Sunset over the Currituck Sound in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary

      It feels weird to be writing about beach photos on this 50-degree October day. My fingers are too cold to type about summer vacation! But that’s what I get for procrastinating a couple weeks. Here is the second half of my photos from our vacation 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 vacation photos. The first set of pictures went over well, so I hope you enjoy the second set.

      As I mentioned in my previous post, I brought only one camera body (Canon 5DII) and two lenses (70-200 f4 and 16-35 f2.8) on this trip. I brought no flash or other lighting equipment. I thought the technical simplicity of these photos would make them helpful examples for novice photographers to learn about my shooting process.

      This sunset photo is one of my favorites from the trip. It was the view from the backyard of our rental house, which faced the Currituck Sound on the west side of Corolla. I love the way the sun dissolves into the water. My goal here was symmetry. I kept the horizon in the center of the screen, and an even amount of orange on the top and the bottom. The sun is one third of the way from the left, which is sort of consistent with the Rule of Thirds. (Except I wanted the sun centered vertically.) I shot it at 200mm to eliminate any light blue sky or water, and to make the sun look as big as possible. As with any landscape photo, I kept the horizon straight. Crooked horizons are a no-no for most pictures.

      Sunrise over the ocean in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      I took this one just before sunrise. Having the dark grasses in the foreground gives the image a feeling of both night and day. I usually like to have something in the foreground of landscape photos, for added depth and interest. Because I focused on the grass, the camera wanted to meter off the grass and overexpose the sky. I made sure to meter off the sky instead, to keep it colorful and keep the grasses black.

      Sunrise at the beach  in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      I took this photo a few minutes later, after the sun peeked over the horizon. I used a long lens to eliminate any non-yellow sky and sand. I focused on the birds for foreground interest. I almost love this picture, but it didn’t turn out the way I’d intended. The water line comes too close to the birds, creating dark line that makes it hard to see the birds’ silhouettes. I also hoped for taller waves, because I loved the orange glow on the tops of the crashing water. I stood there for a while, waiting for the perfect cooperation of birds and water, but that moment didn’t happen for me. Still, it’s pretty.

      Horseshoe crab at sunrise in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      This photo is all about the leading line from the sun to the horseshoe crab. The two most interesting elements of this photo are connected by a beam of sunlight. I shot it at f4.0, to keep a shallow enough depth of field to emphasize the crab. When I was standing there, I felt like this crab was enjoying the sunrise as much as I was.

      Dog at sunrise at the beach in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      I don’t know if this border collie was paying attention to the yellow sky, but he was definitely loving the water. That’s why I didn’t bother to include the sunrise in this picture. I wanted to photograph the splashes, so I kept a fast shutter speed to stop the drops of water in mid-air. I loved the way they glowed while backlit by the sunrise.

      Colors of sunrise at the beach in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      I don’t know if this picture would appeal to anyone else, but I love it. It’s just a gradient from blue to yellow. I turned away from the sun and looked down at the sand, and was enamored by the colors. I don’t have anything to say about how I shot it, except that I cropped out anything that distracted too much from the color gradient. I could look at this over and over again. It makes me happy.

      Footprints in the sand in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      Here’s another example of enjoying the details and not just the grand sunrise over the water. I loved seeing all the different types of morning walkers. I shot this at f4, and I think it could use a tad more depth of field. Perhaps 5.6 would have been a better choice. I love the warm, orange edges of the footprints. I added some contrast in Lightroom.

      Charlotte Geary with bike in Corolla, NC
      Here’s a nice picture of me (and Danny in the trailer) that my dad took. I asked him to take the picture in this spot, because the morning sunlight was so soft and pretty at this time of day. It was about 9am, so the sun was low enough for me to be able to face the sun. Mid-day sun creates unflattering, harsh light for people pictures. Waking up early is the way to go.

      Toddler boy playing in the sand in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      I took this picture of Danny at 10:30am, and the sunlight was already harsh and contrasty. I had to pull out the shadows and highlights in Lightroom to make this work. I didn’t do a great job of post-production here, but that’s ok – it’s still a cute picture of my little beach lover.

      Photographer splashed in the waves at the beach
      Hahahahaha! I hope my cousin Christine didn’t get in trouble with her husband when he saw this picture. She has camera equipment that is similar to mine, and unfortunately common sense that it similar to mine, too. I’m a bad influence, ha! Fortunately her gear survived just fine. I’m just glad I was looking in the right direction when this happened!

      Boy jumping in the sand at the beach in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      Action shots are easy on bright, sunny days. There was plenty of light available for me to use a fast enough shutter speed to catch James in mid-air. Even the sand particles are hovering here.

