Ocean features are some of my favorite objects to photograph. Piers, jetties, and even the trees I recently shot at Botany Bay, I enjoy them all. Earlier this year I made a trip to Tybee Island on a mission to capture some of these features on this historic island.
Tybee Island is a barrier island just east of the metropolitan area of Savannah, Georgia. Tybee is the nearest ocean facing beach in proximity to Savanah and is often referred to as “Savannah’s Beach.” Both the city and the island have a long history reaching back to the days of Spanish exploration of the US Southeast, long before the United States was even a country.
Like many southeastern beaches, Tybee has become a tourist mecca and is likely the most visited beach in the state of Georgia. It still retains its small-town charm though, and even though parts of the island are owned by hotel resorts, you will not find a beach lined with high rise vacation themed hotels. Instead, you’ll find hundreds of smaller vacation rentals, which are regular homes rented out by their owners, usually by a local agency.
My focus for this trip was the Tybee Island Fishing Pier. Unlike many fishing piers in the southeast, this one is owned by the county government as opposed to being privately owned. Due to public ownership, there is no fee. You need to find a place to park and then walk the beach until you reach the pier. The pier itself is attached to a large pavilion on the shore. If your main goal is the photograph the pier, I would avoid the pavilion and enter the beach via the many public access point alongside the beach. The pavilion can be quite busy during the warmer months and is even rented out for private events.
I set up in my typical pier shooting location, directly underneath the pier and centered. A lot of people shoot pier from the top. I prefer shooting them underneath due to a ‘tunnel effect’ created by the supporting structure. This can be more of a challenge that most people recognize, as piers more often than not, are not perfectly symmetrical. Even if they are built perfectly square, which often isn’t the case, they suffer through massive abuse dealt out by the ocean, particularly during storms and hurricanes. Their supports shift and warp from the endless barrage of saltwater. The pier in Tybee has cement supports, but even these are not perfectly symmetrical. The best you can do is take your time while setting up your composition to ensure you are perfectly centered.
When shooting piers, I use long exposures for many reasons. Using fast shutter speeds to capture ocean water will often leave you with a frame full of unattractive splashes, foam, rough waves, broken shells, and occasionally trash. “Frozen” shots also are not good at portraying movement. The ocean is always moving and always changing. It’s hard to represent movement in a 2D medium such as photography by freezing the motion. I approach waterfall photography using the same method. If water is moving, I want to represent that in my photographs. This preference is, of course, subjective. If you prefer frozen shots of water, by all means, shoot that way. Just be prepared to remove particular unattractive and distracting objects in post-processing. The same theory also applies to the clouds if present. Clouds will also blur dependent on how fast the winds are pushing them across the sky. You still want to keep show separation between the ocean and the sky though, so the best shooting days are partly cloudy with clouds that are moving in slow to moderate speed. Full cloudy days with fast moving clouds should be avoided in many cases as the sky tens to blend in the with the ocean when using long shutter speeds, and effect which will be worsened if you plan on editing in B&W.
Also on Tybee, there are quite a jetties. Jetties are typically man-made rock or wooden structures which protrude out into the ocean. Their purpose is to protect the shoreline of a body of water by acting as a barrier against erosion from currents, tides, and waves. The protrude into the ocean, making a sort of trail into the water. These are also an excellent subject for long exposure photography.
While there are many other areas of interest on the island, such as a famous lighthouse and a couple of historical forts this was a day trip for me, so, unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit those sites. This won’t be my last trip to Tybee though, as there is so much a photography could find here. If you are in the area of Tybee, I would highly suggest you pay it a visit.