Welcome to the Essential Light Photography Blog By Jim Sabiston

Monday, May 2, 2011

On Little Cat Feet

Up and out with the camera gear hours before dawn this morning. We have had thick fog every morning for the last several days and today I have a chance to get out in it. First stop, the Bay Shore train station. The fog was thick and gave that haunting, blurred, atmospheric light reminiscent of the old black and white movie scenes. I shot a few different angles and then moved on to St. Patrick’s Church, the big Roman Catholic church in the middle of town.

This massive pile of brick is an unmistakable and imposing presence. I suspect most people don't realize just how massive the structure is, as the sight lines are broken up enough that you have to actually stop and look from the odd angle to appreciate the real bulk of the thing. I have wanted to shoot this building for some time now, but could never settle on the right way to capture its real presence. I suspected the fog would offer some opportunities and this was my main target for the early morning shoot. I wasn't disappointed. The fog picked up the glow of the well lit Main Street, giving just the right amount of background light in the thick mist. A twenty second exposure did the trick. There are only a few angles that give a clear view of the church to get a good feel for it, and I walked around shot a few other perspectives while I was set up, but it was the three-quarter view from the rear that gave the best overall angle, just as I expected.

(click on image to enlarge)
The next stop was my favorite easy beach walk - the walk to the Fire Island Lighthouse from the parking field at Robert Moses State Park. I had wanted to get some updated images of the lighthouse itself, but the fog was far too dense. Instead, I went searching for interesting details in the dark, but gradually lightening mist. It was a marvelous morning. Cool and damp in that predawn way that you have to personally experience to appreciate. There is no way to effectively describe it as the physical presence of the low-lying cloud plays so much a part.

Really thick fog such as this brings on an odd and unique quiet. On the boardwalk, well into the densest part of the swale, I could hear the ever-present Atlantic surf pounding on the nearby shoreline, but even the dunes were out of sight in the gray mist. The omnipresent roar was punctuated by the mating calls of several redwing blackbirds, invisible in the tall grass and dense thickets of pine and scrub. If I stood still and listened, even with this serenely evocative background medley, the muffled silence was still deep enough to hear the drops of condensed fog drip from branches and pat-pat-pat onto the sandy ground. As I wandered the walkways alone within my own thoughts, I wondered at the mystery of the walkways disappearing around blind curves into the gray cloud. A barely discernible rustle revealed a doe with a yearling fawn browsing in the scrub for breakfast. Moving ever so slowly and quietly, I setup for several freehand shots as the pair moved quietly and slowly about their morning business, less than ten feet away from my crouching position at one point. The pair moved unhurriedly, gradually deeper into the tall grass and finally out of sight. The redwings continued their calls uninterrupted – adding such serene beauty on this solitary moment. For the first time in recent memory, I felt myself slowing down.

(click on image to enlarge)
The sun had risen by now, but this was evidenced only in a very gradual brightening of the thick mist. The fog was full of light, making exposures tricky, especially in the subtle variations according to angle and soft shadow of each shot. I found a groove and made it work, tending to underexpose rather than blow out the increasing glow of the sky. I finally made it to the lighthouse, but as I anticipated, the fog was far too dense. I was within a hundred and fifty feet or so before the base of the column was visible at all and even then it was just a vague hint of a vertical shadow. The fog shrouded pathways and other details would remain my main subjects for this morning. I continued on to the beach to see what surprises might be there, but the dense cloud hid almost everything, getting even thicker as I approached the primary dune line and the Atlantic itself.
This made for perfect conditions to shoot the walkways. I love the implied mystery of these scenes and how they invite the imagination to open up and wonder. What is about the fog that calls to me in this way? I am not much of a fan of poetry, with the notable exception of haiku, but Carl Sandburg's short poem 'Fog' has stuck with me for most of my life. He captured the essence of fog’s quiet mystery with such simple precision I cannot walk out into a misty day without the words popping into my head:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.