Outer Banks Geese in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary

      Last week we spent the final days of summer on vacation with my family in Corolla, North Carolina. We stayed in a waterfront rental house with my dad and my cousin and her family. Unfortunately my mother wasn’t able to attend, due to a work conflict. We missed her! But the rest of us had a wonderful week of beach time, biking, kayaking, and sight-seeing. Danny hasn’t stopped talking about the beesh (beach) and the bool (pool) ever since we got home. I loved seeing him so happy.

      I thought that I would post the pictures along with brief descriptions of the technical and compositional decisions behind each one. I hope this will be helpful for novice photographers out there!

      I took only two lenses on this trip: a Canon 16-35mm f2.8, and a Canon 70-200mm f4. That’s my most common way of packing light when I travel for vacation. If I want to pack very light, I bring only the Canon 24-70mm f2.8, because it is a great mid-range lens with lots of general usefulness. If I have room for two lenses, I prefer bringing a wide angle and a lightweight telephoto. Lenses with extreme focal lengths make for more dramatic photos than normal focal length lenses can offer. I like a little drama.

      For this photo of the geese, I used the 70-200 at f4. I saw the flock of geese resting on the lawn by the Whalehead Club while the landscape crew was mowing the grass. I knew that the lawnmowers would eventually inspire the geese to fly away, so I hurried over toward them and waited. Sure enough, they took off shortly thereafter. I squatted low in the grass to make sure the geese would appear above the horizon in my photo, to enhance the sense of flight.

      Toddler boy on the beach in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      This was Danny’s first morning on the beach. I was just going for simple, clean, and symmetrical here. I got low enough to be close to Danny’s height, but not so low that his head broke the horizon line.

      White egret in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      I saw this egret standing on the shore within Currituck Heritage Park, and again I waited for it to start moving. I used the telephoto lens and a fast enough shutter speed to catch the motion without blur. It bugs me that the top of the wing extends higher than the top of the trees. I wish I’d had a slightly higher angle. I’m picky like that.

      My dad and I took Danny for a walk one morning along the boardwalk in Duck. I let Danny go a little out of focus on this one, because this photo is all about my dad. I love the relaxed contentment on his face as he holds his grandson.

      Danny on the Duck boardwalk. Even though f4 isn’t a particularly large aperture, it still creates a nicely blurred background when the subject is far enough away from the background. I have a hard time getting Danny’s white hair to show up against light backgrounds, so I used the recovery tool in Lightroom to retrieve some hair detail here. Sometimes I also use a Photoshop action from Jeff Ascough called “highlight paramedic” when needed. My little dude is as white as pure snow, (and also as white as blown highlights.)

      This is my little cousin Riley, who doesn’t understand that you’re supposed to use your hands in downward dog. A low camera angle was the only way to make this one work. It also wouldn’t have worked if his face wasn’t facing diffused sunlight.

      Seagull on the beach in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      I got up before sunrise several times that week to take pictures along the beach. This seagull was carrying something in its mouth as it attended to its early morning routine. In this case, I love the motion blur in the wing and the sense of softness in the photo. The pop of red in the mouth and the black wing tips give it a little edge.

      My dad took this beautiful photo of me and my cousin James skipping rocks at sunset. He was manning the grill when he called out that he needed my camera to take a picture. Mike ran it down to him, and my dad created this. I enhanced the blues and yellows in Photoshop.

      Wow, I took a lot of pictures of flying birds. I hope you like flying birds. If not, then look at all the pretty water. This was a moment I saw during a morning run along the Currituck Sound. I took it with my iPhone, which was the only camera I had with me at the time. You can see that it has more noise than the photos I took with my Canon 5DII, but still I’m really pleased with it. I did add more contrast and vibrance in Lightroom.

      Toddler on the boardwalk in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      I took so many pictures of the kids on this path over the dunes to the beach. The wide angle lens made the leading lines of the boardwalk look more dramatic. I centered this photo for symmetry, but it is also a good example of the rule of thirds – even though Danny and the gazebo are in the middle of the image, they are one third of the way from the top and the bottom.

      Toddler boy covered in sand in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      Ah yes, one-year-olds love sand, perhaps too much! I took this picture of Riley without looking through the lens – I held the camera under his face and hoped for the best. I like it.

      Sunset at the Sunset Grille in Duck, NC  | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      Danny and Mike at the Sunset Grille in Duck. Because I was shooting with a lens that didn’t open any wider than f4, I shot this photo at a fairly high ISO so that I could expose it bright enough to show some of their faces. The sunset sky looked quite a bit darker in real life, but I didn’t have external lighting, so I had to brighten the whole image to keep them from being an invisible silhouette against the gazebo. I kept it just dark enough to keep the mood of the scene.

      Sunset Grille in Duck, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      Aw, my cuties! Here I did the same thing as in the photo above, but at an even longer exposure to brighten their faces more. I can’t believe it wasn’t blurred. I’m not known for having steady hands.

      Sunset in Duck, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      This is what the sky really looked like during that sunset. I didn’t do anything here except shoot it slightly darker than auto, and try to keep the horizon straight. Remember when you shoot sunsets that the camera wants to either a) brighten a scene that is supposed to be dark, or b) darken the scene because you metered off the bright sun. Sunsets are really easy to shoot if you are careful about those two things.

      Sunset at the Sunset Grille in Duck, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      The view from the Sunset Grille. Again, I used a wide angle, underexposed slightly, and kept the horizon straight.

      The Sunset Grille in Duck, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      I love this photo of Danny. I exposed it just bright enough to show his face, while keeping the scene dark and pink. Perfect.

      Sunset at the Sunset Grille in Duck, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      This was the view as we left the restaurant. I lined up the flags with the strip of light in the background, and stood high enough that you could see the top of the gazebo in the light, too. I underexposed this one a little too much, so I had to brighten it in Lightroom a bit.

      OK, that was part 1 of my vacation photos! I have more to come! I hope the photo explanations are helpful. If you have any questions about anything in particular, please let me know. Stay tuned for the rest, coming soon.

      Many of those photos are available for sale here:


      you are really talentent .i wish i were in your shoes.i love photography ,i take picture with my cellphone but not as perfect as you.

      […] last month to Corolla, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. You can find part 1 of these photos here. I’m writing a little bit about the compositional and technical choices I made for each of my […]

      Your pictures are all so beautiful 🙂

      I loved all of the explanations and you do take some beautiful photos.

      Perhaps one day it won’t feel like an annoyance to have the dslr with me to do similar things. Until then, the iPhone camera will have to be good enough 🙂

      Beautiful photos. 🙂

      Charlotte Geary


      Lifestyle, event, and portrait photographer with a vibrant, joyful style and 17 years of professional experience.

      Located in Reston, Virginia near Washington, D.C. and available for travel.