A last lingering look

This has been hanging out there for a lot longer than intended, but here, finally, is the last of the posts regarding the Topsail Island trip. I think.

As I said, fewer photos this time around, because we were doing more “stuff” – not as much time to be chasing subjects, and also less optimal conditions. We actually had some weather this time, mostly in the form of grey days, but a little rain here and there. Nothing serious for sure, and we were even out kayaking during one set of off-again-on-again showers, but certainly less interesting skies for the landscape shots, and poorer light overall that limited some photo ops.

seafom on a grey day at Topsail Island
I will draw your attention to the beach underlying the foam here and the consistency thereof, for future reference. Most areas of the beach were actually sand, but patches were made up of crushed shell like this, and others were larger shell fragments.

scattered clouds at sunrise on North Topsail Island
Since I’m determined to capture that green flash and might have missed it the one time it occurred last year, I was out at sunrise for most days, but the much higher humidity definitely affected the skies. Taken as a whole, the conditions were fine most of the time, but when it comes to getting sunrise, the buildup of moisture at the horizon isn’t ideal. Above, it’s easy to imagine that seeing the sun exactly as it rose might be challenging. But when it did, the effect was better than expected. Yes, these were the same day, only nine minutes apart (but significantly different focal lengths.)

sun peeking through humid haze at sunrise, Topsail Island
Not the conditions that can produce that flash, but I admit I wasn’t expecting to see the sun break through like this – that haze was a lot thinner than it appeared.

And yet, the sun only did a cameo, for the early morning anyway (later in the day it was brilliantly sunny.) A few minutes later on, the haze obscured it and muted the light and the colors significantly. Wandering the beach, I used those conditions, and a curious object washed up, to provoke some moody images.

single long-stemmed rose washed up on beach
I can’t provide the story here – you have to do that yourself. I’ve said before, a lot of photography relies on what feeling you get from the image, which is often immediate and in many cases subtle and hard to define. What contributes to it, and how can you manipulate this to best effect? I’m not saying this is a shining example, but there was a reason I went in low with the wide-angle lens, and you can imagine for yourself how different it would be if the broad empty landscape and sky wasn’t included, or if the sun were bright.

And just a little later on, a wandering sanderling (Calidris alba) provided some more impressions. I admit, I waited until it wandered close, and hoped that it would pick at the rose, but it wasn’t that cooperative.

sanderling Calidris alba near lone rose on beach
And by staying nearby and keeping an eye out, I got a different perspective about thirty seconds later. Which do you like best, and why? How different is the impression?

sanderling Calidris alba walking away from discarded rose
Okay, enough essay questions. How about another perspective on that foamy conditions from the opening shot?

straight-down view of seafoam on beach, Topsail Island
I boosted contrast and saturation a little for this one, partially because of the poor light conditions, but also to enhance the colors. I was about to say they were refractive, but stopped to look it up to ensure that I was correct. I was half-right; they’re both refractive and diffractive. And don’t ask me what particular elements in the water caused these prominent foam patches, but they occurred on a couple of different days, sometimes quite copiously and lasting for a long time after washing ashore from the breakers.

And as I look at this photo, I realize it should be rotated counter-clockwise into vertical format, since you can see my silhouetted reflection as I took the shot in the yellow, green, and blue bubbles at upper left: half-crouch with legs spread wide, bent over shooting almost straight down, right elbow sticking out pretty far. C’mon, don’t make me diagram it.

By the way, the opening shot from this post last year has been turned into two large prints on our walls here at Walkabout Headquarters, one on canvas. And so, I was keeping an eye out for even better compositions this year, but it was not to be. Not only was the light less cooperative (at least when I was on that side of the island to see it,) but the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) weren’t in the same connubial state; we watched their courtship flights this time, so we know there were no eggs on the nest, and it appeared that the female might not even have decided on which suitor would win out yet. So, I got a few frames, but they don’t compare to last year’s.

pair of osprey Pandion haliaetus on and over nest on sound, Topsail Island
A few days later, while down at the south end snorkeling, there was a solitary bird floating on the surface not far offshore, staying pretty distinctly in one position despite the strong current from the tides. I couldn’t leave this be, so I started stalking down there but, you know, proper stalking and not what most people picture when that word is used. I was a little worried that it had possibly gotten caught in some fishing line and couldn’t move from position, in which case former wildlife rehabber here was going to go for a swim. I managed to get quite close without the bird getting too disturbed.

