Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vacation photos

My husband and children enjoy an early morning swim in a calm sea.
Vacation! That’s why you haven’t seen a post from me lately! Last week, I was on Bald Head Island, near the southern end of the string of North Carolina’s spectacular barrier islands. As it is at the tip of Cape Fear, and very close to South Carolina, Bald Head Island has much more tropical foliage than most of the North Carolina beaches.

The Bald Head Island lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bald Head Island Conservancy is responsible for much of the conservation work that has kept the island so pristine. It also helps educate visitors and residents about the unique ecosystems on the island, including the maritime forest and marsh. Their sea turtle protection program is one of the best in the country. As of today, they have 57 Loggerhead sea turtle nests and one Green sea turtle nest (more rare for Bald Head) on the island. The Green sea turtle laid her eggs right in front of the house we were renting on the first night we were there! (It happened about 2 a.m., so we missed it, of course.) 

I have never been lucky enough to witness a mother turtle laying eggs, or the eggs hatching, but I hope I will have this opportunity at some point in my life.

Since my new book, Point, Click, Quilt!, is about learning to take better photos that you can use in your fiber art, I thought it apropos to share a little vacation photo viewing with you, along with my thoughts about taking photos.

Vacation is a great time to take photographs, and not just the ones of your kids standing in front of landmarks or making funny faces. Take time to document your surroundings, and to explore them. Taking photos in a deliberate, artful way forces you to really see what is there.

People often e-mail me to ask what camera I use. I always start off by telling them that it doesn't really matter. Good photography is much more about the photographer’s eye – and knowledge of design and composition — than it is about the camera. A fabulous, expensive camera with lots of features is a waste if you don’t pay attention to those things, and if you don’t do what I call “learning to see.”

People also ask me what sewing machine I use, and I give them basically the same spiel. It’s not the tool, it’s the operator. (Although I do love my Bernina, and I know that some features, whether on a camera or a sewing machine, do make it possible to do things you couldn’t do otherwise.)

I took a very simple, fairly inexpensive digital camera with me on vacation. It is a Canon PowerShot A590IS (8 megapixels, 4x optical zoom) that I have had for several years. I have a fancier Canon, but I took this one because it was smaller and lighter and cheaper.

I love the texture in this piece of wood, which has been battered and worn down by years of rain and sunshine. And the detailed pattern in the weeds in the lower left corner.

What lovely soft texture and color in the plants; a great way to set off the lines of the driftwood. It is interesting to see how most of my vacation photos fall into the same palette of blue, green and tan.

The berries on this juniper are pale blue-white, and very smooth, which is a nice contrast with the texture and color of the juniper leaves.

Southport is a charming sea town; the ferry to Bald Head leaves from here. It was decked out for the Fourth Of July weekend, with a flag flying from nearly every porch.

The juxtaposition of the sailboat and the lighthouse (nicknamed Old Baldy) give this shot interest.

I’m a sucker for rust, and places near the ocean have it in abundance. This is a shot of a metal covering for a sewer or water line that had originally been painted a pale blue. Interesting lines and texture as well as color. Make sure that you take some detail (or close-up) shots as well as long shots and medium shots.

The silhouette of this palm tree shows off its interesting branching structures. 

Don’t be afraid to get down on your belly and shoot; lots of the really cool stuff is small and you’ll miss it if you don’t get down on the same level. Use the macro feature on your camera to capture small details. Nearly all digital cameras – whatever their pricepoint — have this feature. The button usually has an icon of a tulip on it. Make sure you don’t zoom in at all when using the macro feature, or you’ll be out of focus.

The contrast in shape and texture between the prickly pear cactus and the yucca are what interested me here.

I placed the bloom off center – rather than smack dab in the middle of the frame — to make this composition stronger. I used the macro feature for this shot. It has the added bonus of changing what is called “depth of field;” note how the background is hazy, while the bloom is in focus. This, plus the beautiful red color, helps pull your attention to it.

 The color is dull, but texture and pattern take center stage here. 

Don’t forget to look up! I got this photo by standing very close to the trunk, and shooting straight up. This accentuated the pattern in the palm tree’s trunk and foliage.

Colors of the sea are echoed in this collection of glass bottles arranged on a windowsill. 

I bent down the fronds of this plant to get a better shot of this fascinating structure at its core.

The color variations in the leaves, and the pattern created by the individual green blades against the main vein interested me here. 

The vivid chartreuse and lapis are part of what makes this photo a winner. Strong lines and textures are supporting players.

You can almost feel the heat while looking at this sunset shot. 

Lights hung in this live oak tree by the Maritime Market illuminate the Spannish moss, and cast a lovely glow. There is wonderful texture in this shot.

