As a photographer, I am always looking for new places to shoot, so I was amazed when I stumbled on this hidden location on St Simons Island, Georgia.
Besides being a writer, I am also a professional photographer, mostly doing stock and travel photography. I often combine the two, writing articles and tutorials about the art and craft of photography.
I have been a frequent visitor to St Simons Island, Georgia, for about 20 years, and it seemed like I had shot everything multiple times. The iconic lighthouse, the pier, even the little Christ Church, tucked away on the way to Fort Frederica. But, I've also written that there is always something new to shoot, no matter how many times you have visited a location.
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If you are heading to or from either the beach or the Village, you will pass the intersection of Kings Way and Frederica Road. Kings Way is one of the roads into the island from the Torras Causeway and changes its name to Ocean Blvd as it intersects Mallery St. at the Village. Frederica heads north past the airport for the winding and scenic 13-mile drive to the island's north end.
But, I had never gone the other way on Frederica, where it is called Retreat Ave. I knew it was a dead-end into The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club, located about 3 miles as the crow flies from Sea Island. I also knew it was gated and secured, and I wouldn't be allowed on the property without a member. Or lots of money.
But, one day, I decided to drive down there anyway. I assumed there would be a turnaround at a guard shack, and maybe the entrance to the club would be photo-worthy. As I drove along Retreat Ave., I was taken by the huge houses on the right side of the road, stopping to photograph a few. Then it opened up to wide-open vistas of a well landscaped and manicured golf course.
So, I didn't notice the stately row of ancient Live Oak trees to my left.
Until I did.
As I got to the southern tip to the expected turnaround, I was disappointed by a relatively dull view of the entrance. As I rounded the turn, I looked back to my left, and OMG.
This is a type of scene I have wanted to photograph for years. I knew of one in Savannah, Georgia, one near Beaufort, South Carolina, and another in southern Louisiana. And although this double row of oaks wasn't as dramatic as those, it was here, and so was I.
I was about to snipe some pictures from the car window when I noticed a small pull-out to the right for delivery trucks, so I stopped, grabbed my tripod and gear, and walked over to set up. As I crossed the road, I glanced back to the security guard, who just smiled and waved.
I probably wasn't the first person to shoot this scene.
I selected a lens and location and set up the tripod, and began happily snapping away. Shooting close in and wide, horizontal and vertical, I was determined to capture this scene at its best.
Unfortunately, this was quite a few years ago, and I hadn't become adept at reading and assessing the scene's light. This was a bright sunny day in April, and while sun-dappled oaks sound good in literature, it doesn't translate to photography. The scene had much too high a dynamic range between the deep shadows under the Spanish moss and the sunlight filtering through the canopy.
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I was disappointed in the results, although others have spoken highly of them. But I knew I would be back. It took several more trips to the island before I got there on a cold and cloudy weekend in January.
Keeping an eye on the weather and the clouds, I headed back to The Lodge, parked in my usual spot, waved at the guard, and set up for the shot. Even though I was on a tripod, it was a fairly windy day. It was also pretty dark under the canopy of oaks and Spanish moss.
So, to get a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the blowing leaves and moss, I upped my ISO to 800. This had always given me an acceptable noise level, even going back to 2009 when I got this shot. I also opened up to f5.6. I was pretty far back from the nearest oaks, so even at 40mm, I felt I could get the trees sharp front to back. If I had stopped down to f16 or f22, I would have to shoot too slow or at too high an ISO. Back then, anything above 1600 wasn't good enough.
Like most people, I typically shoot landscapes in, well, landscape mode, but the trees' vertical framing into the distance lent itself better to a vertical format. I loved the perspective into the distant view of the tiny arch of light at the end of the tunnel.
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I did very little in post-processing for this image except warm it up a bit. On the sun-dappled image, I balanced the light as best I could be, opening up the shadows and closing down the highlights.
I have driven past this location many times since and have even stopped to take a shot or two, but I think I nailed it and don't know what I would do any differently.