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Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos
 

Warning: You might want to go here. "Here" is Mudjin Harbor in Middle Caicos (Turks and Caicos, British West Indies), where there are surprisingly few people and the scenery is amazing. Capturing my attention for the large part of a day were the large cliffs and the rugged landscape bordering the brilliant turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean here. And, who is the landscape photographer that can pass up a cave framing the ocean?
 
By moving deep into this cave and zooming the Canon EOS 5Ds R-mounted Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens out to 16mm, I was able to completely frame some of the most-beautifully-colored water found anywhere.
 
Caves are (usually) very dark and that was case here. This image is composed of three separate exposures – one for the water and sky (slight blinkies in cresting waves), one for the cave walls and another for the upper right portion of the cave wall as it was even darker and needed some detail brought out. With a handful of exposure variations available, I experimented with differing cave wall brightness during post processing. In the end, I opted for noticeable walls, but not bright enough to distract from the idyllic beach and water scene being framed.
 
Because the sun is constantly moving, multiple exposures intended for combining via HDR that include a shadow line should be captured in quick succession due to that line moving. The always moving and always different waves determined the primary exposure timing. The other exposures were simply captured very close in time to the primary ones.
 
A circular polarizer filter played an important role in capturing this image, making the sky and water colors pop.


 
16mm  f/11.0  1/50s  ISO 100
Old Boat on Bambarra Beach, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos Old Boat on Bambarra Beach, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos
 

While exploring Middle Caicos, I came across this great little old boat on Bambarra Beach. I opted to go wide and move in close, emphasizing the boat relative to the rest of the landscape. As I worked the scene, I continued to move in closer and lower until ... cue the pelican ... I settled on this shot.
 
The Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens is a great beach and seascape lens option, with or without a tripod.
 
Whether or not to use a circular polarizer filter when using the widest angles of this lens on a full frame body (and similar angle-of-view-equivalent focal lengths on APS-C format bodies) is a question that one must ask themselves. At very wide angles, a CPL filter can create an unevenly-darkened sky and tastes for such vary widely. One strategy is to shoot in the middle of the day. A high sun places the most-darkened portion of the sky evenly over the horizon. This provides a more-evenly darkened sky within the frame, as seen in this image.
 
While there is some gradient in this sky, I much prefer the CPL look and the high sky-to-boat contrast over the lighter sky (which naturally has some gradient even without the filter).


 
16mm  f/11.0  1/100s  ISO 100
Turquoise Clouds, Wild Cow Run, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos Turquoise Clouds, Wild Cow Run, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos
 

When the clouds become turquoise, you are probably in a great place.
 
The day started out with no clouds in the sky. After having photographed for 6 days straight prior with good results, I was looking for more than what a clear sky would deliver, so some scouting was the task at hand. The selected location for the day was Wild Cow Run, at the end of Middle Caicos. From my base location in Whitby Beach, North Caicos, this meant a drive through most of North Caicos, across the causeway and through most of Middle Caicos. Then, at the end of the road, a 4x4 road was traversed until going further becomes impossible.
 
Your reward for this drive is one of the most beautiful beach locations in the world with seldom another person seen. I had hiked about a mile out when some nice clouds began forming on the horizon. Seeing great images beginning to materialize, I ran and swam back to the vehicle, grabbed a Canon EOS 5Ds R with an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS Lens mounted, threaded a circular polarizer filter onto the lens and put the setup in an EWA marine underwater housing.
 
I know, an underwater housing does not make sense for capturing an above-water image of beach, water and clouds, but ... you may have noted the "swam" part when returning to the vehicle. I had to swim (fins, snorkel and mask) through a channel with a swift tidal current to reach the island with the beach I was targeting. I was not using the camera underwater, but the housing was perfect for the water transportation to the scene.
 
Once across the water, I removed the camera from the housing, stowed the housing (and snorkel gear) high on shore and hiked over sand and shallow water to reach the desired location. The huge expanse of sand and shallow water had my greatest attention. I was looking for angles and heights that would work best while keeping the clouds in pleasing locations within the frame. The clouds were moving in rapidly and I was shooting quickly, monitoring mostly my manually-set exposures from time to time, keeping the brightest parts of the clouds nearly blown.
 