adult red-throated loon Gavia stellata in non-breeding plumage
It took me a little bit to determine the species, after I got back and began digging through my identification guides, but I’m pretty certain this is a red-throated loon (Gavia stellata.) You may wonder why it’s called that, perhaps thinking that the ornithologist responsible was seriously color-blind, but this is non-breeding plumage – which is what it displays for more than half of the year. During mating season, ending just before we were there, they do indeed have red throats, which might have saved me twenty minutes of careful comparison of markings and ranges. And as I got close enough, this one demonstrated that it wasn’t relegated to just one area in any way – it simply seemed to like that one spot, so much that it would maintain it against the current. Hey, whatever floats your, uh, loon…

I did a little noodling around with video while we were out there – nothing serious, just touristy stuff, but I have a policy of not featuring anyone on the blog without express permission, the webbernets being what it is anymore. But during one of the days were we out fucking around in the surf, one of our friends decided to experiment with her smutphone video options as I was attempting to learn how to use a boogie board, and captured this little clip for posterity:

First, a note: The original video was shot purposefully in some slow-motion option provided by aiphone$, and I edited it back up to ‘normal’ speed, or as close to it as I could achieve anyway. And yes, that’s me wiping out – I’m especially fond of how quickly the board appears leaping into the air. I imagine I dipped the nose down too far, but it certainly took me by surprise and it was the only time it happened.

But I did manage a few successful rides, but the best came on another day, when no one was recording them. No, really. Anyway, pardon the edit issues – the original recording started and ended at normal speed before transitioning to slow-mo, and I tried to make it all normal but it glitches a little.

Remember above when I pointed out the crushed shell? It tends to be pretty hard on you when you slam into the bottom during a failed ride, and a couple of my knuckles are still rough from the abrasions they underwent; blood was even drawn a couple of times. Nothing serious – all part of the activity. I’ve done much worse catching thorn bushes while out chasing frogs.

two of our friends riding boogie boards skillfully
I’ll go ahead and post this one because faces are indistinct enough that I can’t be sued. And you will notice that both riders seem to have a peculiar color cast to them. The guy on the left was catching a reflection from his blue board, but the guy on the right really was that pink – he had a tendency to eschew the sunscreen…

But yeah – overall, they were doing better than I. It looks like they’re coming practically right up to the waterline, but this is a foreshortening effect from shooting close to water level; the waves were breaking a moderate distance out, but in a highly variable way. As can be seen here to a small extent, the swells weren’t terribly rhythmic, so the curlers might break just about anywhere, and at times you could just be standing out there while nothing happened near you. But there was a certain zone where, if the swells did start to curl and break there, they had the best carrying properties. I’m probably announcing my general ignorance of surfing dynamics to the world…

That’s enough of all these trivial subjects. Now back to the sunrises!

pre-sunrise sky without promise
On several days, things didn’t look very promising, but I waited out the sunrise anyway and would sometimes be pleasantly surprised. This particular one here looked like nothing at all was going to be seen until the sun had risen far beyond the horizon. And yet, I had to make an animated gif (pronounced “GOY-im“) of the actual results:

animated gif of sunrise sequence
I was surprised to catch the sun right on the horizon, clearly shining though all of the humidity that’s painting the sky, but it’s the distortion that’s so cool. Plus you can see the diagonal motion of the sun.

This is the second time that I’ve done this for the blog, and you’d think I’d learn by now. While many of these frames were shot from the tripod at the same focal length and all that, not all of them were, and so to have a full sequence, I had to resize and re-align a lot of frames to try and prevent jumps and stutter; obviously, I wasn’t perfect at it. And changing the zoom settings also affected the amount of sky that the in-camera exposure meter was reading, and thus affected the brightness of the overall frames, producing those ‘flashing’ variations. I did not get the idea of an animated sequence until well after I’d done all the shots, of course, and then had to fiddle around (a lot) to produce this. Please be absolutely wowed by it.

So if you want to try this yourself, leave the camera firmly fixed to the tripod, and don’t adjust the zoom settings at all, and for preference go with a fixed, manual exposure. You know, I even have a computerized shutter release made exactly for stuff like this, carrying it routinely in the bag, but I have to plan to use it.

And one last fartsy one, coming back to the seafoam.

moody sunrise with foam in shallows
This particular day later turned to rain, so I was probably lucky to get this. I purposefully underexposed by a full stop to keep things from washing out and to manage the colors, but it gave it a twilight feel that adds to the mood (for me at least.) And I included this little inset to the right because, in the larger frame, the sun looks defocused, but it’s not; it’s quite sharp, but the glow from the clouds mimics an unfocused effect and almost hides the distinct edges.

That’ll be all for now; we still have a trip to Jekyll Island coming up, with the hopes of capturing a sea turtle nest hatching, so more beachy stuff will be along in a couple of months. That is, if the hurricane season cooperates better than last year. We’ll see what happens.

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