Friday, October 5, 2012

Chasing Light

It seems lately that I have mainly been shooting or assisting with portrait sessions. While I love my clients and photographing people, it is nice to take a break every now and then to create fine art landscapes. There is something about being alone in a dark, deserted location with only a camera, tripod, and your thoughts that is somewhat cathartic to the crazy hustle and bustle of everyday life. With the Stockley Gardens Fall Art Festival coming up in a few weeks, I took a weekend off and headed to the Outer Banks to find a few more images for the show.

I left late Friday afternoon with no real destination, no hotel reservations, or concrete plans. I just started driving while keeping an eye out for great light. It is not often that you get the opportunity to just let the light dictate where you will land. Client shoots are generally timeboxed and though you try to schedule when the best light is available, you usually find yourself having to attempt to mold whatever conditions are present to get a good image. It is anything but natural - reflectors, strobes, assistants, dreadfully boring skies, gale force winds, etc. leading to more mechanical photography. It is a fun challenge to overcome but it is work. The benefit is that when executed correctly, the images are incredibly satisfying; however, the effort involved is sometimes draining.

Being able to hit the unknown road and leaving it up to it mother nature to drive the scene is refreshing. You just let your mind explore whatever is presented to you. Sure there are technical details that you need to consider when you actually setup the photo but for the most part you are the passenger on a delightful journey. When I arrived in Nags Head, the sun was still fairly high over the horizon. I kept driving, passing the hotel where I usually stay when in the OBX. I found myself wondering past Oregon Inlet and over the Bonner Bridge. My initial intentions where actually to go north up to Duck; however, the light kept pulling me further south. Just north of Salvo I stopped at the refuge visitor's center drawn by a thin strip of clouds stretching across the sound. The light changed dramatically, bathing the marsh in a brilliant golden glow. It only lasted for a few minutes before fading to darkness but a few clicks of the shutter captured its brilliance forever. It would have been entirely missed had I forced a location.

Because I was already halfway to Buxton, I figured I would continue heading south. This is the nice thing about being free to travel randomly. Would there be a room available when I got there? I didn't know nor did I really care. If there wasn't I'd either head back north or sleep a few hours in my truck. Luckily the Island Inn had rooms and as a bonus, they were running a special discount for drop-ins. While walking back to my room after grabbing a quick bite at Diamond Shoals Restaurant (one of my favorites!!!), I noticed the glowing light of the 3/4 moon radiating through the clouds. I looked at the direction and immediately thought of the lighthouse. It is funny that the Cape Hatteras Light has always been one of my most desired subjects yet every time I have been in the area, the conditions never materialized for a really good photo of it; either the light was wrong or the sky lacked the drama needed for something different than every other shot taken of it. Back when it was located closer to shoreline, the ocean provided a great backdrop but in its current location, it is difficult to capture esthetically. Standing in that parking lot, it hit me that I had an opportunity for which I have been waiting for years.

I raced back to the hotel room, grabbed my camera bag and a flashlight. Passing several deer on the entrance road to the light, I pulled into a very dark, very deserted parking lot. The only light was that from the moon itself and the only sound was that of the waves crashing on the other side of dunes. The moon's trajectory was perfect. As it descended toward the horizon, it was moving on a path that would intersect the lighthouse at its midpoint. Most people do not realize how fast the moon, or any of the celestial bodies, move or, technically, how fast the Earth spins. There is not a lot of time to setup and get the capture right before the image is gone. This is especially challenging in the dark. I set the camera up for a portrait composition. The exposure and focus were set for the moon, the brightest part of the scene. A second longer exposure was taken as well. Later in Photoshop I merged the two to bring out some detail in the lighthouse without blowing out the moon. That all belongs to the technical side. The real message is that I ended up here by simply following the light that was available, a glow from the heavens as seen from a nondescript parking lot. The result was an image of the famed Hatteras Light that I have never seen anywhere else.

Another oddity about adventures like this is that the normal concept of sleep and time seem to naturally shift. Although I tend not to sleep a lot, I am horrible when I am at home at getting up early enough to make the drive down to the oceanfront for a good sunrise shoot. On the road, though, is a different story. I returned to my hotel room around midnight and was easily back up at 4:00 a.m.  With the moon long having set, the beach was beyond dark. Having scouted the location before, I knew the basic area where I wanted to shoot. Care has to taken when setting up because it is hard to judge how far water will push in on a large breaking wave. I set up my outfit on the edge of the highest watermark I could determine but always kept one hand ready to grab the tripod in the event that I heard a loud rush of water pouring toward me.