What I wasn't noticing was that, as the clouds came closer, they began reflecting the amazing fluorescent turquoise colored water behind the reef, which was located a distant 1.4 mi (2.25 km) from shore at this location. Upon uploading my images for the day, I realized that the clouds, as they came in closer than the reef, had picked up a very strong color reflection from the water below. The result was something I had not captured before, turquoise-colored clouds.
 
Photography (usually) rewards effort – effort pays off. It was definitely worth the effort of a round trip to the vehicle to add this (and many other similar) images to the collection. I'll leave the "foresight to take the camera with me the first time" topic for another day.


 
16mm  f/9.0  1/125s  ISO 100
Sunset at Three Mary Cays, Turks and Caicos Sunset at Three Mary Cays, Turks and Caicos
 

Mixing brilliant turquoise-colored water with a dramatic sunset is not so easy. The ideal light to bring out the water color is from a high overhead sun and that is of course not available at sunset. However, the water in some locations is amazingly colored enough to still show turquoise even at sunset. Three Mary Cays in North Caicos is one such location.
 
Most of the west side of North and Middle Caicos islands is inaccessible without a boat, leaving few good locations for mid-winter sunset photography (with the sun setting farther north mid-summer, more northern locations can work well at this time of the year). Of those remaining locations, the shoreline by Three Mary Cays presents very nice winter sunset views. And, the shoreline and islands all have the character I was looking for.
 
Three Mary Cays is amazingly beautiful and also amazing is how seldom it is photographed by serious photographers. Online scouting revealed very few images and I spent two evenings watching the blazing ball drop into the Atlantic Ocean at this location with no one else as far as the eye could see.
 
While the cloud moving over the sun helped significantly with the brightness balance in this image, I still opted to use an HDR technique to balance the overall exposure.
 
It has become rare for me to photograph landscapes without the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens in the pack. This lens delivers amazing results every time. Well, at least every time I do my part of the job correctly. It is hard to believe that my other primary piece of landscape kit, the 5Ds R, is now over 1-year-old. #lovingthiscamera.


 
16mm  f/11.0  1/40s  ISO 100
Incoming Storm Over Dragon Cay, Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos Incoming Storm Over Dragon Cay, Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos
 

Storms on the horizon and mostly cloudy overhead. That is what I saw when I stepped out of the Middle Caicos villa well before sunrise. While I admit that going back to bed seemed like a good (and justifiable) option, I knew that storms could bring desired drama and resisted that urge. While a sky completely covered in rainstorm was not of interest to me on this morning, I saw enough breaks in the clouds to give hope for some dramatic skies and I stayed with the plan.
 
Mudjin Harbor is my favorite location in the causeway-connected North and Middle Caicos islands (Turks and Caicos Islands are just north of Haiti and Dominican Republic). The cliffs and beaches in this location are stunning and the color of the water is among the best anywhere. The close-to-shore reef system brings entertainment in terms of waves and many small ironshore formation limestone rock islands dot the landscape, including Dragon Cay (Dragon Island) as seen here.
 
At this resolution, it is not especially easy to recognize the dragon lying in the water, but the rightmost large rock is shaped like a horn-nosed dragon head with its body (including shoulders and hips) flowing to the left and followed by its tail. A goal for this trip was to capture some images that included this fun land formation in them and having a nearby villa was part of the plan implementation.
 
A big attraction of Mudjun Harbor is a pair of caves and one of the caves faces the beast. A great and popular compositional technique is to frame a subject within its surroundings and one of my favorite natural frames is the opening of a cave. In addition to making a good frame, this particular cave offered a couple of additional benefits on this morning.
 
First, the sustained wind speed was just over 30 mph and gusts were reaching 50+ mph. That is fierce enough to blow a camera and tripod over and strong enough to make it difficult to even stand up, let alone frame and capture a sharp image. It is strong enough to make a painful whistle across one's ears and strong enough to blow salt water deep inland (causing, minimally, front lens element clarity issues). I was able to get deep enough into this cave to essentially eliminate the wind factor.
 
You can see the other issue approaching in this image. A small-but-significant rainstorm is close and on direct course for my position. The cave offered shelter from the rain and allowed me to photograph continuously as it approached and hit.
 
The word "cave" is often used to describe a dark venue and though these cave walls were brighter than many, they were quite dark and the backlit clouds were much brighter. This scenario means that an HDR technique was required. Two images with different exposures were manually (painstakingly in this case) blended in Photoshop to achieve the result seen here.
 
