I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time at this incredible place over the past 14 years, but I’ve only seen a sunset like this happen two or three times. You’ll be gazing out at the sun going over the horizon, and then you turn around and suddenly realize the last light of the day is illuminating massive clouds right over the roof of the house. It’s rare, but this time I was ready for it.
All of life is ephemeral, but by photographing these moments we capture them and make them ours. I may never see this scene again, but I’ve made a photo of it, and now it can be preserved and shared with the rest of the world. Scott Bourne at Photofocus recently wrote a great post on the subject, and it’s definitely worth a read.
I don’t think I’ve set foot in this yacht club in over a decade, but I walk along the docks to check out the boats all the time. It’s a pretty big space and there’s always dozens of watercraft of all sizes, from small jet boats to the large yachts you see here. Walking past these ships I imagine being out to sea off some distant shore, up on the flying bridge with binoculars, scanning the horizon. I’m sure the freedom and adventure of having one of these things is tempered by the reality of their considerable upkeep and maintenance, but that’s seldom part of the reverie as you walk past them during a beautiful sunset.
There’s still at least 20 minutes of light left in this photo. Time enough to walk down to the dock, push the kayak halfway off, sit down in it and lean back until you slide right into the water. The air is still and the current hasn’t picked up, so the paddling should be easy. And with the water this high you can glide right over the marshes. At low tide they become a maze of greenery and you have to stand up on the kayak to see over the top and find your way out, but tonight the kayak will just part the top of the marsh aside until you slip back into deeper water. Look down under the surface as you pass over it and you’ll see dozens of tiny gray snails each climbing their own blade of grass. Drift along slowly while the sun recedes, blue fades to black, and the first stars appear. Then turn back toward the island, with the houselights all strung out across the horizon, and head for home.
In 1859, an Australian pioneer released a dozen wild rabbits on his property for hunting purposes. Other farms soon followed suit, and with little in the way of natural predators among the indigenous species, the rabbit population exploded dramatically. Within a decade millions were being shot or trapped every year in an attempt to control their proliferation, but the continent still teemed with hordes of rabbits. Will this happen on Figure 8 Island? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t mind it, because these little guys are so damn cute. I saw at least 3 or 4 of them when I was there in June, and that certainly seems like enough to start a colony. I followed this one around for a while with my 200-400mm lens and was able to chase him into some good late-afternoon light. However, as you can tell from this expression, I don’t think he was too happy about it.
I’ve been taking this photo for years. In 2009 when I started filtering through the 10,000+ photos I’d taken up to then, I literally found this same composition repeated multiple times, going back to around 2002 or so. It makes sense, too, since this is such a beautiful scene and the overhanging branches frame the walkway out to the dock perfectly. When I finally got a real camera at the end of last summer this was one of the shots I was most eager to get a “definitive” version of, meaning a picture that’s properly exposed and taken from a decent camera on a tripod. The HDR aspect of this pic really comes through in what would normally be the dark areas of a typical photograph – in this case, all of the green detail in the foliage and texture under the shadow on the deck would ordinarily be dark gray or completely black. Shooting this photo made me realize that the concept of a definitive photograph, at least from a subjective personal standpoint, is illusory. My point-and-shoot snapshots from years past reflect how I perceived the scene at the time; likewise, this is a reflection of the scene after I’ve gazed at it for so long that I feel compelled to spend hours meticulously reproducing its image.
Note: This photo is one of many I’ve taken on Figure 8 Island in Wilmington, NC, although until recently I hadn’t tagged any of the photos as such. For the rest of them, you can click here. There should be more to come later this year.