This shot of the marina at Bald Head Island is stronger because of the diagonal line  between the sea and the boats in the lower half of the photo.

The ruffled edge of this plant’s leaves creates a pleasing pattern.

The tiny air holes in the sand provide and interesting backdrop for this coquina shell, which is purposefully set off-center in the frame.

What I like in this shot is the way the distinct, strong green mass of shrubbery sets off the houses, which appear hazier and less distinct, almost dreamlike. 

Repetition of shapes — the cottages of Captain Charlie’s — pull the eye along from left to right, as does the road.

The color and line in this shot nearly makes me swoon.

The subtle diagonal line where the sea meets the sand pulls the eye from the cannonball jellyfish in the foreground, through the scattered shells on the sand. 

Soft colors and strong texture in sea oats.

The vibrant blue color of the bicycle set it off from the more natural color of the brink wall and the ground. The difference in the mortar in the bricks at the top and the bottom interested me. And there’s something about this photo that makes you want to jump on that bike and take off!

This was the coolest fuzzy grass. The vertical lines in the grass stalks, combined with the horizontal lines in the shutters, is nice.

This juxtapositionof different colors, textures and patterns makes this photo work. 

And of course, I do occasionally take photos of people! This is me with my husband, Rob. I took it by holding the camera at arms’ length aiming it in the general direction of our heads. 

I’d love to know which of these photos you like best, and why. Which ones would you like to see me make into a piece of fiber art? Leave me a comment!


  1. First, thanks for all this info! I'm working on improving my photography & feel like I just got a free semester! Great tips!
    OK as for faves - when I saw the close-up of the palm tree (took me a minute to figure out what it was), I immediately thought of the 12's "grey" theme. That photo is interesting because it is monochromatic yet so very textural. To pick a favorite is tough but I would go with the blue and green (OK you called them different colors :-). Is that a garden hose? Strong color always grabs me, so that is why that one is my fave.
    Wonderful pics! Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Susan, your vacation pictures are wonderful. I can see you making quilts out of many of the various foliage. But my favorite is the "bottles in the window". I can't wait to see what you decide to use.

  3. Susan, I love all of your vacation pics. I can see you using the fern pics to make the next quilt, but my favorite is the one with 'bottles in the window'. Thanks for sharing. You have me thinking about MY next quilt and hunting through my photo archives.

  4. I couldn't decide a favourite between the incredible green fern sprays,(the swoon picture) the rusty metal, or the beautiful piece of driftwood with those soft weeds.... so please make one of each!!! Thanks Incidentally,it looks like a heavenly vacation spot for a photographer

  5. Hard choice to make. I'm going with the palm fronds. I love all the different shades of green and the shapes.

  6. I personally like the fuzzy grass with the driftwood.

  7. I personally like the fuzzy grass with the driftwood.

  8. While I can see many of these photos as wonderful quilts, my favorite one is the "swoon" picture of the fronds. It took my breath away as I slowly scrolled down the screen, before I got to the verbiage below it. It's absolutely gorgeous!

    It was followed by the large piece of aged wood with the knothole and the weeds on the lower left corner. The lines of the wood along with the softness of the color is visually very pleasing to me. The knothole commanded attention and drew my eye to the wood, then it's shape allowed it to wander around it and take in the lines and color of the wood.

    I'm looking forward with interest to see what your choice will be from these photos.

  9. I like the fuzzy grass with the driftwood.

  10. it's hard to choose just one but my favorites are the juniper berries and the ruffled leaves! thanks for sharing!

  11. Argh! Hard choice. But I love the driftwood shot. It already looks like fabric.

  12. I love the driftwood picture. It's grey, weather-worn texture in contrast to the weeds is wonderful. I enjoyed all the photos so thanks for sharing.

  13. Your pictures are all fabulous. I like the picture of the wood with the weeds in the lower left. I can imagine you doing a wonderful quilt of that.
    Thank you for sharing.


  14. Susan, you were vacationing in my backyard. I'm just a little farther south west of Bald Head on Sunset Beach which is NC's last barrier island before entering SC. You did a fine job of capturing all the beautiful elements that make this area so remarkably special. I'm drawn to the birds and love quilting them in their natural habitat. Thank you for the wonderful photography ideas. Hugs to you from Mary at Sea Trail.

  15. Being a lover of old wood, I really do like the first photo. I would love to see you re-create the texture in fabric.

  16. Aaah, the beauty of the first photo caught my eye and my heart; I wonder what stories the wood has tucked away in its rings... though they are all beautiful, the first is my all time favourite. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos - the bicycle against the brick wall would make a great quilt, also, the driftwood log shown in the first photo. This is my first visit to your website - wonderful, colorful artwork. Your quilts inspire me to veer off from the traditional - something I've been wanting to do for some time. I'll be visiting often!


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