When I first got started with landscape photography I decided to make a list of places I wanted to photograph. I actually made two: one for locations around the world and one for places here in Florida. Some of these I discovered through other photographers’ work, some I stumbled upon while exploring the outdoors, and others I found through Google maps and Google earth, both of which are an amazing resource. I don’t remember why or when but there are a few specific locations I placed on my bucket list. Big Talbot Island was at the top and after 5yrs I finally went there on April 4th 2018.
Big Talbot Island is located off the coast of Jacksonville. The coastal landscape and beach at Big Talbot Island are unique within the state of Florida as result of the lava like hardpan sedimentary deposits. These rocky formations are a habitat for molluscs, crab, oysters, and other tide pool creatures. Though I didn’t see any of those creatures, I did see dolphins and woodpeckers as well as the typical shorebirds of Florida. The formations and sand on Black Rock Beach are much darker in contrast to the coquina formations at Washington Oaks State Gardens and the Anastasia limestone outcroppings at Blowing Rocks Preserve further south on A1A. Big Talbot and Little Talbot are two of only a few remaining undeveloped barrier islands within Florida. Native Americans, named the Timucua, were the first humans to inhabit these islands. It’s quite a scenic drive and sometimes I felt like I’d gone back in time a few decades or maybe a century. As a nature lover I enjoyed seeing the marshlands with their winding rivers and hammocks. I wondered how it must have looked back when the Timucua roamed the land. It was tempting to pull over and photograph the landscape but I was too excited for Big Talbot Island. I’m also a history buff so I equally enjoyed seeing the old fisheries and plantations along the way.
Since it was my first time visiting this place, I decided to explore the area during the afternoon at low tide so I could walk freely along the beach and not miss anything. The plan was to experiment with some compositions that would work at sunrise. My style of landscape photography consists of focusing on a single element, so I struggle with chaotic landscapes where there is too much going on. I was hoping to single out one of the fallen trees but it just wasn’t working. Despite my frustration, I eventually embraced the chaos. I ended up finding a few options that could work in the morning. However, my timing was cut short – with an approaching storm I had to hike back to the parking lot since there isn’t any shelter on the beach.
I had hoped to get some shots for sunset, but it was overcast and drizzling so I looked for another option. I ended up finding another interesting location a few miles up the road. Storms can produce some dramatic skies and if the light hits them just right then that becomes a recipe for a great sunset/sunrise. As I was driving looking for a place to photograph, I noticed a small beach where the tide had gone out and left behind some amazing textures as well as a little stream in the shape of an S curve. It was a mad dash as sunset was in 20mins and the light just kept getting better and better. It was one of those sunsets photographers wish for. The light was amazing in every direction but I stuck with working with the S curve. The heavy wind kept blowing drops of rain onto my lens so I was constantly wiping it. While I was incredibly excited about the light and the opportunity it presented me, unfortunately in the end I wasn’t thrilled about my composition or any of the shots I had gotten. In photography that’s just how it is sometimes. It was a long day that started out at 5am followed by a 5hr drive. I was so exhausted that the thought of waking up at 5am again and then walking for half a mile with all my gear (maybe 30lbs but I normally don’t pack this much) just didn’t seem worth it. Clearly I was defeated from not getting a shot from that epic sunset. After a little pep talk to myself I set the alarm and went to bed.
Below are a few iPhone photos of Big Talbot Island taken during my trip.
As I pulled into the parking lot at 5:45am it was still pitch black and I was the only car there. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about the walk down to the beach alone but for me excitement always trumps fear so I clicked on my headlamp and headed down the pathway. My excitement grew as I got to the end of trail and saw the orange glow on the horizon. I made it, and I had the place all to myself. High tide erased most of the evidence of people being there so the sand was pristine. The air was cold and the wind was howling so bugs weren’t going to be a problem. I stood and took it all in before I got to work. Words can’t describe the feelings I had but if I had to choose a few they would be triumph, awe and excitement. I felt triumphant for overcoming my thoughts and fears. I was in awe of the raw beauty in front of me. I was excited to be there and the excitement I was feeling was not just for the present moment, but also for the next time I would return.
Below is a full-length video of my hike shot on GoPro. Feel free to skip forward but one of the best parts is around 8min 45secs.
The sky was clear so I didn’t expect much from sunrise but I knew golden hour would be great. I played with a few compositions while waiting for the sun to come up and finally found one that would work best with telling the story of the landscape. As the light started to saturate the scene with yellow and orange tones I took the first shot. I used a 3-stop ND as well a 3-stop soft grad ND for the sky. I could have bracketed my exposures but I still enjoy using grad filters. I was pleased with my shot but continued to take more shots as the light changed. Eventually the light became too harsh so I explored other compositions down the beach. I knew I wanted to take advantage of the harsher lighting conditions and the long shadows they created from all the fallen trees. I also knew I would most likely convert the photos to black and white. I spent about an hour playing with different compositions and sometimes I included the sun to increase the contrast and drama. For those shots, I bracketed my exposures to manually blend in photoshop later and I also took an extra shot at f22 to blend in the sunburst.
It was now well after 9am and I felt my energy dropping so began to pack up. I became a bit emotional and gave the last tree I was photographing a kiss and thanked it for allowing me to photograph it. Like I said I’m a nature lover. I couldn’t wait to come back another time, maybe during high tide, but for now I had to get back to the car and get some rest to be ready for my next location, another bucket list spot on Jekyll Island.
Thanks so much for coming along with me on this journey to Big Talbot Island. Feel free to leave comments or questions below. I’d love to hear from you and maybe mention a few of your bucket list spots.
Below are some final edited photos from Big Talbot Island.