      Paddleboarder at sunset in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      Here’s another sunset over Currituck Sound. I took a few dozen pictures of this stand up paddleboarder, who provides an interesting focal point to the image. I walked along the banks of the water until the clouds lined up to point directly at him. I placed him one third of the way from the right, again mostly following the Rule of Thirds. I broke the rules, though, with the horizon. The Rule of Thirds would place the horizon one third of the way from the top or bottom, and a symmetrical approach would put it in the middle. My horizon is hovering elsewhere, though. I like the touch of blue sky at the top. This is how I felt the scene when I saw it. It’s wrong but right.

      Father and toddler at sunset at the beach in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      Meanwhile, Danny and Mike were skipping stones on the water. I exposed the scene dark enough to silhouette them against the sunset. I got down low enough to make Danny look small compared to the big sky, but not so low that I couldn’t see some of the water.

      Woman in the Currituck Lighthouse staircase in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      The next morning we climbed the Currituck Lighthouse. The staircase is really fun to photograph, but it’s pretty dark for people pictures. I waited to photograph my cousin until we reached a window. I placed her lower than me, within the light coming in from a window. Diffused window light is my favorite for portraits, and shooting from above is a flattering angle for most people.

      Charlotte Geary with son at the Currituck Lighthouse in Corolla, NC
      Danny and I had a fun snuggle when we reunited at the bottom of the Lighthouse. He and I were standing in shade here, and the lighthouse was in bright sun. I had to pull out our faces in Lightroom to fix this exposure. The yellow bag I’m carrying is a Kelly Moore camera bag, which is just the right size for one camera body, two lenses, lots of memory cards, and general purse needs.

      Toddler boy at the beach in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      On our last evening in Corolla, we headed to the beach at sunset. The sun was behind us, casting a warm glow that was perfect for portraits. My little cousin Riley wasn’t posed here. He just smiled at us and I grabbed this candid moment. I had the 16-35 on my camera at the moment, so I shot it horizontally and cropped it vertically in Lightroom. Since I shoot at 21.1 megapixels, there is plenty of size available for me to crop when needed.

      Boy playing with pinwheel at the beach
      This was another sweet candid moment. My horizon is crooked, though. When I tried to straighten it in post-production, it looked like James and the pinwheel were falling over. So I’m breaking my rule here and letting the horizon slant up. Maybe I’ll fix it later. Dunno.

      Charlotte Geary and family at the beach
      Here’s my wonderful family that I love so much. Aren’t my boys adorable? Danny was completely unwilling to hold still for pictures. He screamed the entire time we tried. This was the only shot where he didn’t look upset. If Mike and I weren’t smiling and looking at the camera in this one shot, we wouldn’t have any good family portraits from the entire trip.

      That’s an important piece of advice to all parents out there: When you are posing for a family portrait where you are supposed to look at the camera and smile, then please actually look at the camera and smile. The kids might look good in only one picture, so make sure you aren’t the one to mess it up. You’d be amazed how often that happens. It’s a parent’s instinct to look at the kid and tell the kid to smile. Meanwhile, the parent is totally looking the wrong way and/or making a goofy face. Happens ALL THE TIME.

      Man at the beach in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      I love this picture of my dad. The light immediately after sunset is probably my favorite of the day for portraits. It’s so soft and warm. I also love the glowing sand behind him. Unfortunately my mother wasn’t able to go on this trip, due to a work conflict. I would have loved to take a picture of the two of them here.

      Family at the beach in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      My cousin’s family is cute. Adorable family, perfect soft light, pink sand, and everyone smiling and looking at the camera. Love it.

      At the beach in Corolla, NC
      Because Danny wasn’t cooperating, I asked Mike to go with me into the pink sand near the water for a picture of the two of us. So what did he do instead? He grabbed me and pulled me right into the water! Right after Christine took this picture, Mike splashed me and we ended up in a water fight. At the time, I wasn’t wanting to get wet, but now I love this picture so much. Sure, I was shivering for the next hour, but now I have this picture to keep forever. And it’s perfect. It’s so us.

      So here’s more advice for having your picture taken: If something is out of your comfort zone, but it will make a good picture, do it! Have fun, laugh, and don’t worry about being prim and proper. Create something special and memorable. You just might love that picture…

      At the beach in Corolla, NC | Photo by Charlotte Geary
      … and you might end up with a happy memory, too.


      These are great pictures! Thank you for sharing the information.

      These photos are stunning! I’ll have to check out your other sites now also! Perhaps you could check out my commercial and wedding photography and critique it for me.

      Aww Charlotte these are beautiful, and I totally know where you are coming from with the parents looking at the camera thing. x

      love these! especially the sunrise images!

      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.