Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quiet Roads

“I do it for the joy it brings, cause I'm a joyful girl. 'Cause the world owes us nothing, we owe each other the world.”
~ Ani DiFranco

Some weeks, you just have to pinch yourself.

I traveled to South Carolina a few weeks ago to photograph several custom homes for a client. It was a great trip and great job. Both the weather and "it's all in the details" angels were along for the ride. The job went very smoothly, I met many great new folks, got to spend time with a dear friend, and the rain held off until I left. Who could ask for more?

Ashton Model
Lakes at Plantation Pines
Little River, SC

The days were all just fun. I did my scouting and detail work in the mornings, along with a few of the exterior shots I needed. Then took off until late afternoon to explore the area on my own. Little River, SC, is just north of Myrtle Beach and spittin' distance from the North Carolina border.

It's also home to the most confusing road system I've been on in a good long while, and so, after getting lost way too many times just trying to find job sites, I passed a West Marine store, put on the brakes, pulled in, and bought a nice little Garmin Nuvi 750 GPS for the car. I set it to Daniel, a nice, deep, English accent voice and off I went.

Daniel and I traveled many back roads and explored the lips of quite a few beaches during my stay. He was a wonderful traveling companion, speaking only at the most appropriate times, always reassuring, patient and nonjudgmental about my erratic "drive-by photographer" driving, and he never seemed to get lost. Didn't hog the iPod either.

I especially loved exploring the back roads of both South and North Carolina. Life was quiet there. Traffic was minimal. No one seemed in very much of a hurry and neither was I. Old barn, old cows, old fields, old fences, old roads. I even found an old roadside stand selling boiled peanuts, stopped to buy a scoop and called a friend in California who has family roots in these parts and always misses the boiled peanuts most of all. We had a good laugh, me in the car with Daniel and boiled peanuts, telling her stories about all the crazy signs in front of churches that dot every corner. Life doesn't get much better than this.

Preaching To The Choir
Hickman's Crossroads, NC

Wide stretches of tobacco fields gave way to marsh land as I made my way west, then east again. I drove around most of Lake Waccamaw, then back to the coast, Daniel guiding me gently with suggestions for places to eat and fuel up. If only he knew a bit about photo ops in the area, he'd be more than perfect.

Spruce Trees Behind Tobacco Fields
Old Dock, NC

I passed one old barn that made me back up and pause alongside it. I was intrigued by the weathered wood next to a slapped-on, newer lean-to. And the GW Bush for President sign next to a lonely red lawnmower for sale for just $200 was almost too much. I have a secret love of tractors and lawnmowers. I want to drive them all. The scene seemed such a sad statement, somehow, all things considered. But the next church sign put it all back into perspective.

Old Barn
Somewhere ouside Whiteville, NC

And then I was off to the beach! Oak Island, Caswell Beach, Long Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach. At Caswell Beach, I stopped to visit with a couple of grungy old locals sitting on the boardwalk, trying to make an equally old pair of camo binoculars work. They'd just bought them at a garage sale, they told me, and were just figuring out that the ten bucks they paid was about ten bucks too much. We talked about storms and the history of the place and politics. I told them Alaska stories and they told me NC shrimpin' stories. Fair trade, I'd say.

Caswell Beach
Oak Island, NC

Beach Cross
Sunset Beach, NC

Marsh Walk - Vereen Gardens
Little River, SC

And then the job was done and it was time to leave. I had two days ahead of me and only a 12 hour drive. After much deliberation (and consulting my near-constant companion Daniel, of course), we turned south, stopping in Murrell's Inlet to tour Brookgreen Gardens, then we headed for a plantation I'd read about near the Ace Basin in the South Carolina Low Country. This plantation, sitting in the heart of some of the most enduring southern plantations AND the live oak tree made famous in the movie, Forrest Gump (of course, Daniel guided me there but I was the one to play the movie soundtrack), is an oddity. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Oddities intrigue me, and I was very anxious to see it. But aside from an awkwardly leaning fence and some outbuildings that resembled Forest Service cabins, it was hidden from sight.

No matter. Tunes and hours of episodes of "This American Life" were playing and the sky was clearing and there were dirt roads lined with stately live oaks to explore and good light to play with.

Stocks Creek Road
Ace Basin in Green Pond, SC

Wild Grasses
Ritter Road, Ritter, SC

Then, just like that and all too soon, it was time to join the river of southbound travelers on the interstate. A few tributaries and pit stops later, I was home.

