OBX 2021 — Part Two

Gulls in Flight — Outer Banks, NC © jj raia

In the previous post I mentioned the subject of “repairing” flaws or distractions within the frame, or blending the better parts of separate frames, to move more toward our idea of the finished image, the one imagined at that moment. The image above is a case in point. I made several attempts at panning the camera using a slower (1/4-second) shutter speed, following the flight of several gulls as they passed by, hoping to get the texture of the ocean in the background to become a horizontal blur while also blurring the gulls. The best I could do was what is seen above except the original frame edge ran through the middle of the bird furthest left; not the most desirable positioning of subjects. It was the only frame that was even close to being useable, so I made the attempt to salvage the image by adding some real estate (canvas) to the left in Photoshop (Image > Canvas Size), and using the clone tool, “drew in” the missing parts of the gull and a continuation of the background blurs in that added blank area. It was done using a soft edged clone brush at a low flow (about 12), and trying to grab areas within the original frame that mimicked the areas I wanted to fill in. At times a large brush was used, and other times it was narrowed down to blend in specific details. It was a bit painstaking to do, but if it worked out, the birds would be more centered in the frame instead of being pressed up against the left edge. If it didn’t work out, then the image would end up in the trash along with all those other failed attempts.

OBX 2021 — Part One

Oregon Inlet Life Saving Station — Pea Island NWR, NC

This years annual off-season visit to North Carolina’s Outer Banks was preceded by a little research in hopes of discovering some old piers that have not already been overused by photographers in the past. Using Google Map’s Satellite View, I came across what you see below, and thought it was something that warranted further exploration. So on our drive to OBX, my son and I ventured off our direct route to the rental, and easily found what seemed like the remaining footings of some sort of pier extending out into the ocean. It was exactly what I’d hoped for to use as a possible foreground in a very long (30-seconds or longer) exposure of the surf; possibly at sunrise or on a cloudy day. I checked the tide chart to see what it was at that time to gauge when it might be best to photograph the spot, since on that scouting visit, the footings were mostly covered by the ocean, revealed only as the surf receded just before the next wave came in. It turned out I would revisit the spot twice during the week with totally different photographic outcomes. If I could come away with a decent shot of these footings, one of the goals of the trip would be satisfied. The other goal, which is always the same, is to witness at least one magnificent sunrise. But that was totally out of my hands and subject to the weather Gods.

Satellite View – Possible Old Pier

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.


Light in the Landscape

Soft Light – White Oak Marsh © jj raia

It would not be a revelation to say that light is a significant component of photography. After all, it is the light that we record whenever we trip the camera’s shutter. During daylight hours, illumination is provided by the sun which can be supplemented by lights both indoors and outdoors. For indoor, or studio photography, there are probably enough classes and instructional videos on You Tube for proper studio lighting techniques, for every imaginable subject, type of light and modifier, flash system, reflector shape, and home-made contraption, along with the immeasurable variety of their uses, that would make your head spin.

In the studio, to touch briefly on a few of the variables, lighting can be adjusted for location, intensity, direction, temperature, and number of lights, all with the ability to be modified for the angle of the beam, and whether it shines directly on, or is reflected onto the subject. Objects can be flattened, silhouetted, modeled into three dimensions, or given added texture, simply by making some basic changes to the direction of the illumination; shadows can disappear or be deepened with light, thereby modifying the overall contrast. Studio photographers have complete control of all the variables in lighting the subject, simply because they create the light.

But what about Light in the Landscape?

A New Project

Bonsai Cedar – Delaware Watergap, PA © jj raia

Most often, photographic projects involve creating new images that have some common thread under a particular theme or umbrella. It could involve processing a series of photos using a singular or similar technique, or it could center around a specific subject; there are many avenues to approach the idea of a project. Knowing I would be inside for several weeks without much to do, I decided to finally tackle a new photography project. You might think it would be something to look forward to doing, digging in full bore, with excitement, enthusiasm, and a renewed sense of photographic purpose; but you would be sadly mistaken. It is something I’ve been putting off for at least 10-15 years, dreading the monotony of the gargantuan task that I would embark upon, and figured if I didn’t tackle it now, with the expected uncommitted block of time, it would never get done. Of course, the world would continue to move forward if I chose not to attempt this project, but it really, really needed to be done; at least in my mind of practicalities, so I forged ahead. Unlike most projects, there was no creativity involved in this non-artistic endeavor, but rather the simple, monotonous, manual labor necessary in keeping my photo libraries from the gilded, pre-digital age of photography, in some semblance of order, severely lacking for 30 years, now.

Found, Forgotten and Found

Eroded Cliffs near Dettifoss, Iceland © jj raia

As happens most times a photo is taken, something motivated you to do so prior to tripping the camera’s shutter. Some object, activity, person or scene inspired you enough to memorialize it with your camera in some way that satisfies that inspiration. After importing those photos onto the computer, the better images are processed and those considered subpar are ignored and left to languish on a hard drive. The cycle repeats, and over time those unprocessed files, and even some of those that were, are forgotten. But occasionally, we come across those same files years later only to be inspired again by what we originally saw and captured with the camera.

A Day at the Museum

© jj raia

Any time I can get my son out of the house to take pictures together, everything stops and we go to wherever he wants to; it’s not often he’s willing, even though I try to coax him quite often. So the other day he finally agreed to go and he chose the North Carolina Museum of Art as our destination. It was a wise choice since it was a sweltering and humid day, so being indoors with cooling air conditioning appealed to us both. It didn’t really matter what might be on display since we usually just wander around and photograph whatever piques our interest. Basically, we try to use the artwork simply as an instrument to create something that may be interesting to look at, and not have the photos resemble the actual paintings or sculpture in any way. We wander around, sometimes together and sometimes on our own, looking and trying different techniques to create something unique.