The Lonely Shore

The great barrier islands of the Atlantic coast, which stretch from Cape Cod south to Florida, present many opportunities to outdoor photographers. A barrier island is essentially a long, thin stretch of sand that forms roughly parallel to the mainland coast. Barrier islands are dynamic and constantly shifting and moving as a result of wind, waves, storms, tides, and changing sea levels. Although many barrier islands are overun with beach houses and tourist resorts, a good number are wild and protected. Because of their proximity to a huge percentage of the U.S. population, they make excellent and convenient photo destinations for many people.  

Although many barrier islands have small dunes, plants, and other potentially interesting coastal features, much of the barrier island landscape is essentially featureless. As a result, the photographer has to rely on the ephemeral forces of clouds, waves, and light to make successful images. When these forces come together, magic can happen. For the photo above, taken in the famous Outer Banks of North Carolina, a stunning sunrise was simply not enough to make the image work. I waited for just the right wave to come in, creating a pleasing shape that successfully married earth, sea, and sky. To learn more about the making of this photograph and some helpful coastal photography tips, click on the image above or the following link to visit my daily photoblog.  

Many barrier islands are famous for their wildlife. Assateague Island, one of my favorite destinations, is known world-wide for its wild ponies. Legend claims that the ponies are descendants of horses surviving the wrecks of Spanish treasure galleons off-shore, bravely escaping the destruction of their ships and swimming ashore to safety in the New World. The most likely explanation is somewhat less romantic, and therefore more realistic: the ponies are descendants of horses that were abandoned by farmers who used the barrier island to pasture their animals. Either way, the ponies, and many other shore animals including birds, sea mammals, and even little creepy-crawly coastal crustaceans, make excellent photo subjects.

In addition to coastal landscapes and wildlife, the Atlantic barrier islands are also steeped heavily in history. If historical architecture is your thing, you’ll delight in the old houses, remnants of decaying buildings and fishing piers, and stone lighthouses that are commonly found on barrier islands.

In short, there’s no end to things to do on barrier islands. Late fall and early winter are great times to head to the coast, as the crowds and bugs are gone, leaving miles of lonely shoreline all to you and your camera. So what are you waiting for? Chances are, there’s a wild barrier island near you, waiting to be discovered and photographed.   

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