Imagine if you will, a perfect dusk scene with sunset colors drifting up from beyond the horizon. In the distance is a photogenic lighthouse that’s illuminated just enough to make it stand out against the bright sky. Beneath your feet, slow-moving Atlantic Ocean surf rolls up on rocks. You spot a bird in the surf and hope it will be still while your shutter remains open for the seconds necessary to record the image as your mind’s eye sees it – tack sharp from foreground rocks all the way to the distant lighthouse, with silky smooth water reflecting light from the dusk sky. Imagine coming home and seeing the image that you imagined on your computer screen in all it’s glory. This imaginary trip can be made real for you too if you venture over to Ponce Inlet, Florida and have a bit of luck, like we did.
Ponce Inlet lighthouse, sunset, & bird – (Nikon D700, Nikkor 24-70mm lens @ 70mm, 5 second exposure @ f/11, ISO 200)
Once again my friends, the Photography Interest Group braved many hazards to bring you extraordinary photographic insight into another wonderful place for outstanding Central Florida Photo Ops. Three of us wanted to do something a little different from our normal photo excursions. We’ve been talking about night-time / low light photography so we decided to visit Ponce Inlet last Thursday night to try out some techniques. It was also an interesting day from an astronomical perspective, since there was a conjunction of Mars, Venus, Saturn and the Moon in the western sky after sunset, as well as the annual Perseid meteor shower to observe later in the evening. We planned this as a “scouting trip”, since we’d never been there (photographically at least), and our expectations for “wall hanger” images were pretty low. We figured we’d scout the place and come back another time armed with knowledge and hoping for good results.
The weather report wasn’t very good. Earlier in the week, heavy cloud cover and rain were predicted, and it was cloudy and rainy earlier that day. But by the time we arrived at Ponce inlet the clouds had parted and we were left with beautiful (but very hot) conditions.
We stopped first at the jetty and I made several photos including the one above and this one of a fisherman below the conjunction.
Ponce Inlet at dusk, fishing under the Moon and Venus – (Nikon D700, Nikkor 24-70mm lens @ 32mm, 13 second exposure @ f/22, ISO 200)
Next, we ventured over to the lighthouse looking to pair it with the conjunction. We had a bit of trouble finding the right place to park. This photo is from the parking lot on the south side of the lighthouse. We didn’t get there in time, but it’s possible that the view would have been better from the lot on the north side – something to try next trip. I made this two shot panorama with a 70 – 200mm lens. You could use a wider angle lens as well.
When we finished at the light house, there was time for a “Slurpee break” to cool off before moving down the beach. We found a good off beach parking area not far from the lighthouse and stopped to look for debris from comet Swift-Tuttle’s tail. Within the first few minutes (before our camera gear was set up), “Grasshopper” saw a large fireball meteor. But that was the only large one that night. Here’s a photo of “Donuts” and “Grasshopper” making star / meteor photos.
Grasshopper and Donuts perform photo-magic on the beach under the stars for an audience of three – (Nikon D700, Nikkor 50mm lens, 4 second exposure @ f/1.8, ISO 1600, manual focus on Donuts’ white shirt with Liveview)
For the set up at this place, I combined my old 50mm f/1.8 lens with the high ISO capabilities of the Nikon D-700. I wanted to make my exposures short so that the stars didn’t trail. I shot in manual exposure mode and checked the results to make sure I was getting what I wanted. There were some high clouds and haze and coupled with the light pollution in the area that made exposure tricky. It was too easy to overexpose the haze / glare, leading to an incandescent glow that hid the stars and meteors. I also used manual focus. I started by using Liveview enlarged around what I wanted to focus on. But with the 50mm lens, it was just as simple to use the infinity mark on the scale. I did manage to catch a couple of meteors, and here is one photo I made.
All in all, this was a very fine expedition and we all had a lot of fun. It exceeded expectations and you should try it sometime!
If you do want to try this, make sure you have both wide-angle and telephoto lenses and a sturdy tripod with a cable release. You can also read my post on night time photography for some hints on technique.
©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.