Monday, November 21, 2011

Deal Beach, NJ

As often as we can, Andy and I get together for planned photo shoots.  Sometimes that's not always possible due to our schedules and lives.  On occasion a photo shoot is a spur of the moment thing.  The weather conditions seem promising or some free time opens up.  Maybe a new piece of equipment arrives and you just can't wait to go try it out.  Or you stumble upon a location too good to pass up.

It was for all of these reasons I found myself loading my gear into the car for a quick sunset shoot at Deal Beach at the end of Roosevelt Avenue in New Jersey.  Some time ago while researching a different location, I stumbled onto another photographer's shots from a group named Jersey Shore on Flickr.  They weren't geo-marked and there was no indication as to where they were shot other than being included in that group.   I sent a quick note to the photographer and his one line response was:  "roosevelt ave in Deal". Andy and I had bookmarked the location for a future trip.

If you read my recent Tutorial on purchasing used lenses, you'll know that I just picked up a bunch of used equipment.  The day after I had freed up some time for a shoot, but a completely clear day didn't seem too promising.  I postponed the shoot for the next day where some clouds were promised.

The trip over would take around a half hour and with sunset scheduled for 4:45pm, I left about 2:30pm which would allow me plenty of time to explore the area.  If you want to shoot this area, you'll basically want to take Roosevelt Avenue as far as you can.  It dead ends at the beach entrance and so long as you stay behind the "No parking from here to the corner" type signs, you might as well get as close to the beach as you can.  I pulled my gear out of the car, slung my Lowepro over one shoulder and carried my tripod.  A path took me to some rocks which overlooked the beach.  I had to climb my way down.  

As this was my first trip, I wasn't aware of the layout and, as it turned out, what amounts to a creek flowing into the ocean would have to be crossed.  From where I was, I had two options.  Try to jump it (and with the tide out, this was a somewhat reasonable option) or climb back up the rocks and see if there was an easier crossing.  I opted to jump about a 6 foot section of water.  I had to time my jump while the surf was heading out, as that was when the mouth of the creek had the least water.  I almost made it, with just my back foot landing in water.

I still had over an hour and a half, so I began to take it all in.   This location was spectacular.  Easily five different key features to shoot:
  1. The creek mouth connected to the ocean which had a sort of man made waterfall.
  2. The creek itself which carved it's way through the sand.
  3. The remnants of an old pier in the ocean by the mouth of the creek.
  4. Up the creek towards the street with rocks, eroded beach and tidal pools.
  5. As if that wasn't enough, up the beach a half mile or so was and intact pier.
I got the tripod set up and mounted my camera.  I started off with the new to me 19mm-35mm Wide Angle Lens.  After shooting some of the creek and ruined pier, I decided I needed to capture a panoramic for documentation purposes (above).  I wasn't trying to necessarily get the best shot, just be able to give an overview of the location so that when Andy and I returned we would have some sense of the location.

With the light fading a bit but still some time before the magic hour, I wanted to explore the way the water had carved out the beach in a sort of "S" curve on it's way too and from the ocean.  This was a perfect opportunity to try out the Minolta 50mm 1.7 prime lens I had purchased.  The large aperture would allow me to hand hold even in the failing light and the decreased depth of field offered an opportunity to play with my focal depth.  Being as careful as possible, I worked my way over to the edge.  Something you need to consider with a prime lens; you are the zoom.  In a shot like this you have to move around to get the framing right but at the same time you have to be careful not to disturb an area that may later be essential to a shot.  Working over to the edge, I learned this the hard way. I got a little too close and the sand broke way and fell into the water, ruining a portion of the ledge I was trying to capture.  I still had some area to work with, but I had definitely limited myself further.

After getting some shots that I thought would turn out well, the light was getting too low for hand held shooting even opened all the way up.  I could tell that the mix of clouds and clear would have the possibility of giving me strong sunset colors so I went back to my 18-55mm kit lens.  It was what I was most comfortable with.  I would have to play with some of the other lenses at a different time.

I was back up on the tripod but the sunset colors had yet to really fill the sky.  I began shooting up the beach towards the pier as the sun finally began to set.  The sand had some strong textures and the pier in the distance created an interesting background feature.  A figure was wandering down the shoreline towards me.  She had a basket on the end of a stick  and she was sifting through the surf with it, for crabs of some sort, I imagined.  I decided to use her.  I was shooting relatively long exposures so I studied her for a moment to find patterns in her work that had her the most still. I knew she would have some motion blur still, but I wanted it as slight as possible.

Finally, some pink started to fill the sky and I turned towards the ocean to see if the sunset behind me would spread out over the ocean.  There is a very small window of color when shooting the Atlantic at sunset.  I decided to use the ruined pier as my main feature.  The longer exposure mixed with the strong colors reflecting the surf gave me some good lines to work with.  After a few shots I moved back from my camera to survey the scene and think about a different angle.

That's when the woman's waiving arms caught my attention.  I turned towards her and she started emphatically pointing behind me.  I did an about face towards the sunset to find an apocalyptic sky.  It certainly wasn't the direction I wanted to be shooting in.  The houses on the beach and some rough foliage was not the ideal backdrop, but I knew I had to capture this amazing light.  I framed out a shot using the scene that I had and started shooting.  As I did, I noticed the tidal pool itself was reflecting a lot of light and framed in tight on it to get some less cluttered shots.

After a while of shooting this, the sun faded and it was time to head back before it was too dark to see.  I hadn't thought to bring a flash light for the trip back to the car.  The tide coming in made the water I jumped coming in much too wide to get across.  I'd have to find another way out.  After some consideration, I decided that crossing the rocks upstream was my best bet.  None of them were very large or well seated in the water, so it was haphazard.  I made it across and then climbed up the rocks only to realize I would have to climb back down and then up again to get to where my car was.

Next time I'd bring a flashlight but for now, I was just happy to get back home so I could see what I had in the can.

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