It was a great morning, predawn with a chance to relax and wait for the photo to cook. At least that’s what it feels like – baking an image. Use the recipe. Wait for the clock. I had been planning this shot for weeks. Tybee Island, Georgia’s North Beach is the perfect place; tranquil, cool, quiet, and a great jetty for creating wispy, foggy waves in long-exposure images. Over the exposure the waves “stack” and create the illusion of fog, ice, or in some cases, glass. The sea looks as if a fog machine has pumped its haze across the surface leaving stationery items like rocks, poles, sharp. Everything is peaceful as I push the shutter button. Small waves split as they reached the rocks. The occasional large swell crashes into the granite quay sending salt-water sheets into the air… but only a few inches or feet. The calming scent of salt and seawater drifts by.
The ocean is relatively calm on this edge of the Atlantic. Seabirds fly over. Some land and peck the sand searching for a sea-washed breakfast morsel. Others fly on toward Hilton Head Island across the sound. A pelican roosts on a marker pole several-dozen yards out in the water. At low tide, the wooden perch stands high and dry. At all times of the tide, it welcomes winged visitors, usually pelicans and maybe this same bird. It’s worth a photograph, but The Beckster beat me to the best one several years earlier. She, Kate and Tare, our granddaughters, play in the sand a few yards away. She gets shots when I’m not looking. She did back then too.
While shooting a small wedding at sunrise I noticed she was missing. She had spotted the photo unrelated to the bride and groom, ditched us and went for it. I’ve been jealous ever since that time. The sun had lifted from the edge of a cloud bank just above the water and was directly behind the bird. In the distance, a shrimp boat headed to deeper water, in just the right compositional place. It’s a great shot and I give her the best compliment that any photographer can give another, “I wish I had taken that one.” Leaving the wedding, however? She can get away with it. She’s The Beckster.
This morning the old bird sits in the same spot, in the same position. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here for long exposures and I haven’t made one in years… thirty-five years. Back then I had a Toyo 4×5″ view camera that I carried to the bottom of a canyon to capture the North Fork of the Tuolumne River near Twain Harte, California.
Long black and white exposures were not a problem in the shadow of the surrounding mountains. The extended shutter opening captured the flowing stream as if it were ribbons of glass. One second, two, three, four, I counted off the time. Around four shots and I’m finished. Sheet film isn’t cheap. It wasn’t then either. Afterward, I developed and printed my favorite image and painstakingly oil tinted two. One went to my Uncle Roy in Savannah. It was a Christmas present. The other I kept. Over the years mine was destroyed while in storage. Then later, sadly, my friend and uncle died. The photo stayed with aunt Dot, his wife, until her death. Now I have it back. I cherish the copy and the memories that it represents.
Those cameras take more thought and preparation. But today I still go down the checklist. Tripod? Check. Filters? Check. Correct lenses? Check. Oh, yeah. Camera? Check. Now, find the exposure and wait for the sun. I have the filters that cut light, ND16 and ND8 stacked in front of the lens. Boy, I love digital. Good black and white images can’t be beaten. But I do love the ease of computer-aided photography.
I compose the image. What’s the exposure? It’s time. The sun should be coming up, but I need a test. I take one shot. It’s overexposed so I stop the lens down to a smaller aperture to cut down the light. Snap again. One-minute exposure at f11. Got it.
The first one is perfect. All of the images made are perfect. Did I say I love digital?
Not bad for thirty-five years in long-exposure hibernation.
Now the dilemma. Which one… and… color or black and white?
Leave a note below or email me and tell me your think.
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