Sea Dream Sunset: The Triumph Of Informal Photography

April 05, 2015

A Trip To The U.S. Virgin Islands
Recently I travelled to the U.S. Virgin Islands to participate in a family wedding. I was going to the event as a participant not a photographer. I typically do not photograph weddings so my interest in bringing my Canon DSLR was pretty low in planning the long trip from California. On top of this the trip was very quick with only one day of four at the wedding location (Bolongo Bay Resort) available for any focused photography.

St_Thomas-1Image of Bolongo Bary using an iPhone.

Up to the day of packing for the trip my plan was to make this trip light. Only carry-on luggage for the 3000+ mile flight. This meant to me that I would be doing most of my work with my iPhone. Recently I have done a bit of iPhonography so this was fine with me. I was content, I thought, with a mobile phone camera for my informal photography in the Virgin Islands.

Day Of Decision: Does Mobile = Informal?
The day prior to departing California to St. Thomas and Bolongo Bay I began packing. As part of that process I began to rethink my camera situation. It was a decision regarding what I ought to carry versus what I wanted to carry. Here is what was working against the DSLR inclusion into my packing:

  • DSLR is bulky and required a second carry on.
  • Little time to use the DLSR during the trip.
  • No formal or business related need for the DSLR.
  • Need to carry a tripod..should I?
  • Risk of losing DSLR (Canon 7D) during travel or onsite.

The decision points for carrying the DSLR were....

  • Opportunity: How often do I get a DSLR in the Virgin Islands? 

...that is about it. Simple. Clearly I should NOT pack the DSLR. Whew. Decision made right?

Instinct Overrules Rationality
As I began to pack my mind turned more and more to the value of informal opportunity. Isn't this why I really do photography anyway? Aren't informal moments of discovery and capture what makes photography fun? And why do I consider my iPhone to be my best informal camera? My instinct was telling me...take fewer shoes and stuff and pack that camera! I packed my Canon 7D a wide angle lens (Canon 10-22), my Benro travel trip, and a three-stop neutral density filter. I would have to make do with this set-up.

Panoramic of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands by Craig E Rademacher (2015)St. Thomas In PanormaIsland of St. Thomas from Virgin Islands National Park on nearby St. Thomas. (Canon 7D). Click to see large view.

Carving Out Time For DLSR Shooting
With travel, wedding rehearsals, socializing, the wedding and everything else planned for this trip I realized I needed to carve out real time to make the packing of my DSLR worthwhile. I essentially had three opportunities to carry the camera with me and use it. These included:

  • A half-day trip to Virgin Islands National Park (see image above).
  • A block of time around sunset at the Bolongo Bay resort.
  • A 2-hour sailboat cruise during sunset after the wedding ceremony.

The national park trip was a no brainer. Had to visit there and got the nice panoramic shot (above) and some shots of Cruz Bay (below).

St_Thomas-43Cruz Bay OverlookMy Benro travel tripod and Canon 7D posed above Cruz Bay in Virgin Islands National Park.

So, the Virgin Islands National Park time was easy. The block of time at Bolongo Bay was more challenging. My focus there was on capturing the nature of Bolongo Bay. This was a way for me to remember, with an informal photograph, the beauty of the Virgin Islands; a unique place where the people and the land are surrounded by a timeless expanse of water. 

Image of rock in Bolongo Bay by Craig E Rademacher 2015Bolongo Primitive Image at dusk of Bolongo Bay (Canon 7D & Benro travel tripod). Click to enlarge.

It was fun to make this informal image of the Bolongo Bay Resort as a place...void of the people, parties, and the trappings of a resort. It was an attempt to value, with an image, the primitive nature of the islands. 

With this image I thought I had successfully answered the question about why should I carry the DSLR 3,000+ miles for informal use. Then I was surprised by serendipity.

Serendipity Happens At Sea
The last chance I had to use my Canon camera was on the short two-hour catamaran cruise at sunset. Never having been on an ocean cruise I opted for some dramamine for potential sea sickness (it was moderately rough water) and hopped on board the Heavenly Days, camera in hand. No shoulder strap...just hand held for the greatest flexibility.

During the first part of the cruise I captured some snapshots of the wedding party passengers and experimented with a selfie in which I wish I had longer arms. 

As the sun began to set the Heavenly Days exited Charlotte Amalie harbor and headed east with the stern of the boat facing the impending sunset to the west. Luckily I had positioned myself in the stern at this time. Quite by accident I was in the right place. We all watched in the warm evening breeze as that big tropical sun began setting in the distance behind us. As the sun neared the horizon it loomed large and orange. I reached my arms out of the catamaran to extend the lens beyond the boundaries of the hull. I held on tight not wanting the camera to go in the drink. I did this because I wanted to capture the image without the visual reference of the boat in the frame.

It was then that we all noticed, to some surprise, a large (very big) white yacht moving swiftly out of the harbor. People were impressed with the size of this ship but a little disappointed it would pass in front of the sunset. I realized I needed to focus on this unexpected moment. Serendipity had arrived at sea. I leaned out and framed the ship as it crossed in front of the setting sun. The catamaran seemed to buck with the waves and I steadied to capture the moment of the fast moving yacht making it's way across the sun intersect. The image below was captured during these frenetic few seconds:

Sea Dream Sunset image by Craig E Rademacher 2015Sea Dream SunsetShot with Canon 7D, 22mm, ISO 125, 1/160 sec, F 8.0. Click to see larger view.

Because I did not pack my computer for this trip I did not see the result of this moment until I returned to California. It ends up I was quite happy I packed my Canon DSLR for this informal but opportune image. My iPhone could not have captured this image.

As it turns out the yacht in the image is the Sea Dream I. It is a mega yacht owned by the Sea Dream Yacht Club based out of Miami, Florida. As a luxury mega yacht it has a gross tonnage of 4300 and hosts up to 112 guests. The Sea Dream I was on it's departure from Charlotte Amalie harbor on March 28th and was bound for Puerto Rico. 

The Sea Dream Sunset image that was created is clearly a triumph, at least in my mind, of informal DSLR photography. Being in the right place, at the right time, and with the equipment needed to make the shot cannot be over appreciated. My advise to myself in the future...don't doubt bringing that DSLR. It's worth it. Find a way to bring your best tools.

Happily Ever After
Even so, I did pay a price for this image. With my focus so intense, the rockiness of the sea, and in spite of the dramamine I felt the growing disturbance of sea sickness. Staying focused until the image was done cost me the last half hour of the trip being totally nausea free. I guess I will not be much of a sailor but I am glad I was there and had the experience.

So this mega journey to the U.S. Virgin Islands from California and back proved successful. The bride and groom tied the knot. Families joined and laughed and created new memories, and I learned something too.

And it ends...happily every after. A triumph of informal DSLR photography. Serendipity at sea!

Thanks for reading.

Craig E Rademacher
 

 


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