Trip Report - Spending Spring 2015 in Topsail Island NC

April 05, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

There are many great areas across the coastal regions of North Carolina, and I had the pleasure of spending an extended time in North Topsail Beach.  North Topsail (top - sil) Beach comprises the northern section of 26-mile Topsail Island which is located between Wilmington and Jacksonville.  You enter onto the barrier island via the middle section named Surf City, with the southern-most area named just Topsail. 

We stayed here in March which I would say is one of the ideal times to go.  It was cool in the morning but warmed in the afternoon.  There were times where I'd be on the deck looking down the beach in both directions and not seeing a single person as far as I could see.  It picked up on the weekends, but was alone on weekdays.

If you do proper scouting for any photography, you will notice that it sits just in the right spot where you can watch the sunrise over the ocean.  If you get a house on the beach you can likely watch it from the deck.  This also allowed us to be sitting on the couch and watch for Dolphins.  That's just awesome!

There are a few piers that I recommend to visit.  The one that you are likely to see most photographed is the Surf City pier.

Surf City PierSurf City PierCanon 5D Mark III, 33mm, 20s @ f11, using Lee Big Stopper ND filter

I also found where the abandoned pier is located and visited at sunset.

Sunset at the Old Ocean City PierSunset at the Old Ocean City PierCanon 5D Mark III, 24mm, 53s @ f10, using Lee Big Stopper ND filter

The beach was nice and wide, and the wind created some beautiful patterns in the sand that kept me busy.

Lonely on the DunesLonely on the DunesCanon 5D Mark III, 16mm, 1/50 @ f11

For sunset you're going to have to go to the sound side of the island.  Unless you have a house facing the sound, you'll have to go to Surf City for access.

Final Light on the SoundFinal Light on the SoundCanon 5D Mark III, 105mm, 1/30 @ f9

It was really interesting to watch the behavior of the gulls and other birds throughout the day.  Every night without fail, they would all huddle together in loose groups and face the setting sun almost like trying to soak up every last ray of warmth.  Maybe they were just admiring the view.  Get out your longer zoom as they don't let you get too close, something 200mm or greater would be best.

The GatheringThe GatheringCanon 5D Mark III, 280mm, 1/320 @ f7.1

By April temperatures were on the rise as well as the number of people on the beach so it was time to head home.  We had a wonderful time and would recommend it to anyone.  

Waters Bay SunsetWaters Bay SunsetCanon 5D Mark III, 105mm, 0.4s @ f20, Lee GND + Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse GND Keep these tips in mind when doing beach / ocean photography:

  • Find the patterns - Spend time looking down at all the shapes and patterns of the sand.  Don't be afraid to get low, and I mean LOW!  There are many times where I was lying flat on the sand.
  • Go wide!  Get out your wide angle (as wide as you have) and get close for interesting compositions.
  • Keep the composition interesting - When photographing the ocean, try to include something else to add visual interest.  This can be something like shells in the foreground or it could be people.  This helps to balance the composition, and help guide the viewer through your photograph.
  • Bring your GND filters - For sunrise and sunsets, be prepared to either bracket your shots or bring your ND filters. 
  • Keep a level head!  When photographing the ocean horizon, be sure to get that line straight!  Yes you can fix it in post, but why get it right in camera? 


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