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Outer Banks Guide > Outer Banks Blogs > Eve Turek's Natural Outer Banks Blog

Sunday, April 14, 2013
A Matter of Perspective
As a wildlife and nature photographer, I often apply photographic metaphors to daily life. I think about “my perspective” or “my point of view”; I think about what “lens” I have on any given situation. When I go outside with the idea in mind that I am going to photograph a bird or a critter, I usually plan to carry the longest lens I have, in order to bring the farther-away closer to my view…and thus to my viewers as well. Long lenses come in especially handy when a) the critter is spooky, and a close approach will startle or frighten it b) when the critter is very far away and there is no opportunity, due to position or landscape or some other reason to move closer c) when moving closer might put you or the critter in danger (which is why there are laws about separation between us and the wild horses of Carova, for instance) or d) when the critter is small to begin with—like a songbird across the yard, say.      

Right at the end of March I got a phone call two days running from volunteers with NEST—the organization that watches out for sea turtles up our way—that there was a harbor seal “hauled out” on the beach to rest, not far from the gallery. I’ve been longing for the opportunity to watch and photograph a seal ever since their numbers seemed to increase on our beaches a couple years back.

I learned some cool seal facts from the volunteers who had already roped off an area of non-disturbance so the seal could rest. (Hence the long lens.) The first fact was just that: these seals come ashore not necessarily because they are ailing, but to rest out of the cold water on warmer sands. March, which came in like a lion, finally gave us a taste of spring lamb-like weather with some sunshine. The resting seal I saw on the first day looked to me to be doing anything but resting: its head was up, its tail was up, and if I tried to lay long in that position my stomach muscles would protest mightily!! Seal Works Abs might be a good caption for that pose, but turns out that is a sign of a happy and healthy seal! I watched it yawn, noticing its teeth (seals feed on fish) and I especially noticed how vigilant it was, how sensitive to noises. Seals don’t have external ears, but their hearing is extraordinary under water—on land, it is about as good as the average human’s, which is to say, much better than my own. Their eyes are designed to work with the refraction of light under water so their out-of-water eyesight is poorer than ours.

The seal that beached itself the next day seemed more fatigued. It did not often raise its tail while I was present and moved around a lot less than the previous day’s seal did. Both seals stayed on shore for most of one day and then they disappeared back into the ocean. I am so grateful I got a chance to be in their presence.

The same day I saw the first seal, I also saw our Yellowhouse grey fox for the first time this year. I always worry when weeks, or in this case months, go by without an encounter. A photographer friend, Brian Horsley, had dropped by the gallery and left about 2:30 pm only to return 30 seconds later with the glad news that our fox was in the lot next door. As always, it responded to my voice and waited a few minutes to let me take a few pictures before trotted into the thicket. I saw it a couple days later in mid-morning going in the opposite direction. It looks sleeker than when I usually see the mother, as she is lean from nursing pups later in the spring. Again the long lens reveals nuances I may have missed with only my eyes.

Usually, I am aiming for the highest shutter speed I can get, given the light I have to work with. I want to stop action, freeze behavior for later study, get as much of the animal as possible in focus.

But this month I set myself, and our local chapter members of the Carolinas Nature Photographers Association, a different sort of challenge: find a way to show motion through your photographs. I chose to show motion by doing the opposite of what I usually do, and slow the shutter speed way down. This decision creates some immediate, technical problems, like how to avoid letting in so much light that the entire picture becomes a blown-out blank. And it creates some creative challenges too. How slow to go determines whether the scene is rendered in abstract streaks of color with little form, or whether the action is blurred just slightly. I chose to photograph waves, an easy and safe subject to practice with, and to include flying gulls in the images to try to give some sense of the movements that make for flight. A fun challenge, and some results are included.

A few nights later, photographer Dan Beauvais emailed those same OBX nature photographers with an invitation to join him for some radically fun slow-shutter-speed photography: making star trail images at Bodie Lighthouse! In film days, the way to do that was to carefully calculate and plan your image, then leave your shutter open for 90 minutes to two hours or more. You had basically one chance to get it right! Leaving your shutter open that long with digital cameras is possible, but that long an exposure introduces a kind of fuzzy graininess (we would have said in film days) called noise, not picturesque. So the alternative is to take a series of much shorter exposures (we used two minutes as our time frame) and combine a couple hours’ worth of those into one stacked image. If you time it right, and line up with an object centered on or near the north star, the other stars appear to be wheeling around the north star in a grand circle. Grand fun, for sure.

Finally, a few of us out of this same collective group tramped around Jockey’s Ridge Saturday afternoon. Our group meets once a month (second Monday, KDH Library in the meeting room around back, 6 pm) and also goes on monthly outings led by members. This month it was my turn to pick a place to photograph, and I’ve wanted to take these folks to the back side of Jockey’s Ridge for a long time. We saw fox tracks and some older fox dens; what I think were baby raccoon tracks near the sound’s edge; picturesque sand ripples atop the tallest dunes and at the water’s edge; and blooming wild roses. I go to the Ridge’s back side when I need to be quiet. Saturday, I was glad for the company of friends. Life keeps moving, a reality my slower shutter speed reveals—a fact I sometimes forget in my faster-paced life. I want to balance zeroing in on what is most important with that sense of movement, of going with the flow, of expressing gratitude, and making and sharing connections.
That’s my heart. That’s my focus. That’s my life.

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Yes, Harbor Seals are cute. But they are wild! The only way to get this close (unless you are a wildlife biologist by profession) is the way I did: with a long lens.

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The seal the next day was closer to the water, and not as active.

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Who is watching whom?

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Here is our first look at our resident Gray Fox for 2013. Looks healthy and that makes me look happy!

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This is what happens when you deliberately slow your shutter speed way down in order to show motion. In this case, I'm so slow that everything is a "pleasing blur" -- a term used by photographer Denise Ippolito, whose work I admire.

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And another example. I think these are beautiful in their own way.

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Including an image taken at twilight before many stars appear gives a sense of the early evening sky. The stars were moving then, too, of course -- we just could not see them with our eyes.

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If something lights up your main subject briefly -- car lights, a flashlight -- then your final image combines that detail with the starry night.

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Low Tide on the Sound Side...

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I loved the coves and headlands on the sound side of Jockey's Ridge. This is a view most visitors miss.

posted by eturek at 10:42 PM

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(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 547840 times

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