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Posts tagged ‘Cape Hatteras’

Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

New England is blessed with some nice beaches.  In my view, however, there are few beaches here to compare with the Cape Hatteras beach, which runs along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  It takes about 75 minutes to drive from Nags Head to Cape Hatteras, along Route 12.  Most of the way, the beach is about 100 yards away, at most. It lies just on the other side of the dunes.  These are barrier islands.  In places there may be less than 1/4 mile separating ocean from the Sounds.  They are made of sand, and they are moving. The Park Service is constantly battling the water that defines these islands. It is such a vast stretch of beach that even during the summer, you can easily go there, find a place to park, and if you walk a few hundred yards down the beach, you’ll be alone.  _DSC7839-Edit



Enjoy your summer.

The Wildlife of Eastern North Carolina

I’ve made it clear in the past that I am no wildlife photographer.  The hours are terrible.  The equipment required weighs even more than mine.  Perhaps even more daunting, there has been so much good wildlife photography out there for so long that I’m not sure I’d ever have anything to add.  I have had some luck creating fine art imagery that involves birds, but have not devoted sufficient time to pursuing that area.  I do enjoy seeing wildlife though.  It says something about the state of nature and the land, subjects in which I am quite interested.  In general, the presence of wildlife suggests I think that we’re doing something right and that at least something from nature hasn’t bee obliterated by our footprints.  The later point though is always subject to change but I’ll save that rant for another day.

The Outer Banks and the area of eastern North Carolina that lies to on the western side of Croatan Sound is inhabited by a surprisingly wide array of wildlife species and I thought that some of you might enjoy seeing some of the associated imagery.  This is shared purely in the interest of fun, with a bit of education thrown in.  Art this is not, as you will quickly see, though some of the images, as usual of birds, are I think worthwhile.  When to begin?  Large to small I think.

Just over the bridges from Manteo to the mainland and eastern North Carolina you’ll find the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, a fascinating place.  We asked one of the volunteers at the Refuge Visiting Center in Manteo the best location for seeing some bears.  He pointed us in that direction, and we were not disappointed.  We arrived there at about 5:30 in the evening, just before sunset.  As you probably know, most bears are off duty during the middle of the day.  This one was just punching in.  Here’s looking at you kid.


One can’t help but be impressed with their size.  There was an article in the Boston Globe this past Sunday, page one, discussing the fast growing population of black bears throughout New England and particularly in Massachusetts.  After reading the article I could only conclude that it is just a matter of time before we confront a bear at the Quabbin Reservoir.  Did I mention how big they are?  They are big.  Of note, there are supposedly no bears actually on the Outer Banks or in Manteo.  It would be a very long swim, even for highly aquatic bears.

Sea otters populate the coast line, adding their usual upbeat perspective.


There is a second, smaller mammal of interest, the Nutria.  These little guys can be found under the docks.  I saw several, but only had my camera this time.  This is not a great shot, my apologies.


We have to then get to my favorite, the birds.  The White Egret.  These are hardly unique to this area but they are still so interesting to watch, we spent a fair amount of time doing just that.




We had so many encounters with Egrets that I actually had a chance to create a video about one fishing.  This is a very short video, just over a minute, but you may find it interesting.  Make sure you view it in HD.

Ospry are quite welcome throughout eastern North Carolina.  Indeed, power poles and taller moorings often have a platform on which they can build their nests.  They can often be seen this time of your hunting and fishing to feed their offspring.  They fish at top speed just feet off the ground.


Ospry mate for life and live for quite a few years.  They return to their nests year after year.  This nest is in the water just off of Nags Head, behind Basnight’s Restaurant, a famous location.  You can eat dinner and watch them feed.  The Outer Banks are of course subject to horrific storms.  Several years back, this family’s nest was destroyed.  With a bit of human assistance however, the nest was rebuilt and the family returned.


In terms of size ranking, or sizish ranking I really should say since I’ve not strictly adhered to that protocol, we should probably raise the issue that would even make Indiana Jones anxious, “snakes, why did it have to be snakes?”  They seemed to be everywhere on this trip, far more that we’d ever seen.  I do not know the reason.


Want to know what snakes eat, at least some of the time?


As it turns out, other snakes.  I would guess that the winner in this contest didn’t start out that much bigger than the loser.  Some of these snakes are quite poisonous as it turns out, though I was never able to find out for sure if this one was.

The bird population stands out as I said.  From Cape Hatteras to inland, the variety of size, shape, color, attitude and behavior seems endless.  My best bet is that this is King Snake though the markings are quite right.






Yes, even the gulls have an appeal, though perhaps less so to the farmers.


Last but certainly not least to those who love them, we need to thank the custodians of the beach, the folks who keep it clean.


So just a brief amateur’s overview.  It is hard not to be grateful though for what the presence of so much wildlife means for the environment.  Yes, much has been lost, but not all.

Monet and the Light

I’ve been taking an ongoing workshop at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, Massachusetts, Atelier, lead by Meg Birnbaum who is terrific.  Among other things, we’re asked to think about our work from a variety of new perspectives, a task which is very helpful.   One of those is called “conversation with an artist.”  Simply put, you choose an artist of interest and present your work in relation to that artist’s work and think about how that artist may have influenced you.  In 1978 I had a chance to visit an exhibition of the works of Claude Monet, one of the founders of the Impressionism,, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  I have always known that this experience and his work deeply influenced me, but didn’t think about how and why.  I simply liked it.  Impressionist works are really about, in my view, the impression the scene leaves on you, more than about creating a representation of the scene.   I never really explored the history of impressionism and the relationship between the artists and the landscapes with which they worked, however. This exercise gave me a chance to do so and the results were very interesting.  If you click on the link over Monet’s name above, you’ll go to wonderful web site that offers an in-depth look at his work as well as some background.  But do come back!