Obviously, this rainstorm was back-lit by the sun and direct sunlight on rain holds promise for another highly valued, loved-by-everyone landscape photography element that I'll share later.


 
16mm  f/8.0  1s  ISO 100
Dock at Horsestable Beach, North Caicos Dock at Horsestable Beach, North Caicos
 

The dock is the only water feature found on Horsestable Beach. While it does not appear to be used with any frequency, it provides an interesting subject. For this frame I opted to take a low position that allowed some turquoise water to show beyond the dock's shadow.


 
28mm  f/11.0  1/60s  ISO 100
After the Storm, Rainbow Over Mudjin Harbor After the Storm, Rainbow Over Mudjin Harbor
 

I recently shared an image showing an Incoming Storm Over Dragon Cay. That image came with a promise. My promise was to share the loved-by-everyone landscape photography element that a back-lit rainstorm holds promise for. A back-lit storm, once passed, becomes front-lit and that is the recipe for a rainbow, the referred-to strongly-desired element.
 
As soon as the rain stopped, I left my cave shelter (going out into the high winds) and there was the rainbow, complete with supernumerary bands (a stacker rainbow) and a slight second/double rainbow. I found a vantage point offering a photogenic view looking away from the sun (as that the requirement for the rainbow to be visible). I mounted a circular polarizer filter to the excellent Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens, framed the scene, rotated the filter to get the brightest rainbow and captured a series of images.
 
It was a great feeling to have confidence that some solid keepers were on the memory card as I drove back to the villa for second breakfast. I saw at least one rainbow on every day of this trip, saw several of them on most days and was able to capture some of them in nice photos.
 
Of course, seeing many rainbows means that there were many storms. Planning enough days at a location can be the key to successful outdoor photography – just to make sure that you get some storms worth photographing. Of course, one can never spend enough time at some locations.


 
16mm  f/8.0  1s  ISO 100
Glory (Concentric Circular Rainbows) Over the Atlantic Ocean Glory (Concentric Circular Rainbows) Over the Atlantic Ocean
 

While in flight with the sun directly above/behind me and a solid cloud structure below/in front of me, beautiful concentric circular rainbows, called "glory", were visible. I had the Canon EOS M5 and EF-M 15-45mm Lens ready.
 
Read the Aerial Photography from a Commercial Airplane to learn more about taking full photographical advantage of your flights.


 
45mm  f/7.1  1/400s  ISO 100
Three Mary Cays, North Caicos Three Mary Cays, North Caicos
 

Three Mary Cays is one of the best landscape photography locations in North Caicos. With interesting rock formations providing great foregrounds, a trio of islands providing an interesting background and amazingly-colored turquoise water filling in the rest, it is hard to go wrong here.


 
28mm  f/11.0  1/30s  ISO 100
The Wind and The Waves, Mudjon Harbor, Middle Caicos The Wind and The Waves, Mudjon Harbor, Middle Caicos
 

The Crossing Place Trail in Middle Caicos leads along some spectacular coastline. "Trail", however, is a rather generous term for much of what is encountered here, especially west of Blowing Hole. Very sharp rocks (the ironshore formation limestone you see in the foreground in this image) and thick brush (with occasional very-deep holes beneath) take the place of anything resembling a trail.
 
The Turks and Caicos Islands have the world's 3rd largest reef system protecting it, but along this trail, the reef comes close to shore. This means that, on a normal day, waves hit the coast hard. And, on a windy day, things become rather spectacular along this section of the trail.
 
The winds on this day (like the entire 9 days of this trip) were sustained at just over 30 mph and gusts were reaching 50+ mph. The waves were crashing into the cliffs and blowing up in dramatic fashion, easily visible from the causeway over a mile away.
 
Upon arriving at this location, I determined that I could safely approach the cliff and I did so cautiously. I didn't take a rain cover for the camera or a rain coat for me on this trip, but ... after thinking about the situation for a while and watching my daughter figure out how to cover her camera with extra clothes and a hat for a lens flap, I couldn't resist the opportunity. The waves were too beautiful and mesmerizing to leave uncaptured.
 
