November 2019

Long exposures on Martha's Vineyard

The rugged up-island shorelines of Chilmark and Aquinnah offer great opportunities for the landscape photographer, particularly if you are going for minimalist seascapes with exposures of seconds turning into minutes. Although my autumnal trip to the vineyard this year was perhaps my fourth visiting the island it did prove to be my most productive for photography. In fact, for photography fall is easily one of the best times to visit; you miss the crowds, many residents only beaches (such as Lucy Vincent in Chilmark) permit public access, and weather that is less suitable for beach bathing tends to lend itself to better images.

I have been inspired this year by more minimalist long exposure seascapes, through the books of Michael Kenna, Michael Levin and also on some very inspirational instagram accounts from film photographers (beedelvin). The latter’s images of the island opened my eyes to possibilities in capturing images that I had not seriously considered before. Aquinnah, Menemsha and Lucy Vincent beaches would be my focus for this trip. Previously I had visited the former two locations with my Nikon FE and attempted some long exposures. Overall I was underwhelmed with the results, I hadn’t been able to execute my vision well creatively with the composition or technically with sharpness and long enough shutter speeds. I also tend to prefer the natural framing of 6x6 medium format cameras and so on this trip I had brought my Rolleicord and Zeiss Ikon 517 folding camera.

Too late I discovered the Rolleicord had a sticky shutter near the end of my first roll of HP5+ after an hour or so at Lucy Vincent beach. The Zeiss Ikon folder was deployed afterwards with some Pan F, although as I had written previously, I was a bit unsure if there were faint light leaks in the bellows which presented themselves on exposures greater than a second. This turned out to be the case, with faint dark speckles appearing across all negatives of such exposures. In the future I should try and cover the camera with some thick cloth to try and mitigate this and if that doesn’t work then I guess I should probably give up with this length of exposure with this camera.

When my negatives returned from the lab, I was initially underwhelmed and as there was uncertainty on whether the cameras would reliably produce good exposures, I opted to scan them myself with the Epson v500. I saved some money, but this always seems a false economy when I am spending hours scanning myself and fixing the dust spots in lightroom. It seems to be a common arc that my anticipation of seeing the images back leads to being underwhelmed at first, but then some time and detachment later I start to recognise some quality in the images.

I think these images capture the feeling rugged, windswept and mystery these beaches offer. All of the exposures were between 20 seconds to 4 minutes, and there is a nice balance of shots that capture movement in the water and completely smoothing it out.