It can be difficult for us to understand the state of art in the 1800’s.  It was a different world. Monet’s generation though was blessed by having available to them new technology.  No, not digital….oil paint in a tube.  That of course is something we take for granted now, but such was not always the case.  We are used to the common sight of seeing a painter with easel, canvas and paints working in front of an appropriate scene, outside.  Before Monet’s generation that was very difficult to do because the paints had to be mixed in quantity from scratch, a messy and time-consuming business. If you’ve seen pictures of Mathew Brady’s field darkroom, it was essentially a covered wagon.  The same would be necessary to paint in the field.  So they didn’t.  Incredible as it seems, most landscape art was created in studio, the artist referring to notes and sketches.  Monet and his colleagues worked “in open air.”

This revolutionary technique allowed them to make note of, and be influenced by, something photographers take for granted.  We are not creating an image of an object but rather how the light strikes an object.  Monet did some many paintings of various lily pads because he wanted to see how light, time of day, weather, etc. changed the scene.  Of course, such changes are not at all trivial. Any object at mid-day outdoors may look radically different at sunset, or on a cloudy day.  The painter and the photographer use this difference more than the gesture or physical presence of the scene, to achieve the desired result. Monet saw the light.

What Impressionists are known for however, I think, is more their refusal to get lost in details. They tried to capture the “essence” of a scene.  They  used broad colorful brush strokes and tolerated intense color contrasts.  This of course lead to their being ostracized by the powers that be in the French art community of the time.  Most of them experienced significant poverty, though ultimately, their work began to catch on.  After all these years, I still like it.  With apologies to Monet then,  I went back and looked at some of my favorite images over the last five or six years.  The results were interesting.  I’ll share a few of them here.


This image, taken at sunrise is from Ocean City, New Jersey.  This abandoned pier is famous among photographers for obvious reasons.  Alas, it is also gone, courtesy of supper storm Sandy.  (Technical note: very little post production corrections were made on these images.  I typically set a black point, white point and applied a bit of contrast.  That’s it.  That is all that was necessary, an interesting lesson.)


From a little bit further south, Cape May at sunset.  (Thank goodness, I hate getting up for a sunrise shoot, particularly during the summer!)


This is a “swipe”, a technique I learned from Tony Sweet.  The camera is set to have as low shutter speed and one moves the camera while the shutter is open.  As you can guess, this fails repeatedly, so you’ll need to take many images to get what you want.

All of these images, and the two below, have something in common.  I had planted the tripod (in all cases but the one directly above) and did not move as I watched the light change over the course of between 10 minutes and two hours.  I took an image every minute or two.  I never knew if the last one was going to be the best one, until the inspiring light was gone, and things turned either all black or all blue.  Once those images, between 20 and 100 are loaded into the computer, I then have a record of how the light evolved over time.  Like Monet, we’re able to study how the light interacts with the object.


From Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  This was taken, amazingly, at mid-day.  It is surprising what can happen if you wait.  These images though also all required a long shutter speed.  One does that to smooth out water, or to achieve a sense of movement in the sky.  You’re left though with the essence of the image, not the details, at least in most cases.


This final image is of Roanoke Sound off Manteo, North Carolina, after a storm.  Is photography objective, or subjective?  Does it in fact matter?  Of course it does if you’re engaged in photojournalism, but beyond that, I’m not so sure.  Some artists believe that we should never look back, lest we be influenced by those who came before.  I actually don’t think that’s possible.  On the contrary, I think, as with most history, we learn a great deal.

The Spirit of Place

I had the pleasure several years back of spending a week with the great travel photographer, Bob Krist.  Bob had spent considerable time and energy over the course of a career trying to understand what made for a great travel photograph, one that conveyed the “Spirit of Place.”  This is also the title of one of Bob’s best books which you can order through his web site above.  When I’m traveling now I think of his advice.  I look for images that I hope will convey that spirit of place.  It is actually quite a tall order, and you don’t get there by just taking snap shots.   Three of the elements he said were key to a good travel photograph were, not surprisingly, composition light and color.  The magic is in the fourth element, a sense of moment, something that captures what the place feels like.  Here’s one view from the Cape Hatteras area, actually the beach at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge visitor center.


It’s really not that hard to get away here, even though just a few miles north in Nags Head, the joint is teaming with visitors.  Perhaps this is what most people think of when they think of this Cape this feeling.  It takes you some place else, thankfully.  If you are interested in Bob’s approach to travel photography, I am very happy to report that a video of his, Spirit of Place:  The Art of the Traveling Photographer, has been legally posted here.  This seems to be the only place it’s available.  It’s worth the hour.

Tech note, though it may seem inappropriate given the state of mind I hope the image invokes:  This is a long exposure, about four seconds.  To make this happen in the incredibly bright sunlight I had to pull out every trick I could think of.  I had eight stops of neutral density over the lens, which was all I had.  I was shooting at F36.  So it comes out soft, who cares.  I was at ISO equivalent of 50.  My next move was to tar paper the lens.  The fun part of course is that I couldn’t see the back of the camera at all.  It was just too bright.  I could just barely make out the histogram so I thought I might have a decent exposure, but could’t know until I got back to the car.  Fittingly, it was just like shooting with film.