What I had was the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L's rain cover and the plastic bags I always store in the backpack. The large garbage bag, with three holes torn into it, went over me (it was cool out and with the wind, I was cold) and a 2-gallon clear heavy plastic food storage bag nicely wrapped around the camera with the lens directed through the opening. I held the bag tightly around the lens hood and could see the viewfinder through the bag reasonably well – well enough. The front of the lens was not protected aside of the hood, but holding the camera downward under my body during times when spray was hitting (most of the time), kept it dry. I had a dry microfiber cloth readily available for cleaning the lens when my timing was not stellar.
 
When a wave was timed to hit while there was little or no sea spray in the air, I would quickly move the camera into position and shoot an image (or burst of images) as the wave crashed and violently blew upward. I was learning the Sony a7R II camera's capabilities, but ... this scenario proved challenging and my sharp image percentage was not as strong as I had hoped. Still, I made some nice images.
 
With the quick-shooting tactic, getting the camera perfectly level (or even close to that) proved challenging (it proves challenging to me on a good day) and this shot was a bit tilted. The horizon over an ocean makes any tilt obvious and this one needed repaired. However, simply rotating the image was going to result in more of the scene being cropped out that I was happy with. I could have used a wider focal length to shoot with (the Sony a7R II has plenty of resolution), but ... I was already using that tactic. This wave was simply bigger than I had anticipated.
 
How did I fix the tilt? I used the Lasso Tool in Photoshop to select and area above and below the horizon where the non-splashing water is meeting sky (on the right side of the frame), being careful to draw through areas lacking details. I then copied the selection (CTRL-C) and pasted it into a new layer (CTRL-V). I pressed CTRL-T (Free Transform) and rotated the copied waterline until it was level. Using a layer mask with a soft brush, I hid the borders of the copied layer and smoothed out anything that appeared out of place in the result. The image was effectively leveled and I didn't have to crop off any of the splash.
 
Being in the wave zone of a rough sea is not safe and in addition to watching for photogenic waves approaching, I was constantly watching for trouble. Twice I successfully ran to drier ground when monster waves hit directly in front of me, but twice I had very large waves splash completely over me, sending buckets of water pouring from myself and the bags (enough to make a water cooler dumped over a winning football coach appear like a Dixie cup). The described bag technique, while not optimum, kept the gear (and most of my shirt) dry and allowed me to capture some fun pics.
 
Big waves are fascinating – I could spend hours watching them.


 
31mm  f/9.0  1/200s  ISO 200
Walkway to Paradise, Whitby Beach, North Caicos Walkway to Paradise, Whitby Beach, North Caicos
 

Palm trees frame a beautiful scene with a walkway leading the viewer into it.


 
28mm  f/8.0  1/100s  ISO 100
Where You Want to Be, North Caicos, Turks and Caicos Where You Want to Be, North Caicos, Turks and Caicos
 

The sweeping lines of coconut palm trunks arise from the sand at Whitby Beach in North Caicos. It is where you want to be.


 
28mm  f/8.0  1/60s  ISO 100
Looking Down at the Dock, Horsestable Beach, North Caicos Looking Down at the Dock, Horsestable Beach, North Caicos
 

Photographing the dock at Horsestable Beach, with beautiful turquoise water surrounding it, just seemed like the right thing to do.


 
28mm  f/11.0  1/60s  ISO 100
Boat in the Sand, Bambarra Beach, Middle Caicos Boat in the Sand, Bambarra Beach, Middle Caicos
 

Using an f/1.4 aperture gives a unique look to an old boat beached at Bambarra in Middle Caicos. A circular polarizer filter cut some of the light in this scene, permitting the white boat from becoming blown within the available shutter speed range in most cameras.


 
28mm  f/1.4  1/4000s  ISO 100
The Porch, Whitby Beach, North Caicos The Porch, Whitby Beach, North Caicos
 

Always be looking for frames to your scenes. In this case, the porch framing gives one a sense of presence, making them feel like they are in a place they want to be in.


 
28mm  f/11.0  1/40s  ISO 100
Going Wide Format, Grasses in Front of Whitby Beach, North Caicos Going Wide Format, Grasses in Front of Whitby Beach, North Caicos
 

Especially when using an ultra-high resolution DSLR, many images need not be stitched together to create a wide format image. Simply choose a lens wide enough to take in the scene and then crop as desired.


 
28mm  f/8.0  1/100s  ISO 100
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