Paul Blais is a passionate photographer who has specialized in recent times on dramatic and vibrant shots of the ocean from the shore at the magical times of sunrise and sunset. His willingness to give up the comforts of home and to get to locations so early speaks to his love and dedication to do what it takes to capture stunning images. Paul is a regular contributor on Nikonians and supports others with his sage advice.
“I reside with my wife and 3 dogs in Gloucester County, Virginia. It’s across the York River from Yorktown, Virginia. There is a lot of history here. It’s pretty much flat and a lot of the land is not quite solid adjacent to Chesapeake Bay. Close to home I shoot water all times of the day! It’s every place. We used to sail on the Chesapeake Bay and I still do sometimes on other people’s boats. There are some good bird opportunities. We have Great Blue and Great White Herons in the backyard all the time. Osprey are quite common too.
I shoot mostly landscape but I will do some portraiture, macro, and infrared. I have friends that will show up in the dark to shoot sunrises. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sunsets are easier because you show up when it’s light out. It can be both social and professional at the same time. I also started shooting infrared. It’s something else with lots of variables and great in bright full sun. I shoot Lensbaby as well. I like being outside and I have camped out across a wide portion of North America. All days added together I’ve spent close to 3 years in a tent. I don’t shoot birds or weddings. It’s OK if others do.
My landscape work is the main thing. I show in two galleries and sell a few pictures once in a while.
I’ve been involved in online communities for about 30 years. I find them great resources for many types of activities both personal and professional. I came to Nikonians with those expectations. It includes giving back more than you get and loving it. You meet a lot of interesting people and from all over the world. It can change how you think. Thinking better leads to better results. Learning alternatives leads to more opportunities.
From Nikonians I have learned little things that have made me slap my forehead once I found them. Little things you never knew are usually important and easily integrated. Hard things take more time. At this point I come back to share with friends and help new people. I still find new things and new techniques as well. I like gear so there is all of that and more here as well. It’s a great people place as photography encompasses a wide variety of people yet share a common goal of taking better pictures. Lots of great photographers sharing every day!
By way of advice - Take bad pictures and learn why they are bad. If you have a hard time learning from mistakes, then you’ll have a harder time getting better. Great pictures come from “Maximizing your chances of being lucky!” As your skill levels and experience increase being lucky still counts!
The most memorable shoot was about 2 years ago. I learned very important things that have lasted. I got the idea to drive down to Nags Head, North Carolina and shoot sunrises on the Ocean. It’s a 2 ½ hour drive and in July you don’t try this on a weekend. There really isn’t much traffic on Monday at 2 AM. There were clouds predicted so I was prepared for a good shoot; you need something in the sky. The sun came up about 45 degrees to the south. It was just water and a thin strip of sand. I was about 40 minutes away and the fog rolled in and it started raining. I was too close to turn back and by the time I got there the rain was over and the fog was gone. First light was started but cloud cover made it pretty dark.
I found a nice public beach access to park and hauled about half the gear up and over the dune and left the rest in reserve. In July, the sunrise lasts a long time. With the extra cloud cover it lasted longer. I spent about 30 minutes waiting to get enough light so I could stop the waves at a decent shutter speed through thick clouds. I wanted something for foreground. I then shot “Nags Head 1”.
Standing around on a beach I thought I had seen all I could see in 45 minutes standing in the same spot. This was the lesson! You can’t see everything that quickly. Human vision is quite poor and your brain is quick to conclude – “nothing more to see”. Studying the waves I found there was a spot where the waves came in slightly different. Something below the water made them bend a bit. I moved a short distance down the beach and decided to wait for the moment. I started doing test shots as the sun light increased and the waves were coming ashore nicely. I took what I thought was “it” but 9 seconds later I took the best shot of the trip and maybe the whole summer - “Nags Head 2”. I got an amazing foreground wave with a reflection against a pretty sky. The idea that there was a shot to get and waiting for it to happen was never proven to me more. It’s the same pattern I now follow for all my sunrise / sunset shoots. Show up early and don’t quit. Keep looking and study how the light changes and what it falls on.”
Thanks, Paul, for your inspiring images and for taking the time and effort to share your background and observations with all of us at Nikonians. Reading what you have written is motivational and informative helping us to dream of setting out to identify locations with potential, to capture magical land and seascapes, to hone our skills and do what it takes to shoot images more skillfully.
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