Exploring the Outer Banks

April 18, 2021  |  Bodie Island, North Carolina

I'd never been to North Carolina's Outer Banks before last week. I'd heard plenty and it always seemed like someplace I'd like to go. In many ways, the area reminded me of the Jersey Shore, and Long Beach Island, where I spent many summers growing up, but it was also very different as well. The dunes were bigger. The beaches felt more expansive, wilder, almost untouched. And then there were some of the attractions- a recent shipwreck, lighthouses, fishing piers. Kristen Wilkinson and I spent the better part of a week exploring. There was so much to see and photograph.

Late day sun shines on the dunes of Bodie Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The Dunes of OBX

The late day sun casts long shadows across the beach on Bodie Island in North Carolina's Outer Banks.

I had an opportunity to make a variety of images last week exploring the Outer Banks. "The Dunes of OBX", above, epitomizes the Outer Banks for me. Miles of untouched sand, dunes, and shoreline give you the feeling of stepping back in time, before the area was populated with residents and then the tourists who visit year after year. One of the evenings there, I visited the beach on Bodie Island, intending to visit the Shipwreck of the Ocean Pursuit to photograph it. And while I did photograph it that evening, and again at sunrise a few days later, I was quickly taken by the dunes on the beach, and was off with my camera to explore them. I loved the way the wind blew patterns into the sand, the way the grass topped each dune, and the long shadows cast by the late afternoon sun. I wandered the dunes until the sun was almost gone, looking for compositions. This was one of my favorites.

Water from the Atlantic Ocean washes around the pilings seen under Kitty Hawk Pier in North Carolina.
Under Kitty Hawk Pier

The tide rolls in at sunrise under Kitty Hawk Pier in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Another of the things on my list to photograph were some of the fishing piers that dot the outer banks. We decided on Kitty Hawk Pier after scouting Nags Head, Jennette, and Rodanthe, in part because we liked the look, but also, on the day we planned to photograph the pier at sunrise, we also had plans to go find the wild horses in Corolla, and Kitty Hawk was closer to that. It worked out well. We had a foggy morning, but not so heavy that the sunlight couldn't peak through. The tide was high, giving us good waves to work with in the foreground. After shooting from the side, I decided to head underneath the pier. I love the way the waves wash around the pilings and the patterns the water creates as it flows back into the ocean. "Under Kitty Hawk Pier" captures exactly that moment, while more waves can be seen in the distance rolling in. I spent some time watching the waves come in, and taking sequences of photos to be sure I captured the exact moment I wanted, since the water rolls in and recedes quickly and can be gone if you're not quick with the shutter button.

The sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean at Kitty Hawk Pier in North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Sunrise at Kitty Hawk Pier

The sun rises from behind a bank of clouds over the Atlantic Ocean at Kitty Hawk Pier in North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Foam from waves washes over wet sand on Coquina Beach in North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Coquina Sunrise

Waves wash over the sand as the sun rises above the Atlantic Ocean on Coquina Beach in North Carolina's Outer Banks.

One of the things I thought about when planning my trip to the Outer Banks was how I would photograph the beaches. Yes, I could photograph the dunes as I showed above, and yes, there were the lighthouses, which are positioned well off the beach, and in some cases there were the fishing piers. But I wanted to be able to capture more of the beaches. The problem is, despite their beauty, the beaches of the Outer Banks are somewhat plain looking in photographs. By that I mean there aren't a lot of features that stand out as a subject. In Maine, the rocky shorelines add instant foreground interest. In the Outer Banks, it can be far more difficult to make the miles of sand look interesting. I decided a minimalist view was what I needed to take. Focus on what was there. So I headed to the shoreline where the waves were washing up, and set my tripod nice and low. Then I waited for some foam to wash up close to the camera. The image above,"Coquina Sunrise""Coquina Sunrise", was exactly what I was looking for. Everything came together, including the sun tucking behind the only cloud in the sky, to add a touch of drama. I kept just a slight bit of motion blur, to show the foam was moving in, but wanted it frozen enough to still see some bubbles.

The sun rises behind sand dunes on Bodie Island, North Carolina in the Outer Banks.
OBX Sunrise

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The sun peeks between some clouds just after sunrise on Bodie Island in North Carolina's Outer Banks.
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An abstract photo of the Atlantic Ocean taken in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, at sunrise.
Ocean Blur

A panned long exposure of the Atlantic Ocean at sunrise in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina captures the tranquility of a spring morning in the Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks proved to be beautiful and a lot of fun to photograph. It was certainly a change from 2020 when I spent a lot of time in the mountains. It's safe to say I'll be back sooner or later!