What seems like total darkness is never total darkness. There is always light even when undetectable to the eye. This is my favorite time to shoot. There are a lot of technical fundamentals combined with an equal amount of guesswork. Because exposures can range from 10 - 30 minutes or even longer, you only get so many tries before you have to plan a return trip. The good thing is that using modern technology like the Photographer's Ephemeris application, you know where the sun will be rising. This is also the spot where there will be the most light leakage on the horizon. By making a long exposure, your camera sensor collects the available light and some amazing colors that you will never see by eye. What is black to you renders in burst of yellows, greens, and magentas when recorded. The water turns ethereal as waves repeatedly wash over the beach. It is an incredible experience to stand in darkness and look down at an LCD image that looks unworldly. Again, it is all about the light and its location, intensity, and quality. I could have tried something similar elsewhere on the island and came up with nothing worth viewing.

I hung around a little while to get the classic sunrise shot before packing up to drive north to shoot some photos of the Eastern Surfing Association Championships finals. The wonderful thing about trips like this is that you seldom really know what you got until you get home and see them on your monitor.  So take weekend and set off on your own unplanned adventure just following the light and see what you end up capturing. I think that you will find that you end up with something amazing. Happy adventures...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Independence Day in Small Town USA

I absolutely love small towns.  Maybe it is the slight introvert in me but I generally feel lost in big cities. Large expanses of buildings and concrete were never quite my game. It is one reason that I loved growing up in Virginia Beach so much. While it is becoming an increasingly large city, it will always have that small town feel that beach communities seem to maintain. It is also the reason that I like to get away to truly small towns. When I lived in NC, I used to pick a direction on the map every Friday afternoon and drive until I found a place of interest. I usually ended up in a spot not often travelled to by others en route to more bustling vacation spots. The people I encountered were almost always generous in their hospitality and I had the opportunity to see and do things most don't get the chance to experience. It was amazing to arrive back in the office on Monday with stories of kayaking around Core Banks, hiking to the base of a little known waterfall in Nantahala, or seeing the world's largest frying pan. My friends and coworkers had no idea that such treasures were within driving distance of their home.

For the 4th of July this year, I decided at the last minute to bypass the elaborate fireworks display on the Norfolk waterfront and opted instead to go to Edenton, NC; a small tight-knit community on the Chowan River. Life is definitely different there. In place of big overstated celebratory events, there was a single gathering in town park with a local fair type feel to it.  Ice cream, BBQ, and funnel cakes filled the air with wonderful smells. The kids took turns riding in a little replica train that circled the park while the parents spent time escaping the 98 degree heat under large tents as they listened to old school music and caught up with neighbors. It was an interesting dichotomy to Virginia Beach where every restaurant and bar views the 4th as a profit opportunity. In Edenton all of the restaurants closed for dinner on Independence Day to give their employees a chance to enjoy the holiday and to avoid the craziness that such events inspire. Life is a little slower but definitely not less enjoyed than in their larger population cousins.

Manual, BULB, Mirror Lockup, 4 sec, f/11, 34mm, ISO 200

One thing about a small town is that there is no sneaking into it. I wasn't in town for 30-minutes before I heard my name being called by a friend that I had just recently caught with at our 25th high school reunion. Not that I was trying to be covert; I just didn't want her and her husband to feel obligated to house me for the night. I knew they had plans to head out of town in the afternoon to a baseball game. It is funny because I can spend days going all over Virginia Beach and not run into someone I know and in this little section of NC Americana, I'm caught immediately. Katy gave me a nice improptu tour of the town and it's history. You just don't see that very often in larger cities where getting around is difficult and people are too busy to share a few minutes of their time with an old friend. It was refreshing and much appreciated.

Manual, BULB, Mirror Lockup, 1.6 sec, f/14, ISO 200

Although Katy provided me the access codes to a private plantation to view the fireworks, I found that a better vantage point was had with water in the foreground. This was of course the same location from which the entire town was going to view the show. So even though the heat was unbearable, I staked out my spot on the water's edge at 7:00 and proceeded to bake for 2-hours waiting for the show to start, giving me plenty of time to make small talk with locals. They were graciousness enough to give me room to shoot with tripod and all. I'm not sure that I would have received the same consideration on the Portsmouth seawall.

Manual, BULB, Mirror Lockup, 2.6 sec, f/14, ISO 200

The fireworks show in size is nothing to compare to those like NY, DC, or even Norfolk. Most were single or double burst and it was over in what seemed like 15-minutes although I didn't check the time. What it lacked in size, though, was made up in the quaintness of the moment. This is how the 4th is to be celebrated. There were no sponsored by x-corporation signs, celebrity guest speakers, or a full orchestra for the backdrop. It was simplicity of Edenton celebrating our freedom the way it should.

Manual, BULB, Mirror Lockup, 9.6 sec, f/14, ISO 200

There is no mystery to photographing fireworks. A DSLR helps but many of today's point and shoots have enough features to allow you to get great images. Equipment-wise, you just need a camera that allows you to take long exposures and a stable platform (tripod) to mount it on. To avoid camera shake, I used a cable release and Mirror Lockup; a feature that allows you to open the mirror prior to releasing the shutter thus minimizing vibrations from the mirror slap. I set the shutter speed to BULB which means that the shutter will remain open until I depressed trigger again to close it. This allows you vary the shutter speed without having to fiddle with the camera settings. f/11 to f/14 enabled longer exposures while maintaining a large depth of field. I generally open the shutter when I hear the shell launch and then close it when I think I have the image captured. It takes a little practice but not at all difficult or too technical.

