It was with great anticipation when I went out for the first sunrise of the trip since most of the summer and early fall the camera remained inside the dark confines of the bag, and never saw the light of day. There were just a few clouds around the horizon where the sun would rise, so there was no expectation of much color, but the excitement of witnessing the beginning of a new day over the ocean was a great start to the trip. Just getting back into taking photos again left me joyful. When the sun finally broke the horizon, I was lucky to trip the shutter just as a wave broke in front of it and memorialize that singular moment (below). But without any clouds in the area, I looked to the northeast for photos. That series of photos was discussed in Part Two and would be the polar opposite of any images available looking toward the sun.
The second morning would set the tone for the remaining mornings of the trip: mostly cloudy skies and initial disappointment. But somehow, out of the gloom that day, color began to form at a small point on the horizon and slowly spread along a wide swath of clouds. It was a glorious pink color and in addition to the usual practice of trying to create streaks of the surf leading into the frame, I initially waited for the water to settle a bit, leaving the sheen to reflect the color from the sky. That patience was rewarded with the image below, one that made me feel that every day thereafter could be a bust, yet I would feel I had at least one great sunrise from the trip; all that I could wish for. I would end up rattling off about 65 frames of that sunrise, spread across 22 minutes from first light until the color faded, hoping to get some surf streaks as well as any other interesting patterns in the surf, changing the framing as the color expanded and morphed into different shapes across the sky. It isn’t often that the color lasts as long as it did, allowing for a wide variety of shots. However, in the excitement of the moment(s), I neglected to think to take a panorama of the sky. It would have been good to capture the entire horizon of color instead of having it cut off on one edge, and combining the pano sky with whatever surf frame(s) were deemed strong enough. Note to self for next year.
There was such variety in the sky during the week that always proved interesting. The one day of nearly clear skies; one with just a sliver of clear sky along the horizon (below) which would have made for a glorious sunrise, but was not in the right position for that to occur; storm clouds with streaking light raking across the beach side lighting every grain of sand; or mottled clouds edged in soft sunlight. They all held onto beauty in their own individual way, and I was grateful for their differing moods.
The sky usually determines how to approach the surf so that the two would either compliment one another, or mimic the sky in reflections. It can be challenging and making a singular choice is not advantageous. But attempting different approaches, with multiple frames for each, allows for choices during post processing, and decisions as to which approach had been best can be made then. Trying to decide which option might be better for the conditions of the sky and ocean encountered, while in the midst of swirling surf and changing light may not produce the optimal final image, so it might be best to cover all the bases you can think of out in the field, wherever it may be. Things to consider might be cloud placement, dark areas, bright areas, frame balance, horizon placement, tripod placement and height, shutter speed to create streaks or to freeze movement, ISO for smooth skies, just to name a few. All these are considerations that should be taken into account while the waves relentlessly come ashore, never the same as the one previous, always presenting a new opportunity to witness something special and capture it with the camera.
Post Processing also contains decisions that need to be made. Taking the same sunrise and processing separate frames differently can produce a very different emotional response from the viewer. Light and airy, or dark and moody, as illustrated by the following two images taken within minutes of each other. Featuring a pastel palette, the top image takes on the more joyful spirit I had witnessing such an incredible display of light and color. Yet the darker image taken about ten minutes earlier, by maintaining the frame’s darkness, retains a much more dramatic feel as the color exploded unexpectedly across the sky. As the creator of the original frames, it is your choice where you want to take all the data from the frames you’ve recorded, to create the final image. Which is why each frame recorded has differing information, or in this case, differing water movements and placements, that can be blended together in a specific way of your choosing, should you opt to travel that route. Using the frames as a beginning point, along with any changes done by “drawing/painting” become the elements that are arranged on your “canvas” to arrive at your final frame; not necessarily exactly how the camera recorded the scene, or what was actually in front of the camera.
I have to say that I’ve been fortunate with the conditions for sunrises for several years now when we visit the Outer Banks. My wife was there the week before my son and I joined up with her, and said there had been nearly cloudless skies the entire week, not what I would have wanted for photos, though it would have been enjoyable to relax in the sunshine during the day. We signed up for the same week next year, so we’ll see if the luck continues.
Note — During the trip, the luck enjoyed for sunrises, did not carry over for sunsets, and was shut out on several occasions. There was a truly spectacular, unexpected sunset on one particular evening, but it was witnessed through the windows of a restaurant as it was the only night we opted to go out for our customary celebratory dinner; the first time we went out to a restaurant since the pandemic began. There are some phone photos of it somewhere, it was recorded as remarkable, but only in my memory.
Click any photo to view full size.