sierra Club Engagement Calendar each year and used it throughout the year to mark scheduled events, and then saved them to look at the photography every now and then. This was well before I even got into photography in a serious way; that wouldn’t begin for another decade. We compiled quite a few over time, along with years of National Geographic Magazines, and kept them all just for the photography. So when one of my photos was selected to be included in the 2020 Sierra Club calendar, I was over the moon thrilled. Well, 2022 will again have a photo included, and am just as thrilled as the first time. It was always considered a stretch when submitting work to them, just like applying to certain colleges might be considered a stretch, but I suppose persistence pays off.

As far as the story behind the photo goes, the morning began as usual by getting up well before sunrise, as I did every morning during our family vacation at North Carolina’s Outer Banks, but the sky was still socked in with the storm clouds from the previous day. The actual sunrise time had passed and not much in the way of photos had materialized. When I turned around, now looking toward the north end of the beach, it looked like a front was coming through, pushing out the clouds with clear skies behind. The sky had that pastel cyan color along the horizon associated with early morning opposite the sun, and it began to reflect in the sheen left by the waves on the flat sand. All that was needed was a longer shutter speed to blur the motion of the water a bit. I ended up happy with a few frames that morning, trying to keep them as minimalistic as possible, stretching the shutter speed to as much as I could (0.5-sec. for these), usually beginning the exposure as the wave begins its return toward the ocean as in the two below. Doing that will make for a cleaner line of the surf. The top image was taken as the edge of the surf hesitated, momentarily stationary, as incoming and outgoing surges canceled the movement. Since these were taken in late October, waders were on to keep from getting cold in the water, and most importantly, using a tripod with the legs sunk deep into the sand to keep it rock solid. A polarizer is used, but not to eliminate any reflections in the water, but to cut down the light and keep shutter speeds as long as needed. Then it’s just deciding where would be the ideal place to plop the tripod where the edge of the surf creates a leading line into the frame, and trip the shutter… and keep tripping the shutter.

This series was taken in 2019 during a week of mostly calm weather patterns. But 2020 proved to be challenging, with multiple storms, rain and loads of clouds. Yet, all that weather produced some of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever captured with the camera. Twice during the week, I witnessed an astounding display of color and God Beams streaking across the sky; almost otherworldly. I wonder what is in store for this year.


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