Manual, Aperture Priority, Mirror Lockup, 8 sec, f/11, -1 EV, 36mm, ISO 200

The one disappointment I had was that the full moon did not rise until after the fireworks show had ended. I was hoping to get the moon in the frame behind the streaming blast of colored light but it wasn't meant to be. With that in mind, I couldn't let the opportunity go to waste. When I got back to the hotel room I set the alarm clock for 3:30 a.m. to be in place by 4:00 to capture the moon over the waterfront. Something about being out there alone, capturing a beautiful scenic of the moonlit waterfront is magical. I'm looking forward to my next small town adventure.

Monday, June 4, 2012

2012 Virginia Beach Steel Pier Classic Surf Art Show

Over Memorial Day weekend, I had the privilege of exhibiting at the Steel Pier Classic Surf Art Show. Jill Beninato from and her husband Chris lent me their LightDome tent, helped me set it up, and even came down on the first day to give me a hand and provide some pointers. As always, my family gave their full support helping with the loading and unloading. I had an absolute blast, seeing friends that I haven't talked to in years (in some cases  decades!), making new friends, selling several prints, and getting a feel for how to manage a show.

We were lucky that Mother Nature blessed us with some beautiful weather, sunny and 85 for all 3 days. I did manage a slight burn on day one but that is what happens when you forget to sunscreen your face at a beach event. Good thing it wore off by day two.

Sales were good; however, they did not compare to the incredible feeling of watching people stop in their tracks and simply utter the single syllable "WOW!" I must have heard it a hundred times. Those Bay Photo Metal prints are stunning. The greatest compliment that I received was from a couple that had just moved down from Buffalo, NY. For the last 20-years they have attended 30 - 40 art shows a year. The husband told me that he thought that he had seen it all until he stopped in my booth and was speechless at the beauty of my work. That alone made all of the hard work and preparation worth while.

Special thanks to Jodie Woodward and her crew for pulling it all together. It was fun show and I'm looking forward to returning next year.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thanks EBSC!

I owe East Beach Sandwich Company a huge thank you for not only displaying and selling my work for the last several of months but also for hosting a wonderful "Meet the Artist" party. Live music was provided by Paper Mountain (absolutely awesome!) and beer samplings from Beach Brewing Company. It was a wonderful experience working with such a great group of people. If you are in the area, or even want to make a side trip, I highly recommend that you stop by their shop for some of the best food in town! They are located on 4700 Pretty Lake Ave in the newly revitalized East Beach section of Norfolk.  I look forward to working with them again in the future.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

EBSC Meet the Artist Party Announced

On April 29 from 4:00 - 8:00 p.m., Jim and Sharon at East Beach Sandwich Company will be hosting a "Meet the Artist" party to wrap up my exhibit. There will be food and beer discounts in addition to Beach Brewery being on hand to provide samples of some of their latest creations. Come on out to partake in the festivities or just stop by to say hi. I guarantee that you will love their food. Chef Jeff is awesome in the culinary department! There will be a give-away or two and simply a fun afternoon. They are located at 4500 Pretty Lake Ave in guessed it... East Beach section of Norfolk. I look forward to seeing you there!

East Beach Sandwich Company Exhibit

Wow, there has been a lot happening in 2012 and I just realized how bad I've been update updates. Time to play catch up! One of the bigger events for Travis Owney Photography this year has been an exhibit at East Beach Sandwich Company (EBSC), a great little eatery owned by Jim and Sharon Smith. The restaurant has received rave reviews in part to the laid back fun decor and the excellent food prepared by chef Jeff Woodhouse.

Chincoteaque Sunrise

In keeping with the their community roots, Jim and Sharon decided early on to support local artist by displaying and selling their work. Every 3 months, they host a single artist. At the end of the exhibit, they have a "Meet the Artist" party in which the run discounts on food and beverages as well as invite other local suppliers to be on hand for samples. Imagine my surprise when Sharon contacted me out of the blue in December to ask if I was interested in being featured. Interested!?! Heck yea!!!

Jeanette's Pier

Actually this could not have come at a better time. Anyone who takes their craft seriously and devotes themselves to it thoroughly understands that there are periods when you begin to question yourself and your work. It just so happened that this was one of those times. I had been in a rut for a brief time which was leading to me being more and more critical of my fine art images. It happens... photos that received great applause start looking dull, new ideas are slow in forming, and just the want required to get out make more starts to fade. I owe EBSC a huge thank you for not only offering me a venue to display my art but also for reigniting my desire to create more, even greater images and to seek additional shows and venues to display them. Stay tuned, there will be more announcements to come... :-)