And that was a very good thing, too.

All photos: Nikon D2x, Nikon 18-200 VR

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sunset Hush

Saturday Fades Away
Bonita Shores, Florida
September 13, 2008

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see."
~John Burroughs

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 18-200VR

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Journey...

Pull Chain
Bonita Springs, Florida
September 12, 2008

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
~Lao Tzu

Come dawn Sunday morning, I'll turn the ignition in the car and point NE to Little River, SC, for an week-long architectural photo shoot. Road trip on the horizon! Life is very good.

Mere moments ago, the UPS guy delivered my new Nikkor 18-200 VR. It's a lens I've wanted to add to my arsenal for some time, rounding things out with a great, general purpose zoom. This photograph - my desk lamp's pull chain - is the first image it has captured for me. I love it already.

All week, I've been preparing for this shoot, as well as paying homage to the weather gods to keep storms away. So far, good on both counts. I've loaded Enfuse into Lightroom - superb software for this kind of photography. It'll speed my workflow tremendously. The rest of today will be devoted to cleaning the gear and packing. Why does packing for big jobs seem so daunting!

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 18-200 VR

Monday, September 8, 2008

Intentional Serendipity

Ghosts in the Sunset
Bonita Beach, Florida
Photo by Shelby Woodsmith

"Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon."
-E. M. Forster

This summer, I have been teaching two teenagers how to use a camera. It's been a very cool experience. This age group is so quick and so ready to learn. Tonight, after a continuation of our lesson about depth of field, f/stops and shutter speed, they draped both my DSLRs around their necks and we headed off to the beach.

Early storm bands from Hurricane Ike, pushing up from the southeast, were flying by overhead. We dodged rainstorms and found the beach remarkably quiet and the nearshore water unbelievably calm. It was gorgeous. We had ripe light for a short while. I spent some time with them, working out distance/focus decisions, and then I turned them loose. "You're free until dark. Let's see what you can do. The only rule: don't limit yourself. Be creative!"

Looking over their bounty later, I found this image. I smiled proudly as we talked about why Shelby's mom appeared three times in this capture.

There seems no greater gift than watching a little lightbulb turn on.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 50mm 1.8

Thursday, September 4, 2008

All In A Night's Work

The Bartolini Model
Lithia, Florida
September 3, 2008

"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish."
~John Quincy Adams

I was away for a new architectural assignment yesterday. It was a great shoot and I had the honor of an unexpected assistant - one of the owners of the custom home company that built this home - Jim Fowkes. I couldn't have had a nicer, more helpful assistant. We both chuckled about the remote for the many fireplaces in this home. Imagine a fire with a remote.

Photographing homes is never without its challenges. Crazy lighting situations, clouds, rain, candles and props that are sitting in your garage 150 miles away (or my usual trick of lots of candles and no lighter), doors that don't want to open, fans that seem to have no off switch...and that luminous magic blue light that comes and goes so quickly you literally run to catch it before it leaks out the doors and windows as the day bleeds away. Each new assignment brings some new lesson.

Last night, I added insects to my list of challenges. I ran outside for this last exterior elevation shot at just about the end of twilight and set up the tripod in an empty lot across the street. In the dark, I found a tiny hill in the ankle high weeds and thought, cool! I can perch the tripod on this. Thirty seconds later, an army of fire ants was swarming across my sandaled feet. Two seconds after that, they were all biting at the same time.

Like any intrepid photographer worth her salt, I got the shot. And easily thirty or more bites on both feet to prove that I've paid my outdoor night shot dues.

I drove the long drive home, watching a fingernail moon dance with the clouds, thinking, I have a very cool job. Ants and all.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 12-24

Monday, September 1, 2008

Passing Storms

Barefoot Beach, Florida

"A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease."
~John Muir

Hurricane Gustav passed by some 300 miles or so off the coast of SW Florida where I live yesterday. The eastern side of the storm is wide and brought strong wind gusts and heavy downpours throughout the night and day. In a slim slice between storm bands, I headed to the beach for a walk with the camera. Clusters of shorebirds were dodging the building surf. High tide pushed holiday hopefuls up into the dunes and off the beach entirely. It was one of the few times I've seen the beach fully underwater for as far as I could see.

The wind blows. Seas churn. Birds congeal in swarms of nervous feeding. Water steals sand in hungry handfuls and carries it out to sea. There is something exhilarating in the loud presence of a storm passing by.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 24-120 VR