For the past few years, I have been seeing the most breathtakingly beautiful photographs of this lake: an almost perfectly symmetrical line of trees strung across a lake, a pink-blue sky filled with storybook clouds, the glass-still surface of the lake perfectly mirroring the colours and textures of the sky. Unforgettable images.
I have been meaning, for quite some time now, to get myself down to Lake Mattamuskeet.
So, having risen at 4.00am one morning to shoot the sun rising over the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse at Manteo on Roanoke Island, I knew I was already almost half-way to the lake and set off to complete the journey.
Arriving at around 10.00am, I located the stand of trees easily enough but was crestfallen to find the ugliest imaginable sky, from which beat down a bright, unforgiving sun, backlighting the trees, casting a harsh glare on the surface of the water and sending uncontrollable flare bouncing around the inside of my lens barrel.
Disgusted, I gave up and headed off to shoot the old fishing boats further north at Engelhard.
By the time I had finished there, it was around 2.00pm, so I headed back to the lake to see if the light had improved any.
By now, the sun had moved around and was front-lighting the trees. The glare on the lake’s surface had, mercifully, gone. But, still, the sky was bald and uninteresting, as was the surface of the water.
I set up my Nikon D800 and fitted a ten-stop neutral density (ND) filter to the front of a 24-70mm lens, hoping to get at least some blurring in the surface of the water, if not in the sky. After patiently waiting for the long exposure to appear on my camera’s LCD screen, I was appalled to see the most bland, uninteresting photograph imaginable (second image).
It was a far cry short of the memorable images that had drawn me to this remote spot.
Determined to salvage something from my long drive, I reassessed the lighting situation and figured out that, as the trees were in full foliage and the full sun was brightly front-lighting them, infrared (IR) might work well in this situation.
Out came my ancient Nikon D200, purchased used and on the cheap from Tony Sweet a couple of years ago, converted to IR with a 720nm standard conversion.
Again, I used an ND filter, this time a six-stop, again hoping to achieve a softening of the surface of the water.
After an eight-second exposure, the image that appeared on the LCD screen (lead image) fairly made my pulse quicken: pale grey sky, dark grey lake and a line of trees that absolutely popped in the bright white that IR makes of well-lit green trees.
In post-processing, I did very little to the image: just the usual red-blue channel swap, added a little tonal contrast to the trees to make them pop, then de-structured the surface of the lake using Nik Viveza.
So, after a wait of several years to get there, the long drive and the initial disappointment of my first, colour image, I was hugely relieved that IR saved the day, allowing me to come away from Lake Mattamuskeet with an image that justified both the wait and the journey.
(click on an image to enlarge it)