Over a 4-day weekend from March 17-20, my wife Bonnie and I traveled with three of our Asheville NC photography friends to the small coastal town of Kure Beach, NC (pronounced like Madame “Currie”) south of Wilmington, NC. The beach just south of town has about a 200-yard section with a display of “coquina” rocks, most of which are adorned with a very smooth variety of green seaweed.
Don’t know what coquina rocks are?
For those of you unfamiliar with coquina rocks, here’s a Wikipedia definition:
“Coquina (pronunciation: /koʊˈkiːnə/) is a sedimentary rock that is composed either wholly or almost entirely of the transported, abraded, and mechanically-sorted fragments of the shells of mollusks, trilobites, brachiopods, or other invertebrates. The term coquina comes from the Spanish word for “cockle” and “shellfish.”
Incidentally, the Castillo de San Marcos fort, built by the Spanish between 1672-1695 to protect the Matanzas straight in St. Augustine, Florida, was constructed entirely of locally-quarried coquina rock because it was discovered to withstand cannonball impact.
The coquina rock location just south of Kure Beach is part of the Fort Fisher National Historic Landmark. Here’s a short synopsis of the importance of this fort to Confederate forces and the impact of it’s demise that I pulled from the Historic Landmark’s website:
“Until the last few months of the Civil War, Fort Fisher kept North Carolina’s port of Wilmington open to blockade-runners supplying necessary goods to Confederate armies inland. By 1865, the supply line through Wilmington was the last remaining supply route open to Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. When Ft. Fisher fell after a massive Federal amphibious assault on January 15, 1865, its defeat helped seal the fate of the Confederacy.”
Timing your trip when low tides coincide with sunrise & sunsets is critical
We timed the trip based on our friend Matt’s research for low tides that coincide with sunrise and sunset to take advantage of softer light. That weekend was one of just a few times during the year when we could shoot the incoming waves amongst the coquinas. Otherwise, the rocks would be underwater and not visible at sunrise and sunset.
Kure Beach is a 5 1/2 hour drive from Asheville. Hotels a short 2 miles from the coquina beach are under $200/night with rooms easy to come by during this time of year. We traveled in two cars, and got checked into a quaint privately-owned, and recently renovated hotel by late Friday afternoon. We had a couple hours to scout the beach and get in some shooting before dark.
Perfect timing for infrared!
That first evening was overcast, with a bit of drama in the clouds. This made for great shooting with our infrared-converted cameras. The land around the fort is graced with beautiful wind-shaped oak trees that made great subjects for infrared.
The image above is my favorite capture from among numerous groupings of the oak trees. Two of our party weren’t equipped with infrared-converted cameras and thought the rest of us were a bit crazy to see anything interesting in these trees! But Matt, Bonnie and I were completely enraptured by the dramatic gestures of the wind-shaped trees and the enhanced drama afforded by infrared.
All 3 of us came back to explore compositions with the oaks and sky several times during the weekend. Interestingly, all 3 of us had very different compositions and treatment of some of the same groupings, but that’s not something I have time or space to cover in this post!
The play of the surf on the coquina rocks, sand, and seaweed was great fun to explore with long exposures. I shot all the way from 1/4-second exposures to images at 20-30 seconds. But I was happiest with the ones in this post which are between 1/2 and 3 seconds.
This was the first time I have experimented with infrared long exposures, and though it was a bit challenging to tell what the final image would end up looking like, I was very happy with some of the results. Here are a couple of my favorites in the rest of the post.
My recommendations for the trip to Kure Beach
- Check tide and sunrise/sunset times to be sure you make the trip for low tides at those times of day/evening.
- Bring rubber boots (Wellingtons anyone?) at least calf-high so you can get out on the rocks, closer to the incoming waves, and not have to worry about getting wet feet. It was only 45-55 degrees and sometimes quite windy while we were there. I expect the water temperature was about 50.
- Keep your camera strap around your neck and hold onto the tripod while shooting so you don’t suffer the fate of one of our friends who stepped away from his camera and tripod for just a few seconds and it got knocked over by the wind. Luckily it didn’t suffer anything but a few scratches!
- Be sure to check out the very well designed and staffed NC Aquarium just a mile down the road from the Ft. Fisher visitor center. It’s one of the best aquariums I’ve been to on the East Coast.
For more information on Kure Beach and Ft. Fisher, check the following Websites: